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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Who We Are (2/12)
Section - Question 2.3: What is Conservative Judaism?

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                                  Answer:
   Conservative Judaism attempts to combine a positive attitude toward
   modern culture, acceptance of critical secular scholarship regarding
   Judaism's sacred texts, and also commitment to Jewish observance.
   Conservative Judaism believes that scholarly study of Jewish texts
   indicates that Judaism has constantly been evolving to meet the needs
   of the Jewish people in varying circumstances, and that a central
   halachic authority can continue the halachic evolution today.
   
    Attitude Toward Halacha
    
   Conservative Judaism affirms that the halachic process reflects the
   Divine will. It makes use of Solomon Schechter's concept of "Klal
   Yisrael" (the whole of the (observant) Jewish community), in that
   decisions on Jewish Law are largely determined by the practices of
   Klal Yisrael.
   
   In Conservative Judaism, the central halachic authority of the
   movement, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS), will often
   set out more than one acceptable position. In such a case, the rabbi
   of the congregation (mara d'atra) is free to choose from the range of
   acceptable positions (or none of them), and his congregation is
   expected to abide by his choice. The CJLS speaks for the Conservative
   movement and offers parameters to guide local rabbis who turn to it
   for assistance. Local rabbis will make use of traditional sources and,
   when available, teshuvot written for the CJLS.
   
   An exception is made in the case of "standards". A "standard" requires
   an 80% (not unanimous) vote of the membership of the CJLS (not just
   those in attendance) and a majority vote by the plenum of the
   Rabbinical Assembly. Willful violations have led to resignations or
   expulsions from membership of the Rabbinical Assembly (RA). At
   present, there are four standards:
    1. A complete prohibition on rabbis and cantors to officiate in any
       way at intermarriages.
    2. A complete prohibition against officiating at the remarriage of a
       Jew whose previous marriage has not been halakhically terminated,
       whether by a halakhic divorce [get], hafka'at Kiddushin [annulment
       of the marriage], or death.
    3. A complete prohibition against taking any action that would
       intimate that native Jewishness can be confirmed in any way but
       matrilineal descent.
    4. A complete prohibition against supervising a conversion to Judaism
       that does not include circumcision for males, and immersion in a
       mikveh for both males and females.
       
    Conservative Theology
    
   Conservative Judaism hold that the laws of the Torah and Talmud are of
   divine origin, and thus mandates the following of Halakha (Jewish
   law). At the same time, the Conservative movement recognizes the human
   element in the Torah and Talmud, and accepts modern scholarship which
   shows that Jewish writings also show the influence of other cultures,
   and in general can be treated as historical documents.
   
   The movement believes that G-d is real and that G-d's will is made
   known to humanity through revelation. The revelation at Sinai was the
   clearest and most public of such divine revelations, but revelation
   also took place with other people - called prophets - and in a more
   subtle form, and can happen even today.
   
   These concepts are very complex, and readers are referred to Emet
   VeEmunah, published jointly by the Rabbinical Assembly and USCJ.
   
   Many people misinterpret Conservative Judaism as being like Reform
   Judaism except with more Hebrew in its services; They believe that if
   one simply goes to a Conservative synagogue, then one is a
   Conservative Jew. This of course is not true, and the movement's
   leadership is strongly concerned with whether or not the next
   generation of Conservative Jews will have the commitment to lead an
   authentic Jewish lifestyle.
   
    Derivation of the Movement's Name
    
   The name derives from the idea that the movement would be necessary to
   conserve Jewish traditions in the U.S., a culture in which Reform and
   Orthodoxy were not believed to be viable.
   
    Conservative Judaism in Israel
    
   Conservative Judaism begun to make its presence known in Israel before
   the 1960s. Today, there are over 40 congregations with over 12,000
   affiliates. In 1962 the Seminary began creating Neve Schechter, the
   University's Jerusalem campus. This center houses the Schocken Center
   for Jewish Research, and the Saul Liberman Institute for Talmudic
   Research. In 1975 a new Rabbinical School curriculum instituted a year
   of study in Israel as a requirement for every seminary rabbinical
   student.
   
   In 1979 Chancellor Gerson Cohen announced the creation of the Masorti
   (Traditional) movement as Israel's own indigenous Conservative
   movement, with its own executive director, board and executive
   committee. Today the Masorti movement is an independent Israeli
   organization, that is parallel to, and not a subset of, the USCJ.
   There is cooperation on a large number of projects and issues. Many
   members of the Masorti movement are also members of the Rabbinical
   Assembly (RA).
   
   The Masorti movement created MERCAZ, a party within the structure of
   the World Zionist Organization. The Conservative movement is thus
   officially represented in the centers of decision making within the
   Zionist movement.
   
   The Masorti movement sponsors youth groups, an overnight camp, a
   system of day camps, Kibbutz Hanaton and its Education Center and
   Moshav Shorashim, and special programs teaching new Russian and
   Ethiopian olim (immigrants) basic Judaism. It is involved in many
   issues promoting the rights of non-orthodox, traditional Jews.
   
   The movement also sponsors "The Center for Conservative Judaism in
   Jerusalem" 2 Agron Street, P.O. Box 7456, Jerusalem 94265. Phone
   02-257-463 FAX 972-02-234127. The Center provides activities and
   resources such as: daily study Havurot; headquarters for the Israel
   operations of USY; campus outreach programs at Israeli universities; a
   resource center for those making Aliyah from our Movement; A youth
   hostel, the "Neshama" program for Schechter High School Seniors as
   well a variety of educational programs. Adjacent to the Center is
   Congregation Moreshet Israel providing daily, Shabbat, and festival
   services. The Center will provide outreach to movement members of all
   ages who are in Israel, including home hospitality, and support
   whenever needed.
   
    Sources of More Information
    
   Additional information may be found in the [5]Conservative Reading
   List, available at [6]www.scjfaq.org/rl/jcu-index.html or via the
   SCJFAQ autoretriever. Also worth exploring is the home page for the
   [7]United Synagogues of Conservative Judaism (UCSJ)
   <[8]http://www.uscj.org>. Another source of information is the
   [9]Conservative and Masorti Judaism FAQs
   ([10]http://communities.msn.com/JudaismFAQs&naventryid=114).*
   
   [*: This source is controversial on soc.culture.jewish. There do not
   appear to be major disputes with its representations of
   Conservative/Masorti positions. However, some on the newsgroup dispute
   its representation of the positions of other movements.]
   
   For more information on Masorti, see <[11]http://www.masorti.org/>.
   
   Interested readers might also want to look at the following documents
   available via WWW:
     * [12]Ismar Schorsch's "Core Values" of Conservative Judaism (a
       synopsis) (<http://www.jtsa.edu/pubs/misc/core.html>)

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