Description of Judaism
Jewish movements. Christian -
Jewish relations. Jewish websites.
There are five main forms of Judaism in the world today. However, the most
conservative traditions do not necessarily recognize the most liberal as being
part of Judaism. This is a common problem among many of the world's great
In alphabetic order, the main traditions active in North America are:
||Conservative* Judaism: This began in the mid-nineteenth century as a
reaction against the Reform movement. It is a main-line movement midway between Reform and
In the U.S., the number of families served by Conservative synagogues has dropped by 14% between 2001 and 2010; in the Northeast region, it has shrunk 30%. 1 |
|Humanistic Judaism: This is a very small group, mainly composed of
atheists and agnostics, who regard mankind as the measure of all things.
|Orthodox* Judaism: This the oldest, most conservative, and most diverse
form of Judaism. Modern Orthodox, Chasidim and Ultra Orthodox share a basic belief in the
derivation of Jewish law, even as they hold very different outlooks on life. They attempt
to follow the original form of Judaism as they view it to be. They look upon every word in
their sacred texts as being divinely inspired.
|Reconstructionist Judaism: This is a new, small, liberal movement
started by Mordecai Kaplan as an attempt to unify and revitalize the religion. They reject
the concept that Jews are a uniquely favored and chosen people. They have no connection at
all with Christian Reconstructionism, which is an
ultra-conservative form of Christianity.
|Reform* Judaism: They are a liberal group, followed by many North
American Jews. The movement started in the 1790's in Germany. They follow the ethical laws
of Judaism, but leave up to the individual the decision whether to follow or ignore the
dietary and other traditional laws. They use modern forms of worship. There
are many female rabbis in reform congregations.|
* These are the largest forms of Judaism.
A survey conducted in 2001 for the 2002 edition of the American Jewish
Year Book indicated that fewer that 10% of American Jews are estimated to be
Orthodox. However, Orthodox synagogues represent 40% of all U.S. synagogues.
Reform Judaism has 26 percent of all synagogues; Conservatives have 23 percent.
"Every other denomination or group representing synagogues –-
Reconstructionist, Sephardi, Traditional, Humanistic, Gay/Lesbian –- accounts
for 3 percent or less of synagogue affiliations..." 2 The
total number of U.S. synagogues has increased from 2,851 in 1936 to 3,727 in
Estimates of the Jewish population in the U.S. are:
- 5.5 million adults and children who identify as Jewish by religion.
- 1 million adults and children who identify themselves as Jewish by other criteria.
- The rate of increase of the Jewish population is similar to the increase in the total U.S. population. 3
The faith of Israel, as described in the Hebrew Scriptures, had divided into a number
of Jewish Sects (the Basusim, Pharisees, Essenes, Saducees, Zealots and others) by the
early first century CE. Subsequently, a number of events of momentous importance occurred:
|30 CE: Some Jews, following the teachings of Jeshua of
Nazareth (known by
Christians as Jesus Christ), formed a Jewish Christian reform movement within Judaism.
It was led by James, an apostle of Jeshua of Nazareth who is referred to in the
Bible as the brother of Jesus. Christian denominations are divided on whether he
is a true brother, or just a cousin, or a step-brother, or simply a friend of Jesus.
|circa 55 CE: Paul, a Jewish persecutor of Christians,
created an alternative religion involving the teachings and person of
Yeshua. He started to organize Pauline Christian churches throughout much of the
Roman empire in conflict with the Jewish Christians.
|70 CE: The Roman army destroyed the Temple and the rest of Jerusalem.
The Jewish Christian movement was scattered and went into gradual decline.
|132 CE: Many Jews accepted Bar Kochba as the Messiah.
This led to a hopeless three-year revolt against the Roman Empire. About a
half-million Jews were killed; thousands were sold into slavery or taken
into captivity. The rest were exiled from Palestine and scattered
throughout the known world."
Out of these events came two major world religions:
|Judaism in its Rabbinical form, centered in local synagogues, scattered throughout the
known world, and
||Christianity, the spiritual successor of Pauline Christianity which
incorporated fragments of Gnostic Christianity and Jewish Christianity. In
1054 CE, this religion split to become Roman Catholicism
and Eastern Orthodoxy. In the early 16th century, Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation. Christianity has since
fragmented into thousands of faith groups.
