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Conservative responsa

This entry deals with the responsa literature of Conservative Judaism, also known as Masorti Judaism.


A prominent Conservative spokesman has written that "Reform Judaism has asserted the right of interpretation but it rejected the authority of legal tradition. Orthodoxy has clung fast to the principle of authority, but has in our own and recent generations rejected the right to any but minor interpretations. The Conservative view is that both are necessary for a living Judaism. Accordingly, Conservative Judaism holds itself bound by the Jewish legal tradition, but asserts the right of its rabbinical body, acting as a whole, to interpret and to apply Jewish law." Source: Rabbi Mordecai Waxman Tradition and Change: The Development of Conservative Judaism

Conservative Jews believe that that Orthodoxy had deviated from historical Judaism through an excessive concern with recent codifications of Jewish law. The Conservative movement consciously rejects the Orthodox mythology of Jewish history, which entails near total deference to seemingly infallible rabbis, and instead holds that a more fluid model is both necessary and theologically and historically justifiable. The Conservative movement makes a conscious effort to use historical sources to determine what kind of changes occurred, how and why they occurred, and in what historical context. With this information they believe that can better understand the proper way for rabbis to interpret and apply Jewish law to our conditions today.


In 1997 Rabbi David Golinkin[?] wrote "As has been pointed out on numerous occasions, the Conservative rabbis of North America have written hundreds of teshuvot but have not succeeded in publishing them. In recent years we have begun to rememdy this situation by publishing indices, monographs and complete volumes of Conservative responsa." Since that time the Conservative movement and the Masorti movement (in Israel) have addressed this issue in a serious way. Many volumes of Conservative and Masorti teshuvot and halakhic studies are now available, and more are being edited.

All of the following collections of Conservative and Masorti responsa, unless specifically noted, are in English.

Covers 10 years of responsa by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, on a multitude of topics, including: organ donation, biomedical ethics, domestic abuse, child abuse, the role of women in Jewish law, aliyot for couples, Kashrut, leasing on Shabbat, tattooing and body piercing, anesthesia and Brit Milah, ritual responses to miscarriages or the deaths of babies who lived less than one month, assisted suicide, artificial insemination, egg donation[?], adoption, in vitro fertilisation, mamzerut ("bastardry"); marriages between a Kohen and a divorce; marriages between a Kohen and a convert; Jewish views of homosexuality and more.

  • "Responsa in a Moment: Halakhic Responses to Contemporary Issues", Rabbi David Golinkin[?], The Institute of Applied Halakhah at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem, Israel, 2000
Topics: Why do Jews sway when they pray?; Returning territories for the sake of peace; Institutionalizing parents with Alzheimer's disease; Torah study vs. earning a living; Investigating charities to which we contribute; Telling the truth to terminal patients; Genetic engineering; The kashrut of veal raised on factory farms; Is it a mitzvah to make aliyah?; The Assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin; Is smoking prohibited by Jewish law?

Contains responsa written by the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards between 1975 and 2000. Topics include artificial insemination; in-vitro fertilization; surrogate motherhood; abortion; medical care at the end of life and care for the terminally ill; assisted suicide and euthanasia; organ transplants; autopsy; responsibilities for the provision of health care; genetic engineering and smoking.

  • "Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement 1980 - 1985", The Rabbinical Assembly, 1998
Contains responsa on Abortion, bar/Bat Mitzvah; Brit Milah; Conversion; Death, mourning and funeral practices; Divorce and gittin; Gambling; Intermarriage, keruv and raising children; Jewish identity; Kashrut; Marriage and the ketubah; Pesach and kashrut; Shabbat; Yom Tov Shnei; printing the 4 letter name of God; Accepting Egyptian Karaites as Jews; Women and Jewish law.

  • "Proceedings of the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement 1986 - 1990" The Rabbinical Assembly, 2001.
Contains responsa on surrogate motherhood; smoking; six papers relating to the treatment of terminally ill patients; On the conversion of adopted and patrilineal children; three papers on "may a conversion obtained through deceit be annulled?"; The use of all wines; 2 papers on the kashering of glass cookware; co-ops for kosher meat; the Rabbinical Assembly ketubah text in Hebrew and English; A responsa on the status of missing persons; two papers on mourning in the case of the death of a newborn, and in the case of a loss of a fetus due to miscarriage; Cremation in the Jewish tradition; the kashrut of peanuts for Pesach; Does milk need a kosher l'pesah label?; The status of Ethiopian Jews (Falashas); 2 papers on the use of a remote audio/video monitor on Shabbat and Yom Tov; May a Shabbat service be audio-taped or video-taped?; Shabbat and Brit Milah; Rabbinic supervision of Jewish owned businesses operating on Shabbat; Should bakeries which are open on Shabbat be supervised?; the triennieal system for reading the Torah; the status of daughters of Kohanim and Leviyim for aliyot; may a synagogue issue interest bearing bonds?; Stricture against issuing congratulation for mixed marriagess; prohibition of allowing an intermarriage reception to be held in Conservative synagogues; Blowing the Shofar after Ma'ariv following Yom Kippur; May an avowed atheist serve as a Sheliah tzibur?; Synagogue policy concerning bringing foods prepared at home into the synagogue; The inclusion of the names of the Matriarchs in the Amidah; Joint Conservative-Reform religious schools; On the use of synagogues by Christian groups on a temporary basis; Yom HaShoah commerations and creating new blessings.

  • "The Ordination of Women as Rabbis: Studies and Responsa", Simon Greenberg, JTS, 1988. A series of responsa concerning the feasibility of ordaining women as rabbis in accordance with Jewish law.

  • "Responsa of the Va'ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel", David Golinkin[?], The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies.
Six paperback volumes are now available in this series. The first is in Hebrew only; other volumes are in Hebrew, with English summaries. A seventh volume is currently in preparation.

See also: Conservative Judaism, Responsa, Halakha

Selected responsa of Conservative Judaism (http://learn.jtsa.edu/topics/diduknow/)

English responsa of the Masorti movement (http://www.responsafortoday.com/eng_index)

Hebrew responsa of the Masorti movement (http://www.responsafortoday.com/eng_index)

United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Book Service (http://uscj.org/books_and_publications)

JTS Press (http://www.jtsa.edu/jtspress/index.shtml)

Schechter Institue of Jewish Studies (http://www.schechter.edu/)

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