Updated February 1, 2012
Around a third of the American Jews who belong to synagogues are affiliated with the Conservative movement (PDF), a broad movement which works to change within the framework of evolving Jewish Law. Conservative synagogues may have a traditional Hebrew or less traditional liturgy, may or may not be egalitarian, and have members with a range of beliefs and practices. According to Rabbi Elliott Dorff, Conservative Judaism examines Jewish texts and Judaism through a historical framework, and does not assume that later commentaries on the text necessarily reflect original revelation. They also seek to view Judaism as something that has changed throughout history in response to practicing it in varying circumstances.
Practices and Beliefs
Practices and beliefs in the Conservative movement range from those who are indistinguishable in practice from Modern Orthodox Jews, to those whose practice is indistinguishable from Reform Jews or Secular Jews. The movement advocates for its members to keep Shabbat, although unlike in Orthodox Judaism, there are rabbinical opinions that permit driving in cars to get to synagogue and the use of electricity. Conservative Synagogues can choose whether to be egalitarian or not, and often have services that are very liturgically similar to Orthodox services, although some liturgical changes have been made and different communities may use adaptations of the service that best fit their needs.
Intermarriage and Conversion
Conservative Judaism strives to welcome interfaith families while maintaining their adherence to Jewish law. Having adopted "keruv policies," they seek to encourage the spiritual growth of the non-Jewish partner and encourage them to convert to Judaism. Congregations are likely to have boundaries around how non-Jewish family members participate in lifecycle ceremonies and events. Conservative Judaism determines who they consider to be a Jew through matrilineal descent — a Jew is someone who is born to a Jewish mother, or who has converted to Judaism in a ceremony that meets their requirements. In order to convert, someone would take an extended course of study with the rabbi, immerse in the mikveh (ritual bath). If they are male they would need to have a ritual circumcision or drawing of blood. Conservative congregations will recognize conversions that are performed by other denominations if they meet their standards in terms of who serves as a witness, the rituals that are performed, and the course of study.