Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Abrahamic Religions » Judaism » Denominations & Sects

As is true of other Abrahamic religions, Judaism is made up of several denominations and sects, related by common cultural and theological traditions.

These subgroups, commonly known as movements, share an adherence to the Torah as a holy book, but the practices and lifestyles of members of the different branches differ considerably. On extreme ends of the scale, Hasidic Jews tend to hold tight to traditional religious practices, including dressing in a particular manner and performing daily religious duties, while Reform Jews might attend synagogue only on important holidays and may not keep kosher. Messianic Judaism breaks away from all other parts of the Jewish faith by its acceptance of the New Testament, and as Jesus Christ as the Messiah.

In North America, the larger movements of Judaism are Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox. Orthodox Judaism is the most conservative of the three, Reform Judaism is the most liberal, and Conservative Judaism is in between.

Reform Jews do not believe that the Torah was written by God, and do not follow its tenets strictly, although they tend to keep to the spirit of Judaism. The Reform movement seeks to adapt Jewish traditions to modern living, and are inclined to be politically progressive and oriented to social justice issues while allowing for personal choice in matters of ritual observance.

Conservative Jews hold that the Torah was given to man by God, but that it came through human beings. Referred to as Masorti (traditional) Judaism outside of North America, Conservative Jews view Jewish law as obligatory, although there is a long range of observance among individual adherents. Representing a mid-point between Reform and Orthodox Judaism, Conservatives maintain Jewish traditions in some matters, such as keeping kosher and intermarriage but have adopted various innovations in others. Although it continues to bar its rabbis from officiating at interfaith marriage ceremonies, it has liberalized its approach to intermarriage in recent years.

Outside of North America, Conservative Judaism is known as Masorti Judaism.

Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah came directly from God to Moses and that it should be strictly followed. Orthodox Jews observe the Shabbat strictly, not driving, turning electricity on or off, or handling money. They also maintain kosher laws. Orthodox Judaism is a loose category that includes subgroups.

Also known as Centrist, Modern Orthodox Judaism is an attempt at harmonizing the traditional observance of Jewish law with the demands of the modern secular world. Modern Orthodoxy is closely related to Zionism, although not identical. Generally, The Modern Orthodox Jew believes that Jewish law is binding while encouraging interaction with the outside world.

Adherents of Haredi (Ultra) Orthodox Judaism are characterized by their distinctive black hats for men and modest attire for women. They are the most stringent in their adherence to Jewish law, and have little interaction with people who are not Jewish.

There are two subgroups within the Haredi Orthodox sect: Hasidic and Yeshivish.

Hasidic Jews are the descendants of the 18th-century spiritual revivalist movement of Eastern Europe, which emphasizes direct communion with the divine through prayer and worship.

Also known as Litvish Judaism, the Yeshivish are the heirs of those who rejected the rise of Hasidic Judaism in Europe. They emphasize the intellectual aspects of Jewish life, especially the study of the Talmud.

Open Orthodox Judaism is a new development, rising in the 1990s, whose adherents consider the movement to be a shift to the right among Modern Orthodox. They support larger leadership roles for women and are more open to non-Orthodox Jews.

In Israel, most of the synagogues and other Jewish religious institutions are Orthodox, although they tend not to identify as such. The non-Orthodox bodies of Judaism play a lesser role outside of North America.

In North America, the role of Jewish movements has diminished somewhat in recent decades, as American Jews tend to identify themselves simply as Jewish, or as non-denominational.

Other denominations include Haymanot, Humanistic, Jewish Renewal, Jewish Science, Kabbalah, Karaite, Neolog, and Reconstructionist.

For the sake of categorization, Messianic Judaism will be included here, as well. While good arguments could be made for placing it within the Christianity section instead, its adherents consider themselves to be a branch of Judaism, so we will include them here.

Any of the movements of Judaism mentioned above, and any that may have been neglected, are appropriate for this category or its subcategories. Websites representing local synagogues should be submitted to the appropriate Local & Global category, however.












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