The Conservative Movement: The Masorti Movement that Isn’t

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13 Responses

  1. Y. Ben-David says:

    In Israel, the term “Masorti” is used incorrectly to mean someone who is partly observant. Apparently, the leaders of the Israeli Conservatives thought that if they called themselves this, they would attract the large numbers of Israeli who consider themself Masorti. This has not succeeded.

  2. dr. bill says:

    As I have noted numerous times the Conservative Masorati movement in Israel is on the left flank of a host of individuals and movements that for the most part ranges from we Americans see as centrist orthodoxy to the left of the OO movement.  In that mix sit a good number of first-rate scholars and almost all professors of Bible, Halacha, Talmud, etc. at most top-rate universities.  A majority of orthodox university attendees meet observant professors of Jewish subjects who espouse any number of viewpoints that you would find objectionable.  They encounter orthodox thinkers that view the religious hegemony under which Israelis increasingly live to be counter-productive, in fact harmful to the religious future of the state.   To lump the masorati movement with the reform movement is plausible only to those unfamiliar with the orthodox left-wing in Israel, with whom they share much more significant similarity in practice.
    The US and Israel are miles apart.  While ultimately, both will split into two fundamental camps – reform and orthodox, American conservatives and Israeli Masoratiim will end up in opposite places.  My only fear is that the right wing of orthodoxy will separate first in Israel, as it largely has and eventually in America as well.

  3. Nachum says:

    Y. Ben-David beat me to it. “Masoratim” are a very large group of Israeli Jews- maybe even a plurality- who might be described as “non-observant Orthodox” in the US, but are a distinct group in Israel. In addition, the line between them and religious Jews, on the one hand, and secular Jews, on the other, can be unclear. Many, perhaps most, “secular” Jews are actually Masoratim. Essentially, they are the type who “don’t daven in an Orthodox shul”- although many do.

    Needless to say, “Masortim” has little to nothing to do with this, although the Conservative movement tries to use the identification to both claim more supporters in Israel than they really have and attempt to recruit new members. Reform does much the same. (In fairness, Conservatism in much of the world is called “Masorti.”) Conservativism and Reform in Israel is almost entirely an English-speaking olim thing, interestingly (although perhaps not surprisingly) generally much more committed than their American counterparts. However:

    -Most Conservative and Reform olim either drop religion entirely and become simply chiloni (or, more accurately, Masorati) if they’re not so committed, or become a sort of left-wing Orthodox if they are.

    -Just as the Conservative movement in the US takes a few years to “catch up” to Reform (and JTS takes a few years to catch up to *them*), so too the Masorti movement in Israel simply takes a few years to “catch up” to the American movement and JTS.

  4. Charlie Hall says:

    The Conservative Movement started in Germany decades before the infamous “treif banquet”.

    The Jewish Theological Seminary was unquestionably Orthodox in its early years; the future Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, J. H. Hertz, was in its first graduating class.

    Even after it was clearly part of the Conservative movement, one could find an Orthodox synagogue  with a JTS-ordained rabbi at least as late as the 1980s.

    The Reform movement in Germany ordained a woman in the 1930s. The Nazis of course murdered her.

    • dr. bill says:

      JTS and the OU shared the same yichus at their beginnings..  However, there were issues as early as Prof. Schechter’s arrival.  These types of issues also existed in European schools.  I have not seen a definitive history of the conservative movement in the pre-war period.  With Prof. Kaplan and their mid 40’s siddur, things went downhill.  again lacking a good study, I would be curious to compare orthodox reaction to YCT and to JTS in the pre-war period.  I have heard it claimed that were it not for Kaplan, YU and JTS would have merged, I believe in the late twenties.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        More precisely, Rav H. Pereira Mendes was both one of the founders of JTS and of the OU just a few years later. S Schechter created the split between OU and JTS, which lead to his founding the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism. CJ was perhaps based upon, but not identical to, Z. Frankel’s “positive-historical” group in Germany.

      • mycroft says:

        Agreed-but wish to emphasize that by 1902 when Schechter came to JTS it would have been obvious as to a split from Orthodoxy as we know it.

        I forget where I saw-it was online- the descriptions of the meetings that led to the OUs founding but many delegates were certainly to the “left” of “current OO”

      • dr. bill says:

        perhaps even more precisely, Prof. Schechter came to JTS in 1902 after the RA was formed in 1901.  His arrival did precipitate the formation of the Agudat HaRabbonim, whose original leaders included a broad spectrum of Rabbis, who looked down on the Rabbis JTS was producing.

        I always thought that JTS sat somewhere between the Rabbinical seminaries founded by Rabbis Frankel and Hildesheimer.  But all this is in need of a serious study.

        Given the letters addressed to any number of JTS’s lead professors until the second world war, i do not believe the leading orthodox rabbis then in America had yet coalesced around a clear position.

      • Yaakov Menken says:

        I apologize, I misspoke. The counterpart to the OU is not the Rabbinical Assembly, but rather the United Synagogue, which was formed by Schechter given the OU’s rejection of Schechter and his colleagues. You are right that the Agudas HaRabbonim was, by contrast, formed as perhaps an observant counterpart to the Rabbinical Assembly!

      • Shmuel Landesman says:

        I think during the Great Depression there was interest in creating a merger.

  5. Reb Yid says:

    Of course, Orthodoxy is also on this same spectrum–to ignore it would be to have an incomplete assessment of American Judaism as it continues to evolve.

    While in the 19th century, for example, Bat Mitzvah was unknown, the first American one was in 1922 (M. Kaplan’s daughter).  While this first caught on in the Conservative movement and its Reconstructionist wing, it later became popular in Reform and even later in (brace yourself) the Orthodox world.  Today, this new development is ubiquitous within American Judaism (even in Orthodoxy), even as there are variations as to what may occur within each movement.  See also–females as shul board members, shul officers and shul Presidents (the latter acceptable in a growing number of Orthodox shuls).  See also–females performing public speaking within the context of a synagogue service.  See also–females carrying a Sefer Torah during worship services or Simchat Torah.


  6. Reb Yid says:

    The formation of the Agudat HaRabbanim preceded the formation of the RCA by at least a decade, if not more.

  7. Reb Yid says:

    Ironically, this is one of the very reasons the Conservative movement is trying to rebrand itself.  It doesn’t make much sense to try to attract followers to a movement called Conservative when this term is anathema in the political sense to much of American Jewry!!

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