Once a dynamic force in North American non-Torah Judaism, Conservatism has faded in recent decades to a slightly more traditional version of Reform - all the progressive, leftist attitudes with a little more ceremony thrown in to legitimize the atmosphere. Nothing demonstrated this decline more than the recent decision by the Jewish Theological Seminary to ordain students that were openly gay and approve of homosexual marriages. While many other initiatives spearheaded by the organization in the past have contravened important Rabbinic commandments, this was the first time the Conservatives openly admitted what the Torah-observant community had known about them all along: even the Written Torah has no authority for them. The only rules are those that are dicated by secular liberal morality. The rest is all expendable.
What's interesting to remark on is how the Conservatives have moved forward with their accelerating abandonment of even a pretense of traditionalism. Their strength, so they claim, is their commitment to pluralism but like all good liberal double-speak, they mean no such thing. A few years ago, for example, at the major Conservative convention in Boston where Arnie Eisen was sworn in as their chancellor, there was a brouhaha over whether or not to allow a non-egalitarian group to have a room for their own minyan. The Conservatives are pluralistic, dammit, so those traditionalists had better drop any idea about keeping different values. Pluralism just wouldn't allow it.
The next victim, it seems, is the Israeli branch of Conservatism, Machon Schechter. It seems that more many Conservatives in Israel, the recent leftward lurch by the home movement back in the U.S. is too much, too fast. Leftward drift is okay, but a sudden jump into territory where you have to admit the Torah is no longer your authoritative guide in any form?
In a further sign that the American and international wings of the Conservative movement are moving in different ideological directions, a Los Angeles rabbinical seminary has ended its longstanding residency program with Machon Schechter in Jerusalem, the only institution that ordains Conservative rabbis in Israel.
Beginning this fall, third-year students at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies will spend their Israel year at the Conservative Yeshiva, a co-educational institute for Diaspora Jews housed at the Fuchsberg Center of the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, the movement's North American synagogue umbrella. The change was announced last week in a memo to the United Synagogue's staff and board members.
"The Ziegler School and the Conservative Yeshiva share a common pedagogical philosophy -- integrating academic rigor, emotional engagement, and spiritual yearning," Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Ziegler's dean, said in a statement appended to the memo.
Both American Conservative seminaries -- Ziegler and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York -- are known to have ideological differences with Schechter's rabbinical school, whose dean, Rabbi Einat Ramon, has been an outspoken critic of the movement's liberalizing attitude towards gays and lesbians.
Ramon has declined to follow the lead of the American schools, both of which changed their policies to admit openly gay and lesbian students following a decision by the movement's Jewish law authorities in late 2006 paving the way for such a move. Seminario Rabinico Latinoamericano, the movement's seminary in Argentina, also declined to change its policies.
In the end, Conservatism is not about pluralism. It is not about openess and tolerance. It is about a new religion that vaguely resembles Torah Judaism but constains all the intolerances that it criticizes Orthodoxy for having. The only difference is: we admit that we're that way and don't pretend to be "enlightened".