Conservative Judaism Today

Smaller but more committed, the movement is seeing vibrant, sometimes divisive debate as it navigates between tradition and change.

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Ambivalence about amending tradition is apparent in the new prayerbook itself. Several texts and prayers that betray a more traditional approach to women--such as the Friday night hymn Eshet Hayil--are still included in the new edition.

In 2001, three years after the publication of the new Sim Shalom, the Conservative, Rabbinical Assembly, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, and the Jewish Publication Society jointly published Etz Hayim, a Pentateuch with commentary specifically geared toward a Conservative audience.

The volume reflects the denomination's precarious relationship between traditional commentaries and modern biblical scholarship. In addition to a five levels of interpretation, the Etz Hayim includes essays written by Conservative scholars that tackle a myriad of theological quandaries.

The movement also published in 2003 Or Hadash: A Commentary on the Siddur, which presents the prayer book in a user-friendly format and offers commentary from a Conservative perspective written by Rabbi Reuven Hammer, the author of two well-regarded books on prayer.

The balance between tradition and change might be as volatile as ever, and though volatility can sometimes be destructive, it can also be a sign of vitality.

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Daniel Septimus

Daniel Septimus is Executive Director of The Sefaria Project. Previously, he served as Chief Executive Officer of MyJewishLearning, Inc.