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

By Jacob Neusner | Go to book overview

27
RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM

MARSHALL SKLARE

Clearly, among the several movements in American Judaism, Conservative Judaism has enjoyed the greatest recent success. In numbers and by other measures as well, it has flourished. At the same time, stresses produced by an imperfect acceptance of the movement's own distinctiveness, on the one hand, and by the failure to take theological issues seriously, on the other, have proved debilitating. Professor Sklare describes the problem of morale, finding among Conservative rabbis, in particular, slight sense of achievement and satisfaction. One problem has to do with the decline in observance of religious rites among Conservative Jews, along with the self-evident success of Orthodoxy in implanting the practice of these same rites among its adherents. Conservative Judaism long held that people would practice the commandments, if these were liberalized and made less restrictive. But the practice of the commandments was made easier, and members of Conservative synagogues scarcely took note. A second problem is concern for the religious commitment of the coming generation. Having made its distinctive accomodation to American culture, Conservative Judaism finds on its hands a generation professing alienation from that very culture. These are, Professor Sklare stresses, the issues of a movement at a mature stage in its history.

Conservative Judaism has flourished during the past two decades. Conservatism's prosperity is particularly noteworthy in its stark contrast to developments in Protestantism and Catholicism: Conservatism has experienced none of the reductions-in-force which have characterized the Christian community. To be sure, most recently the budgets of Conservative institutions have had to be scrutinized, plans for certain programs have had to be deferred, and the viability of some Conservative synagogues located in changing Jewish neighborhoods has had to be reevaluated. But retrenchment, when it occurred, has been on a minor scale.

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