Remembering the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish worlds of the 60s and 70s

I have been a B.T. since 74. This is how I remember the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish worlds of the 60s and 70s.

Orthodoxy was a lot less extreme right-wing at that time, and Conservative Judaism was a lot less extreme left-wing.

People were actually able to describe themselves as “Conservadox,” which would be nearly impossible to do nowadays.

Many Conservative Jews at that time kept some form of Kashrus and Shabbos, while there were married Jewish women, even Rebbetzins, who considered themselves Modern Orthodox but wore pants and did not cover their hair.

Most Jews had families of only two or three children (birth control was never discussed but unofficially practiced in some form by even strictly Orthodox Jews) and all Jewish children were pushed to attend and graduate college.

All Jewish boys, whether religious or not, were expected to support their families, and so were steered to become doctors, lawyers and dentists; girls were encouraged to pursue female friendly jobs like teaching as a sideline to their most important job, raising Jewish children and running a Jewish home.

Holocaust survivors never talked about their experiences, preferring instead to look ahead to the future generation of Jewish children rather than look back at the awful past.

The only hint was in the names of the Jewish children: e.g. Michael would be for the grandfather Mordechai who had died at Auschwitz, Linda for Leah the grandmother who had perished at Bergen-Belsen.

All Jews, Orthodox or Conservative or Reform, fervently supported Israel and bought Israeli products and State of Israel bonds.

Orthodox Jewish men wearing felt hats and dark suits were indistinguishable from the Conservative and Reform Jewish men of the 1950′s, as all men at that time wore felt hats and dark suits.

Few Orthodox Jewish men had beards, as all needed to go out and earn a living in a society that was hostile to bearded men; however, nobody asked a sheilah of a Rav as to which brands of electric shaver were kosher to use or not.

What ultimately changed the Orthodox Jewish world was that Jewish education, being low-paid, ended up attracting only the extreme right-wing, rebbes and morahs who pushed an extreme right-wing Orthodox Judaism on their students, for better or for worse.

Conservative and Reform Jewish education dwindled from the hated every afternoon Hebrew school down to once-a-week Sunday school down to a couple of Bar- and Bat- Mitzvah lessons at age 12.

Meanwhile, soaring crime and declining academic standards at public high schools sent concerned Orthodox Jewish parents to yeshiva high schools with demanding double curricula in secular studies and limudei kodesh.

Originally published as a comment.

61 comments on “Remembering the Conservative and Orthodox Jewish worlds of the 60s and 70s

  1. “But due to a variety of factors — people started vacationing elsewhere, Conservative Jews stopped requesting kosher food –- the [kosher] hotels began shuttering. Now, Kutsher’s is the only remaining one.”

    SOURCE: Keeping the Catskills Kosher by Rachel Wizenfeld, The Jewish Press, 2011/6/24, page 15

  2. My commitment to Orthodox Judaism has been fueled in part by the inspiration of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel of JTS and the Ramah Camp organization of which I was both a camper and staffer.Over the years my starry BT enthusiasm has been dampened- especially by the unfortunate news and blog revelations of the last six years has pushed me from right wing to left wing MO.I conclude that Hashem and Torah stand forever and we on earth are just very frail human beings.

  3. Re: The article in Mr. Cohen’s post, # 58:

    I think one of several very heroic acts in this story is the Rabbi’s encouragement of the Day School to accept the couple’s children as potential converts.

  4. The tragedy was that his movement thought itself qualified to abrogate Jewish law permanently, while pretending to make a halachic ruling. If that’s not the opposite of conservative, what is?

  5. “It is NOT liberal Judaism.”

    If liberal Judaism is whatever any interested person or group thinks it is, no wonder a mere union of temples can’t capture its elusive essence.

  6. Although it attempts to speak for the Conservative Movement, USCJ is a synagouge union, not a movement. The Jewish Week habitually attributes every management problem of USCJ as a sign that non-Orthodox Judaism is doomed. UCSJ is an instutution with problems. It is NOT liberal Judaism.

    For more, see In particular, “USCJ was blind-sided by gradual changes in what Jews want to do and where they live. It has gone from a movement that was actively encouraging synagogues and their leaders to move to the suburbs in the 1960’s & 70’s to confused leaders trying to figure out why the following generations didn’t want to populate those same suburban shuls.”

  7. “The recent release of a draft strategic plan for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) is simply the latest indicator of the challenge facing non-Orthodox Judaism in the United States.

    The USCJ press release was accompanied by data showing that the movement has lost 14 percent of their affiliated families since 2001, and twice that percentage in the Northeast Region.”

    SOURCE: Are Synagogues Still Relevant? by Sid Schwarz The Jewish Week 2011 March 15, page 22

  8. Declining Membership: a Letter to the Editor of the Jewish Week, from Michael J. Eliav 2011 February 22, page 8:

    Stewart Ain’s article, “United Synagogue Turns Inward” (February 18, 2011), presents staggering data on the decline of Conservative affiliation within the United Synagogue’s network of congregations. Suffice it to say the organization’s embrace of the egalitarian movement has done nothing to increase congregational membership, let alone hinder the ongoing decline of Conservative affiliation.

    I do agree a different approach is urgently needed. However, I think it is naive, and rather desperate, to believe that the solution involves replacing the terms “synagogue” and “congregation” with “sacred community” … or reaching out to the intermarried.

