Judaism is the religion and culture of the Jewish people and one of the earliest recorded monotheistic faiths. The tenets and history of Judaism constitute historical foundations of many other religions, including Christianity and Islam.
The seven-branched Menorah
is an ancient symbol of Judaism.
Judaism does not easily fit into common Western categories, such as religion, race, ethnicity, or culture. This is because Jews understand Judaism in terms of its 4,000-year history. During this stretch of time, Jews have experienced slavery, anarchic self-government, theocratic self-government, conquest, occupation, and exile; they have been in contact, and have been influenced by ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Hellenic cultures, as well as modern movements such as the Enlightenment and the rise of nationalism. Thus, Daniel Boyarin has argued that "Jewishness disrupts the very categories of identity, because it is not national, not genealogical, not religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension."
According to religious Jews, the Biblical patriarch Abraham was the first Jew. Rabbinic literature records that he was the first to take on the world and proclaim the folly of idolatry. As a result, God promised he would have children, starting with Isaac, who would carry on his work and inherit the land of Israel (then called Canaan) after having been exiled and redeemed. According to the Bible, God gave Isaac's son Jacob the name Israel, meaning "he who struggles with God", and dedicated his descendants to be his nation.
God sent Jacob and his children to Egypt; after they eventually became enslaved, God sent Moses to redeem the Israelites from slavery. After the Exodus from Egypt, God led them to Mount Sinai and gave them the Torah, and eventually brought them to the Land of Israel.
God set aside the descendants of Aaron, Moses' brother, to be a priestly class within the Israelite community. They first officiated in the tabernacle (a portable house of worship), and later their descendants officiated in the Temple in Jerusalem
Once they had settled, the tent was planted in the city of Shiloh for over 300 years during which time God provided great men, and occasionally women, to rally the nation after he sent enemies to attack them. As time went on, the spiritual level of the nation declined to the point that God allowed the Philistines to capture the temple in Shiloh.
The people of Israel then told Samuel the prophet that they had reached the point where they needed a permanent king like other nations had. God knew this was not best for the Jews, but acceded to this request and had Samuel appoint Saul, a great but very humble man, to be their king. When the people pressured Saul into going against a command conveyed to him by Samuel, God told Samuel to appoint David in his stead.
Once David was established, he told the prophet Nathan that he would like to build a permanent temple. As a reward, God promised David that he would allow his son to build the temple and the throne would never depart from his children. David's son Solomon built the first permanent temple according to God's will, in Jerusalem.
After Solomon's death, the kingdom was split into the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah. Israel had a variety of kings, but after a few hundred years, because of the rampant idolatry God allowed Assyria to conquer Israel and exile its people. The kingdom of Judah, whose capital was Jerusalem and contained the temple, remained under the rulership of the house of David. However, idolatry increased to the point that God allowed Babylon to conquer it, destroy the temple which had stood for 410 years and exile its people to Babylon, with the promise that they would be redeemed after seventy years.
After seventy years the people were allowed back into Israel under the leadership of Ezra, and the temple was rebuilt. This second temple stood for 420 years after which it was destroyed by the Roman general (later emperor) Titus. This is the state in which it is to remain until a descendant of David arises to restore the glory of Israel (the current existence of the Islamic Dome of the Rock doesn't matter to the Rabbinical view).
The Torah given on Mount Sinai was summarized in the five books of Moses and together with the books of the prophets is called the Written Torah. The details which are called the Oral Torah were to remain unwritten. However as the persecutions of the Jews increased and the details were in danger of being forgotten, they were recorded in the Mishna, and the Talmud, as well as other holy books.
Critical Historical view
According to critical historians, two characteristics distinguish Judaism from the other religions that existed when it first developed. One characteristic was monotheism. The significance of this belief is not so much the denial of other gods; although this element is fundamental to Rabbinic Judaism, according to many critical Bible scholars the Torah often implies that the early Israelites accepted the existence of other gods (see Elohim). Rather, the significance lies in that Judaism holds that God created and cares about people. In polytheistic religions, humankind is often created by accident, and the gods are primarily concerned with their relations with other gods, not with people. (In other words, Judaism is rather like Tenrikyo in a sense, in that it is a monotheistic religion that developed in a polytheistic world.)
