Orthodox Judaism

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The Shulchan Aruch, published in 1565, is the authoritative legal code for Orthodox Jews
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, a leading 20th-century American Orthodox authority.

Orthodox Judaism is the approach to religious Judaism which adheres to the interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Tanaim and Amoraim and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim. Orthodox Judaism generally includes Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism, but can include a wide range of philosophies. Orthodox Judaism is a modern self-conscious identification that, for some, distinguishes it from traditional premodern Judaism, although it was the mainstream expression of Judaism prior to the 19th century.[1]

The majority of Jews killed during the Holocaust were Orthodox.[2] It is estimated that they numbered between 50-70% of those who perished, (3,000,000-4,200,000).[3]

As of 2001, Orthodox Jews and Jews affiliated with an Orthodox synagogue, accounted for approximately 50% of Anglo Jewry (150,000), 25% of Israeli Jewry (1,500,000) and 13% of American Jewry (529,000).[4] (Among those affiliated to a synagogue body, Orthodox Jews represent 70% of British Jewry[5] and 27% of American Jewry).[4]


Orthodoxy is not a single movement or school of thought. There is no single rabbinical body to which all rabbis are expected to belong, or any one organization representing member congregations. In the United States, there are numerous Jewish Orthodox organizations, such as Agudath Israel, the Orthodox Union, and the National Council of Young Israel; none of which can claim to represent a majority of all Orthodox congregations.

Orthodox Jews believe that contemporary Orthodox Judaism maintains the same basic philosophy and legal framework that existed throughout Jewish history, whereas the other denominations depart from it. Orthodox Judaism, as it exists today, is an outgrowth that claims to extend from the time of Moses, to the time of the Mishnah and Talmud, through the development of oral law and rabbinic literature, until the present time.

In response to The Age of Enlightenment, Jewish Emancipation, and Haskalah, elements within German Jewry sought to reform Jewish belief and practice in the early 19th century. They sought to modernize education in light of contemporary scholarship, they rejected claims of absolute divine authorship of the Torah, declaring only those biblical laws concerning 'ethics' to be binding, and stated that the rest of halakha (Jewish law) need not be viewed as normative for Jews in wider society. (see Reform Judaism).

In reaction to the emergence of Reform Judaism, a group of traditionalist German Jews emerged who supported some of the values of the Haskalah[6] but who wanted to defend a conservative, traditional interpretation of Jewish law and tradition. This group was led by those who opposed the establishment of a new temple in Hamburg [1819] as reflected in the booklet "Ele Divrei HaBerit". As a group of Reform Rabbis convened in Braunschweig, Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger of Altona published a manifesto in German and Hebrew "Shlomei Emunei Yisrael" having 177 Rabbis signing on. at this time the first Orthodox Jewish periodical was launched "Der Treue Zions Waechter" with the Hebrew supplement "Shomer Zion HaNe'eman" [1845 - 1855]. In later years it was Rav Ettlinger's students Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch and Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer of Berlin who deepened the awareness and strength of Orthodox Jewry. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch commented in 1854 that

It was not the 'Orthodox' Jews who introduced the word 'orthodoxy' into Jewish discussion. It was the modern 'progressive' Jews who first applied this name to 'old', 'backward' Jews as a derogatory term. This name was at first resented by 'old' Jews. And rightly so. 'Orthodox' Judaism does not know any varieties of Judaism. It conceives Judaism as one and indivisible. It does not know a Mosaic, prophetic and rabbinic Judaism, nor Orthodox and Liberal Judaism. It only knows Judaism and non-Judaism. It does not know Orthodox and Liberal Jews. It does indeed know conscientious and indifferent Jews, good Jews, bad Jews or baptised Jews; all, nevertheless, Jews with a mission which they cannot cast off. They are only distinguished accordingly as they fulfil or reject their mission. (Samson Raphael Hirsch, Religion Allied to Progress, in JMW. p. 198)[7]

Hirsch held that Judaism demands an application of Torah thought to the entire realm of human experience, including the secular disciplines. His approach was termed the Torah im Derech Eretz approach, or "neo-Orthodoxy". While insisting on strict adherence to Jewish beliefs and practices, he held that Jews should attempt to engage and influence the modern world, and encouraged those secular studies compatible with Torah thought. This pattern of religious and secular involvement has been evident at many times in Jewish history. Scholars[who?] believe it was characteristic of the Jews in Babylon during the Amoraic and Geonic periods, and likewise in early medieval Spain, shown by their engagement with both Muslim and Christian society. It appeared as the traditional response to cultural and scientific innovation.

