Have a look at this interesting article, by Samantha Shapiro at Slate, about the decline of conservative Judaism. She writes:
Since 1886, the Jewish Theological Seminary has sought to negotiate a middle ground between Orthodox Judaism, which (to vastly oversimplify) teaches that the Torah and Rabbinic law were authored by God, and Reform Judaism, which sees obedience of Jewish law, or Halakha, as a choice, not a divine mandate. Conservative Judaism, which began as a congregational movement in 1913, attempts to bridge the gap–to affirm the divinity of ancient Jewish law but also to allow changes to accommodate modern circumstances. “Tradition and change” is a movement motto.
I think this leaves something important out of the equation. Conservative Judaism was born in part out of the practical reality that most American communities can only support one synagogue. That is why a compromise between Orthodox and Reform Judaism was necessary in the first place. If all Jews were going to worship together in one place, there had to be enough adherence to law and tradition to satisfy the Orthodox, but not in so dogmatic a fashion that the Reform are driven away.
Incidentally, the whole idea of a practical compromise is something that distinguishes Judaism from Christianity. Christianity is centered around doctrine. If you disagree with the church on certain key points then you are simply not a member in good standing of that church. Judaism, by contrast, is not centered around doctrine. It is centered around law. The differing viewpoints of Reform and Orthodox Jews represent mere disagreements about how the law is to be applied in day-to-day life, not heresies to be opposed at all costs. But Reform Jews are not one whit less Jewish than Orthodox Jews.
Schorsch argued that today, that sort of learning has fallen out of favor because students crave a “quick spiritual fix.” I think the problem is more complicated. For starters, the JTS never figured out a way to generate the kind of passion that is evident at most Orthodox yeshivas. The logical extension of Conservative Judaism’s academic scholarship is that to obey Halakha just because “God says so” is intellectually dishonest. But if that’s the case, then why not throw over religious law, like Reform Jews do? The middle-ground movement has come up with no satisfactory answer. It makes do with guilt and a sort of schmaltzy ode to tradition a la Fiddler on the Roof.
It is in the nature of compromise positions that they do not inspire much passion. And since Conservative Judaism was born out of a practical need to unite small Jewish communities containing very disparate viewpoints, it’s not surprising that it has had difficulty finding firm theological footing.
What it comes down to is that unless you live in an area with a large Jewish community, it is very difficult t live in strict accordance with what the Torah seems to require. For most people it is not an option to live within walking distance of the synagogue. And maintaining a stricly kosher home is next to impossible if you live, say, in central Kansas. This demands certain compromises.
Anyway, I recommend the entire article.