    In its attempt to be overly inclusive, the USCJ has turned away the true traditional Conservative. After attending services at most, if not all, of the Conservative shuls in my area, which are all egalitarian, I find myself more comfortable at the local Chabad chapter.

  9. I read the article: Welcome to the ReConservative Shul (June 12, 2009) with a heavy heart. It illustrates what I have long held: that Conservative Jews are generally Reform Jews who are reluctant to admit it to themselves. Reform Jews are straightforward in their beliefs. In my opinion, this cannot be said of the Conservatives, who have adopted almost all the practices and philosophy of our Reform brothers.

    I was raised a Conservative Jew, which meant that although we had little knowledge of the intricacies of Halachah, we used the same prayer books as the Orthodox, our religious services were practically identical to theirs and our homes were kosher.
    Our major differences were that we rode to shul on Shabbat if it was too great a distance to walk, and the women and the men sat together during religious services.

    But the circumstances changed with time: Conservative Judaism is taking the same path as Reform Judaism, only trailing a few yards in the rear. Because of this, I now belong to an Orthodox shul, the Young Israel of East Northport, Long Island, where I finally am learning what it is to be a practicing Jew. I did not leave Conservative Judaism; it left me.

    In our country, the rabbinical leaders of Conservative Judaism are generals without an army.

    Jay Federman, Dix Hills, Long Island

    SOURCE: The Jewish Week, 2009 July 10, page 8, Letters to the Editor

  10. When I read the article by Stewart Ain about the merger of a Conservative and a Reform synagogue in Canton, Ohio, my jaw dropped in amazement (entitled: Welcome To The ReConservative Shul, June 19).

    I cannot believe that the synagogue is actually going to spend money to build a non-kosher kitchen for the Reform congregation when a perfectly good kosher kitchen is already in existence. And how can the Conservative members permit a non-kosher facility to be built in a building they will be using?

    Barry Koppel, Kew Gardens Hills, Queens

    SOURCE: The Jewish Week, 2009 July 10, page 8, Letters to the Editor

  11. Ethical treatment of workers is not a matter of political correctness; it’s a matter of secular and religious law. Jews of all levels of observance should know this and practice it.

    This applies to workers of any faith. However, let us not be accused of treating our own (i.e. Jewish) workers well at all times in our history.

    I have read an account of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev’s visit to a matzah bakery. He was apalled at the conditions. He is reported to have said that the allegation that we bake matzah with the blood of gentiles was false. That shouldn’t surprise the reader, but you will be shocked by what he said next. He said the truth is that we bake our matzah with the blood of Jews!

  12. Thirty, and even twenty years ago, many Conservative synagogues were not egalitarian.

    I have some demographic questions about synagogues with fewer families “now” than there were “then.”

    Is it possible that the 600 families of today are larger, on a per-family basis, than the 1500 families of yesteryear? If so, the actual number of people on the membership rolls may not be that much smaller today.

    How does synagogue attendance now compare with synagogue attendance then?

    I am seeking facts, not expressing an opinion in support of these changes.


    I left Conservative Judaism mainly because I was one of the few people in shul who kept Shabbat, and was one of the few between the ages of 15 and 50. The dramatic shift in ritual had not begun at that time. I can’t say for sure what I would have done had I experienced the change in ritual while belonging to a congregation of my demographic peers.

    The minyan with which I prayed on most Shabbat mornings in the Conservative synagogue was almost exclusively men, with almost everybody over 60.

    We had an absolutely awesome rabbi at this minyan! As BT’s, we develop our own minhagim. Close to 20 years later, many of my practices, at home and in shul, are based on those of this particular rabbi.

    During this time, I was becoming more observant of Shabbat, but most of the congregants were not particularly observant outside of shul. Still, I think that the “very traditional atmosphere” influenced me to become more observant.

    We did not use a microphone. I found the natural voices of our baalei tefillah to be a source of inspiration during prayer. (Yussele Rosenblatts they were NOT!)

    When I occasionally go to a Conservative synagogue today, I find the amplified voices to be a mood-dampener

  13. Thirty (30) years ago, the East Midwood Jewish Center, an egalitarian Conservative congregation, had 1,500 families; today it has about 600…

    SOURCE: article by Hilary Larson for The Jewish Week, 2009 June 26, page 32, quoting Conservative Rabbi Alvin Kass

  14. To my knowledge, there is only one Conservative shochet. I have actually heard him speak (he has a fascinating story to tell–he is a Conservative BT himself), and eaten a meal which included chicken which he had shechted.

    My family buys most of our red meat from, which is supervised by the OU and the Star-K. We believe that proper treatment of animals and workers is an important part of kashrut. We don’t buy veal, either.

  15. To wife #42:

    Thank you for continuing the discussion. As I said previously, I respect and admire you greatly for your mitzvah observance. I do understand that Conservative Jewish observance differs from Orthodox Jewish observance, in that the Teshuvot of the rabbonim of the Conservative movement allow driving a car on Shabbat and the consumption of certain dairy and vegetarian products without Kashrut supervision. I hope you were not offended by my use of the label “Conservadox” as I have heard others define themselves by this term and they are not implying any derogatory meaning.

