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Conservative Judaism

Updated February 1, 2012

Overview

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.

A weekday bar mitzvah in a Conservative synagogue.

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.

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." The Jewish Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to nightfall on Saturday. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "collection," referring to the "collection of water," is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Today it is used as part of the traditional procedure for converting to Judaism, by Jews who follow the laws of ritual (body) purity, and sometimes for making kitchen utensils kosher.
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