In the United States
The Schechter Years
The Adler Years
The Finkelstein Years
The Committee On Jewish Law And Standards
Social And Educational Institutions
Conservative Judaism (also known as Masorti Judaism), one of the three principal modern Jewish religious denominations, emerging, along with Reform and Orthodoxy, in the 19th-century era of emancipation.
After the denial of emancipation to Central European Jewry by the Congress of Vienna (1815), Jews found themselves frustrated in their desire to participate in the intellectual and political transformations of the day. Reform Judaism arose as an attempt to reformulate Judaism, no longer as a comprehensive way of life and national identity, but as a western-style religion, to accommodate the desire of Jews to acculturate into their host societies while resisting total assimilation or conversion to Christianity. Radical and moderate wings of Reform emerged as its leaders debated the extent of changes from Jewish tradition. Zechariah Frankel, chief rabbi of Dresden, Germany, a proponent of moderate Reform, broke with his more radical colleagues at the Rabbinical Conference of Frankfurt (1845), over the issue of retaining Hebrew as the language of prayer. Frankel called for “positive-historical Judaism.” This formula connotes, first, a predisposition to accept much of the “positive,” ceremonial substance of Jewish practice while allowing for moderate changes, and second, an attitude of respect for the historical nature of Judaism. The loyalties of generations of Jews to a particular practice, no less than a proof-text from an authoritative religious source, could sanctify that usage.
In 1854, Frankel concretized his conservative yet flexible approach to Judaism in a rabbinical school that he headed, the Juedisch-Theologisches Seminar (Jewish Theological Seminary) of Breslau. Until destroyed by the Nazis in 1938, this rabbinical school trained the institutional leaders and served as a scholarly center for “Historical Judaism” in Central Europe.
In the United States
The principal development of Conservative Judaism took place in the United States. As in Germany, Conservative Judaism in the U.S. began with the creation of a school rather than of a congregational union. Developments within American Reform Judaism strained the alliance of moderates and radicals. In a moment of high symbolism, the 1883 banquet celebrating the rabbinic ordination of Hebrew Union College’s first graduates featured a variety of nonkosher foods and became known as “the trefa banquet.” In the ensuing, contentious atmosphere, the Radical Reform wing of the movement passed its 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, dismissing biblical and rabbinic rituals regulating diet and dress as anachronisms. In response, moderate rabbis and scholars, principally Sabato Morais, Henry Pereira Mendes, Alexander Kohut, and Cyrus Adler, called for the establishment of a new rabbinical seminary, more hospitable to traditional Judaism. By January 1887, the Jewish Theological Seminary Association opened in New York City, with the mandate to preserve “the knowledge and practice of historical Judaism.”
Leaders of the new seminary did not seek to create a denomination; on the contrary, they hoped their school would become the unifying institution of all opponents of Reform. In addition to the moderate reformers of Sephardi or West European background, the Seminary’s founders looked to secure the loyalty of the burgeoning East European Jewish population of New York. In this hope they were disappointed. Despite participating in the 1898 creation of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, Seminary leaders were not able to create a congregational base comparable to what the Hebrew Union College enjoyed in its Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Without significant congregational support, the Jewish Theological Seminary Association endured precarious finances during its first 15 years and was compelled to reorganize in 1902, but not before graduating 14 rabbis and three ḥazzanim, including Joseph H. Hertz, who became chief rabbi of the British Empire, and Mordecai M. Kaplan, preeminent theologian and founder of Reconstructionist Judaism.