Second, the Torah specifies a number of laws to be followed by the Children of Israel. Other religions at the time were characterized by temples in which priests would worship their gods through sacrifice. The Children of Israel similarly had a temple, priests, and made sacrifices — but these were not the sole means of worshiping God. In comparison to other religions, Judaism elevates everyday life to the level of a temple, and worships God through everyday actions.
By the Hellenic period most Jews had come to believe that their God was the only God (and thus, the God of everyone), and that the record of His revelation (the Torah) contained within it universal truths. This attitude may reflect growing Gentile interest in Judaism (some Greeks and Romans considered the Jews a most "philosophical" people because of their belief in a God that cannot be represented visually), and growing Jewish interest in Greek philosophy, which sought to establish universal truths. Jews began to grapple with the tension between the particularism of their claim that only Jews were required to obey the Torah, and the universalism of their claim that the Torah contained universal truths.
The result is a set of beliefs and practices concerning both identity, ethics, one's relation to nature, and one's relation to God, that privilege "difference" — the difference between Jews and non-Jews; the differences between locally variable ways of practicing Judaism; a close attention to different meanings of words when interpreting texts; attempts to encode different points of view within texts, and a relative indifference to creed and dogma.
The subject of the Hebrew Bible (similar to the Christian Old Testament) is an account of the Israelites' (also called Hebrews) relationship with God as reflected in their history from the beginning of time until the building of the Second Temple (approx. 350 BCE). This relationship is generally portrayed as contentious, as Jews struggle between their faith in God and their attraction for other gods, and as some Jews (most notably, Abraham, Jacob — later known as Israel — and Moses) struggle with God.
Modern critical scholars hold that the Torah consists of a variety of inconsistent texts that were edited together in a way that calls attention to divergent accounts (see Documentary hypothesis).
Principles of faith
Main article: Jewish principles of faith
While Judaism has always affirmed a number of other Jewish Principles of Faith, it has never developed a binding catechism. That is, there is no formal agreed-upon dogma (set of orthodox beliefs.) While individual rabbis, or sometimes entire groups, at times agreed upon a firm dogma, other rabbis and groups disagreed. With no central agreed-upon authority, no one formulation of Jewish principles of faith could take precedent over any other.
The ancient historian Josephus emphasizes practices and traditions rather than beliefs when he describes the characteristics of an apostate (a Jew who does not follow traditional customs) and the requirements for conversion to Judaism (circumcision, and adherence to traditional customs). Despite the above, in Orthodox Judaism some principles (e.g. the Divine origin of the Torah) are considered important enough that public rebellion against them can put one in the category of "apikoros" (heretic).
A number of formulations of Jewish principles of faith have appeared; most of them have much in common, yet they differ in certain details. A comparison of them demonstrates a wide array of tolerance for varying theological perspectives. Below is a summary of Jewish principles of faith. A more detailed discussion of these beliefs, along with a discussion of how they developed, is found in the article on Jewish principles of faith.
- Monotheism - Judaism is based on strict unitarian monotheism, the belief in one God. God is conceived of as eternal, the creator of the universe, and the source of morality.
- God is one - The idea of God as a duality or trinity is heretical for Jews to hold; it is considered akin to polytheism. Interestingly, while Jews hold that such conceptions of God are incorrect, they generally are of the opinion that gentiles that hold such beliefs are not held culpable.
- God is all powerful (omnipotent), as well as all knowing (omniscient). The different names of God are ways to express different aspects of God's presence in the world. See the entry on The name of God in Judaism.
- God is non-physical, non-corporeal, and eternal. All statements in the Hebrew Bible and in rabbinic literature which use anthropomorphism are held to be linguistic conceits or metaphors, as it would otherwise be impossible to talk about God.
- To God alone may one offer prayer. Any belief that an intermediary between man and God could be used, whether necessary or even optional, has traditionally been considered heretical.
- The Hebrew Bible, and much of the beliefs described in the Mishnah and Talmud, are held to be the product of divine Revelation. How Revelation works, and what precisely one means when one says that a book is "divine", has always been a matter of some dispute. Different understandings of this subject exist among Jews.
- The words of the prophets are true.
- Moses was the chief of all prophets.
