Jewish religious movements, sometimes called "denominations" or
"branches", include different groups which have developed among Jews
from ancient times. Today, the main division is between the Orthodox,
Conservative, Reconstructionist, and Reform movements, with several
smaller movements alongside them. This denominational structure is
mainly present in the United States, while in Israel, the fault lines
are between the Orthodox and the non-religious.
The movements differ in their views on various issues. These issues
include the level of observance, the methodology for interpreting and
understanding Jewish law, biblical authorship, textual criticism, and
the nature or role of the messiah (or messianic age). Across these
movements, there are marked differences in liturgy, especially in the
language in which services are conducted, with the more traditional
movements emphasizing Hebrew. The sharpest theological division occurs
between Orthodox and non-Orthodox
who adhere to other
denominations, such that the non-Orthodox movements are sometimes
referred to collectively as the "liberal denominations" or
Judaism and Samaritans
3 Jewish sects in the
Second Temple period
4 Rabbinic Judaism
5 Karaite Judaism
6 Jewish ethnic and cultural divisions
6.1 Sephardic Judaism
7 Hasidic Judaism
8 Modern movements or denominations
8.1 Development of modern denominations
8.2 Response to Jewish Enlightenment
8.3 Response to immigration
8.4 Response to
Israel and Zionism
8.5 Response to pressures of assimilation
9 Trans- and post-denominational Judaism
10 See also
12 External links
Jews reject the term denomination as a label for different groups
and ideologies within Judaism, arguing that the notion of denomination
has a specifically Christian resonance that does not translate easily
into the Jewish context. However, in recent years the American Jewish
Book has adopted "denomination," as have many scholars and
theologians. Other commonly used terms are movements, branches,
trends, streams, or even flavors of Judaism.
The Jewish denominations themselves reject characterization as sects.
Sects are traditionally defined as religious subgroups that have
broken off from the main body, and this separation usually becomes
irreparable over time. Within Judaism, individuals and families often
switch affiliation, and individuals are free to marry one another,
although the major denominations disagree on who is a Jew. It is not
unusual for clergy and Jewish educators trained in one of the liberal
denominations to serve in another, and left with no choice, many small
Jewish communities combine elements of several movements to achieve a
viable level of membership.
Relationships between Jewish religious movements are varied; they are
sometimes marked by interdenominational cooperation outside of the
realm of halakha (Jewish law), and sometimes not. Some of the
movements sometimes cooperate by uniting with one another in community
federations and in campus organizations such as the Hillel Foundation.
Jewish religious denominations are distinct from, but often linked to,
Jewish ethnic divisions
Jewish ethnic divisions and Jewish political movements.
Judaism and Samaritans
Main article: Samaritans
Samaritans regard themselves as direct descendants of the tribes
of Ephraim and Manasseh in the northern Kingdom of Israel, which was
Assyria in 722 BCE. Modern genetics has suggested some
truth to both the claims of the
Samaritans and of the
Jews in account
to the Talmud.[need quotation to verify]
preserves a version of the
Pentateuch in slightly variant forms. The
first historical references to the
Samaritans date from the Babylonian
Exile. According to the Talmud,
Samaritans are to be treated as Jews
in matters where their practice agrees with the mainstream but are
otherwise to be treated as non-Jews. The
Samaritans have dwindled to
two communities of about 700 individuals. One such community is
located in the Israeli city of Holon, while the other is located near
Nablus on Mount Gerizim, in the West Bank.
Samaritans need to officially go through formal conversion to
Judaism in order to be considered Jewish. One example is Israeli TV
Sofi Tsedaka who was brought up
Samaritan and converted to
Judaism at the age of 18.
Jewish sects in the
Second Temple period
Second Temple Judaism
Prior to the destruction of the
Second Temple in 70 CE,
Jews of the
Roman province of Judaea were divided into several movements,
sometimes warring among themselves: Pharisees, Saducees, Essenes,
Zealots, and Christians. Many historic sources such as Flavius
Josephus, the (Christian)
New Testament and the recovered fragments of
the Dead Sea Scrolls, attest to the divisions among
Jews at this time.
Rabbinical writings from later periods, including the Talmud, further
attest these ancient schisms.
