Conservative Judaism

Doctrines Conservative Judaism comes midway between Orthodoxy and Reform, intellectually liberal in matters of belief, but conservative in matters of religious practice. Its origins go back to the "positive-historical Judaism" of Rabbi Zacharias Frankel (1805-75) who maintained, against the radicalism of 19th century Reform (see Reform Judaism), that halakhah, the central principle of Jewish tradition (see Orthodox Judaism) must be followed, but that it has human, historical, dynamic elements within it, going back to Sinai, which make change and development possible. In the language of Solomon Schechter (1847-1915), who later did more than anyone to establish the Conservative movement as an independent force within Judaism, "the centre of authority is actually removed from the Bible and placed in some living body...the collective conscience of Catholic Israel and embodied in the Universal Synagogue." This concept of a "Catholic Israel" allows for a changing pluralism within Judaism, while at the same time ensuring continuity with the worldwide historic tradition which gives it its identity. Change can never be rapid or radical in such a system where universal agreement is required before it can be accepted. In 1960 the Rabbinical Assembly of America agreed to modify orthodox halakhah to permit the use of electrical appliances on the Sabbath and drive to synagogue by car, and in 1985 to permit the ordination of women rabbis.

History In Europe the origins of Conservative Judaism can be traced to the establishment of a "Jewish Theological Seminary" at Breslau (Wroclaw), and the decision to appoint the moderate Zacharias Frankel (1805-75) as its first principal rather than the more radical Avraham Geiger (1810-1884) (See Reform Judaism). It was thus located from the start midway between Reform Judaism and Orthodoxy (See Orthodox Judaism), concerned to take account of the changing world in which Jews now lived, but opposed to such radical breaks with tradition as were being proposed by the Reform movement. In America the movement was likewise a reaction to Reform. The Jewish Theological Seminary in New York was founded in 1886 by a group of moderate rabbis who could not accept some of the more radical statements made in the "Pittsburg platform" of 1885, such as the rejection of the food-laws and denial of a messianic belief. From 1902, the Seminary flourished under the leadership of Solomon Schechter (1850-1915), and the growing number of rabbis trained there began to call their movement "Conservative Judaism".
In the next sixty years under the leadership of Schechter's two successors, Cyrus Adler (1863-1940) and Louis Finkelstein (1895- ), the movement grew to be the largest Jewish denomination in the States. The United Synagogue of America was formed in 1913 to support Conservative congregations in the States, and the Rabbinical Assembly of America in 1929. In 1962 this became the international association of Conservative rabbis, renamed the Rabbinical Assembly. Conservative Jews in Israel and elsewhere prefer to be known by the Hebrew term Masorti ("traditional"). A Masorti seminary, called the Institute for Jewish Studies, was established in Jerusalem in 1984. There is also a University of Judaism in Los Angeles (1947) and a Latin American Jewish seminary in Buenos Aires.

Symbols Conservative Judaism does not identify itself through the use of a distinctive symbol system.

Adherents 2,000,000 worldwide. 1,250,000 in the States

Main Centre
 World Council of Synagogues, 155 Fifth Avenue, NY 10010
The Rabbinical Assembly, 3080 Broadway, New York City, NY10027