- The Torah (five books of Moses) is the primary text of Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism holds that the Torah is the same one that was given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai. Orthodox Jews believe that the Torah that we have today is exactly the same as it was when it was received from God by Moses with only minor scribal errors. Due to advances in biblical scholarship, and archaeological and linguistic research, most non-Orthodox Jews reject this principle. Instead, they may accept that the core of the Oral and Written Torah may have come from Moses, but the written Torah that we have today has been edited together from several documents.
- God will reward those who observe His commandments, and punish those who violate them.
- God chose the Jewish people to be in a unique covenant with God; the description of this covenant is the Torah itself. Contrary to popular belief, Jewish people do not simply say that "God chose the Jews." Jews believe that they were chosen for a specific mission; to be a light unto the nations, and to have a covenant with God as described in the Torah. This idea is discussed further in the entry on the chosen people. Reconstructionist Judaism rejects the concept of chosenness as morally defunct.
- The messianic age. There will be a moshiach (messiah), or perhaps a messianic era.
- The soul is pure at birth. People are born with a yetzer ha'tov, a tendency to do good, and with a yetzer ha'ra, a tendency to do bad. Thus, human beings have free will and can choose the path in life that they will take.
- People can atone for sins. The liturgy of the Days of Awe (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) states that prayer, repentance and tzedakah (dutiful giving of charity) atone for sin. Atonement is deemed only meaningful if accompanied by sincere decision to cease unacceptable actions, and then only if appropriate amends to others are honestly undertaken. It covers wrongdoings by which a person has fallen short of divine wishes in his daily life, and thus there is always a "way back" to God. In Judaism, sin is more considered in terms of a wrongful action, contravening divine commandment to live a holy life, than wrongful thought. A more detailed discussion of the Jewish view of sin is available in the entry on sin.
The Traditional Jewish Bookshelf
Jews are often called the "people of the book," and Judaism has an age-old intellectual tradition focusing on text-based Torah study. The following is a basic, structured list of the central works of Jewish practice and thought. For more detail, see Rabbinic literature.
- The Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) and Jewish bible study, which include:
- Talmudic Era (classic rabbinic literature)
- Halakhic literature
- Jewish thought and ethics
- The Siddur and Jewish liturgy
- Piyyut (Classical Jewish poetry)
What makes a person Jewish?
See main article: Who is a Jew
According to Jewish law, someone is considered to be a Jew if he or she was born of a Jewish mother or converted in accord with Jewish Law. (Recently, the American Reform and Reconstructionist movements have included those born of Jewish fathers and gentile mothers, if the children are raised practicing Judaism only.)
A Jew who ceases to practice Judaism is still considered a Jew, as is a Jew who does not accept Jewish principles of faith and becomes an agnostic or an atheist; so too with a Jew who converts to another religion. However, in the latter case, the person loses standing as a member of the (practicing) Jewish community and becomes known as an apostate in said community, though this might not affect his standing with non-practising Jews. In the past, family and friends would often formally mourn for the person, though this is rarely done today.
The question of what determines Jewish identity was given new impetus when, in the 1950s, David ben Gurion requested opinions on mihu Yehudi ("who is a Jew") from Jewish religious authorities and intellectuals worldwide. The question is far from settled and is one of the recurrent tensions in Israeli politics and in the divide between Orthodox vs. Reform (or Conservative) Judaism.
Main article: Jewish philosophy
Jewish philosophy refers to the conjunction between serious study of philosophy and Jewish theology. Early Jewish philosophy was influenced by the philosophy of Plato, Aristotle and Islamic philosophy. Major Jewish philosophers include Solomon ibn Gabirol, Saadia Gaon, Maimonides and Gersonides. Major changes occurred in response to the enlightenment (late 1700s to early 1800s) leading to the post-Enlightenment Jewish philosophers, and then the modern Jewish philosophers.
Main article: Halakha
The basis of Jewish law and tradition ("halakha") is the Torah (the five books of Moses). According to rabbinic tradition there are 613 commandments in the Torah. Some of these laws are directed only to men or to women, some only to Kohanim or Leviyim (members of the tribe of Levi), some only to those handling (growing, eating, etc.) produce from the land of Israel, and many laws were only applicable when the Temple in Jerusalem existed. Less than 300 of these commandments are still applicable today.
