Jewish denominations

From Academic Kids

Template:Jew Jewish denominations:

Over time, the Jewish community has become divided into a number of religious denominations, also called "branches" or "movements". Each denomination has a different understanding of what principles of belief a Jew should hold, and how one should live as a Jew.


Denominations of Judaism

Traditionally, Judaism is not divided into religious traditions based on theological difference, although a wide array of communities have developed independently, distinguishable by their varying practices with respect to matters that are not considered central ideas within Judaism (see Maimonides' Jewish_principles_of_faith). Although there are numerous Jewish communities throughout the world, there are several that are large enough to be considered "predominant". Ashkenazi communities comprise approximately 42% of the world's Jewish population, and Sephardic communities comprise approximately 37%. Of the remainder, the collectively-named Mizrahi Jewish communities, the "Arab" and "Persian Jews", comprise the greatest part, with about 16% of the world's Jewish population. The remaining Jewish communities are divided among a wide array of small groups, some of which are nearing extinction as a result of assimilation into surrounding non-Jewish cultures, or assimilation into surrounding Jewish cultures; increasing intermarriage between different Jewish groups has had the effect of blurring these identities for many. Religiously speaking, most Jewish communities have historically held that there is no relevant role for "dogma"—rather, that there is Jewish law, only. The extent to which every Jew as an individual abides by Jewish law has long been regarded as a matter of personal preference, although the idea has always been prominent that every Jew should be as observant of the laws as they are able. The Enlightenment, had a tremendous effect on Jewish identity and on ideas about the importance and role of Jewish observance. Due to the geographical distribution and the geopolitical entities affected by the Enlightenment, this philosophical revolution essentially affected only the Ashkenazi community; however, because of the predominance of the Ashkenazi community in Israeli politics and in Jewish leadership worldwide, the effects have been significant for all Jews.

Divisions within the Ashkenazi Community

Perhaps the greatest dogmatic divisions since the time of the division between the Sadduccees and Pharisees two millennia ago, are the divisions within the Ashkenazic community that have arisen in the past two centuries, ever since the Enlightenment and the Renaissance began to penetrate the boundaries of northern and eastern European Jewish communities. The first evidence of this great dogmatic schism was the development of the "Reform" movement, which sought to reject everything it considered "ethnic" about Judaism, preferring to regard Judaism as a religious alternative to Christianity, without any of the cultural or ethnic trappings that had been traditionally associated with Jewish observance.

  • Reform Judaism (outside of the USA also known as Progressive Judaism) originally formed in Germany as a reaction to traditional Judaism, stresses integration with society and a personal interpretation of the Torah.
  • Reconstructionist Judaism. A small liberal Jewish movement, for the most part found only in the USA. It began as a leftist-leaning (politically) liberal (religiously) movement within Conservative Judaism, which formally separated itself from Conservative Judaism in the 1980s.
  • Union for Traditional Judaism (UTJ) [1] ( began within the Conservative Judaism community, as did the earlier Reconstructionist movement, but whereas Reconstructionism moved to the left of the Jewish religious spectrum, the Union for Traditional Judaism has moved to the right of the Conservative movement. It is ideologically opposed to the cultural and ethical liberalism of much of the Conservative community, and politically and religiously opposed to the segments of the Conservative community which eventually came to comprise the Reconstructionist movement. The Union for Traditional Judaism was founded in opposition primarily to the decision by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) to ordain women as rabbis. The opposition to this move was based not so much in philosophical differences, but in an opposition to the fact that the JTS decided to begin ordaining women as rabbis as a result of a popular vote among academics at the institution, in contravention of a similar vote in favor of not ordaining women as rabbis, taken by the Rabbinical Assembly. Unlike Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism, the Union for Traditional Judaism does not regard itself as a dogmatic organization, nor even as an association of synagogues, rather as an organization devoted to promoting its "orthodox-leaning" ideals among Jews of all "denominations".

Hasidic Judaism

Hasidic Judaism was founded by Israel ben Eliezer (1700-1760), also known as the Ba'al Shem Tov, or the Besht. His disciples attracted many followers; they themselves established numerous Hasidic sects across Europe. Hasidic Judaism eventually became the way of life for many Jews in Europe; it came to the United States during the large waves of Jewish emigration in the 1880s.