    If I may ask you another question: I read an article last year about a Conservative Jewish CSA (community sustainable agriculture) cooperative group, which arranges to buy products directly from farmers to urban consumers, to get a lot more value and freshness in their purchases. This particular CSA hired a Conservative Jewish shochet to shecht cows and deliver beef to their participants. Now, I wouldn’t eat such meat (not being at all comfortable with a shochet choosing to define himself as Conservative rather than Orthodox Jewish). However, would you consider eating meat from a Conservative Jewish shochet or a Conservative Jewish butcher shop? I was just wondering.

    To Albany Jew #44: I’m truly sorry to hear about the death of your father of blessed memory. You should be comforted among the mourners for Zion and Jerusalem. My own father died in 1985, more than 25 years ago, and I still think about him every day. My own great comfort is in my middle son, who bears my father’s name (I was pregnant with him when my father died), and also in my second-oldest grandson, who also bears his name. Rav Avigdor Miller zatzal used to say that our good deeds and mitzvot are like “care packages” going to their souls in Gan Eden when done in the names of the departed. (Do an act of kindness for someone, and say quietly to yourself, “This is to the credit of the Neshamah of [My Father’s Name] son of [My Father’s Father’s Name]”).

  16. I was moved at my father’s burial last year (Erev Rosh Hashanah) when the participants, as opposed to some crew of strangers, placed the coffin in the grave and filled the whole space with dirt by themselves. The Rabbi, a family friend, did more than his share with a shovel.

  17. Having buried my father last week, I have an observation that might fit in here. I remember when my brother-in-law passed only a few years ago, and a reform rabbi conducted the service, the mourners were given ripped ribbons so they could “symbolically” rend their garments. At graveside we were instructed to only cover the casket with a minimum amount of dirt to “symbolically” bury him. When everything is “symbolic” and nothing is actually done (burying someone is the last kindness you can do for someone and it is selfless because it cannot be repaid) what do you really have anyway? This is how I see a major difference between reform and orthodox. (I’m not going to include conservative here because they are currently all over the map.)

  18. I read the teshuva & you’re right; Orthodox Jews would not rely on it for a number of reasons. Although I do not agree with it, I understand better the philosophy of your beliefs. I still suspect your level of observance puts you in the minority of Jews who affiliate with the Conservative movement.

    Kol Hakavod for the mitzvot you do & may they only bring you (& your family) closer to HKBH.

  19. Judy: You ask if I observe Shabbat or Kashrut as though I could simply answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’; as though we agree on what it meas to observe Shabbat and Kashrut.

    As a Conservative Jew, I use electric light switches on Shabbat. My family and I walk to shul on Shabbat mornings, but if there is a dinner at shul on Friday night, we will drive home so that we can attend the dinner and still get the kids in bed without keeping them up too late. Does this mean that I observe Shabbat or not? By Orthodox definitions, I don’t. By Conservative definitions, I do, probably 9 weeks out of 10 (the remaining weeks involve nonobservant relatives or professional conferences, and I ALWAYS manage Shabbat dinner, even in the middle of professional conferences or visits involving nonobservant relatives).

    I keep a kosher home, but I accept some hechshers on cheeses that I am sure you would consider ‘unreliable.’ I eat vegetarian out.

    The label ‘Conservadox’ bothers me. I am trying to observe the mitzvot according to the way they are interpreted by Conservative rabbis, and I am not fully observant, even by this measure (As I said, I eat vegetarian out). I do not understand how trying to be an observant Conservative Jew makes me ‘odox’.

  20. To wife #40: It’s hard to define human beings by stick-on labels. I certainly admire and respect all Conservative Jewish women who like yourself use the mikvah regularly. Years ago, people used the term “Conservadox” for more observant Conservative Jews; some in that category also call themselves “Traditional” or “masorati” Jews. The late Rabbi Haim Halevy Donin in his book To Be A Jew discussed these denominational labels, what they do and don’t mean.

    With all due respect, may I ask if you observe other mitzvot, such as Shabbat and Kashrut? I understand it’s really none of my business, but since you did voluntarily share certain information about yourself, I was hoping you would continue the discussion.

  21. I am not a rabbi, nor is my husband (neither of us comes even remotely close to meeting the entrance requirements in Talmud). I cannot say anything about how many Conservative women vist the mikveh on a regular basis (although I may be living in the same metropolitan area as you, #39; it is remarkably difficult but not impossible to get an evening appointment at the Conservative mikvah, and so I usually use one of the Orthodox ones).

    All I can say is that I am a Conservative Jewish woman who uses the mikvah regularly, and I am not alone. And not all of us are rabbis or married to rabbis, either.

    In response to the question in #39 about how a woman can read Sefer if she is tamei, please see

    In response to the question in #37 about whether those of us Conservative Jews who observe these mitzvot are Conservative and not Orthodox–well, I don’t think Orthodox Jews would be relying on teshuvot such as this one!

  22. To Wife #36:
    Kol Hakavod that you observe this very important mitzvah. Are you Shomer Shabbat & do you keep kosher as well? If so, that is the definition of a Shomer Mitzvot, no matter what label is slapped on.

