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Major terminology change: Conservative Judaism is not the Conservative movement[edit]

This may interest editors of this article. I propose that we need to make a subtle, but important terminology change in this article, and in other articles closely related to this subject. The Conservative movement is a very widely used term in the Jewish community for a subset of Conservative Judaism.

The phrase Conservative Judaism refers to a rather broad religious movement within Judaism. Many statements by Conservative rabbis (especially Ismar Schorsch and Jack Wertheimer), academic Jewish scholars, such as Daniel J. Elazar and Rela M. Geffen, as well as many Orthodox rabbis recognize that Conservative Judaism is more than just groups formally affiliated with the Conservative movement. Schorsch and Wertheimer have repeatedly noted that most of Conservative Judaism's most recognized success stories involve people who choose not to formally join the Conservative movement. They include in this category the Union for Traditional Judaism, the Chavurah movement, non-affiliated traditional synagogues, and many synagogues which advertise as being "non-denominational".

  • The Union for Traditional Judaism is especially important to note: At the time that this group came into being, they clearly stated that they were still practicing Conservative Judaism; they simply were disaffiliating from the Conservative movement. Since that time they have not changed their halakhic practices or their theology. So how are they not still Conservative Judaism? In fact, they are still Conservative Judaism - and their synagogues still use Conservative siddurim and machzorim (e.g. the Silverman edition); they still use Conservative Jewish texts from JTS Press and the Rabbinical Assembly, and they still use Isaac Klein's Guide to Jewish Religious Practice. (This is why no Orthodox Jewish group formally accepts the UTJ as part of Orthodox Judaism.)
  • A good example of a non-affiliated chavurah that is recognized as Conservative Judaism is Kehilat Hadar, in Manhattan, NY. Most of its members even come from Conservative Jewish homes. A recent article quotes Rabbi Ismar Schorsch. Most interestingly, it quotes a Rabbi Elie Kaufner, who states that it doesn't advertise as being "Conservative" for membership purposes, not for theological or halakhic reasons!
"Hadar is interested in welcoming Jews of all backgrounds," says Elie Kaunfer, one of the congregation's founders and a rabbinical student at JTS. "If Hadar were to call itself Conservative, it would be harder for people who identify as Orthodox or Reform or identify as 'not Conservative' to come. The more you label yourself, the harder it is to cast a wide net."
"The question people are asking today is not, 'How do I become a Conservative Jew?'" Waldoks says. "The question is, 'Why be Jewish?'". Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of JTS, claims that the Conservative movement, which he heads, is the primary source for the religious energy of post-denominationalism. He points to Hadar as an example. "The Hadar movement could not be mistaken for anything but a Conservative synagogue: It's fully egalitarian and seriously Jewish. The ritual is neither Reform nor Orthodox; it's quintessentially Conservative," Schorsch says.
"The young people at Hadar are intellectually Conservative and they are ritually Conservative except they are advanced Conservative Jews rather than entry-level Conservative Jews. They wish to distinguish themselves from the materialistic, bourgeois synagogues of suburbia."
Jerusalem Post Magazine, Feb 11, 2005
  • Rabbi Elie Kaunfer, executive director of Mechon Hadar, in New York, sees the beliefs and practices of Conservative Judaism thriving even while the brand name of the Conservative movement, specifically its institutions, is in a period of decline:
Bemoaning the decline of Conservative Judaism misses the point. This decline is a problem for the survival of Conservative institutions that are supported primarily by brand loyalty. But if the true mission of Conservative Judaism is to foster an engaged and empowered Jewish community with a commitment to Torah and mitzvot, declining affiliation may actually be positive. It signals an age in which Jews care enough about their expression of Judaism to resist an ill-defined label. What is the role for Conservative institutions in this new reality? Three suggestions: Lose the “Label yourself Conservative” mentality. Try instead: We encourage Jews to seek meaningful, empowered engagement with Judaism. Wherever that leads, we trust them, even if it is outside the Conservative menu of options.
  • Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, is quoted in an article about the proliferation of supposedly non-denominational, and certainly non-affiliated minyanim and chavurot. What they have in common is that they are usually led by Conservative Jews, and their practices and theology are also Conservative Judaism. In response to this Rabbi Epstein states:
Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, laments the fact that many minyan participants come from Conservative backgrounds but find the movement lacking as they conceive of their adult prayer experiences. “I think people are really looking for an ideology, many of them, a practice that is somewhere in the framework known as Conservative Judaism, but they don’t find it in their Conservative synagogues,” says Rabbi Epstein, who urges the leaders of minyanim to hold their services in and otherwise affiliate with Conservative synagogues, rather than use the churches or community centers many choose.
Minyanim Grow Up, Turn Inward New York Jewish Week, 11/25/08

This article should recognize that the term Conservative movement refers to a well-defined subset of organizations and individuals that are within Conservative Judaism, such as the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and all other organs within the LCCJ.

For a detailed discussion of this issue please see The Conservative Movement in Judaism: Dilemmas and Opportunities, SUNY Press, by Daniel J. Elazar and Rela M. Geffen. RK (talk) 16:21, 7 January 2009 (UTC)

Please note that I am not trying to "prove" that all of these movements (Chavurah, UTJ, post-denominational, etc.) are part of Conservative Judaism. In fact, no one can strictly "prove" that any particular group is "truly" Reform, or "truly" Orthodox, either! I have seen countless attacks on Orthodox groups and individuals by other Orthodox Jews; and the same within the Reform Jewish community. Rather, I am saying that we must describe the fact that these groups are widely recognized by both Orthodox and Conservative Jews as being part of Conservative Judaism, even though they are not formally a part of the Conservative Movement. Indeed, that is already what we for Orthodox Judaism: We don't pick one organizations structure (e.g. RIETS, YU and the RCA) and made that equivalent to all of Orthodox Judaism, and then label all other Orthodox groups as non-Orthodox. Rather, we have always defined Orthodox Judaism as a school of thought, with a range of theologies and practices, and then described in an NPOV fashion the groups that are widely recognized as Orthodox. Now we should do the same with Conservative Judaism. RK (talk) 20:14, 7 January 2009 (UTC)

At least one problem with the above proposal is that some of the institutions under discussion have explicitly said they are NOT parts of Conservative Judaism, even where their disavowals seem misleading. For example IIUC R. Weiss Halivni has called himself Orthodox. Some of the 1970s era chavurot had some affinity for the Reconstructionist movement which even named its synagogue federation to appeal to them (OTOH the Reconstructionist movement arguably was really very left wing C Judaism). And IIUC the millenial era independent minyanim generally resist the C label (or any label in most cases). Part of the problem is that clearly C phenomena are avoiding the C label to avoid the connotations associated with established C institutions, but its also that there really is no clear definition of C, even in recent decades when the movement has sought to be less generic.

This is in contrast to the O movement, where the various competing institutions usually DO fight for the O label. That is in part due to the fact that (many) O institutions privilege other O institutions in ways that C institutions tend not to privilege other C institutions. Ricardianman (talk) 20:32, 12 July 2010 (UTC)