Some scholars believe that Modern Orthodoxy arose from the religious and social realities of Western European Jewry. While most Jews consider Modern Orthodoxy traditional today, some[who?] within the Orthodox community groups to its right consider it of questionable validity. The neo-Orthodox movement holds that Hirsch's views are not accurately followed by Modern Orthodoxy. [See Torah im Derech Eretz and Torah Umadda "Relationship with Torah im Derech Eretz" for a more extensive listing.]

In the 20th century, a segment of the Orthodox population (notably as represented by the World Agudath Israel movement formally established in 1912) disagreed with Modern Orthodoxy and took a stricter approach. Such rabbis viewed innovations and modifications within Jewish law and customs with extreme care and caution. Some observers and scholars refer to this form of Judaism as "Haredi Judaism", or "Ultra-Orthodox Judaism". The latter term is controversial, and some consider the label "ultra-Orthodox" pejorative.

Several media entities refrain from using the term “ultra Orthodox”, including the Religion Newswriters Association; JTA, the global Jewish news service; and the Star-Ledger, New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper, according the New Jersey Press Association.[8] New Jersey attorney Stephen E. Schwartz, Esq., convinced the Star-Ledger to become the first mainstream newspaper to drop the term.[8] Several local Jewish papers, including Jewish Week in New York and Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia have also dropped use of the term. According to Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, spiritual leader of Temple Israel Community Center in Cliffside Park and former executive editor of Jewish Week, this leaves “Orthodox” as “an umbrella term that designates a very widely disparate group of people very loosely tied together by some core beliefs.”[8]

The various approaches have proved resilient.[citation needed] Some scholars estimate more Jewish men are studying in yeshivot (Talmudical schools) and Kollelim (post-graduate Talmudical colleges for married (male) students) than at any other time in history.[citation needed] In 1915 Yeshiva College (later Yeshiva University) and its Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary was established in New York City for training in an Orthodox milieu. A school branch was established in Los Angeles, California. A number of other influential Orthodox seminaries, mostly Haredi, were established throughout the country, most notably in New York, Baltimore, Maryland; and Chicago, Illinois. Beth Medrash Govoha, the Haredi yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey is the largest Talmudic academy in the United States, with a student body of over 5,000 students.


Orthodox Judaism's central belief is that Torah, including the Oral Law, was given directly from God to Moses and applies in all times and places. Haredi Judaism asserts that it may no longer be changed in any fashion. As a result, all Orthodox Jews are required to live in accordance with the Commandments and Jewish law.

Since there is no one Orthodox body, there is no one canonical statement of principles of faith. Rather, each Orthodox group claims to be a non-exclusive heir to the received tradition of Jewish theology, while still affirming a literal acceptance of Maimonides' thirteen principles.

Given this (relative) philosophic flexibility, variant viewpoints are possible, particularly in areas not explicitly demarcated by the Halakha. The result is a relatively broad range of hashqafoth (Sing. hashkafa Hebrew: השקפה‎ – world view, Weltanschauung) within Orthodoxy. The greatest differences within strains of Orthodoxy involve the following issues:

Streams of Orthodoxy[edit]

The above differences are realized in the various subgroups of Orthodoxy, which maintain significant social differences, and less significant differences in understanding Halakha. These subgroups broadly comprise Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism, with most Hasidic Jewish groups falling into the latter category.