While there have been Jewish groups which claimed to be based on the written text of the Torah alone (e.g. the Sadducees, the Karaites), most Jews believed in what they call the oral law. These oral traditions originated in the Pharisee sect of ancient Judaism, and were latter recorded in written form and expanded upon by the Rabbis.
Rabbinic Judaism has always held that the books of the Tanakh (called the written law) were transmitted in parallel with an oral tradition. They point to the text of the Torah, where many words are left undefined, and many procedures mentioned without explanation or instructions; this, they argue, means that the reader is assumed to be familiar with the details from other, i.e. oral, sources. This parallel set of material was originally transmitted orally, and came to be known as "the oral law".
By the time of Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi (200 CE) much of this material was edited together into the Mishnah. Over the next four centuries this law underwent discussion and debate in both of the world's major Jewish communities (in Israel and Babylon), and the commentaries on the Mishnah from each of these communities eventually came to be edited together into compilations known as the two Talmuds (Babylonian and Palestinian). These have been expounded by commentaries of various Torah scholars during the ages.
Halakha, the rabbinic Jewish way of life, then, is based on a combined reading of the Torah, and the oral tradition - the Mishnah, the halakhic Midrash, the Talmud and its commentaries. The Halakha has developed slowly, through a precedent-based system. The literature of questions to rabbis, and their considered answers, is referred to as responsa (in Hebrew, '"Sheelot U-Teshuvot".) Over time, as practices develop, codes of Jewish law are written that are based on the responsa; the most important code, the Shulkhan Arukh, largely determines Jewish religious practice up till today.
See also Jewish services
There are three daily prayer services, named Shacharit, Mincha (literally: flour-offering) and Maariv. The main component of each set of prayers is the shemonah esrei ("eighteen"), which on weekdays consists of nineteen blessings (one was added in the time of the Mishna, but the name remains). It is said quietly while standing, and is repeated by the hazzan during shacharit and mincha. On the Sabbath and Holidays, various other blessings are added to and deleted from the central part of the prayer, and a fourth service (mussaf, Hebrew for "additional") is added.
During Shacharit and Maariv, Shemonah Esrei is preceded by the reading of Shema Yisrael, and the blessings surrounding it.
In addition, various versions of Kaddish are said. The full Kaddish is said following Shemonah Esrei, and the Mourners' Kaddish is said by mourners as is the Rabbis' Kaddish. Half Kaddish is also said a number of times.
Most of the prayers can be said in solitary prayer, but Kaddish and Kedusha require a minyan (prayer quorum).
Shabbat and holidays
Main articles: Shabbat and Jewish holidays
Shabbat is the weekly day of rest; it plays an important role in Jewish practice and is the subject of a large body of religious law. Likewise, the annual cycle of Jewish holidays plays an important role in communal life.
Dietary laws: Kashrut
The laws of kashrut ("keeping kosher") are the Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with Jewish law is termed kosher, and food not in accord with Jewish law is termed treifah or treif. From the context of the laws in the book of Leviticus, the purpose of kashrut is related to ritual purity and holiness. See the article on kashrut for more details.
Life-cycle events occur throughout a Jew's life that bind him/her to the entire community.
- Brit milah - Welcoming male babies into the covenant through the rite of circumcision.
- Bar mitzvah and Bat mitzvah - Celebrating a child's reaching the age of majority, becoming responsible from now on for themselves as an adult for living a Jewish life and following halakha.
- Mourning - Judaism has a multi-staged mourning practice. The first stage is called the Shiv'ah (observed for one week), the second is the shloshim (observed for one month) and for those who have lost one of their parents, there is a third stage, avelut yud bet chodesh, which is observed for one year.
Note that the following positions are not mutually exclusive. The same person is often qualified to fill more than one of the following positions, and often does.
- Rabbi of a congregation - Jewish scholar who is charged with answering the religious questions of a congregation. Usually requires semicha (Rabbinical ordination). A congregation does not necessarily require a Rabbi. However, at least some of the members need to know how to lead the prayer services.
- Hassidic Rebbe - Rabbi who is the head of a Hassidic dynasty.
- Hazzan (cantor) - Person who is charged with leading the prayers in the synagogue. Chosen for a good voice, knowledge of traditional tunes, understanding of the meaning of the prayers and sincerity in reciting them. A congregation does not need to have a dedicated hazzan. Any participant who knows how to lead the prayers can be the hazzan for that prayer service.