    There is a beautiful (or so I’m told) Conservative mikvah in my city. It is only open during the day by appointment and closed at night. It was built and is used for conversions. If a Conservative woman wants to use the mikvah on a monthly basis, she has to go to one of the Orthodox mikvaot.

    Do Conservative & Reform married women “rabbis” generally use the mikvah (monthly)? From the few I know, I believe not. And, if not, how can they read Sefer if they are tamei? I don’t understand this; perhaps you can explain. I read a lot about using the mikvah after a tragedy, illness, divorce etc. to symbolize “renewal”–but that’s not the way a mikvah is meant to be used.

  23. “The non-Orthodox, barring a handful of Conservative Rabbis’ wives and a miniscule number of their congregants simply reject or ignore the basic Halachah in this code, which requires a [married] woman to dip in a special ritual bath after her period.”

    SOURCE: Chapter 2, page 17 of Piety and Power by David Landau, 1993

    MICROBIOGRAPHY: David Landau was News Editor of HaAretz, Managing Editor of The Jerusalem Post and Israel Bureau Chief for the Jewish Telegraphic agency.

  24. To wife #36: Hello, glad to meet you.

    With all due respect, if you observe the beautiful mitzvah of Taharat ha-Mishpachah, why do you define yourself as a Conservative Jew rather than as a Modern Orthodox Jew? Is that due to synagogue affiliation rather than to choice of ideology or level of personal halachic observance? Or is it because you and/or your husband are graduates of JTS and have been ordained Conservative rabbis?

    Just asking. I have tremendous admiration for you personally for your courage and convictions. Remember the narrative of Chanukah – women like you were the heroines who refused to bow to the demands of the Hellenists that we give up our precious mitzvot.

  25. Re: Comment #33: ” I have yet to meet a C Jewish woman who goes to mikvah on a regular basis.”

    Hi there! You’ve just met one (and I personally know several others). But it’s not something we generally go around announcing…

  26. No Mention of Tefillin, 2011 February 15, Fred Schoenfeld, Manhattan
    The Jewish Week, 2011 February 18, page 8

    In his article on the latest crisis in the Conservative movement, “United Synagogue Turns Inward” (February 11), Stewart Ain lists as one of the reasons “that the best and brightest” are migrating to post-denominational or Modern Orthodox settings.

    I fully agree, and point out one example why this is happening.

    My grandson, whose family belongs to a Conservative synagogue in Westchester, is about to become bar mitzvah. When his mother attended an orientation class for parents of bar mitzvah boys, she was shocked that there was no mention of tefillin as part of the preparations.

    When she confronted the rabbi she was told, “What is the use for the tefillin, they will just sit in the closet gathering dust.” So much for tradition.

    As a result my daughter switched to another congregation.

  27. Piety and Power (chapter 34, page 298) by David Landau, year 1993:

    “…constantly rising intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles, the major motive for conversion, steadily increases. The vast majority of these conversions are performed by Reform or Conservative Rabbis.”

    MICROBIOGRAPHY: David Landau was News Editor of HaAretz, Managing Editor of The Jerusalem Post and Israel Bureau Chief for the Jewish Telegraphic agency.

  28. Here on the west coast, I meet VERY few Conservative Jews who follow the tenets of C Judaism. The most common mitzvah I see is kashrut, at least in some form. I suspect it is the same in other parts of the country. I have yet to meet a C Jewish woman who goes to mikvah on a regular basis.

    People tend to define themselves by what type of synagogue they belong to (even if they rarely attend), NOT their belief system. In fact, few who identify as Conservative even KNOW their movement’s ideology–that is for the rabbi. It’s more about working toward observance rather than what you do now.

    I think Reform Jews probably have a better idea of the R philosophy, probably b/c there is less adherance to halacha & less to know; it’s more about social action & being a “good” person which is easier to swallow for most people.

    I grew up attending a C synagogue for a short time in the 60’s/70’s. About 1/3 of the congregants walked to shul and/or kept kosher. The rabbi was a Holocaust survivor who walked to shul, kept kosher & if I remember correctly, did not use the microphone, but there was an organ player on Shabbat(go figure). We moved just before women started to be called up for aliyahs. Shortly after, the rabbi died and was replaced by a Reform rabbi, although the shul remained “Conservative”.

    Once C synagogues started to have women read Torah and more traditional ones (that had not before) started to use microphones, the people more observing of halacha jumped over to Orthodox shuls and now identified themselves as MO. I have no clue how many of their kids stayed with Orthodoxy, although I have many friends with this scenario that became much more religious than they were raised.

    Re: post #29 “These movements deliberately wanted their children to be undereducated: did they really want their kids to learn all about keeping Kosher and Shabbos, when the parents ate bacon and drove on Saturday?”
    I don’t believe that to be true. The Reform & Conservative rabbis I have met really believe what they espouse to be “torat emet”. I know a recent convert (w/mikvah) who was asked by her all male 3 rabbi Conservative beit din, “what will Shabbat look like in your home?”. They see Shabbat & kashrut as something to work towards, but do not demand this of their congregants. Although there are many R & C rabbis hostile to Orthodox Judaism (in my own experience), I don’t think they intentionally keep their congregants “undereducated”.

  29. Tzivia Esther:

    I just saw your comment today.

