Conservative Judaism: Inception, History and Way Of Life
“The term “Conservative” had been attached to the moderates by the Reformers because the moderates had branded them as radicals. This name hardly describes the movement aptly. Conservative Judaism, is the American version of the principles of positive historical Judaism. The conservatives accept the findings of modern scholarship that Judaism is the product of a long period of growth and evolution. However, this process did not result in broken or inconsistent lines of development; quite the contrary, the major currents of Judaism run consistently through the extensive literature of the Jewish people, created in successive ages.
” (Rudavsky 338)
Conservative Judaism is one of the largest of the various sects of Judaism. Conservative Jews make up about 40-45% of those Jews who affiliate. Conservative Judaism accepts the idea that Jewish law is binding upon Jews. Conservative Jews have an obligation to obey all the teachings and commandments of Judaism., For example, Conservative Jews emphasize the laws of keeping the Sabbath and keeping kosher. Conservative Jews believe that Jewish law is capable of evolution as humans learn more about interpreting the Torah.
Therefore, Conservative Jews have changed some of the earlier interpretations. Men and women worship together in Conservative synagogues, people may ride in a car on the Sabbath to attend services, and women can be ordained as rabbis.
“Issac Leeser is generally regarded as the principal forerunner of Conservative Judaism in the United States. A native of Westphalia, Lesser acquired his religious and secular education before coming to American in 1824. He settled in Richmond, Virginia, where he was employed for several years in his uncle’s business. At the same time, he assisted the hazzan in the religious school of the local Sephardic congregation.
During this period, he gained prominence by publishing numerous articles in defense of Jews and Judaism in American and foreign journals.”(Dimont 231)
Some Jews who affiliate with the Conservative sect claim that their main reason for belonging is the fact that they don’t want to be Orthodox nor Reformed. “While some individuals describe themselves as Conservative because of their alienation from Orthodox practices, others define themselves from the opposite direction – they point out that they are not reform.” (Sklare 206) For the most part, Conservative Jews feel that if one were to be reformed they would not really be Jewish. The Reformed sect, unlike the conservative do not obey most of the Jewish laws and traditions. Conservative Jew describes Reform as “cold,” “churchlike,” or “going too far,” rather than as being subversive or heretical.
” (Sklare 206)
Although Conservative Jews do not associate themselves with the Reform movement, they are still influenced by some of their ideas. “Conservatism has borrowed a number of the innovations instituted by the Reform wing. Orthodoxy, particularly in America has done likewise, though to a lesser degree. Among these changes are the improved decorum, the use of the vernacular and the regular sermon at services, as well as confirmation exercises in various forms. Mixed pews, the organ, and the elimination of the benediction by the priestly caste are among the modifications adopted by the Conservative congregations.”(Gordis 122)
Conservative Judaism says that the laws of the Torah and Talmud are of divine origin, and mandates the following of Jewish Law.
At the same time, the Conservative movement recognizes the human element in the Torah and Talmud, and accepts modern scholarship that shows that Jewish writings also show the influence of other cultures, and in general can be treated as historical documents. “The founders of the Conservative movement, the youngest group in modern Judaism, had no wish to create a new alignment in Judaism. They sought, rather, to unite all Jews who had a positive attitude toward Jewish tradition, in spite of variations in detail. Nonetheless, life itself led to the crystallization of Conservative Judaism, which is dedicated to the conservatism and development of traditional Judaism in the modern spirit.”(Gordis 216)
Since the inception of Conservative Judaism in the late 19th century, it is committed to Judaism not only as a faith but also as a system of law, and to the norms of ritual behavior. Conservative Judaism formally involves strict Jewish religious practice of the laws of diet and .