The Schechter Years
Although, prior to its 1902 reorganization, the Seminary had not successfully engaged traditionalist Russian Jewish immigrants, a group of prominent Reform lay leaders envisioned that the school could yet serve to Americanize that group, and thus simultaneously preserve the Jewishness of the new arrivals and reduce the social tension occasioned by their “un-American” ways. After the death of Morais in 1897, Adler mobilized Jacob Schiff, a supporter of the school since 1888, and his colleagues, including Louis Marshall, to set the school on a firmer financial basis and thus produce the leadership for the successful acculturation of the children of the new immigrants. Specifically, they raised the funds to engage Solomon Schechter as the president of the faculty of the new organization, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS). Educated in a traditional fashion as well as in modern, rabbinical seminaries, a first-rank rabbinic scholar with a gift for popularization, an orator equally at home in Jewish sources and in the classics of English rhetoric, Schechter personally exemplified the envisioned cultural type. Under his leadership, JTS was to fulfill its mission among American Jewry by producing religiously observant and intellectually open-minded rabbis.
For his part, Schechter held to the dream of Morais, to unify the non-Reform elements of the American Jewish community. In 1913, Schechter created the United Synagogue of America, hoping that it would encompass congregations across the traditionalist and moderate ideological spectrum. But he was no more successful in this regard than Morais because American Jewish Orthodoxy was gaining self-definition at that same time, promoting its own Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (Yeshiva University).
Schechter did succeed, nonetheless, in making JTS the “fountainhead” of what would become a full-fledged denomination, Conservative Judaism. He engaged a faculty of leading scholars, including Louis Ginzberg, Alexander Marx, Israel Friedlaender, and Israel Davidson and oversaw the creation of the preeminent Judaica library in America. He transformed JTS into a graduate-level program. “Schechter’s Seminary,” as it was widely known, graduated an increasing number of Jewish communal leaders, at first rabbis, then also teachers, after the 1909 organization of its Teachers’ Institute under the leadership of Mordecai Kaplan.
The Adler Years
After Schechter’s death in 1915, his successor at JTS, Cyrus Adler, systematized the school’s administrative procedures and presided over the construction of its new campus – including the Jewish Museum – which opened in 1930. Adler maintained the school’s ideological posture and social program, to Americanize traditional Judaism. Adler also succeeded Schechter at the United Synagogue and focused its efforts on obtaining congregational placements for JTS graduates. The JTS rabbinic alumni, first organized in 1901 and renamed the Rabbinical Assembly in 1918, collaborated with him in this endeavor. Adler’s tenure was one of building the infrastructure of Conservative Judaism, while discouraging partisan ideological pronouncements that might weaken its centrist coalition.
Nonetheless, the growing movement did have ideological “right” and “left” wings. Adler himself and Louis Ginzberg, representing the traditionalist point of view, controlled the direction and official pronouncements of the movement. Ginzberg founded and chaired the United Synagogue’s Committee on the Interpretation of Jewish Law (191–27) which evolved into the Committee on Jewish Law of the Rabbinical Assembly (1927– ) which was led until 1948 by traditionalists such as Louis Epstein, Boaz Cohen, and Michael Higger.
Mordecai Kaplan was the leader of the movement’s left wing. Kaplan’s “Reconstructionist” definition of Judaism as an evolving religious civilization and his call to transform the modern synagogue into a comprehensive spiritual, intellectual, and cultural Jewish center resonated even among Conservative rabbis who took issue with his rejection of supernaturalism in formulating Jewish theology. During the 1930s, Kaplan’s philosophical and liturgical publications spurred controversy among JTS faculty and in the broader movement, but the JTS administrative response, to assign Kaplan to teaching homiletics rather than Talmud, only increased his influence among generations of emerging professionals.
The Finkelstein Years
Conservative Judaism enjoyed its greatest period of growth during the two decades following World War II. Across the East, Midwest, and Sunbelt regions of the country, returning veterans and their growing families moved to the newly expanding suburbs, creating numerous houses of worship. Between 1945 and 1964, the United Synagogue grew from 190 to 778 member congregations. For the children of East European immigrants, the Conservative synagogue represented an acceptable balance of tradition and change.
