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Does the Conservative Movement stand on the threshold of death?

Dear Cyber-Rav,

I just read an article by Rabbi Paul Menitoff, the Executive Vice-President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform Rabbis) in which he writes, "If the Conservative leadership capitulates regarding the core differences between Reform and Conservative Judaism, it will be essentially obliterating the need for its existence. If, alternatively, it stands firm, its congregants will vote with their feet. The older members will stay and the young will join Reform congregations." And then later in the article he writes, "the United Synagogue of America (USA) and the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation (JRF) will either merge with the Union [of Reform Judaism] or disappear."

CyberRav-Does the Conservative Movement stand on the threshold of death?

Conservative & Feeling Alive, But Uneasy

The Cyber Rav Answers:

Dear Conservative & Feeling Alive...,

You might remember that an obituary for Mark Twain was published in the New York Journal, which was not a terrible thing except for the fact that Twain hadn't yet died. Having heard of the article, he responded with words the world has never forgotten: "The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated."

Rabbi Menitoff has certainly sounded the death knell for Conservative Judaism. His essay, however, is deeply flawed. The flaw is in its failure to explain the core group of so many Conservative congregations which is both expanding in number and deepening in commitment. The most recent Jewish population survey clearly described this Conservative phenomenon. Such statistics do not point to a dying movement. What is more likely is that these statistics point to a movement that is reinventing itself as a movement with deeper Halakhic [Jewish legal] connections and a greater commitment to Torah study.

Many Conservative rabbis around the country report that their younger families show far greater interest in home rituals and holiday celebrations than ever before. They report heavily attended Shabbat dinners in the synagogue and a growing competency in leading services and synagogue skills such as chanting Torah and Haftarah. To the extent that Rabbi Menitoff's analysis fails to account for this phenomenon, I would say that his conclusions are off-base and unsubstantiated by the statistics.

His essay reminds me of the sociologists of the 40's and 50's who predicted the demise of Orthodoxy in America. Those analyses dove into surface statistics without examining the heart of Orthodoxy, and their perfunctory analysis led to obviously false conclusions. We have a similar phenomenon with here with Rabbi Menitoff's essay. Conservative Judaism is here to stay as is Reform Judaism and Orthodoxy.

The CyberRav

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