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The Ins and Outs of Conservative Judaism

FrankelAlso referred to as Masorti Judaism in Israel and Europe, the Conservative sect of Judaism identifies with the intellectual thought from mid-19th century followers in Germany. In the early 1900s, the religion took physical shape in the United States with institutions appearing across the country. In this article, you will learn facts concerning this major sect of Judaism.

Some of the principles that a Conservative Judaic follower embraces include the non-fundamentalist teaching of Jewish principles of faith; positivity towards modern culture, and the acceptance of both traditional and modern rabbinic study. It is the goal of supporters of this religious sect to move away from the extremes displayed in the Orthodox and Reform Judaic sects. It is the ultimate desire of Conservative Jews to keep traditional concepts of Judaism while accepting reasonable progression into modern times.

It is through the teachings of Zacharias Frankel (1801 to 1875) that is responsible for the creation of the Conservative Judaism branch. Frankel is known for shifting away from the Reform movement when he was in Germany during the 1840s. In 1902, New York City became the location of a reorganized Jewish Theological Seminary, which blossomed into the flagship institution of Conservative Judaism. To this day, Conservative rabbis still train at the Seminary.

Conservative Jews observe the Sabbath and follow modified dietary laws. As with Reform Judaism, women are allowed to take on the role of rabbis in Conservative circles , the first being ordained in a Conservative synagogue in 1985. Other distinguishing characteristics of the religion include a deep sense of Jewish nationalism, Zionism support, and the strong encouragement to study Hebrew.

Facts About Conservative Judaism

A successful Conservative movement has thrived throughout the United States with the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) taking the lead. Founded in 1913, an estimated 1.5 million Jews are found in about 760 congregations.

Significant people associated with Conservative Judaism include the Talmud scholar Louis Finkelstein; Zecharias Frankel (founder of positive-historical Judaism); Jules Harlow (primary liturgist of the Conservative movement); Louis Jacobs  (the founder of Masorti Judaism in the United Kingdom); Abraham Joshua Heschel  (theologian and social activist); and Mathilde Roth Schechter (the founder of the Women’s League of Conservative Judaism and of Hadassah).

Conservative Judaism believes in monotheism (one god) with a range of beliefs regarding the nature of God. There is no one understanding that all Conservative Jews hold. Some of the beliefs include Kabbalistic mysticism and Hasidic panentheism.

As a Conservative Jew, you are expected to abide by halakha (Jewish religious law), which includes biblical law, customs, traditions, and rabbinic law. For example, the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) states three levels of sin. The first is called ‘pesha’ , also known as intentional sin , when actions that defy God are deliberately committed. The second is called ‘avon,’ which refers to a sin that is done with knowledge but not intentionally against God , usually seen as a sin of lust or an emotion that uncontrollably arises. The third and last sin is called ‘che’ , an “unintentional sin” altogether.