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Transcript
Branches of Judaism
Why the change?

200 to ca. 1800: One basic form of Judaism
(“Rabbinic”)
Based on Talmud (Mishnah + Gemara)
 Focus on observing oral and written law
 613 commandments
 Focus on study, prayer, ongoing “discussion” by
rabbis and commentators
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Page from the
Talmud
Europe, ca. 1800
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Enlightenment ideals
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Critique received religious authority
Critique role of religion in warfare (“God is on our side”)
Religion should be rational, about universal truths and morals
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Emancipation of Jews (citizenship granted)
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Not rituals, particular histories, miracles
1791 France; 1796 Netherlands
1856 U.K.; 1861 Italy; 1871 Germany
1910 Spain; 1917 Russia
Dilemma for Jews: modernize or be marginal?
Beginnings of Reform Judaism

Guiding idea
Emphasize ethics, not ritual
 Adapt to contemporary life (use local language)
 Emphasize universality, not particularity
 Re-interpret messianic beliefs
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Begins in Germany (1818), but centered today in
the U.S.
The early, radical days of Reform

If Judaism is about ethics not ritual, then:
Can worship be on Sunday?
 Can worship be in the local language?
 Can people eat shellfish, pork, etc.?
 Do infant boys need to be circumcised?
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What is gained, and what is lost here?
Tradition vs. “relevance”
 Jews today have become more traditional than the
early radical forms of Reform
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Reform today
Less radical, more traditional than in 1800s
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uses more Hebrew
Supports a Jewish state (Israel)
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Particularity, ethnic identity, ritual are valuable for keeping Judaism alive
Very engaged in social issues
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Strong focus on “tikkun olam” (repairing the world; social justice)
Strong emphasis on women’s rights (ordained 1972) and inclusion of
gays, two issues that are very divisive in religion today
Allows for patrilineal descent
40% of Jews in America
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roughly 7% Orthodox; 40% Conservative; 3% other
Orthodoxy
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Only known as a distinct branch after Reform
develops
Adheres to Jewish law in all of life, not just ethics
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Walk to synagogue on Sabbath
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Keep kosher (two sets of dishes, etc)
Men and women have distinct roles
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means living a Jewish community
public vs. domestic
Only men count in a quorum (10 needed for public prayer)
sit on separate sides of the synagogue
Only form recognized in Israel
Conservative
Develops after Reform in 1913 in U.S.
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Middle ground: Reform goes to far, but
Orthodoxy needs to be adapted to modern times
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Law (Bible, Talmud) comes from God, but transmitted
through human beings; can be read critically
So, still binding, but can be adapted
More use of Hebrew in liturgy
Keeps matrilineal descent
Women ordained 1983
What do we learn from
branches of Judaism?
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Another example: how does religion decide how
to adapt to new circumstances?
What issues are most divisive?
What issues are most common to all branches?