    I apologize for assuming wrongly that you were of the “freeloading but ungrateful” type. I see that you were not, and in fact were quite upfront about your ideas and intentions, and in fact that the seminary was ridiculously restrictive and arrogant.

    I guess I have encountered enough of the ungrateful types (not you) that it has made me somewhat cynical when people start listing the faults of the institutions that helped them along in their frumkeit. Also, I have worked for these institutions and I know how very human everyone who works there is. I never encountered the negativity that you did in seminary, although I was in very chareidi institutions, and my failing was to assume that my experience was representative.

    In fact, although I live in a more “yeshivish” environment now, I do not consider myself “chareidi” and if I lived in E”Y I don’t know where I would live or who I would identify with. I straddle different worlds.

    So, again, apologies for assuming the worst when it was uncalled for.

  30. To Gary #26: You are correct that there are many Reform and Conservative Jews who are very much involved in communal affairs and who do many good deeds through their involvement. A friend of mine who is a Traditional Jew always gives me her copy of Hadassah Magazine, published by the famous Hadassah women’s organization. I would definitely agree that Hadassah does a lot of very good things, inasmuch as its support of the Hadassah Medical Center in Israel saves many lives. You are correct in saying that Orthodox Jews should get more involved in communal affairs and in being active for the Klal.

    I think, however, that it has become increasingly difficult for us to join with Reform and Conservative on communal projects, as their value systems have increasingly diverged from ours on many points. Years ago, everyone donated money to the local “Jewish” hospital so that Jewish patients didn’t have to wind up at a sectarian non-Jewish hospital where their religious needs were compromised. Nowadays in the 21st century hospitals admit diverse groups of patients and are nonsectarian and far away from their original religious roots (does anyone nowadays even question that New York Methodist and Columbia Presbyterian and Saint John’s Episcopal Hospitals have only the slightest remaining connections to their respective denominations)? Similarly, Orthodox Jews no longer feel it necessary to donate to “Jewish” hospitals, preferring instead to donate to authentic Jewish education, a cause shunned by Reform and Conservative Jews.

  31. To David #27: That’s because [at least] one of Marshall Sklare’s children is a BT. I was friendly with his daughter-in-law Judy Ben-Zev Sklare before I lost touch with her, quite a few years ago.

    To Mr. Cohen #28: For a good example of how Jewish values have become confused with liberal non-Jewish values, look at the new “Magen Tzedek” symbol. It’s supposed to certify that the food was produced in accordance with fair labor policy as well as environmental policy. There’s even a new book out about this movement to ensure food is…well, not Kosher but uh, politically correct? The book is called Just Table, Green Table.

    Basically though, Steinhardt’s criticism is unfair because Reform and Conservative Judaism don’t want to produce Orthodox Jews, they want to produce Reform and Conservative Jews. These movements deliberately wanted their children to be undereducated: did they really want their kids to learn all about keeping Kosher and Shabbos, when the parents ate bacon and drove on Saturday? As Rabbi Meir Kahane said in his books, all they wanted was a little Hebrew reading, some identification with Israel through a knowledge of Jewish history, Bar and Bat Mitzvah lessons: Genug. (Yiddish for, “Enough”).

  32. Michael S. Steinhardt, a Jewish atheist, criticized the Reform and Conservative [Judaism] movements for having done:

    “Such a poor job under-educating our next generations” and for failing to distinguish Jewish values from Christian ones.

    SOURCE: article by Avi Yellin, The Jewish Press, 2010/1/15, page 10

  33. Bob,

    I don’t agree that the regression from Jewish involvement is Orthodox-Conservative-Reform-Nothing. One can be very involved in one’s own conception of Jewish affairs, regardless of denomination. I don’t agree with non-Orthodox ritual, but sometimes I attend events conducted according to the ritual of other movements. I have made adjustments that enabled me to meet my prayer obligations, i.e. schedule and content. I have been involved in many community service events with Jews of all different levels of observance.

    Who is more “involved?” The non-observant person who works tirelessly on behalf of Israel or a Jewish communal institution, or the Orthodox person who does not participate in any communal events? In my opinion, each is missing out on many mitzvot.

    Non-Orthodox conversions and patrilineal descent have created demographic problems whose solutions will be very difficult to achieve.

  34. The next step beyond Reform is total uninvolvement in Jewish matters. The uninvolved contingent has been growing for decades. Some of the uninvolved-to-be go through a Reform stage, while others leap directly into the abyss.

  35. Mr. Cohen,
    Although most of what you said has been very insiteful, you should be aware that Conservative Judaism is no longer the most numerically significant “denomination” of American Judaism and hasn’t been for quite a while.
    Reform outnumbers Conservative approx 50%.
    I think there are approx 3 Reform for every 2 Conservative.
    Conservative temples are closing left and right or merging with Reform. 90% of the members of Conservative temples have a personal ideology/theology that is indistinguisable from Reform.

  36. From Rabbi Levi Yizchak Horowitz, the Bostoner Rebbe:
    We had a friend who lived on a street that had a Conservative Temple and an Orthodox

    The friend was not a Frum Yid [Orthodox], but he said to me:

    If I see parents walking to shul and they have children with them and they are holding their hands, I know they are going to [the Orthodox] shul. If they are walking by themselves and they do not have children with them, I know they are going to Temple.

