Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

25
THE IDEOLOGY OF THE CONSERVATIVE MOVEMENT

MORDECAI WAXMAN

Let us now review the primary elements in Conservative theology. What is important is that the Movement never intended to become what it now is, which is a separate sector of American Judaism. Conservatism was intended as a method, an approach, from within the Tradition, to contemporary circumstances. Rabbi Waxman lays appropriate stress upon the Conservative denial that it constitutes a 'denomination,' stating its claims that "it is Judaism." To be sure, that is pretty much what the Orthodox theologians mean when they lay claim to "sole legitimacy," and that probably is what stands behind the Reformers' allegation that if the great authorities of the past, prophets and rabbis, were alive today, they would be Reform Jews. But there is an important difference. Orthodoxy and Reform never obscured the realities they faced through the allegation that there was no "Judaism" but their own.

Conservative leaders did impede the formulation of Conservative theology by claiming to be coexistensive with "Judaism." The one significant new idea of Conservative theology, fostered by the authorities of the Seminary in particular, is explained by Rabbi Waxman under the rubric, "Vertical Democracy." In theory this means that "the ages" have a vote. In practice it has meant that the Seminarians cast all the votes. Rabbi Waxman felicitously sets forth the chief elements which define Conservative Judaism, both its method and its theology. In the following paper, the theological results and concomitant institutional effects of the method and theology are analyzed.

In the description of the principles of Conservative Judaism the reader will discern a limited set of issues, a rather brief and trivial agendum. In defense of Conservatism it is to be pointed out that it has not taken an institutional stance in behalf of theologians whose writings spoke very immediately to Conservative Jews. Abraham Heschel and Mordecai Kaplan, Franz Rosenzweig and Martin Buber, Will Herberg and Milton Steinberg, Arthur A. Cohen and Jakob Petuchowski, Eugene Borowitz and J. B. Soloveitchik--virtually every major theologian in contemporary Judaism enjoys a wide audience among Conservative

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