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Conservative Jews Draft First Common Statement of Principles

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A commission representing the major institutions of Conservative Judaism has issued the first common statement of principles in the movement’s 143-year history.

The document, “Emet Ve-Emunah” (Truth and Belief), includes the movement’s positions on belief in God, the role of women in Judaism, religious pluralism and the Conservative approach to halacha, or Jewish law. It essentially reaffirms declared individual positions of the movement.

Drafted over the past two-and-half years, the document was issued jointly by the Rabbinical Assembly, the Jewish Theological Seminary and the United Synagogue of America, the rabbinical, seminarian and congregational institutions, respectively, of the movement, with an estimated 2 million adherents in the United States.

Among its highlights is a statement of Conservative Judaism’s position toward Israel, which maintains that Israel is not the center of modern Jewish life, but rather plays an essential role in a partnership with the diaspora.

“We do not believe that Jewish identity can be replaced by Israeli identity or the ability to speak Hebrew,” the document states.

Israel and diaspora Jewry “must aid and enrich the other in every possible way; each needs the other.”

The document also calls on the State of Israel to change its existing laws recognizing the religious authority only of Orthodox rabbis.

“The discrimination practiced by the State of Israel against non-Orthodox Judaism is morally intolerable and pragmatically dangerous,” the statement reads.

Also related to the discussion of religious pluralism is a proposal for an increase in intra-Jewish cooperation.

The statement proposes the formation of more local boards of rabbis and of a national, as well as local, intra-Jewish “batei din,” or religious courts, to decide issues such as conversion and the granting of religious divorces.

ON WOMEN

While the statement of principles “pays tribute” to the expanded role of women in Conservative Judaism, it acknowledges that their functioning as rabbis and cantors has not been universally accepted among Conservative leaders. The JTS decided to ordain women as rabbis in 1983 and to grant women cantorial degrees beginning in 1987.

“Many believe that women should be encouraged” to become rabbis and cantors, the statement notes, “while others believe that women today can find religious fulfillment within the context of traditional practice.”

Concerning theology, the statement maintains that belief in God is essential to Conservative Judaism, although individuals have the right to challenge God’s existence and actions. Faith in a messianic age is strongly affirmed by the statement.

Concerning halacha, the statement reaffirms both the movement’s “loyalty to rabbinic tradition” and “the ongoing development of Jewish law,” which includes adaptation to technological and social changes. In other words, the interpretation of the God-given Torah may evolve.

The document was prepared by a 35-member commission drawn from the three major institutions as well as the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs, the Cantors Assembly and the Jewish Educators Assembly.

Robert Gordis, a faculty member of the Jewish Theological Seminary and a past president of the Rabbinical Assembly, chaired the commission.

The statement of principles will be distributed in booklet form to the 850 Conservative synagogues around the world.

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