As the movement expanded rapidly and faced the new conditions of Jewish life in suburbia, the tension between school and denomination also increased. Under the leadership of Louis Finkelstein (1940–72), JTS aspired to influence American society at large, both Jewish and Gentile, without identifying the school’s prime task as the support of its denomination; rather, it saw the Conservative movement as its own support network. Regarding himself as a “bridge-builder,” Finkelstein created ecumenical institutes and expanded into radio and television programming, while further developing the school as an academic research center.
Rabbinical Assembly leaders such as Milton Steinberg and Solomon Goldman, critical of this focus, urged JTS to do more to build up the institutions of the movement. The Rabbinical Assembly took the lead in publishing a series of prayer books for use in Conservative congregations, more traditional than the Reconstructionist editions yet enriched with modern supplemental readings and, in selected passages, unorthodox in wording. The widespread adoption of Morris Silverman’s Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book contributed to the nationwide scope of Conservative Judaism.
The Committee On Jewish Law And Standards
The Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law became the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) in 1948. This reorganization was a revolt against Boaz Cohen and the traditionalists. As a result, the majority ruled in 1950 that it is permissible to ride to the synagogue on the Sabbath while a minority opinion forbade this practice. In the early 1950s, the CJLS was going to take unilateral action to solve the problem of agunot (chained women) whose husbands gave them a civil divorce but would not give them a get (religious divorce). Since Finkelstein did not want the CJLS to adopt a radical solution, he got Saul Lieberman – the preeminent Talmudist at JTS – and the JTS faculty involved. Lieberman wrote the “Lieberman Ketubah” in 1954 which empowered a new Joint Bet Din of the Rabbinical Assembly and JTS – and by implication the secular courts – to force recalcitrant husbands to give their wives a get. The “Lieberman Ketubah” did not achieve the desired effect, but it did lead to greater cooperation between JTS and the Rabbinical Assembly.
Social And Educational Institutions#
The movement provided religious and social programming for adult women and men at the synagogue level in Sisterhoods and Men’s Clubs, organized nationally in the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism (1918– ) and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (1929– ).
During the post-war years of growth, Conservative Judaism developed educational and social institutions for youth. Kaplan and JTS created the Leadership Training Fellowship (LTF) in 1946 to prepare young men and women to study at JTS. One year later, Midwest Jewish leaders opened an educational summer camp, Ramah, and JTS became the camp’s sponsor by 1948. The Ramah camp movement expanded, with numerous camps in North America, South America, Israel, and the Ukraine. It provided Hebrew and Jewish educational grounding for tens of thousands of youngsters, who became the nucleus of the lay and rabbinic leadership of the movement in the late 20th century. In 1951, the United Synagogue created United Synagogue Youth, which brought tens of thousands of young people closer to Judaism through its chapters, kinnusim, camps, Israel and European pilgrimages, and USY-on-Wheels.
In the formal educational setting, departing from a reliance on Sunday schools and afternoon Hebrew schools, Conservative educators such as Simon *Greenberg began to promote day schools. In 1951, Robert *Gordis opened a day school at his synagogue, Beth El of Rockaway Park, New York, and in 1965, a network of such schools formed the Solomon Schechter Day School Association. Day schools and supplemental schools currently coexist, with increasing numbers of Conservative families opting to give their children the more intensive schooling, especially in the primary grades.
UNIVERSITY OF JUDAISM
The national scope of Conservative Judaism after World War II contributed to the decentralization of denominational authority. In 1947, as America’s West Coast was developing into a center of Jewish life, Mordecai Kaplan and Simon *Greenberg of JTS opened the *University of Judaism in Los Angeles, California. Under the leadership of David *Lieber, and later of Robert *Wexler, the school charted a course distinct from JTS, focused on Jewish liberal arts learning rather than professional training and on a very large adult education program. In 1996, the University of Judaism asserted its independence from JTS, by opening its own Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies.
Conservative Judaism entered a more challenging era after 1965. The end of the postwar “baby boom” and the decay of urban and inner suburban neighborhoods hurt synagogue membership, and the number of United Synagogue member congregations dropped from its peak of 832 in 1971. Assimilation, including intermarriage, became more prevalent, and the social upheavals of the 1960s exacerbated the decline of the movement’s appeal to young adults. Followers of Kaplan’s Reconstructionist Judaism left the Conservative movement and opened their own rabbinical school in Philadelphia in 1968.