In practice[edit]

The Babylonian Talmud

For guidance in practical application of Jewish law, the majority of Orthodox Jews appeal to the Shulchan Aruch ("Code of Jewish Law" composed in the 16th century by Rabbi Joseph Caro) together with its surrounding commentaries. Thus, at a general level, there is a large degree of uniformity amongst all Orthodox Jews. Concerning the details, however, there is often variance: decisions may be based on various of the standardized codes of Jewish Law that have been developed over the centuries, as well as on the various responsa. These codes and responsa may differ from each other as regards detail (and reflecting the above philosophical differences, as regards the weight assigned to these). By and large, however, the differences result from the historic dispersal of the Jews and the consequent development of differences among regions in their practices (see minhag).

Orthodox Judaism emphasizes practicing rules of Kashrut, Shabbat, Family Purity, and Tefilah (Prayer).

Externally, Orthodox Jews can often be identified by their manner of dress and family lifestyle. Orthodox women will traditionally dress modestly by keeping most of their skin covered. Additionally, most married women will cover their hair, most commonly in the form of a scarf, also in the form of hats, bandannas, or, sometimes, wigs. Orthodox men traditionally wear a skullcap known as a kipa and often fringes called "tzitzit". Ashkenazi Haredi men often grow beards, wear black hats and suits, indoors and outdoors. However, Modern Orthodox Jews are commonly indistinguishable in their dress from those around them.


13 Principles of Faith:

  1. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, is the Creator and Guide of everything that has been created; He alone has made, does make, and will make all things.
  2. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, is One, and that there is no unity in any manner like His, and that He alone is our God, who was, and is, and will be.
  3. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, has no body, and that He is free from all the properties of matter, and that there can be no (physical) comparison to Him whatsoever.
  4. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, is the first and the last.
  5. I believe with perfect faith that to the Creator, Blessed be His Name, and to Him alone, it is right to pray, and that it is not right to pray to any being besides Him.
  6. I believe with perfect faith that all the words of the prophets are true.
  7. I believe with perfect faith that the prophecy of Moses our teacher, peace be upon him, was true, and that he was the chief of the prophets, both those who preceded him and those who followed him.
  8. I believe with perfect faith that the entire Torah that is now in our possession is the same that was given to Moses our teacher, peace be upon him.
  9. I believe with perfect faith that this Torah will not be exchanged, and that there will never be any other Torah from the Creator, Blessed be His Name.
  10. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, knows all the deeds of human beings and all their thoughts, as it is written, "Who fashioned the hearts of them all, Who comprehends all their actions" (Psalms 33:15).
  11. I believe with perfect faith that the Creator, Blessed be His Name, rewards those who keep His commandments and punishes those that transgress them.
  12. I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nonetheless, I wait every day for his coming.
  13. I believe with perfect faith that there will be a revival of the dead at the time when it shall please the Creator, Blessed be His name, and His mention shall be exalted for ever and ever.

Orthodox Judaism is composed of different groups with intertwining beliefs, practices and theologies, although in their core beliefs, all Orthodox movements share the same principles.

Orthodoxy collectively considers itself the only true heir to the Jewish tradition. The Orthodox Jewish movements generally consider all non-Orthodox Jewish movements to be unacceptable deviations from authentic Judaism; both because of other denominations' doubt concerning the verbal revelation of Written and Oral Torah, and because of their rejection of Halakhic precedent as binding. As such, Orthodox groups characterise non-Orthodox forms of Judaism as heretical; see the article on Relationships between Jewish religious movements.

Orthodox Judaism affirms monotheism, or the belief in one God. Among the in-depth explanations of that belief are Maimonidean rationalism, Kabbalistic mysticism, and Chassidic Philosophy (Chassidut). A few affirm self-limited omniscience (the theology elucidated by Gersonides in "The Wars of the Lord".)

Orthodox Judaism maintains the historical understanding of Jewish identity. A Jew is someone who was born to a Jewish mother, or who converts to Judaism in accordance with Jewish law and tradition. Orthodoxy thus rejects patrilineal descent as a means of establishing Jewish national identity. Similarly, Orthodoxy strongly condemns intermarriage. Intermarriage is seen as a deliberate rejection of Judaism, and an intermarried person is effectively cut off from most of the Orthodox community. However, some Orthodox Jewish organizations do reach out to intermarried Jews.