The main internal struggles during this era were between the Pharisees
and the Sadducees, as well as the Christians, and also the
Pharisees wanted to maintain the authority and traditions
Torah teachings and began the early teachings of the
Mishna, maintaining the authority of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish
court. According to Josephus, the
Sadducees differed from the
Pharisees on a number of doctrinal grounds, notably rejecting ideas of
life after death. They appear to have dominated the aristocracy and
the temple, but their influence over the wider Jewish population was
Essenes preached a reclusive way of life. The Zealots
advocated armed rebellion against any foreign power such as Rome. All
were at violent logger-heads with each other, leading to the confusion
and disunity that ended with the destruction of the
Second Temple and
the sacking of
Jerusalem by Rome. The first Christians (whom
historians refer to as Jewish Christians) were the original Jewish
followers of Jesus. The eventual redefinition of Moses' Law by Jesus'
disciples and their belief in his deity, along with the development of
the New Testament, ensured that Christianity and
Judaism would become
different and often conflicting religions.
Most streams of modern
Judaism developed from the Pharisaic movement,
which became known as Rabbinic
Judaism (in Hebrew Yahadut Rabanit -
יהדות רבנית) with the compilation of the Oral
Torah into the
Mishna. After the destruction of the
Second Temple and the Bar Kokhba
revolt the other movements disappeared from the historical record, yet
Sadducees probably kept on existing in a non-organized form for at
least several more decades. A scholar named Rodkinson
claimed about a century ago that the
Sadducees ultimately changed
their name and are those who are referred to as the Qara'im and
Ba`alei Miqra in the Talmud.
Judaism (Hebrew: Yahadut Qara'it or Yahadut Kara'it –
יהדות קראית, derived from the word "Qara'im" i.e. "readers
of Scripture") started in the early 9th century when non-Rabbinic
Benjamin Nahawandi and their followers took the rejection
of the oral law by Anan ben
David to the new level of seeking the
plain meaning of the Tanakh's text. Karaite
Jews have always accepted
Tanakh as divinely inspired, not recognizing the authority
that Rabbinites ascribe to basic Rabbinic works like the
In the 10th-11th centuries, the Karaites were believed to have
comprised about 40% of the world's Jewish population. At the time of
Benjamin of Tudela
Benjamin of Tudela in the 12th century, Karaites were
widely dispersed around the eastern Mediterranean, both in Islamic
areas and the Byzantine Empire. Benjamin describes Karaite communities
in many of the places he visited.
In the early 20th century, Karaite communities remained in Egypt,
Turkey, the Crimea, Ukraine, what is now Poland, Lithuania, and
Israel. Today, there are about 50,000 Karaite
Jews in the world, most
of whom live in Israel, although other communities exist in the United
States, France, Switzerland, and Turkey, as well as individual
Karaites in other countries. Traditionally, Rabbinic
regarded the Karaites as Jewish, but with an incorrect philosophical
understanding of the Torah. Likewise, Karaite
Judaism considers the
Rabbanites as Jewish but heretics.
Jewish ethnic and cultural divisions
Main article: Jewish ethnic divisions
A wide array of Jewish communities have developed independently,
distinguishable by their varying practices in matters that are not
considered central ideas within Judaism, such as Maimonides' list of
the Jewish principles of faith.
Although there are numerous Jewish ethnic communities, there are
several that are large enough to be considered "predominant."
Jews communities compose about 75% of the world's Jewish
Jews and Mizrahi
Jews compose the greatest part
of the rest, with about 20% of the world's Jewish population. Together
these ethnic groups compose 95% of the world's Jewish population. The
remaining 5% of
Jews are divided among a wide array of small groups
(perhaps the Beta
Israel group of Ethiopian
Jews is the most
important), some of which are nearing extinction as a result of
assimilation and intermarriage into surrounding non-Jewish cultures or
surrounding Jewish cultures.
The Enlightenment had a tremendous effect on
Jewish identity and on
ideas about the importance and role of Jewish observance. Due to the
geographical distribution and the geopolitical entities affected by
the Enlightenment, this philosophical revolution essentially affected
only the Ashkenazi community; however, because of the predominance of
the Ashkenazi community in Israeli politics and in Jewish leadership
worldwide, the effects have been significant for all Jews.
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Judaism is the practice of
Judaism as observed by the
Sephardi (Spanish and Portuguese Jews), Maghrebi
Jews and Mizrahi
Jews, so far as it is peculiar to themselves and not shared with other
Jewish groups such as the Ashkenazim (German Rite). Sephardic Judaism
does not constitute a separate denomination within Judaism, but rather
a separate cultural tradition.
