Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Future of Conservative Jewry

In this comprehensive interview with JTS Chancellor Arnold Eisen, "The Future of Conservative Jewry," we can see, in detail, the Chancellor's vision and agenda. It is well worth reading the entire interview, but here is a basic outline:

Conservative Jewry faces three major challenges. These concern its message, its quality control, and its structure. The definition of the message has become a priority in part because of the blurring of the boundaries with other movements.

Quality control is a prime issue because Conservative Judaism depends on "franchises." It relies on local organizations - synagogues, camps, day and congregational schools, youth groups, men's clubs, and sisterhoods - to provide a quality product.

Conservative Judaism has structural problems because it only has a loose umbrella body, the Leadership Council of Conservative Judaism. Up to twenty different organizations are represented there and in such a framework it is hard to function in a unified manner. A major restructuring of the movement is underway.

Ten elements define Conservative Judaism's worldview: learning, community, klal Yisrael (Jewish peoplehood), Zionism, Hebrew, changing the world, mitzvah (commandment), time, space, and God. A major project to make Conservative Jews more aware of the role of mitzvot has been undertaken at the initiative of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Indeed a major restucturing IS underway in the movement; the USCJ has been streamlined considerably and, at JTS, the cantorial school just lost it's director. See more on that in these articles:

JTS Revamps Cantorial School (Jewish Week)
JTS sheds cantorial dean's post (JTA)
JTS Downsizes Its Cantorial Program: A Bad Sign (First Things)

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