Because of assimilation, the movement experienced a wide disparity between the high level of commitment to religious practice on the part of its rabbinic leadership and the lower degree observed by the majority of its laity. Moreover, the movement’s minority of highly observant laity began to migrate to a revitalized American Jewish Orthodoxy. The resurgence of Orthodoxy, increasingly evident by 1970, both impressed and dismayed Conservative observers. Denominational leaders debated their response to the new conditions, traditionalists urging a reemphasis of commitment to halacha, and liberals calling for outreach to the disaffected by means of bolder departures from tradition.
THE WOMEN’S ISSUE
The main subject of this debate in the 1970s-1980s was the role of women within the Conservative synagogue, an issue raised by the growth of feminism as an American social concern. In 1972, a small group of feminists named “Ezrat Nashim” came to the Rabbinical Assembly convention, demanding a greater role for women in the synagogue. In 1974, the CJLS voted in a near-tie to count women in the minyan (prayer quorum). From 1977 to 1983 the Rabbinical Assembly and the JTS faculty debated the ordination of women by JTS under its new Chancellor, Gerson *Cohen. After an initial defeat in 1979, women were admitted in 1983 after the death of Saul Lieberman and the defection of leading Talmud professors such as David *Weiss Halivni, Ch.Z. *Dimitrovsky, and Jose Faur. As a result, some Conservative rabbis set up the Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism in 1979 which later split from the movement as the *Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ). It now has its own rabbinical association, law committee, and rabbinical school.
Amy *Eilberg was ordained by JTS as the first Conservative woman rabbi in 1985. Cohen’s successor, Ismar *Schorsch, completed this process by admitting women to the Cantorial School in 1987. By 2004, 120 of the more than 1,500 members of the Rabbinical Assembly were women. A 2004 survey showed that women rabbis served in many rabbinic capacities but had not yet achieved equality as congregational rabbis or in terms of compensation.
In recent years, the CJLS has debated the topic of women as witnesses. In any case, the attitude to women in Jewish law signaled a sea-change in the Conservative movement. It reflected the emergence of American-born, Conservative-movement educated faculty members as well as a greater degree of engagement between JTS and the denomination.
The debate over gender roles within Conservative Judaism spurred both a self-definition and a reaffirmation of boundaries that the denomination had for so long avoided. In 1988, the various agencies of the movement jointly issued Emet ve-Emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism. However, since it was written by a committee of 25 people from various aims and wings of the movement, many felt that it attempted to be all things to all people. Beginning in the 1970s, Conservative rabbis such as Seymour Siegel, Elliot Dorff, Joel *Roth, and David *Golinkin published a series of books and articles in which they explained and crystallized the Conservative approach or approaches to Jewish law. In 1995, Ismar Schorsch published “The Sacred Cluster” in which he enumerated seven core values of Conservative Judaism: God, Torah, Talmud Torah, Halakhah, the Land and State of Israel, Klal Yisrael (the collective Jewish People), and Hebrew. Many of those same values were stressed by Louis Finkelstein in an address to the Rabbinical Assembly in 1927. Thus, despite many changes, the Conservative movement has maintained many of the same core values throughout its history.
COMMITTEES ON JEWISH LAW
Beginning in 1917, the Committee on the Interpretation of Jewish Law – which became the Committee on Jewish Law, which became the CJLS – became a meeting ground and a debating ground for the movement. The committee grew from five members to 15 members to 25 members and, as time went on, an attempt was made to appoint rabbis from the right, left, and center, and from the Rabbinical Assembly, JTS, and the United Synagogue. For many years, the CJLS issued majority and minority opinions. In more recent years, a teshuvah or responsum only became a valid opinion if it was supported by six members of the CJLS. Beginning in 1948, the CJLS and the RA developed the option of issuing Standards of Rabbinic Practice which are binding upon all members of the RA if approved by a two-thirds vote at the annual convention. To date, four standards have been adopted. A Conservative rabbi may not: participate in an intermarriage in any way; perform a wedding if the woman was divorced without a get; perform a conversion without circumcision and immersion; accept patrilineal descent.
