The differing emphases of Judaism's 3 streams

Orthodox, Reform and Conservative staging major conferences in J'lem.

reform jews pray 224 88  (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
reform jews pray 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
The three major streams of Judaism - Reform, Conservative and Orthodox - will each stage a major conference in the capital next week. Comparing and contrasting the conferences sheds light on each stream's emphases and the very different challenges each faces in the 21st century. While the Conservative and Reform meetings will focus on fundamental questions of self-definition and theology, the Orthodox conference, practically devoid of introspection, will have a decidedly political leaning, with a unified Jerusalem and identification with the plight of Sderot's residents being the main subjects on the agenda. The program of the three-day Orthodox conference, sponsored by the World Zionist Organization's Department for Religious Affairs, gives the impression that the really big questions of theology and self-identity have long ago been solved, opening the way for unified political action. In contrast, the programs of the Reform and Conservative conferences reveal the more pluralistic, soul-searching approaches of these streams of Judaism. The Van Leer Institute will be hosting a conference entitled "Reform Judaism: Sociology, Education and Theology" that will include lecturers and scholars from Israel and abroad. Fundamental questions about Reform Judaism's approach to Zionism, homosexuality and education will be examined, revealing a movement that has not, and perhaps never will, reach a consensus on basic religious issues, let alone political ones. According to Van Leer's Prof. Naftali Rothenberg, the conference is a first of its kind. "Never before, as far as I know, have academic scholars unaffiliated with the Reform movement come together to research the modern development of the movement," said Rothenberg, who is also a practicing Orthodox rabbi. "The Reform Movement in the US is undergoing fascinating changes. Congregations are taking prayer much more seriously - more liturgy is in Hebrew. Jewish identity is stronger and the connection with Israel is much closer," he said. Rothenberg said that the conference also had ramifications for the status of Reform Judaism in Israel. "Many Israelis have no idea what Reform Judaism is. Next week an entire conference will be devoted to promoting a better understanding of the Reform Movement." Meanwhile, the Conservative Movement's Israeli branch will be celebrating its 30th anniversary. Participants will discuss the boundaries and developments of Conservative (Masorti) Judaism in Israel in panels entitled "Halachic Pluralism - Is there such a beast?", "Egalitarian Sephardi Communities: Is the revolution upon us?" and "The Masorti Movement - middle of the road or middle of the journey?" The Reform and Conservative movements have had shaky foundations in Israeli society, due in part to the monopoly enjoyed by Orthodox Judaism on state funds and official recognition. However, both non-Orthodox movements have experienced significant growth in recent years. Both will devote special sessions to the reasons for their relative weakness in Israel compared to in the US.