Relations between Judaism and Christianity became strained. The Christian Scriptures include
many examples of anti-Judaism. One of the gospels, written during the last third of the 1st
century CE, included the accusation that all Jews, (past, present, and future), are responsible for deicide: the killing of G-d. This form of
religious propaganda was serious enough in its original setting, when Christianity
remained a small reform movement within Judaism. There are many examples of
intra-religious friction throughout literature of that era; indeed, it is prevalent today.
But when the Christian religion became the official religion of Rome in the late 4th
century CE, Christianity became sufficiently powerful to actively oppress
and persecute Jews. This led to numerous exterminations of groups of Jews during the
Dark Ages, Middle Ages, Renaissance and into the modern era. Ancient Christian teachings
and practices paved the way for the Nazi Holocaust during World War II.
Today, only a few fringe Christian groups still teach that Jews are responsible for
Christ's death. However, many Christian denominations teach that the promises that G-d made to the
Jewish people have been withdrawn and transferred to the Christian Church. This teaching
has led to conflicts over attempts to evangelize Jews. Although
anti-Semitism has been abandoned by most faith groups in North America, the relationship between
Christians and Jews has much room for improvement.
Some Jewish websites:
- Ask Moses is an information source on Judaism. Questions not answered on their site can be directed to an
online scholar. See: http://www.askmoses.com/
- Bayit HhaSham Midrash, the House of The Name Academy, has a Te©wrah
Torah Translation Project. You can download Hebrew fonts from their website.
- Becoming Jewish is an "online information source for those
considering conversion to Judaism, in the process of converting, Righteous
Gentiles (B'nei Noach), and anyone interested in learning about Judaism."
- Famous Jews Interactive contains biographies of hundreds of well-known Jews. See: http://www.yahoodi.com/
- Got Torah? is a website specializing in the home education of adults and children. See: http://www.gottorah.com/
- The Hebrew Language website is a large compilation of free online resources to assist in learning Hebrew. See: http://www.hebrew-language.com
- HHJudaica, "the home of Heichel Hasforim Judaica," sells Jewish books,
toys, tallitot, religious articles, etc. See: http://www.hhjudaica.com/
- The Jewish History Resource Center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is a very large website maintained by the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish
History. See: http://jewishhistory.huji.ac.il/
- Jewish People Unite attempts to build bonds and bridges among all
types of Jews. See: http://www.jewish-people-unite.com/
- Judaism 101 is an "online encyclopedia of Judaism, covering Jewish
beliefs, people, places, things, language, scripture, holidays, practices and customs."
- Judaism and Jewish Heritage is a non-profit site which encourages Jews to learn about their heritage. See: http://www.areyoujewish.com
in the Modern Age" is an index of class notes for a University of Alberta course at: http://www.ucalgary.ca/
- The Peace Encyclopedia "examines the human nature behind problems in the Middle East and elsewhere." See: http://www.yahoodi.com/peace
- The "Photos from Isreal" features hunreds of posters and photographs, mainly from Israel. See: http://www.israelimage.net/
- Shamash, the Jewish Network has a page of links to Jewish websites at: http://www.shamash.org
- The Soc.Culture.Jewish newsgroup is at: http://www.shamash.org/ This extensive list of questions and answers was developed by a committee of Jews
from all denominations.
- Union for Reform Judaism serves Reform congregations in North America. See: http://urj.org/cong/outreach/
- World of Judica is a broadly based Jewish website featuring:
- Menoras, Seder plates and other items related to Jewish holidays.
- Shabbat items such as candlesticks and challah boards.
- Jewish Jewelry.
- Extensive range of topics discussed on their Oy Vey Blog.
- Jewish celebrations.
- Jewish news.
- Jewish Learning Center.
- Articles about the Jewish calendar, biblical figures, beliefs, Shabbat, etc.
- Zipple.net bill themselves as "The Jewish MEGA-Site"
with considerable justification. It is a wide-ranging Jewish website with a broad list of
topics. See: http://www.zipple.net/
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Josh Nathan-Kazis, "Liberal Denominations Face Crisis as Rabbis Rebel, Numbers Shrink," The Jewish Daily Forward, 2011-FEB-18, at: http://www.forward.com/
- "Press Release: American Jewish Committee Publishes Synagogue Census,"
2002-AUG-7, at: http://www.ajc.org/
- Leonard Saxe, "U.S. Jewry 2010: Estimates of the size and characteristics of the population," Page 16, 2010-DEC-20, Brandeis University, at: http://www.brandeis.edu/ This is a PDF file.
Copyright © 1995 to 2011 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JUL-16
Author: B.A. Robinson