“Modern Conservative Judaism: Evolving Thought and Practice” by Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff— The Evolution

Dorff, Rabbi Elliot N. “Modern Conservative Judaism: Evolving Thought and Practice”, (JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought) , University of Nebraska, 2018.

The Evolution

Amos Lassen

Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff is a major Conservative movement leader of our time and in “Modern Conservative Judaism”, he gives us a personal, behind-the-scenes guide to the evolution of Conservative Jewish thought and practice over the last fifty years. I am particularly interested in what he has to say since the only branch of the three major branches of Judaism that I have not yet experienced through membership is Conservative.

Dorff is candid about the tension that comes to be because of seeming constant change laws, policies and documents yet this is what happens when we live in a world that is constantly changing. In this book, for the first time we have the most important historical and internal documents in modern Conservative movement history in one place and this allows us to consider and compare them all in context.

Rabbi Dorff has divided the book into three sections. Part 1: God looks at how Conservative Jews pray and think about God. Part 2: Torah looks at the various

“approaches to Jewish study, law, and practice; changing women’s roles; bioethical rulings on issues ranging from contraception to cloning; business ethics; ritual observances from online minyanim to sports on Shabbat; moral issues from capital punishment to protecting the poor; and nonmarital sex to same-sex marriage.” “Part 3: Israel” looks at Zionism, the People Israel, and rabbinic rulings in Israel.

I suppose we can look at this book as a guide to conservative Judaism as well as an approach to understanding the spirituality and intellectualism of this branch of Judaism. We see what Conservative rabbis and scholars believe and how Conservative Judaism is different from Orthodoxy and Reform. It is easy to read and understand yet it is deep enough to answer many questions. Rabbi Dorff takes us into the thought processes of the movement’s most important authors and thinkers. Conservative Judaism began as a complex movement and it has sophisticated underlying principles. Rabbi Dorff nicely presents us with a way to understand those principles and his introductions to various ideas are clear. Thos is a very welcome addition to the canon of Jewish literature.

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