In respect to Jewish theology, the word “conservative” has a particular meaning beautifully expressive of how Beth El of Manhattan adheres to Judaism, mindful of the 1st-Century directive of the New Testament’s writers, that Jewish adherents never abandon “circumcision of sons, the Torah of Moses, and the customs of our ancestors.” (Acts 21:18-24). It is important to note, it does not mean politically or philosophically “conservative.”
“Orthodox” Judaism subscribes entirely to the authority of an “Oral Law” (Talmud and its attendant literature) as spiritually binding to the same degree as the Scriptures. The fact the written Torah says there is no ‘oral’ Torah (Deuteronomy 31:24) has not prevented this doctrine from taking hold, especially as it bears on human authority to create religious practice. At the other end of the spectrum, “Reform” Judaism basically rejects the entire idea of literal Divine revelation, as do the Reform subsets of “Reconstructionism” and “Humanist Judaism.” The best-maxim expressive of this orientation came from the founder of Reconstructionism, Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, who said: “Judaism is a civilization which transcends its religious origins.” This sums up as stating we started out believing myths, but now we don’t believe them any more; yet those mythologies and the practices that attend them (like fasting on Yom Kippur or not eating leaven on Passover) have established the language and context of our nation’s existence – and so we keep them as a kind of center pinion around which our national existence revolves.
Nestled between these two polar expressions is “Conservative” Judaism. It came to birth as a reaction to the mass rejections of Reformism, and the ossified strictures of Orthodoxy.
Conservative Judaism’s defining characteristics are:
- belief in the existence of “revelation” as expressed in the Torah and Scriptures, and
- belief in Takkanáh – revision of entrenched policies or practices (called halakháh in Hebrew) inclusive of both spiritually and scholastically sound processes.
Thus, Beth El of Manhattan’s “Judaism” is well and accurately defined by the phrase, “Conservative Judaism” – which seems to our rabbi and leaders the only ethically and scholastically valid choice as to core-values of anything calling itself a “Judaism.” (See Isaiah 8:20)
Our Conservative Judaism is “Two-Testament” or “Messianic” because of our belief in the validity of the New Testament, and the Messiahship of Yeshua of Nazareth.
“Conservative” was formerly understood as connection with “The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism” and Jewish Theological Seminary – two conservative institutions not currently formally affiliating with Messianic Judaism: but over the last decades, many “unaffiliated Conservative” synagogues have come to exist in Manhattan and around the world. The label “Conservative” no longer belongs exclusively to the USCJ and JTS.
Along with our commitment to perpetuity of valid historic Jewish doctrine and practice, as a synagogue of Two-Testament Judaism, we bring something for which our founding Rabbi Bruce Cohen coined the name, “Takkanat Mashiach“™ (“Messiah’s Revision™”).
The word “takkanah” in Hebrew refers to changes or revisions in doctrine or policy resulting from a valid process of study and discernment. The New Testament accounts of Yeshua of Nazareth’s teachings are full of His takkanot. Instances of Messiah’s Revisions often read in the New Testament this way:
- “You have heard it taught (in regard to some issue),
- but now I say to you …“
- and then Yeshua would give his improvement of understanding on the matter.
We consider study and application of Messiah Yeshua’s takkanot to be one of the most important and beautiful things Two Testament Judaism offers to the ongoing Jewish and global conversations about faith.