Sephardim are primarily the descendants of
Jews from the Iberian
Peninsula. They may be divided into the families that left in the
Expulsion of 1492 and those that remained as crypto-Jews, Marranos and
those who left in the following few centuries. In religious parlance,
and by many in modern Israel, the term is used in a broader sense to
Jews of Ottoman or other Asian or African backgrounds
(Mizrahi Jews), whether or not they have any historic link to Spain,
although some prefer to distinguish between Sephardim proper and
Judaism lacks movements such as "Orthodox", "conservative",
or "reform"; level of halachic observance is left to each person, but
none dispute that contemporary definitions of "Orthodox" represents
the level of observance of many Sephardim. Sephardic
and Mizrachi Jewish synagogues are generally considered "Orthodox" by
non-sephardic Jews, and are primarily run according to the Orthodox
tradition, even though many of the congregants may not keep a level of
observance on par with traditional Orthodox belief. For example, many
congregants will drive to the synagogue on the Shabbat,[citation
needed] in violation of halacha, while discreetly entering the
synagogue so as not to offend more observant congregants.
Unlike the predominantly Ashkenazi Reform, and Reconstructionist
denominations, Sephardic and Mizrachi
Jews who are not observant
generally believe that Orthodox Judaism's interpretation and
legislation of halacha is appropriate, and true to the original
philosophy of Judaism. That being said, Sephardic and Mizrachi Rabbis
tend to hold different, and generally more lenient, positions on
halacha than their Ashkenazi counterparts, but since these positions
are based on rulings of Talmudic scholars as well as well-documented
traditions that can be linked back to well-known codifiers of Jewish
law, Ashkenazi and Hasidic Rabbis do not believe that these positions
are incorrect, but rather that they are the appropriate interpretation
of halacha for
Jews of Sephardic and Mizrachi descent.
Judaism was founded by
Israel ben Eliezer (1700–1760), also
known as the Baal Shem Tov. His disciples attracted many followers
among Ashkenazi Jews, and established numerous Hasidic groups across
Europe. The Baal Shem Tov came at a time when the Jewish masses of
Eastern Europe were reeling in bewilderment and disappointment
engendered by the two notorious Jewish false messiahs, Sabbatai Zevi
Jacob Frank (1726–1791), and their respective
Judaism eventually became the way of life for many
Jews in Eastern Europe.
In the late 18th century, there was a serious schism between Hasidic
and non-Hasidic Jews. European
Jews who rejected the Hasidic movement
were dubbed Mitnagdim ("opponents") by the followers of the Baal Shem
Tov, who had previously called themselves Freylechn ("happy ones") and
now call themselves Hasidim ("pious ones"). Some of the reasons for
the rejection of Hasidic
Judaism were the overwhelming exuberance of
Hasidic worship, their untraditional ascriptions of infallibility and
alleged miracle-working to their leaders, and the concern that it
might become a messianic sect. Since then, all the groups of Hasidic
Judaism have been subsumed theologically into mainstream Orthodox
Judaism, particularly Haredi Judaism, although cultural differences
Modern movements or denominations
Perhaps the greatest divisions since the time of the division between
Pharisees two millennia ago are the divisions within
the Ashkenazic community that have arisen in the past two centuries,
ever since the Enlightenment and the
northern and eastern Europe.
The first evidence of this great dogmatic schism was the development
of the Reform
Judaism movement, which rejected "ethnic Judaism" and
preferred to regard
Judaism as a religion rather than an ethnicity.
Over time, three large movements emerged:
Orthodox Judaism. Orthodox
Jews generally see themselves as practicing
normative Judaism, rather than belonging to a particular movement.
Within Orthodox Judaism, there is a spectrum of communities and
practices, including Modern Orthodox Judaism, Haredi Judaism, and a
variety of movements that have their origins in Hasidic Judaism.
Conservative Judaism, or "Masorti Judaism". Originated in Germany in
the 19th century, but became institutionalized in the United States.
After the division between Reform and Orthodox Judaism, the
Conservative movement tried to provide
Jews seeking liberalization of
Orthodox theology and practice with a more traditional and
halakhically-based alternative to Reform Judaism. It has spread to
Ashkenazi communities in Anglophone countries and Israel.
Reform Judaism, also known as Liberal or Progressive Judaism.
Originally formed in Germany as a reaction to modernity, stresses
integration with society and a personal interpretation of the Torah.
