Tomorrow night after minyan I will be presenting on the question of why the Conservative movement is, or at least appears to be, in such a crisis. A new book by Mark Silk and Jerome Chanes, The Future of Judaism in America, points out that the percentage of American Jews who identify as Conservative has dropped from 43% to 17% in two decades. Chanes and Silk write: The movement is struggling with the question of how long it can sustain its policy of forbidding its rabbis from performing marriages between Jews and non-Jews. (The question is of a piece with the angst always felt by Conservative leaders when their commitment to halacha collides with the movement’s commitment to change.) The question of intermarriage is central to the future of Conservative Judaism, as its contemporary identity is defined and has always been defined by the clear line it draws between Jew and non-Jew. This dilemma, in addition to the host of serious issues that plague the movement — not the least of which is a precipitous decline in Conservative’s numbers, from 43% to 17% of those who identify with a denomination over some two decades — suggests that the future of the Conservative qua independent movement is highly uncertain.
Many analysts (including several authors in our book) suggest that Reform and Conservative Judaism will ultimately merge and become a single heterodox movement. That, or Conservative will remain as a smaller movement, concentrated in large population centers.
I am not sure that I agree with Silk and Chanes about the nature of the crisis but I think the figures that they cite are more or less accurate. At any rate I hope you will attend tomorrow night’s discussion and share your thoughts as well.
As a reminder, I am having drop-in hours on Thursday afternoon from 2 to 4 at the shul. You do not need to make an appointment -- that would negate the whole point of drop-in hours -- but I’d urge you to check and make sure I am there regardless as sometimes there are unavoidable pastoral or other emergencies which might take me away from the building.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at email@example.com or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian