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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Judaism, Conservative.

The gradual emancipation of the Jews in Germany, which, however, did not become final anywhere until 1848, and which was rendered complete in Bavaria so recently as 1866, insensibly diminished the influence of Talmudical studies and of Rabbinical lore as the paramount obligation of life. Compelled, happily, to bear their own share in their deliverance from oppression, the Jews became more and more attached to the land of their nativity, and more and more estranged from the traditional allegiance to the kingdom of Israel. Their love for Palestine, intense and impassioned as ever, has assumed a different form. Their union and fellowship no longer represented a nationality yearning to be released from captivity, but settled down into the indissoluble affection of race and a: common faith, not inconsistent with ties of citizenship in the world.

In 1807, when Napoleon convened the so called Jewish Sanhedrim, with a view of establishing the relations between the empire and the Jews resident in France, the first official and authoritative expression of the transformed Jewish sentiment was published. In effect, it was a defense of the Jew who had for centuries been denied the rights of man, and pronounced unfit for citizenship. It declared that the Jews of France recognize in the fullest sense the French people as their brethren; that France is their country; that the Jews of France recognize as paramount the laws of the land, and their religious tribunals have no authority in conflict with the civil courts and national laws; that the Talmud enjoins the pursuit of a useful trade and prohibits usury; that polygamy is forbidden and divorce permitted.

The Jews of France were equal to the promise of the Sanhedrim. They proved good citizens, and faithfully adhered to their distinct religious belief and practice. The chief rabbi of France has been recognized as of corresponding dignity with the archbishop of Paris, and in the distribution of state aid to ecclesiastical institutions the Jews have been admitted to their proportionate share. The Jews of France, like those of Great Britain and Holland, are Conservative. The form of worship has not materially changed to this day. The Portuguese ritual is followed at one of the Paris synagogues, as at London and Amsterdam. The German or Polish ritual is otherwise the rule..

In Great Britain about the year 1842, the keynote of progress was struck by a Jewish congregation at London, followed by that of Manchester. There are now only two congregations in the United Kingdom denying the authority of the chief rabbi. In Great Britain, France, and Holland there exists a recognized ecclesiastical authority. The administration of religious affairs is conducted nearly upon the Episcopal system. The spirit of the churches in these three countries is extremely conservative. Nevertheless, great latitude is allowed to individual believers, and what would have been regarded as capital sins a century ago are considered trivial today. It may be said that the Jews have thoroughly assimilated themselves to the rest of the population. In France their conservatism is formal rather than substantial, and the nonconformist is treated with great liberality. That he violates the sanctity of the Jewish Sabbath is not necessarily a disqualification for high office in the congregation. The ministers are, expected to live consistently with their professions: the laity are not sharply criticized. In England conservatism is decided, authoritative, uncompromising. Nonconformists are on sufferance, and are rarely allowed a voice in the administration of synagogual affairs. In Holland liberty has dealt kindly with the Jewish people, who are prominent in the state and in commerce, in science, in learning, and in art, and are at once conservative and tolerant in their religious views, while consistent in the conduct of the synagogue. There are successful Conservative colleges or theological seminaries at Paris, London; Amsterdam, Breslau, Berlin, and Wü rzburg.

Conservative Judaism is paramount in Belgium and Italy, and has held its own in some parts of Austria also. The great Rapoport (q.v.) of Prague, one of the finest scholars of that century, may be regarded as the type of the intelligent Conservative Jew who loved the Judaism of the past with fervor and intensity, but recognized as the duty of the present hour the preparation of his brethren for their place in the world at length grudgingly accorded them.

The Judaism of Poland and Russia, as of Palestine and the other Asiatic and the African countries, can scarcely be denominated Conservative. It is strictly stationary. Education has not yet been sufficiently diffused among the masses to enable them intelligently to comprehend the differences or points of unity in Judaism, conservative or progressive. The study of the Talmud is still pursued with ardor in every Polish village, but the spirit of Judaism is not as potent as the maintenance of form or of scholastic authority. Conservative Judaism has no history in these countries, yet its scholars have done the world a service in the preservation of Hebrew literature, and in rescuing from oblivion ancient thought so peculiarly habited and disguised. It is worthy of note that the chief rabbi at Jerusalem preserves great state, and is regarded as a functionary of signal consequence, but the institutions of learning within his jurisdiction are mainly sustained by the benevolence of European and American Jews.

The Hebrews in the United States number about half a million. Their material progress has been extraordinary. They comprise at present some three hundred congregations, of which full one half came to this country only within the last twelve years. The synagogues rival the most beautiful. and costly churches in the principal cities. In 1840 there were scarcely ten thousand Jews and not more than a dozen congregations in the United States. Their synagogues now number two hundred and fifty. The Conservative ministry is not strong. Only recently has any active interest been displayed in the higher Hebrew education, the preparation of candidates for clerical stations. Maimonides College, established in 1866 at Philadelphia, has not been successful in the number of students, although its faculty is scholarly and energetic. The Conservative pulpit is ably supplied in several synagogues of New York, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. In other cities the leading scholars are of the progressive or Reform school.

The policy of Conservative American Israelites does not favor ecclesiastical authority. Occasionally efforts have been made to, perfect a union of synagogues; but they have uniformly failed when doctrinal or ritual questions were the points to be determined in convention. The tendency is clearly in favor of independent synagogues, united for purposes of a charitable, educational, or semi-political character otherwise recognizing no will or exposition of Jewish doctrine superior to that of their respective ministers or secular officials. The cooperative movements for aiding oppressed Israelites in foreign countries, and for repressing anticipated danger or checking legal discriminations at home, resulting in the establishment of the "Board of Delegates of American Israelites," are not confined to the Conservative or to the Progressive congregations. Doctrinal questions are eschewed in this organization, which is purely voluntary, and assumes no authority except what may be delegated from time to time to interpret the sentiments of American Israelites.

The Conservatives have of late years paid attention to religious education. Elementary schools are attached to most congregations, and in New York a society was formed in 1865 for the gratuitous instruction in Hebrew and in English, of children whose parents are not attached to any synagogue, or are unable to contribute to its support. (M.S.L.)

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Judaism, Conservative.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/j/judaism-conservative.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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Judaism