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
Page from the Talmud
Europe, ca. 1800 • Enlightenment ideals • Critique received religious authority • Critique role of religion in warfare (“God is on our side”) • Religion should be rational, about universal truths and morals • Not rituals, particular histories, miracles • Emancipation of Jews (citizenship granted) • 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 • 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? • What is gained, and what is lost here? • Tradition vs. “relevance” • Jews today have become more traditional than the early radical forms of Reform
Reform today • Less radical, more traditional than in 1800s • uses more Hebrew • Supports a Jewish state (Israel) • Particularity, ethnic identity, ritual are valuable for keeping Judaism alive • Very engaged in social issues • 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 • roughly 7% Orthodox; 40% Conservative; 3% other
Orthodoxy • Only known as a distinct branch after Reform develops • Adheres to Jewish law in all of life, not just ethics • Walk to synagogue on Sabbath • means living a Jewish community • Keep kosher (two sets of dishes, etc) • Men and women have distinct roles • 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. • Middle ground: Reform goes to far, but Orthodoxy needs to be adapted to modern times • 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? • 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?