Orthodox Judaism holds that the words of the Torah, including both the Written Law (Pentateuch) and those parts of the Oral Law which are halacha leMoshe m'Sinai, were dictated by God to Moses essentially as they exist today. The laws contained in the Written Torah were given along with detailed explanations as how to apply and interpret them, the Oral Law. Although Orthodox Jews believe that many elements of current religious law were decreed or added as "fences" around the law by the rabbis, all Orthodox Jews believe that there is an underlying core of Sinaitic law and that this core of the religious laws Orthodox Jews know today is thus directly derived from Sinai and directly reflects the Divine will. As such, Orthodox Jews believe that one must be extremely careful in interpreting Jewish law. Orthodox Judaism holds that, given Jewish law's Divine origin, no underlying principle may be compromised in accounting for changing political, social or economic conditions; in this sense, "creativity" and development in Jewish law is limited.

However, there is significant disagreement within Orthodox Judaism, particularly between Haredi Judaism and Modern Orthodox Judaism, about the extent and circumstances under which the proper application of Halakha should be re-examined as a result of changing realities. As a general rule, Haredi Jews believe that when at all possible the law should be maintained as it was understood by their authorities at the haskalah, believing that it had never changed. Modern Orthodox authorities are more willing to assume that under scrupulous examination, identical principles may lead to different applications in the context of modern life. To the Orthodox Jew, halakha is a guide, God's Law, governing the structure of daily life from the moment he or she wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep. It includes codes of behaviour applicable to a broad range of circumstances (and many hypothetical ones). There are though a number of meta-principles that guide the halakhic process and in an instance of opposition between a specific halakha and a meta-principle, the meta-principle often wins out. Examples of Halachic Meta-Principles are: Deracheha Darchei Noam-the ways of Torah are pleasant, Kavod Habriyot-basic respect for human beings, Pikuach Nefesh-the sanctity of human life.

Orthodox Judaism holds that on Mount Sinai the Written Law was transmitted along with an Oral Law. The words of the Torah (Pentateuch) were spoken to Moses by God; the laws contained in this Written Torah, the Mitzvot, were given along with detailed explanations in the oral tradition as to how to apply and interpret them. Furthermore, the Oral law includes principles designed to create new rules. The Oral law is held to be transmitted with an extremely high degree of accuracy. Jewish theologians, who choose to emphasize the more evolutionary nature of the Halacha point to a famous story in the Talmud,[12] where Moses is miraculously transported to the House of Study of Rabbi Akiva and is clearly unable to follow the ensuing discussion.

According to Orthodox Judaism, Jewish law today is based on the commandments in the Torah, as viewed through the discussions and debates contained in classical rabbinic literature, especially the Mishnah and the Talmud. Orthodox Judaism thus holds that the halakha represents the "will of God", either directly, or as closely to directly as possible. The laws are from the word of God in the Torah, using a set of rules also revealed by God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and have been derived with the utmost accuracy and care, and thus the Oral Law is considered to be no less the word of God. If some of the details of Jewish law may have been lost over the millennia, they were reconstructed in accordance with internally consistent rules; see The 13 rules by which Jewish law was derived.

In this world view, the Mishnaic and Talmudic rabbis are closer to the Divine revelation; by corollary, one must be extremely conservative in changing or adapting Jewish law. Orthodox Jews will also study the Talmud for its own sake; this is considered to be the greatest mitzvah of all; see Torah study.

Haredi and Modern Orthodox Judaism vary somewhat in their view of the validity of Halakhic reconsideration. It is held virtually as a principle of belief among many Haredi Jews that halakhah never changes. Haredi Judaism thus views higher criticism of the Talmud as inappropriate, and almost certainly heretical. At the same time, many self-proclaimed Modern Orthodox Jews do not have a problem with historical scholarship in this area. See the entry on historical analysis of the Talmud.

