The Dilemma of Conservative Judaism
ONE of the most striking and important developments on the American Jewish scene in the twenty years immediately following World War II was the emergence of Conservative Judaism as the most popular religious movement among American Jews. As a social movement, Conservative Judaism provided the framework in which large numbers of upwardly mobile Jews, primarily of Eastern European background and themselves immigrants or children of immigrants, integrated themselves into middle-class urban or suburban American culture while at the same time maintaining ties with their traditional roots. As an ideology, it provided these Jews a middle ground between Reform and Orthodoxy: whereas the former seemed to have all but abandoned the dictates and practices of Jewish religious law, and the latter seemed frozen into rigidity, Conservative Judaism appeared to offer a delicate but fruitful balance between tradition and change that spoke to the situation and needs of most American Jews.
Yet today, at the very height of Conservatism’s phenomenal popular success, leading spokesmen of the movement appear to have become plagued by self-doubt, disquiet, and gloom. In fact, Conservative Judaism in recent years has been undergoing a crisis of confidence which is still far from being resolved. An examination of that crisis tells much about the current condition of belief among many American Jews.
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