- Dayan (judge) - expert in Jewish law who sits on a beth din (rabbinical court) for either monetary matters or for overseeing the giving of a bill of divorce. A dayan always requires semicha.
- Hazzan (cantor) - in some synagogues, the leader of prayer in place of a rabbi. Hazzans are chosen for their vocal qualities and expertise in nusach or other musical notations alongside Hebrew texts.
- Kohen (priest) - patrilineal descendant of Aaron, brother of Moses. The first one called up at the reading of the Torah, performs the priestly blessing, as well as having other unique laws. In the Temple in Jerusalem, the kohanim were charged with performing the sacrifices.
- Levi (Levite) - Patrilineal descendant of Levi the son of Jacob. Called up second to the reading of the Torah. When the Temple in Jerusalem was standing, they had additional responsibilities and privileges.
- Mohel - performs the brit milah (circumcision). An expert in the laws of circumcision who has received training from a qualified mohel. (Despite the spelling, it is usually pronounced "moyl" in English, although the proper Hebrew pronunciation is as spelled.)
- Shochet (ritual slaughterer) - slaughters all kosher meat. In order for meat to be kosher, it must be slaughtered by a shochet who is expert in the laws and has received training from another shochet, as well as having regular contact with a rabbi and revising the relevant guidelines on a regular basis.
- Sofer (scribe) - Torah scrolls, tefillin (phylacteries), mezuzahs (scrolls put on doorposts), and gittin (bills of divorce) must be written by a sofer who is an expert in the laws of writing.
- Rosh yeshivah - head of a yeshiva. Somebody who is an expert in delving into the depths of the Talmud, and lectures the highest class in a Yeshiva.
- Mashgiach of a yeshiva - expert in mussar (ethics). Oversees the emotional and spiritual welfare of the students in a yeshiva, and gives lectures on mussar.
- Mashgiach over kosher products - supervises merchants and manufacturers of kosher food to ensure that the food is kosher. Either an expert in the laws of kashrut, or (generally) under the supervision of a rabbi who is expert in those laws.
- Gabbai (sexton) - Calls people up to the Torah, appoints the Hazzan at for each prayer session if there is no standard Hazzan, and makes certain that the synagogue is kept clean and supplied.
In the last two centuries the Jewish community has divided into a number of Jewish denominations; each has a greatly different understanding of what principles of belief a Jew should hold, and how one should live as a Jew. Most of Orthodox Judaism holds to one particular form of Jewish theology, based on Maimonides' 13 principles of Jewish faith. Orthodox Jews hold that these principles are unchanging and mandatory; non-Orthodox forms of Judaism hold that these principles have evolved over time, and thus allow for more leeway in what individual adherents believe.
Diaspora Judaism in modern times is commonly divided into the following denominations:\
- Orthodox Judaism (includes Hasidic Judaism, Haredi (or Ultra-Orthodox) Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism) - this denomination holds that the Torah was written by God and Moses, and that the original laws within it are binding and unchanging. While Orthodox Judaism is in many senses what Judaism has been since the Middle Ages, its formation as a movement was a direct response to the formation of Reform Judaism.
- Reform Judaism (outside of the USA also known as Progressive Judaism, and in the U.K. as Liberal Judaism) originally formed in Germany as a reaction to traditional Judaism, stresses integration with society and a personal interpretation of the Torah. The original intent was to keep Jews "in the fold" who might otherwise leave the religion and community.
- Conservative Judaism. Outside of the USA it is known as Masorti (Hebrew for "Traditional") Judaism. "Masorti" is its official title in the State of Israel as well, although most Israelis use the word in a more general sense (see below). In the philosophy of this movement, the Torah, while unchanging, is subject to interpretation.
- Reconstructionist Judaism started as a stream of philosophy by a rabbi within Conservative Judaism, and later became an independent movement.
Many religious Jews do not look at one's denomination as a valid way of designating Jews; instead, if they label Jews it is on a graduated spectrum of religious observance. According to most Orthodox Jews, Jewish people who do not keep the laws of Shabbat and Yom Tov (the holidays), Kashrut, and family purity (taharat ha-mishpacha), to at least a minimal level, would be considered non-religious or frei (from Yiddish; free of the yoke of the Torah). Any Jew who keeps at least those laws would be considered frum (Yiddish--observant and religious), but their level of frumkeit (religiosity) would depend on whether they keep other laws, how careful they are about the details, and possibly on how many stringencies they take upon themselves to keep.