Some Modern Orthodox Jews are also somewhat more willing to consider revisiting questions of Jewish law through Talmudic arguments. Although in practice such instances are rare, they do exist. Notable examples include acceptance of rules permitting farming during the Shmita year and permitting the advanced religious education of women.

In the United States[edit]

The New York City Metropolitan Area is home to the largest American Orthodox Jewish population.

Two of the main Orthodox communities in the United States are located in New York City and Rockland County, New York. In New York City, the neighborhoods include Borough Park, Williamsburg, and Crown Heights in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. However, the most rapidly growing community of American Orthodox Jews is located in Rockland County and the Hudson Valley of New York State, including the communities of Monsey, Monroe, New Square, and Kiryas Joel. There are also sizable and rapidly growing Orthodox communities in Lakewood, Teaneck, Englewood, Passaic, and Fair Lawn, New Jersey, as well as other areas of New Jersey, USA.

Baltimore also has a large population of Orthodox Jews, especially in the Park Heights, Mt. Washington, and Pikesville areas.

According to The New York Times, the high fertility rate of Orthodox Jews will eventually render them the dominant demographic force in New York Jewry.[13]

Movements, organizations, and groups[edit]

Heichal Shlomo, former seat of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in Jerusalem.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Susan Auerbach (1994). Encyclopedia of Multiculturalism: Daniel Ken Inouye-Mythology, American Indian. Marshall Cavendish. p. 976. ISBN 978-1-85435-674-1. Retrieved 21 May 2013. "Until the French Revolution, all Jews would probably have been regarded as Orthodox, but in modem times Orthodoxy has developed a self-conscious ideology that, for some, distinguishes it from historical or traditional Judaism." 
  2. ^ Dan Stone (22 February 2013). The Holocaust, Fascism and Memory: Essays in the History of Ideas. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-137-02952-2. Retrieved 21 May 2013. "As Timothy Snyder points out, although Auschwitz is located in Poland, actually very few Polish or Soviet Jews were killed there, and thus the largest victim groups — religiously orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe — are excluded from the most famous symbol of the Holocaust." 
  3. ^ Alex Grobman (2004). Battling for Souls: The Vaad Hatzala Rescue Committee In Post-holocaust Europe. KTAV Publishing House, Inc. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-88125-843-1. Retrieved 21 May 2013. "An entirely accurate estimate of how many Orthodox Jews were killed is impossible, but they were clearly the majority, somewhere between 50-70 percent." 
  4. ^ a b American Jewish Religious Denominations, United Jewish Communities Report Series on the National Jewish Population Survey 2001-01, (Table 2, pg. 9)
  5. ^ Synagogue membership in the United Kingdom in 2010
  6. ^ "YIVO | Orthodoxy". Yivoencyclopedia.org. Retrieved 2011-07-22. 
  7. ^ Cohn-Sherbok, Dan (2004). Judaism: History, Belief, and Practice. Routledge. p. 264. ISBN 0415236606. 
  8. ^ a b c Josh Lipowsky, "Paper loses 'divisive' term", New Jersey Jewish Standard, February 5, 2009, pp 10.
  9. ^ [1][dead link]
  10. ^ "Rabbi Norman Lamm: Some Comments on Centrist Orthodoxy". Edah.org. Retrieved 2011-07-22. 
  11. ^ William B. Helmreich and Reuel Shinnar: Modern Orthodoxy in America: Possibilities for a Movement under Siege
  12. ^ "בבלי – מסכת מנחות". Mechon-mamre.org. Retrieved 2011-07-22. 
  13. ^ David Brooks (March 7, 2013). "The Orthodox Surge". The New York Times. Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  14. ^ Agudath Yisrael More on Agudath Yisrael
  15. ^ [2][dead link]
  16. ^ Encyclopaedia Judaica: Volume 8, p. 145
  17. ^ http://www.hods.org/english/about/rabbisE.asp
  18. ^ http://www.hods.org/English/lecturesE.asp

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