Spectrum of jewish observance
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Spectrum of Jewish Observance. Dr. Laurence Boxer. A simplified view of the spectrum. Least traditional. Most traditional. Reform Reconstructionist Secular/Humanist Unaffiliated. Conservative. Orthodox, including Chassidim Modern Orthodox others. Prior to 18 th Century ….

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Spectrum of jewish observance

Spectrum of Jewish Observance

Dr. Laurence Boxer


A simplified view of the spectrum

A simplified view of the spectrum

Least traditional

Most traditional

  • Reform

  • Reconstructionist

  • Secular/Humanist

  • Unaffiliated

Conservative

  • Orthodox, including

  • Chassidim

  • Modern Orthodox

  • others


Prior to 18 th century

Prior to 18th Century …

  • ... Jewish practice was largely what, today, we would call insular and Orthodox.

  • The world outside traditional religious practice offered little -

  • Christianity was (almost) universally hostile, regarding Jews as Christ-killers & scapegoats.

  • Christian culture was dominated by poverty, ignorance, illiteracy.

  • Muslim-dominated societies had similar shortcomings.


Israel ben eliezer baal shem tov besht 1698 1760

Israel ben Eliezer – Baal Shem Tov “BeSHT” (1698 – 1760)

  • Eastern Europe (Ukraine, Poland) – founder of Chassidism (today, regarded ultra-Orthodox, but revolutionary in 1700s)

  • Religious life stressed study of Torah, Talmud – but intensive study impractical amidst poverty

  • BeSHT taught greater stress on love of nature; mysticism; joy in pleasures of life; piety & kindness

  • His change of emphasis became popular

  • Revolutionary teaching – rebbe as religious intermediary


Elijah ben shlomo zalman the vilna gaon 1720 1797

Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman – the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797)

  • Gaon – “genius” – was outstanding Torah/Talmud scholar of era

  • Agreed w. BeSHT reforms needed, but not the radical reforms of Chassidism. Advocated, instead:

  • Simplification of prayers

  • Reforms in study and teaching methods

  • Secular knowledge (math, science)

  • Followers: Mitnagdim (Opponents)


Conflict between chassidim mitnagdim

Conflict between Chassidim & Mitnagdim

  • Radical changes by Chassidim, particularly de-emphasis on study & rebbe as intermediary, regarded as heresy by Mitnagdim

  • Cherem (excommunication) & counter-excommunication

  • Eventual moderation of views toward each other, begrudging acceptance

  • Both sides recognized Western Enlightenment as greater threat to Judaism


Moses mendelsohn 1728 86

Moses Mendelsohn(1728-86)

Scholar of Torah, Talmud, secular philosophy; translated Torah into German, with commentary; author, educator, man of letters

  • Attracted attention of Berlin’s Christian intellectuals, particularly playwright Lessing. Promoted breakdown of social, intellectual barriers between Christians and Jews.

  • Promoted freedom of conscience (as opposed to community enforcement of religious law) – a pillar of Reform philosophy.

  • Mendelsohn’s followers pioneered Reform Judaism, which gained greatest popularity in Western Europe and America.


Rabbi isaac mayer wise 1819 1900

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900).

  • Founder, longtime head of Hebrew Union College –1st American rabbinical seminary (Reform)

  • Before 1880s, most American Jews from Western Europe, where Reform was gaining popularity

  • Wise dreamt of religious unification of American Jewry; was a moderate reformer who could cooperate with more traditional Jews


The trefa banquet july 1883

The Trefa Banquet – July, 1883

  • Celebration of 1st class of graduates of Hebrew Union College – Reform rabbinical seminary

  • Multiple violations of kashrut (laws of kosher food) – Wise claimed innocence

  • Accentuated break between moderate & radical reformers

http://www.americanjewisharchives.org/trefa1.htm

See http://www.ajhs.org/publications/chapters/chapter.cfm?documentID=241


Pittsburgh platform 1885

Pittsburgh Platform - 1885

  • Meeting of American Reform rabbinical leadership

  • Radical views prevailed, including declarations

  • rejecting much Torah legislation, including kashrut; emphasizing ethics & prophetic ideals

  • rejecting return to Israel

  • rejecting belief in a personal Messiah, substituting belief in a Messianic age to be brought about by cultural progress


Reactions to trefa banquet pittsburgh platform

Reactions to Trefa Banquet & Pittsburgh Platform

By 1880s, more Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe – many receptive to moderate reform, but not the radical Reform reforms.

  • 1886 - moderate reformers established Jewish Theological Seminary of America – a pillar of Conservative Judaism

  • 1888 – American Orthodox community was forming a movement, institutions


Solomon schechter 1847 1915

Solomon Schechter (1847-1915)

  • Born in Romania; educated in Vienna; scholar in Cambridge & London; head of Jewish Theological Seminary 1902-1915

  • Sought middle way between Eastern European Orthodoxy & American radical Reform

  • Stressed unity (“Catholic Israel”), tradition, scholarship

  • Stature & appeals for unity exercised moderating influence on Reform leadership

  • Founded United Synagogue of America (now, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism), 1912


Example fundamentalist vs modern

Example – “fundamentalist” vs. “modern”

  • Fundamentalist view: Creation is 5763 years old. Things that appear older were created that way, for G-d’s mysterious purposes.

  • Scriptural basis for opposing view:

    Psalms 90, 4: For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.

    Hence, modern science does not conflict with Bible’s 6-“day” Creation.

Michaelangelo, Creation of Adam


Philosophical differences origins of torah

Philosophical Differences: Origins of Torah

  • Orthodox: Given by G-d to Moses at Sinai

  • Conservative, Reform: divinely inspired, but modified over centuries by scribal error, disagreements, etc.


Philosophical differences role of torah

Philosophical Differences: Role of Torah

  • Orthodox, Conservative: legislation is binding. C more willing than O to reinterpret with respect to modern scholarship & new situations

  • Reform: ethical legislation remains relevant. Individuals should study, then decide for themselves what ritual legislation is meaningful

  • Reconstructionist: Torah legislation is “folkways”


Philosophical differences land of israel

Philosophical Differences: Land of Israel

  • Most members of all Jewish movements are Zionist

  • Some ultra-O are anti-Zionist, believing only the Messiah should restore Israel to the Jewish people

  • Some liberal (Reform, Reconstructionist, secular/humanist) Jews are anti-Zionist, believing Judaism should be a religion and not a nationalist culture


References

References

  • American Jewish Historical Society, The “Trefa Banquet” and the End of a Dream: http://www.ajhs.org/publications/chapters/chapter.cfm?documentID=241

  • Bentwich, Norman: Solomon Schechter: A Biography, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1938

  • Chabad-Lubavitch (Chassidic group): http://www.chabad.org/

  • Eban, Abba: My People: The Story of the Jews, Behrman House, NY, 1968

  • Grayzel, Solomon: A History of the Jews, Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia, 1947

  • Jewish Reconstructionist Federation: http://www.jrf.org/

  • Reform Judaism: http://rj.org/

  • United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism: http://uscj.org/index1.html

  • Wiesel, Elie: Souls on Fire, Simon & Schuster, NY, 1982

  • Young Israel (Modern Orthodox group): http://www.youngisrael.org/


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