Jewish identity in modern Israel
Even though all of the Diaspora denominations exist in Israel, Israelis tend to classify Jewish identity in ways that are strikingly different than diaspora Jewry. Most Jewish Israelis classify themselves as "secular" (hiloni) or as "traditional" (masorti). "Secular" is more popular among Israeli families of western (European) origin, whose Jewish identity may be a very powerful force in their lives, but who see it as largely independent of traditional religious belief and practice. This portion of the population largely ignores organized religious life, be it of the official Israeli rabbinate (Orthodox) or of the liberal movements common to diaspora Judaism (Reform, Conservative).
The term "traditional" (masorti) is most common among Israeli families of "eastern" origin (i.e. Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa). This term, as commonly used, has nothing to do with the official "Masorti" (Conservative) movement in the State of Israel. There is a great deal of ambiguity in the ways "secular" and "traditional" are used in Israel. They often overlap, and they cover an extremely wide range in terms of ideology and religious observance.
The term "Orthodox" (Ortodoxi) is unpopular in Israeli discourse (among both "secular" and "religious" alike). Nevertheless, the spectrum covered by "Orthodox" in the diaspora exists in Israel, again with some important variations. The "Orthodox" spectrum in Israel is a far greater percentage of the Jewish population in Israel than in the diaspora, though how much greater is hotly debated. Various ways of measuring this percentage, each with its pros and cons, include the proportion of religiously observant Knesset members, the proportion of Jewish children enrolled in religious schools, and statistical studies on "identity".
What would be called "Orthodox" in the diaspora includes what is commonly called dati (religious) or haredi (ultra-Orthodox) in Israel. The former term includes what is called "Religious Zionism" or the "National Religious" community, as well as what has become known over the past decade or so as haredi-leumi (nationalist haredi), which combines a largely haredi lifestyle with nationist ideology.
Haredi applies to a populace that can be roughly divided into three separate groups along both ethnic and ideological lines: (1) "Lithuanian" (non-hasidic) haredim of Ashkenazic origin; (2) Hasidic haredim of Ashkenazic origin; and (3) Sephardic haredim. The third group is the largest, and has been the most politically active since the early 1990s.
Unlike the above denominations, which were ideological reactions that resulted from the exposure of traditional rabbinic Judaism to the radical changes of modern times, Karaite Judaism did not begin as a modern Jewish movement. The followers of Karaism believe they are the remnants of the non-Rabbinic Jewish sects of the Second Temple period, such as the Saducees, though others contend they are a sect started in the 8th and 9th centuries. The Karaites, or "Scripturalists," accept only the Hebrew bible and what they view as the Peshat/"Plain or Simple Meaning";, and do not accept non-biblical writings as authoritative. Some European Karaites do not see themselves as part of the Jewish community, while most do.
The main article Jewish views of religious pluralism describes how Judaism views other religions; it also describes how members of each of the Jewish religious denomination view the other denominations.
History of denominations
See also: Jewish history and Timeline of Jewish history
While the history of the Jews is a subject onto itself, this article will deal with the historical development of the branches of Judaism.
Historical Jewish sects (-1700)
Judaism at one time was related to Samaritanism; however Samaritans no longer refer to themselves as Jews, and both groups view themselves as separate religions.
Around the first century CE there were several small Jewish sects: the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, and Christians. After the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE., these sects vanished. Christianity survived, but by breaking with Judaism and becoming a separate religion; the Pharisees survived but in the form of Rabbinic Judaism (today, known simply as "Judaism").
Some Jews in the 8th and 9th centuries adopted the Sadducees' rejection of the oral law of the Pharisees/Rabbis recorded in the Mishnah (and developed by later Rabbis in the two Talmuds), intending to rely only upon the Tanakh. These included the Isunians, the Yudganites, the Malikites, and others. They soon developed oral traditions of their own which differed from the Rabbinic traditions, and eventually formed the Karaite sect. Karaites exist in small numbers today, mostly living in Israel. Rabbinical and Karaite Jews each hold that the others are Jews, but that the other faith is erroneous.
