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Description of Judaism

Jewish movements. Christian -
Jewish relations. Jewish websites.

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This is a continuation of a previous essay

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Jewish Movements:

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 religions.

In alphabetic order, the main traditions active in North America are:

bullet 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 Orthodox. 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

bulletHumanistic Judaism: This is a very small group, mainly composed of atheists and agnostics, who regard mankind as the measure of all things.

bulletOrthodox* 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.

bulletReconstructionist 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.

bulletReform* 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 2001.

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

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Jewish-Christian Relations:

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:

bullet30 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.

bulletcirca 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.

bullet70 CE: The Roman army destroyed the Temple and the rest of Jerusalem. The Jewish Christian movement was scattered and went into gradual decline.

bullet132 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:

bulletJudaism in its Rabbinical form, centered in local synagogues, scattered throughout the known world, and

bullet 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.

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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. See: http://www.bethashem.org/

  • 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." See: http://www.becomingjewish.org/

  • 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." See: http://www.jewfaq.org

  • Judaism and Jewish Heritage is a non-profit site which encourages Jews to learn about their heritage. See: http://www.areyoujewish.com

  • "Judaism 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/

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Josh Nathan-Kazis, "Liberal Denominations Face Crisis as Rabbis Rebel, Numbers Shrink," The Jewish Daily Forward, 2011-FEB-18, at: http://www.forward.com/
  2. "Press Release: American Jewish Committee Publishes Synagogue Census," 2002-AUG-7, at: http://www.ajc.org/
  3. 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.

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Copyright © 1995 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JUL-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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