Conservative Jews Shrug Off Evidence of Dramatic Decline in Landmark Pew Study

Plunging Numbers Nothing 'New,' Declares Steve Wernick

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published October 01, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Conservative Jewish leaders brushed off evidence that their denomination is dramatically shrinking that appeared in the new Pew survey of Jewish America.

Rabbi Steve Wernick
Rabbi Steve Wernick

Denominational officials said that the data, which showed that just 11% of young Jews identify with Conservative Judaism, confirmed what the movement already knows about the problems its facing. Some said that the contraction isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“I don’t think there’s anything new here,” said Rabbi Steve Wernick, executive director of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “We know this story, and it further validates it.”

The Pew Research Center’s Portrait of Jewish Americans, published October 1, found that 18% of U.S. Jews identify with the Conservative movement. As the Forward reported this morning, the survey showed that younger Jews are far less likely than older Jews to say they are Conservative.

For Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, the rapidly declining numbers don’t mean that the movement is failing. “By its size, Conservative Judaism is losing numbers,” Artson said. “Thats true. But I want to focus on our quality.”

Artson said that the smaller size of the movement may correlate to what it asks of its members. “It’s very hard to be a casual Conservative Jew,” said Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University. “If you’re passionate about integrating tradition and modernity, we continue to be a great home.”

Others said that the movement is already working to address the membership crisis outlined in the survey results.

Wernick noted that movement’s convention, set to take place in early October, will deal with these broad issues. Eight hundred people are expected to attend.

In an emailed statement, Jewish Theological Seminary chancellor Arnold Eisen said that his institution was working on the problem as well.

“While this information is not a surprise, and institutions like JTS have long been addressing these concerns, we must create more compelling - and more meaningful - opportunities to strengthen the connection between the next generation of Jews and Jewish communities and tradition,” Eisen wrote.

Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative movement’s rabbinical association, was not immediately available for comment.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.