Early on, there was a serious schism between the Hasidic and non-Hasidic Jews. European Jews who rejected the Hasidic movement were dubbed by the Hasidim as mitnagdim (lit. "opponents"). Some of the reasons for the rejection of Hasidic Judaism were the overwhelming exuberance of Hasidic worship; their untraditional ascriptions of infallibility and alleged miracle-working to their leaders, and the concern that it might become a messianic sect. Since then all the sects of Hasidic Judaism have been subsumed into mainstream Orthodox Judaism, particularly Haredi Judaism. See the articles on Hasidic Judaism and Mitnagdim for more detailed information.

Other divisions

  • Sephardic and Mizrahi Judaism. These communities include the vast majority of remaining Jewish communities, commonly called either Edat Sfarad or Edot haMizrach. Doctrinally, according to these communities, one is either "observant" or "not observant", with numerous gradations in between. This view is an extension of the traditional Jewish position that observance of the mitzvot is a matter of progression toward perfection, rather than an "all or nothing" proposition. Over the past 2 centuries, this position, which appears "tolerant" by comparison, has been one of the great hallmarks delimiting Sephardic and Mizrachi forms of Judaism from Ashkanazic "Orthodoxy".
  • Samaritans. An ancient sect, dating from the Babylonian Exile, sometimes not regarded as Jews. Identified as the Kuthim (possibly after the city of Kut, in modern Iraq, from which their ancestors are believed to have come), who opposed the return of the exiles, as recorded in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
  • There exist numerous other small sects within Judaism, and ethnic groups of Jews. For a more in-depth discussion, see Jewish ethnic divisions.

Development of modern denominations in response to the Enlightenment

In the late 18th century Europe, and then the rest of the world, was swept by a group of intellectual, social and political movements that taken together were referred to as the Enlightenment. These movements promoted scientific thinking, free thought, and allowed people to question previously unshaken religious dogmas. The emancipation of the Jews in many European communities, and the Haskalah movement started by Moses Mendelssohn, brought the Enlightnment to the Jewish community.

Some Jews felt that Enlightenment values, especially the incorporation of secular subjects into Jewish education, as well increased integration with the outside world, would bring much to Judaism. Others, however, noted that this same era allowed Jews, for the first time, the ability to easily assimilate into Christian society; this was a powerful attraction for many Jews, since only by becoming a Christian (at least nominally) would one be certain to have equal rights and civil liberties. Further, historical study of the development of the religion might call into question some previously held dogmas about Judaism; if a few beliefs were found to be incorrect, where would one draw the line? In response to the challenges of integrating Jewish life with Enlightenment values, German Jews in the early 1800s began to develop the concept of Reform Judaism, adapting Jewish practice to the new conditions of a increasingly urbanized and secular community. Reform Judaism quickly spread throughout Europe, eventually reaching America with the formation of the American Reform Movement and Hebrew Union College in 1870.

At the same time, more traditional Judaism continued as a series of loosely linked communities known as Orthodox Judaism. This loose differentiation did not hold for long. The various groups in Orthodox Judaism had differing approaches to Jewish law, however, and developed into a number of different groups, which today can be loosely grouped into Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism.

The Reform movement splintered in the late 19th century, however, as some Jews felt that its changes were too radical, but that the strictures of more Orthodox Judaism were too inflexible. Thus, third school of thought developed which held that Jewish law and tradition was not static, but rather had always developed in response to changing conditions. This approach, Positive-Historical Judaism, held that Jews should accept Jewish law as normative (i.e. binding) yet must also be open to developing the law in the same fashion that it had developed in the past. This school of thought gave birth to the communities now known as Masorti Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Traditional Judaism.

In recent years, smaller splinter movements have developed: Reconstructionist Judaism and Humanistic Judaism. In terms of their spectrum of beliefs and practices, Reconstructionist Judaism now overlaps with Reform Judaism, and Humanistic Judaism is now identical to secular humanism. (See also: Alternative Judaism)

Non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism recognize Orthodox Judaism as a valid and legitimate form of Judaism, despite theological differences. Most of Orthodox Judaism, however, does not recognize any form of Judaism as authentic except for itself; many Orthodox Jews view non-Orthodox forms of Judaism practice as non-Jewish (though this does not mean that they view the practitioners of other branches of Judaism as non-Jewish, see Who is a Jew?).

The issue of Zionism was once heavily divisive in the Jewish community. Secular non-Zionists believed that Jews should integrate into the countries in which they lived, rather than moving to Israel; religious non-Zionists believed that the return to Israel could only happen with the coming of the Messiah, and that attempting to re-establish Israel earlier was disobeying God's plan. After the painful events of the twentieth century, such as World War II and the Holocaust, secular anti-Zionism has largely disappeared; however some Hasidim are still opposed to Zionism on religious grounds. One specific example is the Neturei Karta.

See also

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