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Points of View
Why I Care About Conservative Judaism
My Point of View, November, 2006
© Rabbi Jack Moline

I am a little hard-pressed to understand the glee with which the Conservative Judaism and its institutions are being bashed these days. A young friend of mine who was nurtured by the movement and is an active Jew insists she wants no part of it. An orthodox rabbi in Israel has made a name for himself predicting Conservative Judaism's demise. Even the outgoing head of Jewish Theological Seminary used his final public address to complain about the movement.

Ironically, the great ideas of Conservative Judaism have never been more popular. The notion that our covenant with God means combining an authentic Jewish commitment with contemporary sensibilities and an openness to the methodological tools of modern academia – well, that's us in a nutshell. And whether someone uses the label or rejects it does not change the pervasiveness of the influence of the movement to which we proudly and officially belong.

I'll admit that the organizational structure has seen better days. United Synagogue, the Rabbinical Assembly and the Jewish Theological Seminary each and all have their challenges. A host of fraternal, advocacy and fundraising arms of the movement operate virtually independently of each other, and no one is really cooperating with anyone else. I can admit to all those truths, yet they do not change my commitments – I am a Conservative Jew and a Conservative rabbi, and I won't abandon the family that made me that way, even in its dysfunction.

The values that have been promoted for more than a century by Conservative Judaism remain the essential values of American Jewry and, increasingly, Israeli and world Jewry. Affiliation itself doesn't make someone philosophically or theologically Conservative, Reform or Orthodox, and a mechitzah doesn't make someone Orthodox nor does a missing kipa make someone Reform. The ritual practices of Jewish life are vehicles to spiritual integrity, not the measure of piety or open-mindedness. However, when Jews come together to examine tradition seriously and set standards that reflect their best understanding of Jewish authenticity, the relative weight they assign to the past and the future is indeed a marker.

So if an Orthodox community finds permission for men and women to sit together during some kinds of worship and call it Orthodoxy, that's cool. If a Reform community returns to established Hebrew worship instead of the revisions of the reformers and call it Reform, they should live and be well. And if the alumni of USY, Ramah, Solomon Schechter and JTS want to form a vibrant, committed community of observant and modern Jews and NOT call it Conservative...well, what matters to me is not the label.

But those of us sticking with this creaky and cranky institutional structure can take satisfaction that we produced these phenomena and still hold the best tools for turning out an increasing number of passionate, educated, dedicated Conservative Jews in everything but name. And while everyone around us is touting the numbers on their membership rolls (and smirking at our decline), you and I will still be nurturing this community of ours and the others like it around the world and transforming Judaism for the

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