Correcting a False Impression – Conservative/Masorti Judaism Is Global

This week, Conservative Judaism’s rabbinic association, the International Rabbinical Assembly, convenes in Montreal, Canada.

This location underscores that Conservative Judaism is incorrectly depicted as being present ONLY IN AMERICA.

While there are 1.2 million self-identified American Conservative Jews, there also are 900,000 (and growing) self-identified Masorti/Conservative Jews outside of the United States.

Recent surveys, for example, indicate between 250,000 and 300,000 Israelis identify with Masorti/Conservative Judaism.

In Argentina, Latin America’s largest Jewish community, among 180,000 Jews, an estimated 80% have the Masorti Movement as their first option for ongoing participation and for life cycle events.

Additionally, there are 40 Conservative officially affiliated Argentine synagogue communities, plus 20 others aligned with the values of the Movement.

Conservative Judaism has dozens of Argentina Youth chapters with thousands of members and hundreds of staff. The chapters conduct weekly activities as well as more than 25 encampments a year (winter in July and summer in December/January).

The Seminario Rabbinicio Latinamicano, one of the most important and relevant Jewish Institutions in Latin America, serves the entire region. The Seminario currently has 230 students in programs for Leadership, Educational, Youth, Learning for Enrichment, Synagogue Staff, Cantorial and Rabbinical studies.

There also is a network of 15 Jewish day schools from the Movement and/or related to the Movement, with curricula provided by the Jerusalem-based Schechter Institute TALI Program for Jewish Schools and Synagogues.

It also should be noted that there are nearly 150,000 additional Conservative/Masorti Jews in other parts of Latin America.

Another area of great strength for Conservative Judaism is Canadian Jewry, as revealed in a recent comprehensive survey. Canada has emerged to be among the Diaspora’s LARGEST Jewish communities.

“By 2011, Canada’s Jewish population had grown to 385,000, making it the third or fourth largest Jewish community in the world, exceeded in size only by the Jewish populations of Israel, the United States and, probably, France (Shahar 2014: 100). If in 2018 France’s Jewish population is not already smaller than Canada’s, it may well be in little more than a decade.”

Canadian Jewry is more than holding its own in size, slowly growing. It is maintaining strong Jewish commitments from one generation to the next.

“Most Jewish parents with children under 18 years of age believe their children will grow up to have a connection to Jewish life that is as strong, if not stronger, than their own.”

The following statistics reveal the impressive strength of Canadian Jewish identity in a country in which Conservative Judaism predominates.

  • “Almost everyone surveyed says being Jewish in their life is very (64%) or somewhat (27%) important, with few (8%) indicating it is of little or no importance.”
  • “Nine in ten Canadian Jews report that both of their parents are Jewish, and a comparable proportion say they were raised in the Jewish religion.”
  • “Most Jews in Canada have participated in one or more types of Jewish education when growing up. Jewish education will most likely include attendance at an overnight summer camp, Hebrew school, or Sunday school, but close to one-half have attended a Jewish day school or yeshiva and have done so for an average of nine years.”
  • “43% of Canadian Jews regard “Caring about Israel” as “Essential to being Jewish,” with an additional (43%) regarding this as “Important to being Jewish.”
  • “Eight in ten Canadian Jews have visited Israel at least once and have done so an average of five times to date. One in six reports having lived in Israel for six months or more. Travel to Israel is … common across the population, especially among Jews under 45 years of age and those with a post-graduate degree.”
  • “Most Canadian Jews claim some knowledge of the Hebrew language, with three-quarters saying they know the alphabet, six in ten indicating they can read at least some Hebrew words in a newspaper or prayer book, and four in ten claiming to be able to carry on a conversation in the language.”

As a force in sustaining the strength of impressive Jewish engagement, “Conservative Judaism… is alive and well in Canada and tops the charts of affiliation, followed by Orthodoxy, and only then, Reform, with a small number in the smaller movements, and further 30% identifying themselves “just Jewish.”

Among the more than “six in ten Jews (who) report belonging to or being actively involved in one of the mainstream denominations:

  • Conservative (26%)
  • Orthodox/Modern Orthodox (17%)
  • Reform (16%)
  • About one in ten (11%) affiliate with one of the smaller Jewish movements, including Reconstructionism, Humanistic or Renewal Judaism, Hasidism, or something else.
  • Of the remaining three in ten (31%) who say they do not identify with any specific denomination or movement, many regard themselves as “just Jewish.”

It should be noted a substantial proportion of these “just Jewish” folks affiliate with congregations.

This means that the number 26% (of Canada’s Jews) as Conservative Jews is larger once adding “Just Jewish” Conservative synagogue members. The total number of Jews engaged in Canada’s Conservative Jewish life thereby jumps closer to 35% of Canadian Jewry, e.g. 140,000 Jews.

Furthermore, the research reveals that “a large majority Canadian Jews feel somewhat, if not strongly, connected to Jewish life in their city… largely a function of denominational affiliation and active involvement.”

As in the USA Pew Study, among Canadian Jews, we witness a “gradient” of intensity in Jewish commitment.

  • Highest intensity – Orthodox
  • A close second – Conservative
  • Third place – Reform
  • Then – the Unaffiliated

This gradient reflects upon Jewish continuity, Jewish peoplehood, and Israel. For example:

  • “Having a Jewish spouse is almost universal among those who are Orthodox/Modern Orthodox (97%) or Conservative (90%).”
  • “Raising all of one’s children in the Jewish religion is almost universal among Canadian Jews who identify primarily through religion (93%); or in combination with culture and descent (95%), as well as among those who are Orthodox/Modern Orthodox (97%) or Conservative (97%).”
  • Strong attachment to Israel is widespread among Jews who are Orthodox/Modern Orthodox (76% very attached), e.g. and by those (for example, Conservative Jews) who identify as a Jew mainly by religion alone (60%), or in combination with culture and ancestry/descent (61%).”
  • “The strongest predictor of having all or mostly Jewish friends is denominational affiliation. More than eight in ten (84%) Orthodox/Modern Orthodox Jews say that all or most of their friends are Jewish, …Conservative (67%)”

In sum, Canadian Jewry is large in size and growing in quality. Its Jewish identity is strong as is its commitment to Jewish peoplehood and to Israel, notably thanks to Conservative Judaism.

In sum, as reflected in this week’s attendance at the Montreal-based Rabbinical assembly convention, Conservative/Masorti Judaism’s 2.1 million adherents reflect a global Movement.

It continues to affiliate communities throughout the USA, Canada, Latin America, Europe, the FSU, Australia, Africa and Asia.

About the Author
Rabbi Alan Silverstein, PhD has been the religious leader of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, New Jersey since 1979. From … 1993 to 1995 he served as President of the International Rabbinical Assembly of the Conservative Movement. From 2000 - 2005 he was President of the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues. He served as Chair of the Foundation for Masorti Judaism in Israel from 2010-2014. He currently serves as the president of Mercaz Olami. He is the author of It All Begins With A Date: Jewish Concerns About Interdating; Preserving Jewishness In Your Family: Once Intermarriage Has Occurred; as well as Alternative to Assimilation: A Social History of the Reform Movement in American Judaism, 1840-1930.
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