PUBLICATION OF RESPONSA
From 1917 to 1975, halakhic authorities such as Louis Ginzberg, Boaz *Cohen, Michael Higger, and Isaac *Klein wrote hundreds of responsa both within the framework of the law committees and individually, but most of their responsa were never published. This changed drastically beginning in the 1970s as individual rabbis such as Isaac Klein, David Novak, and David Golinkin published their responsa along with the previously unknown responsa of Louis Ginzberg and six volumes of CJLS responsa.
THE VA’AD HALAKHAH
In 1985, the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel founded the Va’ad Halakhah chaired by Theodore *Friedman and later by David Golinkin. It dealt with halakhic questions from Israel and Europe in Hebrew, following procedures like the CJLS. It has published six volumes of responsa thus far, dealing with Israeli issues such as the Sabbatical year, entering the Temple Mount, and army service for women and yeshivah students, along with general halakhic issues such as conversion, medical ethics, and women in Judaism.
The Rabbinical Assembly’s 1986 reaffirmation of the matrilineal principle of Jewish identity as a Standard of Rabbinic Practice, and the CJLS’s retention of traditional strictures against homosexuality in 1992, served as counterweights to the liberalization represented by egalitarianism. In sum, they asserted in practice a Conservative denominational identity, over and against Reform and Reconstructionism, on the one hand, and Orthodoxy, on the other. The movement’s attitude towards homosexuality has remained under debate to the present, but the growing equality of women in Judaism has become, in the main, an accepted part of the definition of Conservative Judaism.
Since the 1970s, the Conservative movement has published a series of new liturgical publications and a new Hu-mash. Creative prayer booklets of the late 1960s–early 1970s were followed by Jules Harlow’s Mahzor (1972) and Siddur Sim Shalom (1985). Leonard Cahan and Avram Reisner edited the new Sim Shalom in two volumes (1998–2002), followed by Reuven Hammer’s Or Hadash commentary in 2003. The Masorti Movement in Israel published Siddur Va’ani Tefilati in 1998, while the Schechter Institute and the Rabbinical Assembly published Megillot Hashoah (The Shoah Scroll), a new liturgy for Yom Hashoah (2003). These publications reflect a growing sensitivity to spirituality, participatory prayer, gender awareness, and the level of knowledge of the average congregant.
Humash Etz Hayyim was published by the Conservative movement in 2001 to replace the outdated Hertz Humash of 1936. Edited by some of the leading rabbis and scholars of the Conservative movement, it aims to convey a synopsis of modern, critical scholarship along with the best of traditional midrash.
THE COHEN AND SCHORSCH YEARS
The Cohen years at JTS (1972–86) were marked by the transition from European-born to American-born faculty. This transition was epitomized by the struggle over the ordination of women described above. Cohen also built and dedicated the new library in 1983. The Schorsch era (1986– ) has seen the expansion of JTS to over 700 students, thanks in large part to the founding of the William Davidson School of Education in 1996, which trains educators for day schools and afternoon schools. Schorsch expanded the endowment of JTS while rebuilding and expanding the campus. He steered a centrist course between the left and right wings of the movement. He was an avid supporter of expanding the roles of women in Judaism, while opposing the ordination of avowed homosexuals and gay commitment ceremonies.
EDUCATIONAL AND INSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENTS IN NORTH AMERICA
1970–2005. Beginning in the 1970s, Conservative Jews began to found Chavurot (small fellowship groups) because of the counterculture and as a reaction to large, impersonal synagogue centers. This began with Chavurat Shalom in Boston, but soon led to Chavurot within existing Conservative synagogues. At the same time, large synagogues began to open alternative services for specific groups such as egalitarian services, family services, learners’ minyanim, and singles’ services.
Since many Conservative Jews did not know how to perform basic Jewish rituals, Ron Wolfson of the University of Judaism developed the Art of Jewish Living Series which teaches adults how to make Shabbat, run a seder, celebrate Chanukkah, and mourn for relatives.
In 1963, Noah Golinkin developed the Hebrew Literacy Campaign which taught adults how to read the prayer book in 12 weeks. Adopted by the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs in 1978, he wrote Shalom Aleichem (1978) followed by Ein Keloheinu (1981) to implement to Campaign. In 1986, Golinkin published While Standing on One Foot, which teaches adults how to read Hebrew in one-day Hebrew Reading Marathons. To date, over 200,000 Conservative and Reform Jews have learned how to read the prayerbook using these two methods.
All these programs acknowledge that third- and fourth-generation American Jews did not receive a thorough Jewish education and must be taught basic Judaism using entirely new, user-friendly methods.
Since 1990, with the intermarriage rate among American Jews hovering at 50%, Conservative Judaism has witnessed an erosion at its periphery, resulting in lower numbers overall. In 2000, there were slightly over one million self-identified Conservative Jews, representing only 26% of American Jewry. The percentage of Conservative Jewish families affiliating with a synagogue also dropped to 33%. Mirroring similar developments in other sectors of American Judaism, the movement has simultaneously enjoyed an intensification at its core, with members of Conservative synagogues reflecting a more substantive Jewish education and demonstrating a more positive degree of identification with their denominational choice than in the previous generation. Whether assimilatory or revival trends will predominate is the critical question facing American Conservative Judaism in the 21st century.
While Conservative Judaism is most extensive in North America, in recent decades, it has expanded worldwide: in Israel, Latin America, and to a smaller degree in Europe and elsewhere.
The Masorti Movement in Israel
Unlike Reform and Orthodoxy, each of which has had non-Zionist and anti-Zionist wings, Conservative Judaism has been warm to the Zionist enterprise throughout the 20th century. The intensification of Zionist consciousness after the Six-Day War of 1967 spurred the growth of a wider presence of Conservative Judaism in Israel. While Solomon Schechter himself had been warm to Zionism, his successors, prior to Gerson Cohen, had not attempted to commit JTS to the renewal of Jewish life in Ereẓ Israel beyond the opening of an Academic Center in Jerusalem in 1963. A handful of Conservative rabbis had made aliyah and founded congregations in the early 1960s, but more Conservative rabbis and educators arrived after 1967. In 1979, they created a denominational umbrella organization, the Masorti (“Traditional”) Movement, which has been led over the years by rabbis Moshe Tutnauer, Michael Graetz, Philip Spectre, and Ehud Bandel. This movement led the Conservative movement to become part of the World Zionist Organization as Mercaz Olami in 1987. Masorti has supported existing congregations and founded new ones, launched a youth movement, Noam (No’ar Masorti) and the Ramah Noam Summer Camp. By 2005, the movement had grown to approximately 50 kehillot (congregations) and Chavurot.
Masorti Judaism continues to face political obstacles to recognition. Israeli government coalitions typically include Orthodox political parties, and under Israeli law, Orthodoxy enjoys a monopoly as the established form of Judaism. Masorti rabbis are generally not recognized by the state to perform Jewish marriages and divorces. The government has refused to register as Jews children converted by Masorti rabbis, and on four occasions, 1970 through 1997, the Knesset has entertained campaigns to change Israel’s *Law of Return to discredit conversions conducted by Conservative and other non-Orthodox rabbis. In the wake of the last of these, the government empowered the Ne’eman Commission to explore methods of involving both Orthodox and non-Orthodox (Masorti and Reform) rabbis in conversions. Though the Israeli Chief Rabbinate rejected the commission’s recommendations, the Knesset approved them, and the Institute of Jewish Studies was established by the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency. It is run by Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews, but the graduates are converted by an Orthodox Bet Din. Even so, the Masorti Movement continues to marry and convert people and to demand that these marriages and conversions be recognized by the State of Israel.
