A Refreshing Level of Honesty

I am gratified that someone pointed out this column from the Jerusalem Post, called “What Conservative Judaism conserved.” It is relevant to other recent posts, of course, but also stands on its own.

The author is a former chairman of the Council of Regional Presidents of the United Synagogue of America — a high-ranking lay position in the Conservative movement. So he speaks as a knowledgeable insider, as one who help conduct a survey of Conservative families in the late 1970s. Yet I have not previously heard of their conclusions:

The results of the survey were devastating to those of us who conducted it as well as to the movement’s leadership. We were able to show, with a high degree of statistical accuracy, that the movement in the US had no long-term capacity to replicate itself.

We found that while many adult members of the movement came from more observant backgrounds, they, in the absence of any long-term commitment to religious observance, had not been able to convey the same level of religious feeling to their children.

I don’t think any of us who grew up in the Conservative movement could disagree with this statement. The next generation either became more observant or less, which is why the largest Jewish movement in America is now the Reform rather than Conservative.

What I find most interesting is his epitaph for the Conservative movement: “a transitional movement that ‘conserved’ American Judaism for the resurgence of Orthodoxy.”

As far as the Conservative Movement is concerned, it should admit that it was indeed a transitional movement and that, in the future, it will be a shrinking element of the mosaic that is American Judaism.

He concludes that “it need not be ashamed of what it accomplished during a most difficult period in American Jewish life,” because it held a middle ground. We would not agree — without that middle ground, perhaps people would have instead gone directly back to Orthodoxy. But none of us would disagree with his prediction of Conservative Judaism’s decline, especially as we already see it happening.

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18 Responses

  1. Nachum says:

    “We would not agree—without that middle ground, perhaps people would have instead gone directly back to Orthodoxy.”

    Who do you mean by “we”? And what evidence do you have- the way that non-religious Jews flocked (not) to Orthodoxy in previous years?

  2. David N. Friedman says:

    Conservative Judaism has, over the course of many decades, maintained a membership. This is not the same as replicating itself but it is close enough. The trouble is an honest understanding of why Conservative Judaism maintains a hold on a segment of the Jewish community and as someone currently affiliated at a Conservative shul, the reasons are not compelling.

    Conservative Judaism is a meeting ground for Orthodox and Reform Jews–that is a place where an Orthodox Jew and a Reform Jew can marry or a place where a Reform Jew can grow up as a mid-point on the path towards Orthodoxy.

    Jews can be conflicted and compromised while Judaism cannot. This is why Conservative Judaism exists and why, I hope, it will eventually disappear.

  3. Nachum says:

    One more point: The Rambam held that Christianity was Avodah Zara, and that it was a disaster for humanity asa whole on a spiritual level as well as for Jews physically. He also believed that Mohammed was a lunatic (his words) and that Islam had had the same effect on humanity- and he knew its effects on Jews personally.

    And yet he also believed that despite all that, both religions served as the hand of God in bringing humanity closer to God and the ultimate redemption. Why can you not extend a small degree of that to a movement not nearly as bad as these? Can those with a Conservative upbringing who are now Orthodox say with all honesty that it had no effect on their current status?

  4. Michoel says:

    “Who do you mean by “we”? And what evidence do you have- the way that non-religious Jews flocked (not) to Orthodoxy in previous years?”

    Rabbi Menkin said ‘perhaps’. And it is really a side point. The Torah is not ours to corrupt. If Canservatism kept 1 Jew from finding the Truth, it is too much.

  5. Zak says:

    Michoel, The Torah is not ours to corrupt. If Conservatism brought 1 more Jew into the fold of Orthodoxy, dayenu.

  6. joel rich says:

    If Canservatism kept 1 Jew from finding the Truth, it is too much.

    Comment by Michoel
    Interesting thought. So would you say that if Conservative Judaism over that time period kept 1000 familie4s close enough to Yiddishkeit so that their children could discover “the Truth” but 1 Jew was kept from finding it over that same time period , then this was an unacceptable trade off? Also interesting is the “perhaps” in R’ Menkin’s thought – what if with the existence of Conservatism 500 of the next generation returned out of the original group but had conservatism not existed only 10 of the 1st generation moved to orthodoxy yielding only 50 in the 2nd generation? Which would be more palatable? (I don’t think the answer is a slam dunk either way)

  7. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    When Rebbi wrote the Mishnah, he didn’t say he found some obscure opinion that allows it; he said it was wrong to write the Oral Law, and he wished he didn’t have to do it, but the sin was justified because the alternative was that the Torah would be forgotten. But the (self-respect? hubris?) of the policy setters of the Conservative movement didn’t allow them to say to their members “what you are doing is wrong, but under the stress and pressure of modern circumstances, you are a good Jew even though you do not follow the halachah.” No, they had to rationalize their legal decisions.