    SOURCE: Avraham Weissman, HaModia Magazine, 2008 January 23, page 12

  37. There are things about my Traditional Synagogue that I almost forgot. They had microphones,but the chazzan and rabbi were Orthodox. Friday night services began at 6:00 or 6:30 all year around. In addition,there was a decent sized parking lot. The junior minyan had separate seating and no microphone. In addition, the Hebrew School was staffed with Orthodox rabbis who taught at the local day schools in the morning.

    Both boys and girls had their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs when they turned 13. I sang my haftorah while wearing a white yarmulkah that was pinned to the back of my head. Shortly after the majority of my classmates had their Bar Mitzvahs, they left Hebrew School. Today, I wish I could find out how their Hebrew School experience differed from mine. Perhaps part of the problem was that most of us wound up in a Traditional Synagogue because of its proximity to our homes.

  38. Maybe Traditional Schuls are unique to my area. The siddur is an Orthodox siddur, as is the davening. There is mixed seating, and as of 2010, the women wear pants to schul, however. All of the Traditional Schuls have mechitza minyans.

    Attendance was so weak at one of the Traditional schuls that it became Orthodox a number of years ago. The Conservative and Reform schuls have merged and/or left the city.

    I don’t know if there are any Traditional afternoon Talmud Torah Schools left anywhere near the city. There may be some in the Northwest Suburbs.

  39. While there is a Conservative view of halachah, and few conservative Jews adhere to its Shabbat provisions, the default is not Reform Judaism. The latter movement has a much different view of halachah, and also has specific activities in which it encourages its members to engage. A member of any movement who does not follow his organization’s guidelines is noncompliant — not a practitioner of the “next most liberal” movement’s guidelines.

  40. To Tzivia Esther #6: Keep on trucking! As I said on a different thread, WE NEED YOU to continue to shout out whenever you notice that the Emperor has no clothes, whenever you see hypocrisy replacing frumkeit.

    Your questions were:
    1. Which kind of people become BT’s, and why;
    2. What enables them to survive.

    In My Humble Opinion, these are the answers:

    1. Being brought back is a gift from G-d.
    2. The complaint of Moshe Rabbeinu to Gd about the nation of Israel: “L-rd, this is a stiffnecked people.” We are stubborn as heck.
    Once we accepted doing the Will of G-d, nothing could move us except G-d’s Will. Men lined up in Auschwitz to put on tefillin.

    It sort of reminds me of that famous novel by Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time. The heroine, named Meg, gets a gift – of her biggest fault. Her stubbornness. Likewise, Gd gave the Jewish people many talents, brains, and abilities. But the biggest gift that He gave us was our biggest fault, stubbornness. Inquisition, communism, Siberia, Holocaust: the world tried pretty hard to break us. No success.

    What lasts longer: writing in cement, or writing in snow? Etching in steel, or etching in butter?

  41. To Ross #4: To answer your questions, playing the “IF” game, what would have happened if the above described conditions did not occur….There is a famous saying that goes, “If Grandma had a beard, she’d be Grandpa.” (The Yiddish version of that saying is a little saltier).

    IMHO, In My Humble Opinion, this is what would have happened IF:

    IF conditions in the public high schools had not worsened to the extent of being physically dangerous, I believe that a lot more Orthodox Jewish parents, unable to afford the high tuition of many Yeshiva high schools, would be sending their teenagers to public high schools, supplementing the secular education with home study of Gemara and Chumash and Ivrit.

    IF the low salaries paid in the field of Jewish education had not attracted the more right-wing Charedi as educators in our Yeshivos and Hebrew schools, I believe that Chinuch would have eventually skewed left, with expatriate Israelis teaching Ivrit B’Ivrit at Hebrew-language charter schools emphasizing academic achievement, college placement and Zionism.

  42. To Mr. Cohen: I always enjoy reading your comments on Beyond BT, being always tremendously intelligent and informative. Likewise your most recent comments 11 through 14 above.

    Kindly allow me to comment on your comments, although not necessarily in order (and isn’t that what this blog is all about? joining the conversation and creating a supportive BT community in cyberspace?).

    Number 13 sort of hits home, as when I was growing up in a non-observant household, my family used the term “Conservative Jews” to describe ourselves, although we were frankly a lot less religious than many others who labeled themselves “Conservative.” For instance, although we had a Pesach seder and “changed the dishes,” during the other 51 weeks we did not keep a kosher home and we did not do anything about Shabbos. We did attend a nearby Conservative synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Among the nonreligious Jews of Brooklyn whom I grew up with, there were four great commandments: go to shul on Yom Kippur, vote Democratic, support Israel, and root for the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team (or later on, the NY Mets). “Conservative” was just a label that signified we weren’t “fanatics” like the Orthodox, but we weren’t all-out radicals like the Reform Jews. We were totally ignorant of Conservative halacha, guiding ourselves by the nonreligious Jewish cultural norms of the day (Hebrew lessons culminating in a big splashy Bar or Bat Mitzvah; buy Israel Bonds; eat matzos on Passover and the rest of the year lox and cream cheese on bagels; light the Chanukah menorah but who knows from Sukkos and Shavuos). I believe at the time when I was growing up, the joke was that Conservative synagogues had Orthodox rabbis and Reform congregants (“leave religion for the rabbi to do, he’s getting paid for it.”) I never went to Hebrew school, but I was sent for four summers to the famous Conservative Jewish sleepaway camp, Camp Cejwin (“Central Jewish Institute”), now defunct. This was where I learned the rudiments of reading Hebrew, something about Shabbos, a little bit about the daily prayers (chanted around the flagpole each morning before breakfast in the dining hall) plus Tisha B’Av services and I got to read some old copies of “Olomeinu.”

