Adherents of Judaism share a distinctive pride in their Jewish cultural heritage, but they are a diverse people who have differing approaches to traditional Jewish law. Religious Jews are split up into four main branches: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist. Each branch has a different view about the requirements Jewish law places on the adherent, especially concerning moral and ritual obligations.
Orthodox Judaism is the most traditional branch of the Jewish religion. Orthodox Jews follow the ancient Jewish law found in the Torah and the Talmud. The Torah is the five books of law that was written by Moses; the Talmud is the long-standing oral tradition of interpretation of the Jewish law. Orthodox Jews can be split up into Modern Orthodoxy and Charedi Judaism. Modern Orthodoxy teaches that, while Jews must adhere to ancient Jewish law, they can also embrace the modern culture in which they live. Charedi Judaism, on the other hand, teaches that adherents should focus on Jewish culture as well as Jewish law.
Conservative Judaism serves as a compromise between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. The Institute for Curriculum Services: National Resource Center for Accurate Jewish Content in Schools says Conservative Judaism seeks to maintain the content of ancient Jewish religion while “allowing for adaptions to fit modern circumstances.” According to the ICS, this branch encourages adherents to study traditional Jewish texts as a guide to personal ethics.
Reform Judaism, sometimes called Liberal or Progressive Judaism, emphasizes the importance of individual choice over ritual practices and religious beliefs. According to ICS, Reform Judaism teaches that the ethical teachings of Judaism must be followed but that ritual obligations can be “adapted to fit modern society.” ICS says Reformed Jews are encouraged to maintain only those practices that they find personally meaningful.
Reconstructionist Judaism is a social-reform movement that grew out of the Conservative branch. It teaches that Jewish law is important insofar as it strengthens the social community, but not as a religious law. The Temple Emanu-El of San Jose says Reconstructionist Jews call for a “restructuring” of ancient Judaism to evolve along with the practices of contemporary civilization.
Some Jewish people do not fall under any of the major branches of Judaism. Instead, they see themselves as “just Jewish,” without affiliating with any particular sect. The Jewish Outreach Institute did a survey in 2008 that found that 40 percent of U.S. Jews who marry a non-Jewish spouse did not affiliate with any particular branch of Judaism. The survey said 28 percent of Jews in the United States were married to non-Jews.
- Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images