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Conservative Movement in Judaism, The

Dilemmas and Opportunities

Rela Mintz Geffen, Daniel J. Elazar

Publication Year: 2000

Illustrates how the American Conservative Movement in Judaism can continue to prosper amidst ideological and institutional challenges. Viewing the Conservative Movement at a turning point, this book analyzes the problems facing the religious movement with the largest synagogue membership in the American Jewish community and outlines a plan of action for the future. Elazar and Geffen suggest: clarifying ideology, mission, and purpose, finding the right balance between traditionalists and advocates of change, unifying movement institutions in a cooperative effort, staunching the decline of membership to the left, recapturing the loyalty of lapsed adherents, closing the gap in observance between the laity and the standard bearers of the movement, developing the Movement in Israel and world-wide, and strengthening ties with Jewish federations and other Jewish communal bodies. The authors propose that the Conservative Movement’s remedying of these problems will benefit not just American, but all world Jewry.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series in American Jewish Society in the 1990s (discontinued)

Title Page, Copyright Page

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Tables and Figures

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pp. xiii-xiv

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, under whose auspices the study that underlies this book was conducted, is a major independent worldwide Jewish policy studies center. Since 1970, its Center for Jewish Community Studies has been conducting in-depth research on Jewish life throughout the world, including studies of religious...

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Introduction: Conservative Judaism: Past and Future

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pp. 1-10

The Conservative Movement is one of the greatest achievements of American Jewry. Its nineteenth-century founders and their heirs built the largest religious movement in the American Jewish community, one that for at least two generations best expressed the synthesis of the Jewish and American ways of life that had developed in the United...

Part I:The State of the Movement

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Chapter 1: A History of Ambivalence

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pp. 13-28

Political philosophers and constitutional architects from earliest times have understood that institutions are products of their foundings, and that foundings continue to play a decisive role in the form and behavior of those institutions for generations thereafter. The origins and history of the Conservative Movement reflect its American...

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Chapter 2: Institutions

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pp. 29-52

The Conservative Movement is understood to have begun with the founding of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Each Movement institution— the Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue, the National Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, the Educators’ and Cantors’ Assemblies, and the Jewish...

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Chapter 3: Ideology and Theology

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pp. 53-68

Many astute observers of Conservative Judaism—not the least, some of its most prominent lay and rabbinic leaders—sense that there is something amiss with the Movement’s ideology or, perhaps more precisely, the extent to which that ideology is understood and the way in which it is being transmitted by rabbis and educators. For example...

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Chapter 4: Style

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pp. 69-90

Social scientists have learned over the years that, along with ideology and institutions, the style of a social movement is at least equally important in determining who will be its adherents. The American Heritage Dictionary defines style as “the way in which something is said or done, as distinguished from its substance” and “the combination of...

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Chapter 5: Demographics

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pp. 91-116

The essentially individualistic character of American society requires that Jews relate to Jewish institutions as individuals. Affiliation in American society is voluntary, in the fullest sense of the word. The patterns of participation in American Jewish life reflect this combination of individualism and voluntarism. In a free society, the Jewish...

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Chapter 6: Leadership

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pp. 117-126

The subject of leadership in the Conservative Movement is a delicate and sensitive one. The discussion of the Movement’s origin and history, institutions, ideology, and style is in the nature of structural issues in which only a few individuals come to mind, while the discussion of demographics is even further removed from the actions of individual...

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Chapter 7: The World Movement

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pp. 127-144

As of 1996, there were an estimated 13,025,000 Jews in the world. Approximately 5.7 million live in the United States, and 362,000 live in Canada. An additional 4,567,700 live in Israel, about 595,000 in the former Soviet Union, and well over 1 million in Western European countries. The largest of these Jewish communities is found in France, with...

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Chapter 8: What the Movement’s Leadership Seeks

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pp. 145-158

Interviews with Movement leaders reveal certain commonalities. Many agree with the statement of the problems presented thus far. They all had a sense that a great deal needs to be done to address those problems, but they also shared a sense that few of the other prominent figures in the Movement would agree with the solutions...

Part II: Next Steps

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Chapter 9: Ideology, Halakhah, and a Broadened Base

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pp. 161-182

This chapter suggests that there is much that is dynamic in the Conservative Movement and much ferment that contributes to that dynamism. The emergence of different congregational styles, the institutionalization of the havurot, and the growth of the Solomon Schechter schools are all examples of basic strengths within Conservative...

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Chapter 10: Internal Unity

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pp. 183-204

Too many synagogue leaders (rabbis and board members) maintain an overly institutional definition of their mission, often to the exclusion of the purpose of building a Conservative Judaism broadly conceived. In some instances, leaders react less than enthusiastically to developments that represent more intensive forms of Conservative...


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pp. 205-218


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pp. 219-224


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pp. 225-238

E-ISBN-13: 9780791492024
E-ISBN-10: 0791492028
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791446898
Print-ISBN-10: 0791446891

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2000

Series Title: SUNY series in American Jewish Society in the 1990s (discontinued)