The chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary said Conservative Judaism should define itself by what its Jews do.
Arnold Eisen, in remarks Thursday opening the biennial convention of the movement’s congregational arm, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, said the movement needs to live Torah authentically if it is to thrive.
“We are those Jews committed to full and authentic engagement with the Jewish people and the Jewish tradition, heart and soul and mind, as well as full engagement with the society and culture of which we are a part, again heart and soul and mind,” Eisen said.
Since taking the helm of the seminary this summer, Eisen has been increasingly looked to not only as the leader of Conservative Judaism, but as an agent of revitalization for a movement that has seen its membership drop precipitously over the past decade.
In a speech that earned him a standing ovation, Eisen reiterated what he has said are the movement’s three main tasks: articulating a clearer message about what Conservative Judaism stands for, improving the quality of programming and increasing cooperation among the movement’s various bodies.
He also set forth 10 principles for the movement, among them learning Torah, building strong communities, tikkun olam, commitment to Israel and Hebrew literacy.
Eisen said congregational Hebrew schools needed particular attention, and was he emphatic in lamenting the absence of intensive learning in Conservative synagogues, saying that if someone wishes to learn Talmud and is forced to look to Orthodoxy for opportunities, the movement deserves to lose them.
“This is our lifeblood,” Eisen said. “This is rabbinic Judaism. This is ours.”