    Chaim Potok was for some time the rabbi of a Conservative synagogue. He once described Conservative Judaism as the “fastest-growing” segment of Judaism. If going from zero to three million Jews in four generations is fast, then I guess he would be right. That rapid growth seems to have ended and now Conservative Judaism appears to be in a decline, with Conservative synagogues all over closing or selling to yeshivos or becoming Orthodox.

    Number 12: This was something I suspected all along, but had no hard data to back up my personal suspicions. As much as educated nonreligious Jewish men sincerely do not want to outwardly appear politically incorrect, inwardly they are not entirely happy about aggressive Jewish women taking over Jewish organizational leadership. It is ironic that Reform synagogues attract Jewish women who want to become rabbis and cantors, and Jewish men who want to marry non-Jewish women. It’s almost as if the Jewish men are saying, “You women can be as Jewish as you want in the synagogue, but not in my house you don’t,” and Jewish women are saying, “Well, if you refuse to let Judaism into your kitchen and into your bedroom, then the only place where we women can express our Jewishness is in the synagogue.”

    There was one study which claimed that it had found that a “significant percentage” of female Reform rabbis were lesbians. I don’t remember the name of the study or its methodology, and I don’t remember the percentage it cited. I can’t imagine that straight Reform Jewish men would be truly accepting of a lesbian rabbi, particularly if she were honest about her sexual orientation and openly lived with, or married, a female partner.

    Number 11: After Conservative Judaism officially became more liberal and egalitarian, ordaining female rabbis and accepting homosexuality, those Jews unwilling to be “that religious” as in “I’m not that religious,” but not wanting to be part of these new innovations, found themselves drawn to Traditional Judaism. Unfortunately, as younger people tend to be more liberal, this branch has a membership that skews elderly, not boding well for the future of Traditional Judaism.

  43. Hi Belle,
    1) I paid all of my bills. I was no freeloader.
    2) My friends were the creme de la creme of the Yeshiva students and ex-students. I became dependent on their help in order to survive on my own in Yerushalayim. (finding apartments,etc.)
    3) I liked it in the beginning. It was warm. There was a family-like atmosphere. I had a sense of belonging to something larger than myself. The activities were enjoyable. I wanted to learn everything I could.
    4)I got in through the back door (no admission forms,interviews,etc.) and nobody knew I was there.
    5) Attending ulpan and working part time were strictly forbidden. The students weren’t allowed to be exposed to outside influences.
    6)A roommate who was one of the creme de la creme told me to speak with the Rosh Yeshiva after I defied orders and celebrated Yom Ha Atzmaut. I respected her enough to listen to her.
    7) When I conferred with the Rosh Yeshiva, he learned that I was a Zionist, I worked outside the Yeshiva, and I went to an ulpan other than the one at the yeshiva.
    8) He reminded me that the people in the B.T. Yeshiva were the “Big Leaguers”. He asked me if I wanted to leave to play in the little leagues.
    When I said yes, he showed me the door for whatever reason.
    Belle,I shouldn’t have had to go on the offensive here. I don’t even know what possessed me to respond. For what it’s worth, once again, you have my take on the B.T. world as I saw it almost 30 years ago.
    Ann Landers said M.Y.O.B. If you and many of the other readers are happy in the Chareidi World, enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. While you are doing that, please don’t be blind to it’s deficiencies, however. Sha Shtill is still the order of the day!

  44. Judaism Faces Gender Imbalance Crisis
    6/25/2008 USA Today by Nicole Neroulias, Religion News Service

    NEW YORK Non-Orthodox Jewish men are becoming alienated from their faith, a crisis that foreshadows a rise in interfaith marriages and secular generations, according to a new study from Brandeis University.

    The findings, based on 300 interviews, report the rise of female leadership and participation in Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Judaism has prompted men to opt out of religious activities, in contrast to Orthodox Judaism, which still requires men for traditional worship and family life.

  45. Around 1990, the Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism (UTCJ) deleted the word CONSERVATIVE from its name, and is now The Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ).

  46. My conservative Jewish experience in the NYC suburbs in the 1960’s left me fairly well prepared for my return to observance that began in 1990. Initially, that return was to conservative Judaism in one of the “outer boroughs.”

    I usually prayed with a small, very traditional minyan on weekdays and Shabbat/Yom Tov. As much as I enjoyed being part of the congregation, my colleagues were welcoming granchildren and even great grandchildren while my children were being born. In the shul’s more liberal “main minyan” the generation gap wasn’t quite as severe. Still, as a 30-something, I felt afloat, as there were few people there between the ages of 15 and 50.

    I became a committed member of the congregation, although I was one of very few Sabbath observant members. After several years, however, the lack of peers, rather than differences in theology, was my initial impetus to seek an orthodox affiliation.

