Conservative Judaism, known as Masorti Judaism outside North America, is a Jewish denomination that stresses commitment to halakha—Jewish law—as well as openness to modern culture and scholarship in the interpretation of halakha. The term “conservative” is meant to denote an intent to conserve Jewish tradition, not an espousal of political conservatism. The Conservative movement began as a reaction against Reform Judaism in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century and organized for the first time as a congregation in the early twentieth century in the United States. Conservative Judaism quickly became the largest Jewish denomination in the United States, a status it retained until Reform Judaism superseded it around the turn of the twenty-first century. Conservative Judaism represents a much smaller percentage of the Israeli Jewish community, though Israeli Jews tend to self-identify less on denomination and more on level of adherence.
Conservative Judaism acts as a sort of theological middle ground between Reform and Orthodox Judaism. As the largest Jewish denomination throughout most of modern US history, Conservative Judaism has played a significant role in shaping modern Jewish thought both in the United States and across the globe, including galvanizing American support for the state of Israel. Yet in Israel, the Chief Rabbinate does not recognize conversions performed by Conservative rabbis as they fall short of Orthodox requirements. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, the founding institution of Conservative thought and the denomination’s preeminent academic and spiritual center, stirred some controversy in 2007 by admitting openly gay students into its rabbinical and cantorial programs.