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!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • 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.