Orthodox Judaism

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Orthodox Judaism is the formulation of Judaism that adheres to a relatively strict interpretation and application of the laws and ethics first canonized in the Talmudic texts ("The Oral Law") and as subsequently developed and applied by the Gaonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim.

Orthodox Judaism is characterized by:


[edit] Diversity within Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Judaism's central belief is that the Torah, including both the Written Law and the Oral Law, was given directly from G-d to Moses and can never be altered or rejected in any way. As a result, all Jews are required to live in accordance with the Commandments and Jewish law.

However, since there is no one unifying Orthodox body, there is no one official statement of principles of faith. Rather, each Orthodox group claims to be a non-exclusive heir to the received tradition of Jewish theology, usually affirming a literal acceptance of Maimonides' thirteen principles as the only acceptable position.

Given this (relative) philosophic flexibility, variant viewpoints are possible, particularly in areas not explicitly demarcated by the Halakha. These areas are refered to as devarim she'ein lahem shiur (Hebrew: "things / phenomena with no set measure"). The result is a relatively broad range of Hashkafot (Hebrew: world view, Weltanschauung; Sing. Hashkafah) within Orthodoxy.

[edit] Social and philosophic differences

The greatest differences as regards the devarim she'ein lahem shiur are over:

  1. the degree to which an Orthodox Jew should integrate and/or disengage from modern secular society;
  2. the extent of acceptance of Torah/Talmud/Aggadah/Halakha through the viewpoint of rabbis and their rabbinical literature as a principal outlook on all matters of the external world including secular, scientific, and political matters, vis-a-vis accepting secular views on some matters;
  3. the weight assigned to Torah study versus secular studies or other pursuits;
  4. the centrality of yeshivas as the place for personal Torah study;
  5. the importance of a central spiritual guide in areas outside of Halakhic decision;
  6. the importance of maintaining non-Halakhic customs, such as dress, language, and music;
  7. the relationship of the modern state of Israel to Judaism;
  8. the role of women in (religious) society.

[edit] Subgroups

The above differences are realised in the various subgroups of Orthodoxy, which maintain significant social differences, and differences in understanding Halakha. These groups, broadly, comprise Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism, the latter comprising Hasidic Judaism and Litvish (non-Hasidic Hareidi) Judaism.

  • Modern Orthodoxy advocates increased integration with non-Jewish society, values the Nationhood of the Jewish people, and regards secular knowledge as inherently valuable.
  • Religious Zionism, characterized by belief in the importance of the modern state of Israel to Judaism, often intersects with Modern Orthodoxy.
  • Haredi Judaism advocates segregation from non-Jewish culture, although not from non-Jewish society entirely. It is characterized by its focus on community-wide Torah study (in contrast with Modern Orthodoxy, which decentralizes the role of Torah study for lay people).
  • Hasidic Judaism places great emphasis on all Jewish traditions, including the mystical, and generally prefers separation from all non-Jewish society.

Haredi and Hasidic Judaism are at best ambivalent about the modern State of Israel.

[edit] In practice

For guidance in practical application of Jewish law (Halakha) the majority of Orthodox Jews appeal, ultimately, to the Shulchan Aruch ("Code of Jewish Law" composed in the 16th century by Rabbi Joseph Caro) together with its surrounding commentaries. Thus, at a general level, there is a large degree of uniformity amongst all Orthodox Jews.

Concerning the details, however, there is often variance: decisions may be based on various of the standardized codes of Jewish Law that have been made over the centuries, as well as on the various responsa. These codes and responsa may differ from each other as regards detail (and refelecting the above differences, on the weight assigned to various issues).

By and large, however, the differences result from the Historic dispersal of the Jews and the consequent regional differences in practice (see minhag).

[edit] Origin and definition of the name "Orthodox"

While many Orthodox Jews accept the label "Orthodox", others reject and criticise it because it was never traditionally applied to Jews in ancient times or the Middle Ages. Many Orthodox Jews prefer to call their faith Torah Judaism. The word "orthodox" itself is derived from the Greek orthos meaning "straight/correct" and doxa meaning "opinion".