Masorti leaders seek to engage Israeli society beyond the movement’s network of congregations. The Rabbinical Assembly of Israel’s Va’ad Halakhah (Law Committee) deals with halakhic questions as described above. The movement operates special programs for olim (immigrants), especially those from Latin America. The Masorti Movement has also achieved symbolic recognition by being granted the use of the Robinson’s Arch section of the Western Wall of the Temple Mount for worship services.
THE SCHECHTER INSTITUTE OF JEWISH STUDIES
The Seminary of Judaic Studies, later renamed the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, was founded in 1984 by JTS and the Masorti Movement for the purpose of training Masorti rabbis. Led over the years by Reuven Hammer, Lee Levine, Benjamin Siegel, Alice Shalvi, and David Golinkin, it slowly became the largest Conservative organization in Israel. It currently includes the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary for Israelis, which also hosts the one-year rabbinical school programs of JTS, the University of Judaism, and the Seminaro Rabbinico; the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, which is a graduate school for over 450 Israeli educators; the TALI Education Fund, which provides enriched Jewish Studies to over 22,000 Israeli children at over 120 TALI public schools and kindergartens; and Midreshet Yerushalayim, which provides Jewish education to thousands of new immigrants from the FSU and to Jews throughout the Ukraine and Hungary.
In Latin America
Conservative Judaism has established a major presence in Latin America. The pioneer rabbi in that region was Marshall *Meyer, a JTS graduate, who founded the Seminario Rabbinico Latinoamericano in 1962. Meyer later returned to New York, but the movement grew; 44 Conservative rabbis were serving in Latin America by 1999. In many Latin American countries, Conservative Judaism is the dominant stream. Seminario graduates have contributed to the development of the region’s synagogue life, sponsoring the translation of the liturgy into Spanish and Portuguese, and fostering a modern spirit in worship, preaching, and life-cycle celebrations. Seminario alumni also serve in schools, summer camps, Hebrew sports clubs, and cultural centers, adding a religious component to institutions that had earlier been Jewish in a purely ethnic sense. Through the influence of the Seminario, Conservative Judaism has helped guide Latin American Jewry from an era of immigrant-created Jewish institutions to one in which native-born Jews express their distinctive religious identity.
As in Latin America, a single rabbinic pioneer, Louis *Jacobs, was instrumental in founding Conservative Judaism in England. Denied appointment to a London synagogue by the English chief rabbi in 1963 on account of his unorthodox theological writings, Jacobs and his followers left the (Orthodox, English) *United Synagogue and opened the New London Synagogue. Members of that synagogue founded two kindred congregations closer to their northwest London homes, and in 1985, the three communities entered a formal partnership, the Assembly of Masorti Synagogues. Masorti in the United Kingdom describes its approach as “tolerant, non-fundamentalist, traditional.” By 2000, the English Masorti membership had grown to 3,000 adults, led by young rabbis such as Jonathan Wittenberg and Chaim Weiner. Masorti U.K. comprised a youth movement, an organization for college students and young adults, and 11 congregations, one of which also sponsored a chavurah.
Conservative/Masorti development in France began later than in the United Kingdom, despite the larger size of French Jewry. The first Masorti congregation, Adat Shalom in Paris, opened in 1988; a second congregation, in Nice, over a decade later. They are led by rabbis Rivon Krygier and Yeshaya Delsace. French Masorti Judaism faces the challenge of transplanting a movement into a new cultural milieu and engaging a largely Sephardi population.
