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

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

26
CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM IN A DIVIDED COMMUNITY

JACOB NEUSNER

We return to issues facing the mainstream of Conservative Judaism. Rabbi Agus stresses that Conservatism saw itself not as a denomination but as the 'totality' of Judaism. That claim is sell-evidently false. But what of the interrelationships, both institutional and theological, between Conservative Judaism and the other sectors of American Judaism? Once it is agreed that Conservative Judaism does have distinctive viewpoints, generally characteristic of its adherents and not accepted among others, one has to reflect upon both the differences and the points in common with the other sectors or movements.

Above all, the confrontation with the facts of the distinctiveness of Conservatism will demand deeper inquiry into the substance of Conservative belief. In other words, just as ideology followed changes of ritual, so a theory of the movement had to follow the acceptance of the separate and distinct existence of the movement, among other groupings. Accordingly, the claim to constitute "Catholic Israel" is to be translated into the effort to form, in Professor Liebman's terms, a "church" instead of a "sect." The view that what marks a Conservative rabbi is the possession of a diploma from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America must give way to deeper definition of what makes Conservative Judaism legitimate. If these questions are not finally and satisfactorily answered in the following essay, the writer may claim the merit of asking them with a certain urgency.


1. Introduction

Conservative Judaism began with the claim that it would constitute not a denomination but "Catholic Israel." Solomon Schechter declared:

This living body . . . is not represented by any section of the nation, or any corporate priesthood or rabbihood, but by the collective conscience of Catholic Israel as embodied in the Universal

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