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How do Orthodox Jews differ from other Jewish denominations?

Orthodox Judaism believes that the Torah is of Divine origin and that its interpretation is entrusted to the Rabbis (Deut.17:10-11). Other Jewish denominations believe that the Torah can be brought up to date to make it more suitable for contemporary conditions.

4 Follow-ups »

  1. But doesn’t the Talmud do exactly the updating of Torah and thereby sets an excellent example for future divine evolutions/mutations?

    Hello, and thank you for your thoughtful and important question.

    The Talmud is not updating the Torah. Rather, it is recording the Oral Law.

    I know this is debated by the modern movements, but internally it is obvious from what is debated, what is not debated, and how debates are resolved, that they were writing down a body of laws that was far older than the Mishnah.

    Hope this helps,

    Yaakov Menken

    Comment by ATR — December 26, 2005 @ 5:06 pm

  2. Surely the Mishna records debated over an older Oral Law. This can also be demonstrated by the Dead Sea Scrolls, for instance. Since the Mishna, though, the Rabbis have continually elaborated the Oral law, and rendered many new decisions on the basis of the principles and precedents in the Oral law. My question is, how can we accept the decisions of current Rabbis as authoritative unquestionably? Aren’t they fallible? What should one do if one feels the Rabbis have mis-judged? When, if ever, is one permitted to object out of personal conscience to a decision?

    Thank you for asking this question. I think that the answer is that in order to object to a doctor’s opinion on a given health issue you first have to know about that issue inside and out. If the doctor shows a person on an ex-ray how he has a growth, G-d forbid, while he should get a second opinion, the patient is not going to start disagreeing with the Dr. unless he himself is trained in medicine.

    There is no difference in spiritual matters. If a person is very learned in Jewish law and he disagrees with another expert then he has every right to voice his opinion and try to get the issue resolved. However, if someone has a very perfunctory knowledge of Judaism and simply does not like what is being said because it does not feel right or they do not understand it then there is no basis for discussion. In order for a person to argue a point they first have to be thoroughly knowledgeable about the situation. You are right, there have been Jewish legal discourse for centuries, but those recorded discourses are by competent halachic (Jewish legal) authorities.

    Be Well,
    Rabbi Litt

    Comment by ATR — March 31, 2006 @ 9:56 am

  3. Are there any other differences between these denominations, how do the conservative, reform and orthodox varients differ from each other?

    Here’s a nutshell answer:

    Orthodox believe that the Written Torah and the Oral Torah (as codified in the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch) are valid and infalliable.

    Conservative believe that the Written Torah is valid but the Oral Torah is fabricated and therefore falliable and therefore not binding whenever one determines that it is wrong.

    Reform believe that the Written and Oral Torahs are both human fabrications and therefore not binding whatsoever.

    Rabbi Seinfeld

    Comment by ATR — May 14, 2006 @ 2:35 am

  4. A minor correction regarding the Conservative movement’s views on the Oral law is required, though. From the Statement of Principles of Conservative Judaism:

    The single greatest event in the history of God’s revelation took place at Sinai, but was not limited to it. God’s communication continued in the teaching of the Prophets and the biblical Sages, and in the activity of the Rabbis of the Mishnah and the Talmud, embodied in Halakhah and the Aggadah. The process of revelation did not end there; it remains alive in the Codes and Responsa to the present day.

    And the next approximately 5 pages consist of discussion of the importance of Halachah, and its Divine origin.

    I’ve observed that there seems to be a high prevalence of undermining, disregarding, or treating as worthless other denominations. (This observation is not limited in any way to the Orthodox and Outreach sites, by the way. It’s bad all around.) So my second question-set is ‘Are we not all Klal Yisrael? Is the general view of the Orthodox community (since I’m asking you) that Conservative and Reform Jews are not of Klal Yisrael or that they are somehow less valid? (My family has certainly been treated as such when attending certain synagogues.) What is the purpose of everyone alienating everyone else, thereby ‘turning them off’ from Judaism and depriving them of the future opportunity to gain higher levels of observance? How can we truly long for the coming of the messiah in these conditions, when the Second Temple was destroyed due to sinat chinam (baseless hatred) and we, as a whole, even reject as “not Jewish” other Jews with different levels of observation and/or interpretation?’

