Membership, Community, Diversity

How did Conservative Judaism get its name?

Many twentieth-century European and American Jews have agreed that Orthodoxy must adapt to changing times, but have found some modifications introduced by leaders of Reform Judaism too dramatic. Conservatives have thus become Judaism’s midground. Responding to the Reform’s Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, Sabato Morais (1823-97) joined other Reform rabbis to found the Jewish Theological Seminary of America as a way of promoting a middle path between Orthodoxy and Reform. They stressed the progressive nature of the faith while retaining traditional practices. Like the Reform, Conservatives allowed some English prayers as well as organ music, did not separate the sexes, and they taught immortality of the soul but not resurrection of the body. In 1924 the Rabbinical Assembly of America became Conservative Judaism’s institutional anchor in this country. Conservatives retain the Orthodox emphasis on scripture as normative, along with the bulk of its traditional interpretation. They do, however, make allowances for adaptation to modern needs, such as driving to synagogue on the Sabbath. But while traditionalists among them insist that the revelation of Sinai was complete and definitive in itself, more liberal Conservatives lean toward the idea that divine revelation is an unfolding process. Conservatives make up the second-largest body of American Jews, numbering over one and a half million with about eight hundred synagogues. Zionism has had many staunch supporters among Conservative Jews.


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