Reconstructionist Judaism. A smaller progressive Jewish movement,
found primarily in the United States. It began as a liberal movement
Judaism and formally separated in the 1940s.
Additionally, a number of smaller groups have emerged:
Humanistic Judaism. A nontheistic movement that emphasizes Jewish
culture and history as the sources of Jewish identity. Founded by
Sherwin Wine, it is centered in North America but has spread to
Europe, the Far East, Latin America, and Israel.
Neolog Judaism, a movement in the
Kingdom of Hungary
Kingdom of Hungary and in its
territories ceded in 1920, which is similar to the more traditional
branch of American Conservative Judaism.
Jewish Renewal. Founded in the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s
Jewish Renewal tends to embrace the ecstatic worship style
and mysticism of hasidism, while rejecting the halakhic rigor of
Jewish Renewal congregations tend to be inclusive on
the subject of who is a Jew. The
Jewish Renewal movement lacks the
formal institutional structure of the other liberal movements.
Jewish Science. Formed in the early 20th century by Alfred G. Moses
and Morris Lichtenstein.
Jewish Science was founded as a counterweight
Jewish movement to Christian Science.
Jewish Science sees
God as a
force or energy penetrating the reality of the Universe and emphasis
is placed upon the role of affirmative prayer in personal healing and
spiritual growth. The Society of
Jewish Science in New York is the
institutional arm of the movement regularly publishing The
Interpreter, the movement's primary literary publication.
Development of modern denominations
Development of denominations or movements has been primarily a
phenomenon among Ashkenazi
Jews who have immigrated to Anglophone
countries. Much of the literature of these denominations is in
English, not Hebrew. Their development can be seen as both a response
to the western Enlightenment and to emancipation and immigration.
Response to Jewish Enlightenment
In the late 18th century Europe, and then the rest of the world, was
swept by a group of intellectual, social and political movements that
taken together were referred to as the Enlightenment. These movements
promoted scientific thinking, free thought, and allowed people to
question previously unshaken religious dogmas. The emancipation of the
Jews in many European communities, and the
Haskalah movement started
Moses Mendelssohn, brought the Enlightenment to the Jewish
In response to the challenges of integrating Jewish life with
Enlightenment values, German
Jews in the early 19th century began to
develop the concept of Reform Judaism, adapting Jewish practice to the
new conditions of an increasingly urbanized and secular community.
Staunch opponents of the Reform movement became known as Orthodox
Jews. Later, members of the Reform movement who felt that it was
moving away from tradition too quickly formed the Conservative
Jews who were sympathetic to the
Haskalah formed what became
known as neo-Orthodox or modern Orthodox Jews. Orthodox
Haskalah became known as Haredi Jews.
Response to immigration
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The particular forms which the denominations have taken on have been
shaped by immigration of the Ashkenazi Jewish communities, once
concentrated in eastern and central Europe, to western and mostly
Anglophone countries (in particular, in North America). In the middle
of the 20th century, the institutional division of North American
Jewry between Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements still
reflected immigrant origins. Reform
Jews at that time were
predominantly of German or western European origin, while both
Conservative and Orthodox
Judaism came primarily from eastern European
Israel and Zionism
See also: Haredim and Zionism
The issue of
Zionism was once very divisive in the Jewish community.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish non-Zionists believed that the return to Israel
could only happen with the coming of the Messiah, and that a political
attempt to re-establish a
Jewish state was contrary to God's plan.
Non-Zionists believed that
Jews should integrate into the countries in
which they lived, rather than moving to the Land of Israel. The
original founders of Reform
Judaism in Germany rejected traditional
prayers for the restoration of Jerusalem. The view among Reform Jews
Judaism was strictly a religion, and that
Jews should be loyal
citizens of their host nations, led to a non-Zionist, and sometimes
After events of the 20th century, most importantly the Holocaust and
the establishment of the modern State of Israel, opposition to Zionism
largely disappeared within Reform Judaism. Among most religious
non-Zionists, there is a de facto recognition of Israel, but as a
secular state. The
Edah HaChareidis in
Jerusalem does not recognize
the legitimacy of the state, and one small group, Neturei Karta,
actively opposes the existence of Israel. Secular opposition to
Zionism has continued among some Jewish political groups, and among
Jews active in leftist political movements.