Use of the "Orthodox" label seems to have begun towards the beginning of the 19th century. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote in 1854 that:

...it was not "Orthodox" Jews who introduced the word "orthodox" into Jewish discussion. It was the modern "progressive" Jews who first applied the name to "old," "backward" Jews as a derogatory term. This name was... resented by "old" Jews. And rightfully so...

Others, however, say that Rabbi Isaac Leeser was the first to use the term in the US in his journal "The Occident," whose target audience was the more "traditional" or Orthodox Jew.

Yet others explain that the term arose out of the growth of the then-new Reformer Movement, which was "unorthodox", hence making the traditionalists the "orthodox." [citation needed]

[edit] The development of Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy is not a single movement or school of thought. There is no single rabbinic body to which all its rabbis are expected to belong, or any one organization representing its member congregations. In the United States at the present time, there are a number of Orthodox congregational organizations such as, for example, Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union, and the National Council of Young Israel— none of which can claim to represent even a majority of all Orthodox congregations.

What the exact forms of Judaism were during the times of Moses or during the eras of the Mishnah and Talmud cannot be exactly known today in all their details, but Orthodox Jews maintain that contemporary Orthodox Judaism maintains the same basic philosophy and legal framework that existed throughout Jewish history—whereas the other denominations depart from it. It may be said that Orthodox Judaism, as it exists today, is an outgrowth that stretches from the time of Moses, to the time of the Mishnah and Talmud, through the oral law, and rabbinic literature ongoing until the present time.

In the early 1800s, elements within German Jewry sought to reform Jewish belief and practice in response to The Age of Enlightenment and the Jewish Emancipation. In light of "modern scholarship", they denied divine authorship of the Torah, declared only those biblical laws concerning ethics to be binding, and stated that the rest of halakha (Jewish law) need no longer be viewed as normative (see Reform Judaism).

At the same time, there were those German Jews who actively maintained their traditions and adherence to Jewish law while simultaneously engaging with a post-Enlightenment society. This camp was best represented by the work and thought of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Hirsch held that Judaism demands an application of Torah thought to the entire realm of human experience—including the secular disciplines. This philosophy is termed "Torah im Derech Eretz". While insisting on strict adherence to Jewish beliefs and practices, he held that Jews should attempt to engage and influence the modern world, and encouraged those secular studies compatible with Torah thought. This form of Judaism is sometimes termed "neo-Orthodoxy". The religious and social realities of Western European Jewry are considered by some to be the precursors to Modern Orthodoxy. While Modern Orthodoxy is considered traditional by most Jews today, some within the Orthodox community groups to its right consider it of questionable validity, and the neo-Orthodox movement of today holds that Hirsch's views are unalike in essence to those of Modern Orthodoxy. [See Torah im Derech Eretz and Torah Umadda "Relationship with Torah im Derech Eretz" for a more extensive listing.]

In the twentieth century, a large segment of the Orthodox population (notably as represented by the World Agudath Israel movement formally established in 1912) disagreed, and took a stricter approach. For a few of them, the motto "Modifications are forbidden by Torah" was appealing, but they too followed various routes of observance and practice. The leading rabbis of Orthodoxy viewed innovations and modifications within Jewish law and customs with extreme care and caution. Some today refer to this form of Judaism as "Haredi Judaism", or (controversially) "Ultra-Orthodox Judaism". In some circles, the label "Haredi" is considered pejorative, as is certainly the case of the label "ultra-Orthodox".

The various approaches have proved resilient. It is estimated that presently there are more Jews studying in yeshivot (Talmudical schools) and Kollelim (post-graduate Talmudical colleges for married students) than at any other time in history. In 1915 Yeshiva College (later Yeshiva University) and its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary was established in New York City for training in a Modern Orthodox milieu. Eventually a school branch was established in Los Angeles, California. A number of other smaller but influential Orthodox seminaries, mostly Haredi, were also established throughout the country, most notably in New York City, Baltimore, and Chicago. The Haredi yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey is the largest institution of its kind.

