Judaism's 3 main sects

Written by: 
Alex Maldonado
Judaism, one of the world’s three Abrahamic faiths, has a devout presence on Oahu. The Temple Emanu-El synagogue, a popular hub for the Jewish community in Honolulu, is one of several meeting places in the county. Judaism is believed to date as far back as 2500 B.C., as reported by www.myjewishlearning.com. Today the Jewish faith has around 14.5 million followers who adhere to distinctive sects, similar to modern day Christianity. The three main Jewish groups are Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed, according to Jessica Bram, Director of Education at Temple Emanu-El. Bram explained, “Orthodox Jews are very observant and stringent to what is taught in the Torah; what it says is what they do. Conservative Judaism is in the middle; they use the Torah very devoutly, but have somewhat adapted it to modern life. Reform Judaism follows the belief of choice through knowledge. What that means is you read the text, interpret it, understand what you can and decide if it’s meaningful for you. If you try it and it works for you, that’s awesome. If you don’t, that’s ok too, but you did the work and the internal process of figuring out what is meaningful to you.” Bram attributed the divisions within Judaism to the fact that Jews are encouraged to ask many questions so that they can know their religion well. All the questions have sparked a medley of answers throughout time, leading to the formation of many different branches within the Jewish faith. Jews congregate in meetinghouses known as synagogues or temples where services are held up to three times a day. On Saturdays, only a morning and evening service are held. Bram said the main services that people attend are the Friday night and Saturday morning sessions because they fall into the weekly 25-hour period known as Shabbat, meaning The Sabbath. According to www.myjewishlearning.com, Shabbat starts at sunset or immediately after sundown on Friday night and ends at nightfall on Saturday. Shabbat is a time of rest, commemorating the day God rested after creating Earth, as recorded in Genesis. During a Shabbat service, the congregation will pray, sing hymns (depending on the sect), and hear from the rabbi as he reads from the Torah and delivers a message based on scriptural passages. Bram explained there is not generally a hierarchy within the Jewish religion. However, Orthodox Jews appoint a chief rabbi who oversees an assigned country or region, similar to an area president in the LDS faith. In other sects of Judaism, there is no formal chain of command to decide what is to be taught in the synagogues. “What is being taught in one synagogue one day could be completely different from what’s being taught at the synagogue next door,” Bram clarified. Regardless of denomination, Jews worldwide rely on an assortment of holy books called the Tanakah to learn about God and his interactions with the children of Israel. The Tanakah is a compilation of three main volumes: First, the Torah, which Bram described to be the five books of Moses found in the Old Testament. Second, the Nevi'im, which is a collection of writings of Old Testament prophets. The third portion is the Ketuvim or "the writings." The Ketuvim comprises the Song of Solomon, Psalms, and other Old Testament writings such as the book of Daniel and the book of Job, said Bram. Judaism also utilizes three books written by early common-era rabbis called the Mishnah, the Midrash, and the Talmud. Their purpose is to help readers gain spiritual understanding and to interpret the Tanakah, Bram continued. The Talmud serves the unique roll of providing traditional Jewish folklore, such as why Moses had difficulty speaking and why Cane killed Abel, Bram described. Beliefs and Traditions “All of our beliefs basically come down to following the 10 Commandments and treating others the way you want to be treated. It’s about making yourself a better person and becoming aware of your individuality on Earth so you can help make Earth a better place for everyone,” said Bram. Many Jewish sects have a belief system that makes little reference to an afterlife. Bram explained there are many Jews who believe that once one dies, their physical bodies will help to nurture future life. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Your body decomposes and helps the earth grow,” Bram clarified. As stated by www.myjewishlearning.com, the Jewish conceptions of heaven and hell are associated with the belief in immortality and/or the World to Come, and have always been ambiguous. Most Jewish ideas about the afterlife developed in post-biblical times. Judaism incorporates dietary laws known as kashrut, which prohibit the mixing of dairy and meat, as well as the consumption of shellfish or flesh from split-hooved animals (like pigs), Bram expounded. Kashrut forbids meat that has not been butchered a specific way. Jews are supposed to eat foods deemed as ‘kosher,’ a Hebrew term for ‘fit’ or ‘appropriate.’ Kosher meats have been watched over in the manufacturing process by a rabbi to ensure kashrut standards, according to myjewishlearning.com. Another distinguishing factor of Jewish devotion is traditional attire. The most common article of clothing is the skull-cap known as a kippah or yarmulke. A kippah can be worn by both genders but is more common among males. Kippahs are worn to signal respect to God. “Some people wear a kippah all the time, only taking it off when they shower or sleep, but a lot of people only wear it when they are in the temple,” Bram described. Another traditional Jewish garment is a prayer shawl called a tallit. Similar to the kippah, some members choose to wear a tallit under their clothes at all times, while others choose to wear it only when worshipping at a synagogue. A tallit is traditionally blue and white or black and white, but it can be other colors depending on the wearer’s preference, Bram expounded. A grooming trend that is common among Orthodox Jewish men is long, curly sideburns and beards. The sideburns are called ‘payos.’ The wearing of long sideburns and beards stems from a passage in the Torah declaring that when a farmer tends their fields, they should leave the corners uncultivated. Many Orthodox Jews have interpreted the passage to mean they should leave the corners or sides of their faces ‘uncultivated’ as a sign of respect to God, according to Bram. Bram said when a Jewish child is around eight days old, a ceremony called brit milah is held, during which the baby is given a name and, if male, circumcised. The next big step in life comes when a child begins elementary school. A ‘consecration’ is held, during which youth decide for themselves whether or not they will continue adhering to Judaism. At the ages of 13 for boys and 12 for girls, he or she will celebrate their bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah. Bar is Hebrew for son and bat means daughter. Mitzvah translates to commandment, so when a boy has his bar mitzvah, he is becoming a ‘son of the commandment,’ Bram concluded. During a bar or bat mitzvah, the child will conduct the Saturday morning worship service and read from the Torah for the first time. This is also the same time they are given their tallit. Generally, a large family gathering is held in celebration, continued Bram. Confirmation follows a bar or bat mitzvah ceremony, which functions similarly to a Christian confirmation during which youth covenant to obey God and his commandments, explained Bram. Bram said the next big step a Jewish faithful takes in their lives is the ceremony of marriage, and lastly, death. Outside of ordinances, ceremonies, and commandments, Jews are encouraged to seek out as much knowledge as they can. Bram explained, “From the time you are born until the time you die, you should always be learning.” She clarified that it doesn’t matter if you’re learning about your faith or if you’re learning about nature, all knowledge is good knowledge. For more reliable information about Judaism, visit www.myjewishlearning.com Uploaded April 14, 2016