“Compromise and consensus frequently governed choices” for Conservative synagogues in the mid-20th century with Consequences

In the middle of the last century, the Conservative movement made the decision to become the “Movement of the People.” Conservative synagogues opened their doors and welcomed a broad base of Jews who were seeking to identify with a congregation that blended tradition and modernity. Although the Conservative movement had a distinct theological and ideological approach, it was not theology or ideology that motivated most adherents. It was, rather, the “style” of the religious services and programs that generated enthusiasm. In order to make themselves attractive to the widest possible segment of the community, many congregations made an implicit decision not to define themselves too precisely. The prevailing attitude reflected the belief that every Jew should be able to find something within the congregation with which he or she felt comfortable. More significantly, however, the premise that reigned was that as few members as possible would feel uncomfortable. Rarely was there an attempt to define the synagogue vision, mission, ideology or approach to religious life too specifically for fear of causing people to feel excluded.

As a result, leaders often made decisions based upon programs or positions that had the potential to attract the greatest numbers. Compromise and consensus frequently governed choices. Those who were satisfied with this approach retained their membership, whether or not they actively participated in congregational life. Those who wanted that which Conservative Jewish ideology promised but often did not deliver, however, went elsewhere. Ironically, many adults who have studied traditional Jewish sources and were moved to seek a serious Jewish community, committed to what Conservative Judaism promoted in terms of Jewish living, were forced to find it outside of the movement.

Rabbi Jerome Epstein, “Key to Conservative Survival: Returning to Our Core”, The Jewish Week (18 April 2014), 20.