    About the feelings towards reform and conservative. The bottom line with regards to “Who is a Jew” is: If you were born from a Jewish mother or converted according to Torah law (mikveh – witnessed by 2 shomer Shabbos Jews, receiving upon yourself all of Torah law, and bris for a man) then you are Jewish, period. If not, then you are not Jewish.

    In terms of the movements, nobody believes that the movements are not filled with Jews, but when the reform movement can believe that a person does not need to go to a mikveh or keep the mitzvos after conversion – that is not Judaism. If you were Buddhist and someone said that they were also Buddhist, but did not believe in Buddha, you would say well, that is nice, but that is not Buddhism. To create a new religious doctrine, but keep it under the same name you have in essence – created a new religion. The first reform rabbinic conference was held and the menu consisted of the most unkosher food imaginable. I actually have a copy of the menu. Their statement was “Berlin is our new Jerusalem.” As a “Jewish” movement – how can anyone from the outside view that as Jewish? How will history view those ideals? When a reform rabbi will marry a Jew and a non-Jew (which by the way is not a marriage according to Jewish law) how can we call that Judaism? At the same time, some of the people worshiping there are in fact Jews.

    Conservative is a little different story. Conservative Judaism claims to use halacha as its primary decider in Jewish legal rulings. The problem is the methodology that is used is against the rules of the code of Jewish law. In deciding Jewish law there are certain rules that are used. Those rules are not in the least bit considered and minority opinions (which have always been discounted as the way that we do not apply the law) are used to make decisions. The new chumash from the conservative movement is called “Etz Chaim.” It discusses various opinions of the origin of the Torah including biblical criticism – i.e. the story of Noach being taken from the ancient story of Gilgamesh. It gives legitimacy to the idea that maybe the Torah was written by a few people. Those philosophies are not consistent with Jewish philosophies. For 3,300+ years the Jews have held as their cornerstone the belief that the Torah was given to us through Moses at Mount Sinai. Anyone who really wants to investigate this can go to Discovery seminars or other learning programs to see what that means and how we understand it. To undermine that basic philosophy is to undermine our religion. The same code of Jewish law that you quote tells us that a person who believes that the Torah was not given to the Jewish people by G-d, but rather was written by man may not be counted in a minyan or given any honor at all.

    In terms of the Temple being destroyed, I believe that you are mixing up a couple of things. It is true – the Temple was destroyed because of sinas chinam, baseless hatred. However, it is also a Torah obligation to destroy those who try and teach erroneous ways within the Jewish people. Baseless hatred means that the Jews were keeping the Torah, but they hated each other. While the Torah forbids that it also mandates that when a person stands up and says that the Torah is not divine or that you do not have to keep the Torah as defined by our sages that those people are to be silenced and ridiculed publicly. Please understand that I am not condoning anyone publicly embarrass anyone else, but I bring this up for you to see that for those to whom Torah is their life and that is the highest priority seeing other trampling on it, promoting intermarriage, changing the dates of Yom Kippur out of convenience, not requiring a bris be done by a mohel, converting people with a “conversion certificate” en masse, having an electric ark (which I grew up with in Houston, TX) allowing people to drive on Shabbos, permitting people to eat non-Kosher cheese, and the list goes on and on. These are some of the issues that bring Torah observant Jews do not want to promote or identify with the “movements of Judaism.”

    One final thought… a true observant Jew will love the Jew, but criticize the practice. This means that when you talk about baseless hatred – I teach people that they should never take their religious frustrations out on their fellow Jew. We are commanded in the Torah to love our fellow Jew. However, we are not commanded to allow falsehoods and anti-Torah philosophies to exist and foster. Throughout our history whenever a group came up that did not want to keep the Torah they were removed from amidst the people. The amazing thing is that all of these groups are extinct today, but Torah Judaism has outlasted them all. I believe that any intelligent person can see that with the intermarriage rate the way it is that in a few more years most reform synagogues will be way over 50% non-Jewish according to their own definitions. They are a movement
    which changes based on the needs of the membership. In 50 years what will the movements look like?

    For your analysis I present to you a web site that presents Jewish information in a factual way. It outlines the history of the movements and paints a picture that cannot be ignored. Here is the article. I hope that this helps and answers some of your questions.

    Be Well,
    Rabbi Litt

    Comment by ATR — July 2, 2006 @ 10:11 am

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