American Judaism: Orthodox To Reform And Everything Between

2371 words - 9 pages

American Judaism:

Orthodox to Reform and Everything Between

American Jews today identify themselves as Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, or Reconstructionist. These four movements in modern American Judaism are different in many aspects, but one must remember that even though there are differences in the different beliefs of the Jewish movements, that all Jews share a common bond of a history and a destiny. They are one people. These four movements are not considered denominations, but are differing philosophies. Many Jewish religious observances and practices cannot be easily put into a single particular movement because within each movement there is a wide diversity in custom, practice, and observance. These movements range from traditional to liberal and those in between.

Orthodox Judaism considers itself the authentic bearer of the religious Jewish tradition and believes highly in the preservation of tradition. It is also the oldest form of Judaism. In the United States it is estimated that today approximately 21% of Jews identify themselves as Orthodox (United Jewish Communities, 2003). The essential principle of Orthodox Judaism is Torah min Hashamayim, which mens that the Torah and all its commentaries and interpretations are divinely revealed (Einstein& Kukoff, 1989, p. 151). According to Orthodox Judaism because all the laws and traditions of Judaism are of direct and divine origin, they must be followed by all Jews.

This strict observance of laws and traditions is the main foundation that Orthodox Judaism is based on and contains many rules that dictate the life of an Orthodox Jew. The most basic of these rules is the insistence of living a mitzvah centered life. Mitzvah means the 613 commandments that Jews are obligated to observe (Rich, 2003). Orthodox Jews see these 613 commandments as commandments directly given from God and are seen as binding both ritually and ethically. Therefore, any infraction or failure to observe any of these commandments are considered a sin and that the Torah, not personal belief or conscience, is the judge of action (Einstein & Kukoff, 1989, p. 152). The other basic belief of the Orthodox movement is that God gave Moses the whole Torah at Mount Sinai, including the Written Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and the Oral Torah (the oral tradition interpreting and explaining the Written Torah). They believe that the Torah is true and that it has came down to modern times intact and unchanged (Rich, 2003).

Many of the mitzvahs center on strict laws governing almost every aspect of daily life. These include at the most basic the strict dietary laws known as the Kashrut, which dictates food that cannot be consumed and very strict laws on the proper way to slaughter animals (Rich). This type of food is often called kosher. One of the most important mitzvah's that Orthodox Jews follows is their very strict and traditional observance of the Sabbath. They devote the Sabbath to a day of...

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