Major Splits of the Jewish Religion

The scrolls of the Torah contain sacred writings.
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One of the oldest world religions to believe in one God, Judaism dates back more than 3,000 years. Not surprisingly, in that time there have been developments within the faith that have divided the faithful. Although not all of these splits have had equally profound consequences, one split in particular caused the birth of a new world religion.

1 Early Splits

Cleansing after the Maccabean Revolt against the Greeks.
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After a successful revolt against their Greek rulers in the 2nd Century BCE, the Jewish people reacted in different ways to their newly-won freedom. The Sadducees maintained elements of the former Greek culture, as well as the custom of sacrificial offerings. The Essenes were ascetics who lived apart from society, thus beginning a tradition which some believe Jesus of Nazareth later embraced. The Pharisees believed in education, with the aim of better understanding the written Torah, or Old Testament.

2 A Lasting Legacy

A rabbi wearing a tallith.
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A source of deep division in the Jewish faith has been belief in the oral Torah. While some groups believe that the written Torah was delivered directly from God and thus is sacrosanct, others believed that its meaning is better understood via an educated guide. These groups, including the Pharisees, believed in the tradition of the oral Torah, as practiced by rabbis. This led to the tradition of Rabbinical Judaism, which became the prevalent form of worship.

3 Christianity

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It is a fact perhaps often overlooked that Jesus of Nazareth was Jewish. He was baptized as a Jew by John the Baptist, and killed by the Roman Empire as a dangerous Jewish revolutionary. Jesus also caused conflict among members of the Jewish establishment, advocating poverty in preparation for the coming Kingdom of God on Earth. After his death, a growing number of followers believed Jesus had been in fact a physical embodiment of God, and was actually the Messiah, causing a great many Jews to become Christians.

4 Modern Differences

Reform Judaism grew in Central Europe from the 18th Century out of a desire to assimilate with wider society. It takes the view that Jewish law should be seen as a framework for guidance rather than a strict set of instructions. Modern Orthodox Judaism, meanwhile, believes that Jewish religious observance can be combined with full participation in secular society, and places great importance on the state of Israel as a force for good. Conservative Judaism grew up at the same time as Reform Judaism. It favors development of Jewish law along historical lines, while using modern methods which Modern Orthodox Judaism would find unacceptable.

Based in Newcastle upon Tyne, Phil Wharton has been editing and contributing to magazines and newspapers since 2001. His articles have appeared in “Bread and Roses” magazine and “Industrial Worker.” Wharton holds a Bachelor of Arts in humanities from Manchester Metropolitan University, an NCTJ Certificate of Journalism and is currently researching for a PhD in politics at Durham University.