Masorti Olami (The World Council of Synagogues) is the umbrella organization for all Conservative congregations outside of Israel and North America. In addition to England, France, and South America, there is a long-established community in Sweden. Other Conservative/Masorti congregations have recently opened in several other European countries, including Spain, Germany, Australia, and the Czech Republic. Rabbinic leadership in European Masorti institutions comes from the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary in Jerusalem. Worldwide, Conservative/Masorti Judaism is achieving a higher degree of coordination, as it confronts the weakening of Jewish identity due to assimilation and, at the start of the 21st century, a rise in worldwide anti-Semitism.
HISTORY: C. Adler, I Have Considered the Days (1943); N. Bentwich, Solomon Schechter (1938); N.B. Cardin and D.W. Silverman (eds.), The Seminary at 100 (1987); M. Davis, The Emergence of Conservative Judaism (1963); E. Dorff, Conservative Judaism (19962); D. Elazar and R.M. Gefen, The Conservative Movement in Judaism (2000); S. Ettenberg, The Ramah Experience (1989); R. Fierstien, A Different Spirit (1990); idem., The Rabbinical Assembly: A Century of Commitment (2000); idem. (ed.), Solomon Schechter in America (2002); N. Gillman, Conservative Judaism: The New Century (1993); S. and A. Goldstein, Conservative Jewry in the United States (1998); M. Greenbaum, Louis Finkelstein and the Conservative Movement (2001); P. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America (1988); S. Rosenblum, Conservative Judaism: A Contemporary History (1983); J.Z. Sarna, American Judaism (2004); Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly (1927– ); M. Sklare, Conservative Judaism (1972); M. Waxman (ed.), Tradition and Change (1958); J. Wertheimer, A People Divided (1993); idem, Conservative Synagogues and Their Members (1996); idem (ed.), Tradition Renewed (1997). WOMEN IN JEWISH LAW: D. Golinkin, (ed.), Jewish Law Watch (2000–3); idem (ed.), To Learn and To Teach (2004ff.); idem, The Status of Women in Jewish Law: Responsa (2001); S. Greenberg, (ed.), The Ordination of Women as Rabbis: Studies and Responsa (1988); S. Cohen and J. Schor, Gender Variation in the Careers of Conservative Rabbis (2004). JEWISH LAW: D. Golinkin, An Index of Conservative Responsa and Halakhic Studies 1917–1990 (1992); idem (ed.), The Responsa of Professor Louis Ginzberg (1996); I. Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice (1979); idem, Responsa and Halakhic Studies (1975); D. Golinkin, D. Fine, K. Abelson et al. (eds.), Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, 1927–2000, 6 vols. (1985–2005); D. Golinkin (ed.), Responsa of the Va’ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, vols. 1–6 (1986–99); idem, Responsa in a Moment (2000); D. Novak, Law and Theology in Judaism (1974–76); S. Siegel and E. Gertel, (eds.), Conservative Judaism and Jewish Law (1977). ISRAEL AND LATIN AMERICA: H. Meirovich, The Shaping of Masorti Judaism in Israel (1999); T. Steinberg, “A Brief History of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel,” in: Robert Fierstien (ed.), A Century of Commitment: One Hundred Years of the Rabbinical Assembly (2000), 199–233; S. Szteinhendler, “The Rabbinical Assembly in Latin America,” ibid., 234–43; E. Tabory, “The Israel Reform and Conservative Movements and the Market for Liberal Judaism,” in: U. Rebhun and C. Waxman, (eds.), Jews in Israel (2004), 285–314. IDEOLOGY: Emet Ve’emunah: Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism (1988); L. Finkelstein, Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, vol. 1 (1927), 42–53; D. Golinkin, Halakhah for Our Time: A Conservative Approach to Jewish Law (1991) (in English, Hebrew, Spanish, French, Russian); R. Gordis, Understanding Conservative Judaism (1978); J. Roth, The Halakhic Process: A Systemic Analysis (1986); I. Schorsch, “The Sacred Cluster: The Core Values of Conservative Judaism,” in: Conservative Judaism, 47:3 (Spring 1995), 3–12; idem, Polarities in Balance (2004).
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.