Liberal denominations of any faith tend to make a religion out of tolerance and humanistic values. But this misses some of the point of faith. There is a sweetness, intensity, and pleasure that comes from religious practice that isn't wholly rational.I think this parallels the experience of Christian sects, too. It's hard to get and keep people excited about being moderate.
Earlier in this century, the common wisdom was that Orthodox Judaism would die out in America, outmoded and irrelevant. Instead, it's the American Jewish center that's eroding. Conservative Judaism, once the most popular Jewish denomination in the United States, has recently taken second place to the more clearheaded Reform movement. About 33 percent of American Jews affiliate with Conservative Judaism, down from 38 percent 10 years ago. And interestingly, as the Reform movement swells, to a lesser degree, so do the numbers of Orthodox. And as sociologist Samuel Heilman shows in his recent book, Sliding to the Right, the form of Orthodoxy that's on the rise is the more extremist and isolationist sort—the congregations and movements that are deliberately at odds with American norms.
Aug 29, 2006
The center won't hold
Samantha M. Shapiro on why Conservative Judaism falters while Reform and Orthodox Judaism thrive.