Exhumator Esoterics

Encyclopedia of Spiritual — Letter J - JUDAISM, CONSERVATIVE

Exhumator Esoterics
Exhumator Esoterics


The establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948 is celebrated by Conservative Jews and viewed as miraculous. Israel is the Jewish people's eternal homeland-the geographic heart of their religious soul. Therefore, Conservative Judaism encourages all Jews to develop a special relationship with Israel by visiting, providing economic and moral support, and, for some, deciding to make aliyah (immigrating to Israel). Building a Jewish home in Israel is seen as an enormous contribution. Yet, this is not the only way to live a fulfilling Jewish life. Communities in the diaspora have consistently made significant contributions to Jewish life, and will continue to do such. The recognition of the importance of Isreal inspires the continuing efforts to build and expand uniquely Conservative institutions and communities in Israel. Furthermore, Conservative Jews feel a responsibility to ensure that Israel exists as a secure, democratic state, open to the presence of all people.


The seeds of Conservative Judaism were sown in Europe at the dawn of the modern era. Beginning in the nineteenth century, Europe slowly began to cast aside the yoke of restrictions set upon the Jewish community. The Jews of Europe were gradually granted measures of freedom and access to European society. Medieval restrictions and persecution had traditionally plagued Jews. However, the traditionally imposed separation from greater society did serve to ensure that Jews remained a distinct, uncompromised entity. A more open world, where one had to choose to participate as a Jew, compelled the Jewish religious establishment to respond. The Reform Movement represented the most far-reaching response to modernity.

A small group of more moderate reformers became disheartened by the perceived radical suggestions of the Reform Movement, and the aggressive pace at which it engaged this reformation. In 1854, the leader of this group, Zacharias Frankel, became the head of a new Jewish seminary, The Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau. Affirming the importance of traditional Jewish learning and observance and modern scholarship, this institution served as a precursor to the development of the Conservative Movement in America. Frankel believed that the seminary should embrace the deliberate, disciplined manner through which change had historically occurred in Judaism as a means to confront modernity.

As an influx of Jewish immigrants from Europe arrived in America, the functioning of the religion in modernity became a topic of consideration and considerable importance for the emerging American Jewish community. Albeit almost thirty years later, the birth of Conservative Judaism in America closely mirrored the formation of Frankel's seminary in Breslau. In 1885, led by Isaac Mayer Wise, the Reform movement issued the Pittsburgh Platform, a document that provided the ideological foundation for the Reform Judaism in America. The rejection of Jewish ritual law, among other radical proclamations, defined this document. The Pittsburgh Platform successfully distinguished the Reform movement in America.

Additionally, its sharp departure from tradition prompted the creation of a less radical brand of Judaism-a traditional Judaism suited for the modern mind and American lifestyle. In 1887, the Jewish Theological Seminary (then called the Jewish Theological Seminary Association) devoted to training a core of traditional American rabbis, opened. The establishment of the Seminary marked the institutional birth of Conservative Judaism.

The early seminary floundered; it ordained too few rabbis and was not successful in raising adequate funds. When a group of wealthy Reform Jews recognized that the influx of European Jews would not affiliate with Reform Judaism, they rescued the Jewish Theological Seminary from financial ruin. Their support of the seminary reflected their hope/anticipation that the school would produce a rabbinate, steeped in tradition and distinctly American that would serve the needs of the Eastern European immigrants. With its fiscal future secure, the seminary poised itself to assemble a faculty and leadership team worthy of distinction. The appointment of the renowned scholar Solomon Schechter as president of the institution in 1902 proved to be a major turning point in the fortunes of the nascent institution and the Conservative movement. Until his untimely death in 1913, Schechter ably directed the seminary and the movement. Under his leadership the school attracted skilled teachers and many students. In 1913, Schechter secured the formation of a network of congregations, named the United Synagogue of America, committed to supporting the seminary and espousing Conservative Judaism.

The growth of Conservative Judaism continued well after Schechter's death. From 1915 to 1970, Conservative Judaism experienced an era of tremendous growth. The Seminary, serving as the center of the movement, matured from a small rabbinical program to a major academy with multiple academic departments, close to five hundred students, and fifty full-time faculty members. The United Synagogue, which began as an association of twenty-two congregations, grew to almost eight hundred affiliated synagogues. The original alumni of the Seminary's rabbinical program developed into an international organization of Conservative rabbis with over thirteen hundred members. The strong institutional growth experienced within the movement directly benefited its constituents in many ways, including the formation of a United Synagogue Youth, a highly active youth movement, and Camp Ramah, a network of summer camps.