    There’s a concept of “m’galeh ponim batorah shelo k’halochoh,” misrepresenting the Torah. This is a very serious offense. I don’t know, maybe this can be justified as a temporary measure where it will save people from assimilation, and maybe the Conservative movement did preserve many Jews and save them from assimilation. But they could have done the same without lying about the Torah, which led the people on the borderline to think there was nothing greater to aspire to, and that Orthodoxy was a queer, cultish and backward form of Judaism.

  8. Michoel says:

    If Hashem in His wisdom brought back Jews via the Conservative Movement, that is His issue. As far as we are concerned, we should all daven for the CM demise asap.

  9. Michoel says:

    Your words are beyond me.

  10. joel rich says:

    Actually I’d say we should pray that all Jews (ourselves first and foremost) do tshuva, let HKB”H figure out the details.

  11. Eliezer Barzilai says:

    Joel, don’t hold your breath. It’s extremely rare for a frum person to become a baal teshuvah. Oh, we might learn that we had been lax in a specific halachah or a particular area, but you almost never see an adult frum person who makes the global changes that define a baal teshuvah. I suppose that part of it that while in yeshiva, the mashgiach can tell you that you are all a bunch of bums, a Rabbi can’t do that twice.

  12. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Eliezer Barzilai, could you please give me the reference to where the Rebbi says that? I’m interested to read it.

    Ori the ignorant

  13. Michoel says:

    In your shul they say a t’fila for the State of Israel, correct? Just daven that all Jews should be safe and let HKB”H figure out the details.

  14. Joel Rich says:

    That would be fine with me if you added that they be safe within eretz yisrael and have political dominion leading to a Torah State ,but I would also point out that praying for the downfall of a movement could lead to something even worse in its place, praying for a positive outcome for all Jews does not imho have that downside.

  15. Michoel says:

    I think that your distinction is correct. However, we see “halachic respoonsa” from Michael Lerner, from Reform rabbis, from everyone and their mother in law. the Conservative monement’s damamge is much worse IMO than the other non-Judaisms. They have popularized the lie that halacha can be whatever one wants it to be. They are also guilty of presenting themselves as the true historic Judaism. If there would be nothing but Reform (which is a clear and unambiguous break from historic Yiddishkeit) and Orthodoxy, those that want to find Truth would have a much easier time, IMO.

  16. Steve Brizel says:

    Michoel-Noone takes Michael Lerner seriously except the readers of his magazine. You would be surprised how many graduates of USY and Camp Ramah are now Shomer Torah UMitzvos. Once upon a time, even Roshei Yeshivah corresponded with JTS faculty members who they knew from Europe as Talmidie Chachamim. When CJ made pretenses of replacingOrthodoxy in the 1940s and 1950, that ended as soon as CJ became exposed as a movement that could not and would not require any pretense of halachic committment. OTOH, anyone who bemoans the lack of communication between CJ and MO really is quite ignorant of the facts on the ground. JTS”s faculty cannot be compared to its past. The C movement is losing its Left to R and many of its traditionalists walked out years ago. Noone in Israel takes R and C seriously except the High Court of Justice. Both C and R are perceived as American imports that have no iota of authenticity to the average not yet ehrlich ( as opposed to frum) Israeli.

  17. Steve Brizel says:

    As far as responsa, take a look at American Jewish History, a wonderful blog. You will see that the author of many R “responsa” corresponded with and had cordial relations with many prominent rabbanim. They did not consider him a Bar Samcha under any circumstances, but they did maintain contact. I think that it is fair that noone gives a hoot about this person’s writings except historians. As far as the other sources that you mentioned, do you know anyone who takes them seriously? R is 21st Century liberalism with a smattering of zero maintenance Hebrew phrases such as Tikun Olam.

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