Conservative Judaism came into being during the early twentieth century as a mid-point between the Orthodox and Reform perspectives. It holds that the Torah is of divine origin, but also accepts historical-critical scholarship indicating that Judaism has always evolved to meet the needs of its people and should continue to evolve.
Jewish Virtual Library Summary
“Conservative Judaism holds that the laws of the Torah and Talmud are of divine origin, and thus mandates the following of halakha (Jewish law). At the same time, the Conservative movement recognizes the human element in the Torah and Talmud, and accepts modern scholarship that shows that Jewish writings also show the influence of other cultures, and in general can be treated as historical documents. Conservative Judaism affirms the legitimacy of scientific biblical criticism.”
“The movement believes that God is real and that God‘s will is made known to humanity through revelation. The revelation at Sinai was the clearest and most public of such divine revelations, but revelation also took place with other people — called prophets — and, according to some, in a more subtle form can happen even today.”
“Many people misinterpret Conservative Judaism as being like Reform Judaism except with more Hebrew in its services; they believe that if one simply goes to a Conservative synagogue, then one is a Conservative Jew. This, of course, is not true, and the movement’s leadership is strongly concerned with whether or not the next generation of Conservative Jews will have the commitment to lead an authentic Jewish lifestyle.”
Marty’s Own Experience
I myself have a clear memory of Conservative openness to change. In New York City during the 1950s, I was taught in my Conservative synagogue that Jewish law prohibited riding on shabat, the Sabbath. In the city, most Conservative Jews lived near a Conservative synagogue and could walk to it for the shabat services, so the Conservative synagogues in my neighborhood had no parking lots. Then, during the 1960s, many Jews moved from the city where they had lived for decades to Long Island which was then largely open country that required the use of a car to get to the synagogues. The Conservative rabbinate was eager to serve these migrating Jews, and quickly declared that it was more important to keep the Jews in their synagogues so the provision against riding on the Sabbath was no longer in force. The new synagogues were built with spacious parking lots. By contrast, Orthodox Jews simply didn’t move to the suburbs unless they could cluster within walking distance of an Orthodox synagogue.