Response to pressures of assimilation
Main article: Jewish intermarriage
Among the most striking differences between the Jewish movements in
the 21st century is their response to pressures of assimilation, such
as intermarriage between
Jews and non-Jews. Reform and
Reconstructionist rabbis have been most accepting of intermarried
couples, with some rabbis willing to officiate in mixed religious
ceremonies, although most insist that children in such families be
raised strictly Jewish. Conservative rabbis are not permitted to
officiate in such marriages, but are supportive of couples when the
non-Jewish partner wishes to convert to
Judaism and raise children as
Trans- and post-denominational Judaism
The very idea of Jewish denominationalism is contested by some Jews
and Jewish non-denominational organizations, which consider themselves
to be "trans-denominational" or "post-denominational." A variety
of new Jewish organizations are emerging that lack such affiliations:
Some Jewish day schools lack affiliation with any one movement;
There are several seminaries which are not controlled by a
The Academy for Jewish Religion, California, is a transdenominational
academy based in Los Angeles. It draws faculty and leadership from all
denominations of Judaism. It has programs for rabbis, cantors,
chaplains, community leadership and Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE).
AJRCA is fully accredited.
The Academy for Jewish Religion, is a transdenominational academy in
Yonkers, NY. AJR is a fully accredited program that trains rabbis and
cantors and also offers Master’s Program in Jewish Studies.
Hebrew College seminary, in Newton Centre, Massachusetts, near
The ALEPH Ordination Program (AOP), a non-denominational Jewish
renewal seminary training rabbis, cantors, rabbinic pastors, and
Jewish spiritual directors
International Federation of Rabbis (IFR), a non-denominational
rabbinical organization for rabbis of all movements and
Organizations such as these believe that the formal divisions that
have arisen among the "denominations" in contemporary Jewish history
are unnecessarily divisive, as well as religiously and intellectually
simplistic. According to
Rachel Rosenthal, "the post-denominational
Jew refuses to be labeled or categorized in a religion that thrives on
stereotypes. He has seen what the institutional branches of Judaism
have to offer and believes that a better
Judaism can be created."
Jews might, out of necessity, affiliate with a synagogue
associated with a particular movement, but their own personal Jewish
ideology is often shaped by a variety of influences from more than one
Jewish views on religious pluralism
List of religions
^ Jonathan D. Sarna, American Judaism: A History (2004) p. xix-xx
notes the "newfound popularity" of the term "denomination."
^ Oefner, Peter; et al. (2004). "Reconstruction of Patrilineages and
Samaritans and Other Israeli Populations From
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^ "ynet סופי צדקה עושה שבת (וחג) - יהדות".
ynet. Retrieved 9 November 2014.
^ "Karaite FAQ".
^ Plaut, W. Gunther (1963). The Rise of Reform Judaism: A Sourcebook
of its European Origins. World Union for Progressive Judaism.
^ "YIVO Orthodoxy". Yivoencyclopedia.org. Retrieved
^ Herberg, Will (1983). Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in
American Religious Sociology. University Of Chicago Press (Reprint
edition). ISBN 0-226-32734-5. OCLC 9686985.
^ Tobin, Gary A. and Katherine G. Simon (1999). Rabbis
Intermarriage. Institute for Jewish and Community Research.
ISBN 1-893671-00-3. OCLC 44759291.
^ Bloom, Mark; et al. (2004). A Place In The Tent: Intermarriage And
Conservative Judaism. Eks Publishing. ISBN 0-939144-46-8.
^ Heilman, Uriel (February 11, 2005). "Beyond Dogma". Jerusalem
^ Mendelsohn, Martha (August 22, 2002). "High School Without Labels".
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^ https://ajrca.edu/#sthash.dIO47S7j.dpbs accessdate
Jacob (2002). "Answers Divide Us, Questions Unite Us".
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^ "International Federation Of Rabbis About Us". Intfedrabbis.org.
Rachel (2006). "What's in a name?". Kedma (Winter
Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia
article Jewish Sects.
Emergence of Jewish Denominations (MyJewishLearning.com)
Jewish World Today. Overview: State of the Denominations
Jewing Movements - How Jewish movements will and have evolved
Jews and Judaism
Outline of Judaism
Index of Jewish history-related articles
Origins of Judaism
Israel and Judah
Second Temple period
Lists of Jews
Land of Israel
Who is a Jew?
Jewish Virtual Library
Relations with other Abrahamic religions
Jews and Judaism
Judaism – Wi