What’s in a name? Lately, that age-old question has become a burning issue for leaders of Conservative Judaism. Once the largest of American Judaism’s denominational streams, the movement today faces declining membership, financial difficulties and confusion about what it stands for. The confusion is in part a result of lost distinctions as Conservative Judaism has joined Reform in adopting egalitarian practices and accepting women and toeivah Jews as rabbis.At a July 22 meeting with Forward editors and reporters, Arnold Eisen, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, which has long been regarded as Conservative Judaism’s flagship academic center, acknowledged that the movement’s name is now being debated, along with much else, among its leaders.
“I’m open to it. I’m open to it,” Eisen told the journalists when asked about the possibility of a name change.
Leaders of Conservative-affiliated organizations want to find a name that will better capture what they want the movement to represent, he said.
“The leading candidate right now, I think, is just to go with the name ‘Masorti,’ which captures things better than the word ‘Conservative’ captures them. So I am open to suggestions; I am open to a name change,” Eisen said.
Masorti, the Hebrew word for “traditional,” is how Conservative Judaism is known outside North America. But in a country as deeply resistant to unknown foreign coinages as America is, would the word communicate a meaningful message to its intended audiences, both Jewish and non-Jewish?
The Forward newspaper decided to solicit suggestions from a wide range of people as to what new name they think the Conservative movement ought to adopt, if any. The responses ranged from the comic to the cosmic.
“It should be called the ‘I Eat Treyf Outside the House’ movement,” said comedian Judy Gold, speaking for the comic end of the spectrum. Gold, who belongs to a Conservative synagogue in Manhattan, said that the denomination “is definitely suffering frommiddle-child syndrome” as it struggles to restore vitality to the space between Reform and Orthodox.
Read more at the Forward.