[edit] Beliefs

Orthodox Judaism is composed of different groups with intertwining beliefs, practices and theologies, although in their core beliefs, all Orthodox movements share the same principles.

Orthodoxy collectively considers itself the only true heir to the Jewish tradition. Orthodox Judaism considers all other Jewish movements to be unacceptable deviations from authentic Judaism; both because of other denominations' doubt concerning the verbal revelation of Written and Oral Torah, and because of their rejection of Halakhic (Jewish legal) precedent as binding. As such, most Orthodox groups characterize non-Orthodox forms of Judaism as heretical; see the article on Relationships between Jewish religious movements.

Orthodox Judaism affirms monotheism—the belief in one G-d. Among the in-depth explanations of that belief are Maimonidean rationalism, Kabbalistic mysticism, and Hasidic panentheism. A few affirm self-limited omniscience (the theology elucidated by Gersonides in "The Wars of the Lord".)

Orthodox Judaism maintains the historical understanding of Jewish identity. A Jew is someone who was born to a Jewish mother, or who converts to Judaism in accordance with Jewish law and tradition. Orthodoxy thus rejects patrilineal descent. Similarly, Orthodoxy does not allow intermarriage. Intermarriage is seen as a deliberate rejection of Judaism, and an intermarried person is effectively cut off from most of the Orthodox community. However, some Chabad Lubavitch and Modern Orthodox Jews do reach out to intermarried Jews.

[edit] Beliefs about Jewish law and tradition

Orthodox Judaism holds that on Mount Sinai the Written Law was transmitted along with an Oral Law. The words of the Torah (Pentateuch) were spoken to Moses by God; the laws contained in this Written Torah, the Mitzvot, were given along with detailed explanations (the oral tradition) as to how to apply and interpret them. Furthermore, the Oral law includes principles designed to create new rules. The Oral law is held to be transmitted with an extremely high degree of accuracy.

According to Orthodox Judaism, Jewish Law today is based on the commandments in the Torah, as viewed through the discussions and debates contained in classical rabbinic literature, especially the Mishnah and the Talmud. Orthodox Judaism thus holds that the Halakha ("Jewish law") represents the "will of G-d", either directly, or as closely to directly as possible. If the laws are not the word of God per se, they are nonetheless derived from the literal word of G-d in the Torah, using a set of rules also revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and have been derived with the utmost accuracy and care. If some of the details of Jewish Law may have been lost over the millennia, they were reconstructed in accordance with internally consistent rules; see The thirteen rules by which Jewish law was derived.

In this world view, the Mishnaic and Talmudic rabbis are closer to the Divine revelation; by corollary, one must be extremely conservative in changing or adapting Jewish law. Furthermore, Orthodox Judaism holds that, given Jewish law's Divine origin, no underlying principle may be compromised in accounting for changing political, social or economic conditions; in this sense, "creativity" and development in Jewish law is held to have been limited. Thus, Orthodox Jews study the Talmud in depth, but Talmudic legal methodology is rarely used to alter Jewish law as codified in later compendia. Orthodox Jews will also study the Talmud for its own sake; this is considered to be the greatest mitzvah of all; see Torah study.

As above, it is held virtually as a principle of belief among many Orthodox Jews that halakha ("Jewish law") never changes. Haredi Judaism thus views higher criticism of the Talmud as inappropriate, and almost certainly heretical. At the same time, many within Modern Orthodox Judaism do not have a problem with historical scholarship in this area. See the entry on Higher criticism of the Talmud.

[edit] Orthodox organizations and groups

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, more commonly known as the Orthodox Union, or more simply as the "OU", and the Rabbinical Council of America, "RCA" are organizations which represent Modern Orthodox Judaism, a large segment of Orthodoxy in America, Canada and England. These groups should not be confused with the similarly named Union of Orthodox Rabbis (described below).

