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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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PRINTED FROM COLUMBIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.columbia.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Minnesota Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CUPSO for personal use.date: 12 June 2021

A Task Left Unfinished

A Task Left Unfinished

(p.123) 6 A Task Left Unfinished
The Birth of Conservative Judaism

Michael R. Cohen

Columbia University Press

This chapter focuses on the problem of the agunah, the “anchored” wife and its impact on Schechter's disciples. According to Jewish law, a woman must receive permission from her husband for a divorce, and if the husband is missing or refuses to grant the request, the woman is forbidden to remarry. Schechter's disciples agreed on the necessity of solving what they viewed as a grave injustice, but their respective solutions highlighted the deep chasm between how the Conservatives and the modern Orthodox disciples viewed the emerging movement. The Conservatives were more interested in solving the problem and less concerned about gaining the support of the other rabbinical organizations. The more traditional disciples, however, refused to accept a solution if it meant estranging themselves from rabbis in the Orthodox Union (OU) and the Agudath ha-Rabbanim. The agunah issue remained a prime focus of Schechter's disciples until the end of their careers. Unable to implement a solution, they began to hand the issue—and with it the fundamentally divided movement—to a new generation of rabbis. These rabbis had not studied with Schechter, nor were they as committed to implementing his vision of Catholic Israel. Instead, with the creation of a new prayer book, this new generation began the slow process of redefining Conservative Judaism so that it could become the third movement in American Judaism.

Keywords:   American Jews, disciples, religious platform, agunah, anchored wife, Conservative Judaism, rabbis

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