Conservative Judaism was born although the Reform movement of the nineteenth century had many supporters, but some Jews felt Reform Judaism went too far.
A more reasoned and less extreme break from Orthodox Judaism seemed desirable.
In 1845, Rabbi Zecharias Frankel broke with the emerging European Reform movement in Germany when he insisted that the liturgy should be conducted in Hebrew.
A decade later, Rabbi Frankel became the first head of the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau.
The seeds of Conservative Judaism were sown in the United States with the founding of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in 1886.
However, Conservative Judaism did not really begin to expand until Dr. Solomon Schechter became president of the seminary in 1902.
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In 1913, Dr. Schechter organized the movement under the aegis of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Today, the Conservative Judaism movement is nearly as large as Reform Judaism.
Like Reform Jews, Conservatives believe that the Torah was divinely inspired but authored by humans.
Conservative Judaism parts with Reform in that it generally accepts the binding nature of Halakah. However, Conservatives do agree with Reform that Halakah is subject to change and that adaptations may be made based on the contemporary culture so long as the Halakah remains true to Judaism’s values.
Conservative Judaism’s most notable accomplishment is in the area of synagogue services. It has offered a middle ground for Jews who are not satisfied with either the Orthodox or the Reform approach.
In the Conservative service, Hebrew is the predominant language, but the worshippers’ native language is used as well. Conservative congregations allow men and women to sit together, and many also have choirs and organs.
Conservative Judaism’s positions vary between liberal and traditional. Since 1983, women have been accepted for training in the rabbinate. On the other hand, Conservative Judaism has reaffirmed matrilineal descent in determining who is a Jew.
It is expected that Shabbat and dietary laws be observed, although many if not most Conservative Jews either do not adhere to these mitzvot or follow them to a limited extent.
At present, an estimated 23 percent of all synagogues in the United States are part of the Conservative branch.
There are more than 850 Conservative synagogues nationwide as well as many more in Canada, and Conservative Jews number approximately 1.5 million worldwide.
In general, there is a great deal of variability among today’s Conservative practices. Some seem almost indistinguishable from Reform congregations, while others come close to the Orthodox service.