Jewish Journal

Non-Orthodox Judaism at a crisis point?

by Brad A. Greenberg

February 14, 2011 | 9:53 am

This time, the non-Orthodox branches of Judaism appears to be going the way of liberal Protestant denominations. Very interesting story from The Forward:

Conservative Judaism’s membership rolls are in free fall.

According to a strategic plan for renewal issued in February by the denomination’s congregational arm, the number of families served by synagogues belonging to what was once American Judaism’s leading stream has shrunk by 14% since 2001. In the denomination’s Northeast region, the number of families has dropped by 30%.

The new draft strategic plan by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism proposes ways for the USCJ to regain some of that lost ground. And the plan comes, as it turns out, at a fraught moment not just for Conservative Judaism, but for all the synagogue organizations that anchor America’s liberal Jewish streams.

Within Reform Judaism, the Forward has learned, a group of dissident rabbis is seeking to shake up a movement long seen by outsiders as untroubled by internal dissent. While the specific agenda of the group is unclear, its heft within the movement is undeniable: The group consists of 17 senior rabbis from large Reform synagogues that foot a significant portion of the movement’s budget. In this sense, the Reform rabbis bear some resemblance to influential synagogue leaders within Conservative Judaism whose near-revolt in 2009 led to the strategic plan that the USCJ has just issued.

Meanwhile, the synagogue body of the smaller Reconstructionist movement is weathering its own transition. Following a November vote, Reconstructionist leadership is finalizing a plan to merge its synagogue arm with its rabbinical school.

The parallel developments within all three of North America’s liberal Jewish denominations paint a picture of a growing crisis in liberal Judaism. Their long-standing central bodies are struggling to convince the synagogues that pay their bills of their relevance and usefulness.

Read the rest here.

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