Over time Jews developed into distinct ethnic groups — amongst others, the Ashkenazi Jews (of Central and Eastern Europe with Russia); the Sephardi Jews (of Spain, Portugal and North Africa) and the Yemenite Jews, from the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula. This split is cultural, and is not based on any doctrinal dispute, although the distance did result in minor differences in practice and prayers.
Main article: Hasidic Judaism
Hasidic Judaism was founded by Israel ben Eliezer (1700-1760), also known as the Ba'al Shem Tov (or 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. Waves of Jewish immigration in the 1880s carried it to the United States.
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.
The Enlightenment and Reform Judaism
Main article: Haskalah, see also: Jewish Denominations
In the late 18th century Europe was swept by a group of intellectual, social and political movements known as the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment led to reductions in the European laws that prohibited Jews to interact with the wider secular world, thus allowing Jews access to secular education and experience. A parallel Jewish movement, Haskalah or the "Jewish Enlightenment," began in response to both the Enlightenment and these new freedoms. It placed an emphasis on integration with secular society and a pursuit of non-religious knowledge. The thrust and counter-thrust between supporters of Haskalah and more traditional Jewish concepts eventually led to the formation of a number of different branches of Judaism: Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism, many forms of Orthodox Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and a number of smaller groups as well.
While the Holocaust did not immediately affect Jewish denominations, its great loss of life caused a radical demographic shift, ultimately affecting the makeup of organized Judaism the way it is today.
The present situation
In most western nations, such as the USA, United Kingdom, Israel and South Africa, many secularized Jews have long since stopped participating in religious duties. Many of them recall having religious grandparents, but grew up in homes where Jewish education and observance was no longer a priority. They have developed ambivalent feelings towards religious duties. On the one hand they tend to cling to their traditions for purposes of identity; on the other hand the influences of western mentality, daily life and peer-pressure tear them away from Judaism. Recent studies of American Jews indicate that many people who identify as being of Jewish heritage no longer identify as members of the religion known as Judaism.
Religious (and secular) Jewish movements in the USA and Canada perceive this as a crisis situation, and have grave concern over rising rates of intermarriage and assimilation in the Jewish community. Since American Jews are marrying at a later time in their life than they used to, and are having fewer children than they used, the birth rate for American Jews has dropped from over 2.0 down to 1.7 (the replacement rate is 2.1). (This is My Beloved, This is My Friend: A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate relations, p.27, Elliot N. Dorff, The Rabbinical Assembly, 1996)
In the last 50 years all of the major Jewish denominations have experienced a resurgence in popularity, with increasing numbers of younger Jews participating in Jewish education, joining synagogues, and becoming (to varying degrees) more observant. There is a separate article on the Baal teshuva movement, the movement of Jews returning to observant Judaism. However, this gain has not offset the demographic loss due to intermarriage and acculturation.
Christianity and Judaism
There are a number of articles on the relationship between Judaism and Christianity. These articles include:
Since the Holocaust, there has been much to note in the way of reconciliation between some Christians groups and the Jewish people; the article on Christian-Jewish reconciliation studies this issue.
Messianic Judaism (sometimes Hebrew Christianity) is the common designation for a number of Christian groups which include varying degrees of Jewish practice. These groups have attracted tens (and perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Jews and Christians to their ranks; members identify themselves as Jews. These groups are viewed highly negatively by all Jewish denominations, which typically see them as covert and deceptive attempts to convert Jews to Christianity, a view Messianic-Jewish groups strongly contest.
Some Jews have joined other faiths, such as Judeo-Paganism and neo-paganism. Some adherents to those movements identify themselves as Jews nonetheless.
Islam and Judaism
See also Islam and Judaism and Judeo-Islamic tradition
Under Islamic rule, Judaism has been practiced for almost 1500 years and this has led to an interplay between the two religions which has been positive as well as negative at times. The period around 900 to 1200 in Moorish Spain came to be known as the Golden age of Jewish culture in Spain.
The 20th century animosity of Muslim leaders towards the Zionism, the political movement of Jewish self-determination, has led to a renewed interest in the relationship between Judaism and Islam.
Other relevant material:
- Similarities between the Bible and the Qur'an
- Islam and anti-Semitism