  47. Tzivia Esther:

    It seems like you had a less-than-stellar experience in your seminary. However there is one point in your comment that I would question: When you write how you left, I understand #s 1-5, but I don’t see how you know the RY’s state of mind when he “threw you out on your ear.” Meaning, that he viewed you as a “troublemaker.” Perhaps he felt that you really did not belong there because you were so at variance with the institution’s philosophy. He seems to have done you a favor, as you weren’t very happy there — why didn’t you leave voluntarily before then? Perhaps it was because you were there for free??? Enjoying free tuition, food, dorming?

    Excuse me if I am wrong. There are ways of disagreeing with an institution’s philosophies and its teachers. One is to admire and respect what it is trying to do and what it is offering its students, including all the freebies, while taking issue with particular halachic conclusions, such as Yom haAtzmaut. Another way is to be “in your face” and “defy orders,” and bluntly tell a RY how other classes are “of a higher caliber.” I am sorry, but what you wrote you did/said does not sound very respectful, and if it were me, I would also ask you to leave, because of your attitude, not because of the fact of your disagreements. There are plenty of girls in these institutions who disagreed very loudly, but did it respectfully, and nothing ever happened to them. Why should they continue to subsidize someone who quite obviously had contempt for what they were teaching?

  48. Judith, this is a great nostalgic post. Thanks!

    I think significant variations on this would become apparent of we look at the experiences of people growing up in the NY area, or the suburbs, or towns altogether removed from the larger Jewish community. Also will probably vary by country.

  49. “I wish someone connected to this site would try to find out which kinds of people become b.t.s and why, as well as what enables them to survive.”

    Personally, I’d be very surprised if there is a quantifiable datum for this. The answers will be as varied as Jews are. Meaning, as varied as people are. I am reminded of the Rambam’s quoting the sages: just as their faces are different, so their notions (thinking, personalities) are different.

    So Tzivia, judging by your number 7 above and relevant to the above observation by Rambam, you might have done better in a place like Machon Ora (religious Zionist seminary). That option existed, though rare back in ’81 and still relatively rare today. To be sure, one of the greatest sad mistakes of teaching hozrim b’tshuvah has been the attitudes of so many institutions that only they possess the true path, and all else are some sort of heresy. Then again, that may be the greatest sad mistake in the general observant Jewish world, eh?

  50. I wish someone connected to this site would try to find out which kinds of people become b.t.s and why, as well as what enables them to survive.

  51. Hi Judy,
    I remember when you originally posted this comment. After blogging a while, I think that you and I decided that everything was a tradeoff.

    60’s and 70’s: more moderate thinking, greater connection to outside world, more interaction with those who weren’t observant,greater ability to question those in authority, including Rabbis, absence of Chareidi Judaism (good and bad in this is subject to interpretation)

    2010: challenges for M.O.s: Orthodox Judaism sliding to right, Chareidim making decisions re:conversions, appearance of Morethodoxy, speculation on schism in M.O. world, loss of M.O. types to Agudah movement

    challenges for Chareidi F.F.B. Community: children who go off the derech

    Challenges I faced as student in B.T. Yeshiva in Israel:
    need to conform, inability to question, pat answers for everything, literal interpretations,
    dogmatic approach, teachers who spoke down to me, assumed I wasn’t intelligent, teachers who acted like they had all the answers (circa 1981)

    How I left:
    1) I defied orders and celebrated Yom Ha Atzmaut.
    2) I was encouraged to talk to the Rosh Yeshivah about my decision.
    3) I told him that I liked Religious Zionism.
    4) I informed him that I was working outside the yeshiva.
    5) I let him know that I was going to the city ulpan because the classes were of a higher calibre than the ones offered at the B.T. Yeshivah.
    6) The Rosh Yeshivah saw me as a potential trouble maker. He kicked me out on my ear. I laughed about it because all of the kids in my grade school teased me about being such a goody goody.
    7)I decided that it was bashert,and I went back to Religious Zionism. Now it is dying within the city limits.

  52. 1)”Jewish education, being low-paid, ended up attracting only the extreme right-wing, rebbes and morahs who pushed an extreme right-wing Orthodox Judaism on their students”

    2)”…soaring crime and declining academic standards at public high schools sent concerned Orthodox Jewish parents to yeshiva high schools.”

    It’s hard to play the “IF” game, but I’m very curious…according to all of this, what would’ve been IF the above conditions didn’t occur?

  53. If the concept of Torah Judaism as a Chinese menu has now died in most Orthodox communities, that is absolutely good.

  54. One internesting phenomenon going on in the Conservative movement nowadays:

    Even though overall, the C movement is much farther to the left than it ever was, there is now a very small but committed group that is into egalitarianism, but much stricter about certain aspects of ritual observance than one saw in the past.

    In NY, LA, South Florida and college campuses, you find people who even if they don’t believe in TMS (Torah Min HaShamayim) , daven mincha regularly albiet with an egalitarian minyan that welcomes homosexuality and is ambivelant about intermarriage, but is very particular about aspects of synagogue ritual.

  55. Funny, it’s 2010 and I’m Conservative and I keep kosher and (mostly) Shabbos. And public schools in my area are REALLY good, so I’ve been trying to find a way to recreate a serious (but fun) every afternoon Hebrew school for my kids, because I want them to get more than Sunday school. Sort of like this one:

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