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The Birth of Conservative JudaismSolomon Schechter's Disciples and the Creation of an American Religious Movement$
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Michael Cohen

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780231156356

Published to Columbia Scholarship Online: November 2015

DOI: 10.7312/columbia/9780231156356.001.0001

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On the Brink of Irrelevance

On the Brink of Irrelevance

(p.85) 4 On the Brink of Irrelevance
The Birth of Conservative Judaism

Michael R. Cohen

Columbia University Press

This chapter discusses the challenges faced by Schechter's disciples in the 1920s. Among these was increased marginalization by modern Orthodox rabbis in the Orthodox Union (OU) and by fervently Orthodox rabbis in the Agudath ha-Rabbanim. These rabbis refused to join the United Synagogue and instead began to define it as antithetical to Orthodoxy—precisely because of its inclusivity and its refusal to repudiate rabbis who deviated from Orthodoxy. Thus, ironically, the United Synagogue's commitment to inclusivity was making unity increasingly unlikely. The disciples also found their hegemony challenged by an increasingly empowered laity. Congregational lay leaders continued to hold power over rabbis at the local level and often expected more from the rabbi than he could possibly deliver. This, combined with the effects of an American religious depression, led to frequent job turnover and hampered Schechter's disciples' efforts to shape their congregations as they wished. Moreover, while the laity was firmly in control on the local level, the 1920s saw them gaining increased national prominence as well. All this meant that, by 1927, Schechter's disciples were on the brink of irrelevance.

Keywords:   Solomon Schechter, unity, United Synagogue of America, Orthodox Union, Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, rabbis, laity, congregations

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