What are the different denominations
(types) of Judaism?
In North America today, the four main branches of Judaism
are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist.
Within these denominations themselves, however, there
is a great degree of variation in practice and observance.
Orthodoxy is the modern classification for the traditional
section of Jewry that upholds the halakhic way of life
as illustrated in a divinely ordained Torah. Halakha
refers to the legal aspect of Judaism, and is also used
to indicate a definitive ruling in any particular area
of Jewish law.
Reform Judaism (also known as Liberal or Progressive
Judaism) subjects religious law and customs to human
judgment, attempting to differentiate between the facets
of the Torah that are divine mandate and those that
are specific to the time in which they were written.
Conservative Judaism developed mainly in the twentieth
century as a reaction to Reform Judaism's liberalism.
It sought to conserve tradition by applying new, historical
methods of study within the boundaries of Jewish law
to the mainstream of American society. It is the largest
denomination of the four.
Reconstructionism is the most recent denomination within
Judaism, and, rejecting the assertion that the Torah
was given to Moses at Mount Sinai, views Judaism as
a continual process of evolution, incorporating the
inherited Jewish beliefs and traditions with the needs
of the modern world.
In addition to the four main branches, there are several
other noteworthy Jewish movements. Jewish Renewal is
a transdenominational movement grounded in Judaism's
prophetic and mystical traditions. It seeks to restore
the spiritual vitality of the 19th century Hasidic movement,
yet like the Reconstructionist movement, believes that
Judaism is an evolving religious civilization. Therefore,
Jewish Renewal regards men and women as fully equal
and welcomes homosexuals and converts.
Secular Humanistic Judaism is a movement begun in the
1960s which embraces "a human-centered philosophy
that combines rational thinking with a celebration of
Jewish culture and identity." In the Humanistic
Jewish view, the focus is not on a relationship with
God or religious ritual but in a belief that the "secular
roots of Jewish life are as important as the religious
ones." The emphasis is therefore placed on celebrating
the Jewish human experience, and Jewish tradition,
culture, ethics, values, and relationships.
-- Does every
Jew fit within a denomination?
Not at all. According to a recent JOI survey, 28% of
the 2.6 million married Jews in the US are married to
non-Jews. Of those intermarried families, 40% have no
clear religious identity, and many consider themselves
to be "just Jewish," without affiliating with any particular