The National Council of Young Israel, and the Council of Young Israel Rabbis are smaller groups that were originally founded as Modern Orthodox organizations and are militantly Zionistic and right wing in their orientation. It strongly supports and allies itself with the settlement movement in Israel. Israeli government leaders typically refuse to deal with the NCYI, preferring to work with the more moderate and mainstream Orthodox Union. While the lay membership of synagogues affiliated with the NCYI are almost exclusively Modern Orthodox in orientation, the Rabbinical leadership of the synagogues ranges from Modern Orthodox to Haredi.

The Chief Rabbinate of Israel was originally founded with the intention of representing all of Judaism within the State of Israel, and has two chief rabbis: One is Ashkenazic (of the East European and Russian Jewish tradition) and one is Sephardic (of the Spanish, North African and middle-eastern Jewish tradition.) The rabbinate has never been accepted by most Israeli Haredi groups. Since the 1960s the Chief rabbinate of Israel has moved somewhat closer to the positions of Haredi Judaism. Chief Rabbinate of Israel

Chabad Lubavitch is a vast international educational, outreach, community-building movement of Hasidic Judaism. In over 40 years, they have sent throughout the world about 5,000 young men who are all accompanied by equally motivated spouses with typically large families, all of whom aim to fulfill their mandate of Jewish outreach, education, and revival. They look for and recruit people who want to join them, and they are major players in, the Teshuva movement, which encourages Jews alienated from their religion to become more Jewishly aware and religiously observant.

Agudath Israel of America (also: Agudat Yisrael or Agudas Yisroel) is a large and influential Haredi group in America. Its roots go back to the establishment of the original founding of the Agudath Israel movement in 1912 in Kattowitz (Katowice), Germany (now Poland). The American Agudath Israel was founded in 1939. There is an Agudat Israel (Hasidic) in Israel, and also Degel HaTorah (non-Hasidic "Lithuanian"), as well as an Agudath Israel of Europe in Europe. These groups are loosely affiliated through the World Agudath Israel, which from time to time holds a major gathering in Israel called a knessiah gathering. Agudah unites many rabbinic leaders from the Hasidic Judaism wing with those of the non-Hasidic "Yeshiva" world. In Israel it shares a similar agenda with the Sephardic Shas political party. Agudath Yisrael, More on Agudath Yisrael.

The Agudath HaRabonim (Agudas HaRabbonim), also known as the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, is a small Haredi-leaning organization that was founded in 1902. It should not be confused with "The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America" (see above) which is a separate organization. While at one time influential within Orthodox Judaism, the Agudath HaRabonnim in the last several decades it has progressively moved further to the right; its membership has been dropping and it has been relatively inactive. Some of its members are rabbis from Chabad (Lubavitch) Judaism; some are also members of the RCA (see above). It is currently most famous for its 1997 declaration (citing Israeli Chief Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and Modern Orthodox Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik) that the Conservative and Reform movements are "not Judaism at all."

The Igud HaRabonim (also: Igud HaRabanim), the Rabbinical Alliance of America, is a small anti-Zionist Haredi organization. Founded in 1944, it claims over 650 rabbis; recent estimates indicate that less than 100 of its members worldwide actually work as rabbis.

The Hisachdus HaRabbonim (also: Hisachduth HaRabbonim), Central Rabbinical Congress (CRC) of the U.S.A. & Canada, was established in 1952. It is a relatively small anti-Israel Haredi organization, consisting only of Satmar and other like-minded Hasidic rabbis.

Edah is a new left-wing Modern Orthodox advocacy group, consisting of American Modern Orthodox rabbis. Most of its membership comes from synagogues affiliated with the Union of Orthodox Congregations and RCA (above). Their motto is "The courage to be Modern and Orthodox". Edah

The Bais Yaakov movement, begun in 1917, introduced the concept of formal Judaic schooling for Orthodox women.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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Orthodox Judaism

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