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Jewish Denominations - The Purpose They Serve


Within every religion and culture in the world, there are various modes of expression. Judaism is no exception. And, while many of us grunt at the labeling of the different sects, we cannot deny they exist.

Too often, Judaism is rejected as we search for connection and meaning in other religions. We venture outside of Judaism believing it is not satisfying our yearning for a profound comprehension of life or a significant relationship with the Divine. But, what information are we using to form our judgment? The way we were raised? Do we truly grasp the fundamental beliefs of our faith?

The manner in which we grew up is not necessarily a true expression of our religion. Frequently, we are handed the tradition without an understanding of the meaning behind it. For many of us, that is not enough. We need to know the “why”. We crave – even if subconsciously – the rich details often left out of our Jewish education. Without the proper intellectual basis, how can we form a deep connection with our heritage? How can we be comfortable with our decision to leave when we may not possess all the information we need?

The Jewish people are known as The Children of Yisrael, which means “struggle with G-d”. Many of us face tremendous conflict between our philosophical beliefs and our religiosity or actions with regard to Judaism. With education and learning, one can find the proper balance between the two and find peace, meaning and connection within our tradition.

An individual’s comfort, and subsequent relationship, with any particular denomination of Judaism most likely begins with their belief in the Divine. From the outskirts, the various sects exist to help an individual find their place within Judaism. But, one cannot merely state “I grew up reform”; one must truly know what that means, what that aspect of Judaism believes, and where their own beliefs lie within it all.

Each denomination of Judaism offers information that provides the “wow” factor – the deeper meaning behind the traditions, rituals and laws comprising Judaism. Below are brief summaries for the six primary sects of Judaism which exist in the United States today:

Orthodox Judaism
Orthodoxy or traditional Judaism did not exist until the additional sects emerged. Before then, this was simply what Judaism was. The orthodox believe that the Torah (written law) and the Talmud (oral law) were both given to Moshe at Mount Sinai, directly from G-d.

Reform Judaism
Reform Judaism originated in Germany as a result of the desire for assimilation. It provided an avenue for Jews to be, both, German and Jewish. It rejected Halacha (Jewish law) and instead provided individuals the opportunity to connect with the essence of Judaism. The culture of Judaism became the manner in which to engage Jews in their own religion.

Conservative Judaism
Conservative Judaism arose as a response to reform Judaism. It began as an attempt to bring some of the tradition and law back into the faith, while providing room for the naturally occurring changes in modern times. The conservative branch, according to some, “believes” the Torah was divinely inspired but that people had influence over its transmittal – laws could be reinterpreted to fit with modern times.

Reconstructionist
Reconstructionist Judaism is a branch created with the intention of combining the deep, rich traditions of Judaism with a contemporary society. Reconstructionist Jews consider the power of the Jewish community in shaping its values, rituals and beliefs. Their emphasis is on the importance of the Jewish culture rather than a relationship with G-d.

Jewish Renewal
Though listed here, Jewish renewal does not consider itself a separate denomination of Judaism but rather considers itself all-inclusive. The focus of Jewish renewal is on the mystical component of Judaism, and it uses spiritual techniques to inspire people to reconnect with their faith. Jewish renewal believes that Judaism is a product of evolution and is ever changing.

Humanistic Judaism
The Humanistic Judaism movement places no emphasis on a relationship with G-d and encourages people to connect through their Jewish identity and expression of culture. Values, education, celebrations, and history are the components that unite the individual with Judaism.

The association with an organized branch of Judaism may help to solve the dilemma between a persons’ philosophical views and their expression of religiosity. It may offer the instruction an individual needs to understand the meaning behind the traditions which have been passed down to him or her. It may allow us to pause before leaving our religion due to baseless beliefs and encourage us to explore Judaism a bit further before moving on.

A Jew is a Jew is a Jew and we must each discover our own true expression; we must initiate our own intellectually profound appreciation for our faith; and we must find our own path within Judaism. It is our inherent responsibility.

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Content copyright © 2014 by Lisa Pinkus. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Lisa Pinkus. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Lisa Pinkus for details.

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