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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 ultra orthodox or Haredi Judaism, but complete within is 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.
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). (Among those affiliated to a synagogue body, Orthodox Jews represent 70% of British Jewry and 27% of American Jewry).
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 organisation representing member congregations. In the United States, there are numerous Jewish Orthodox organisations, 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.
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. New Jersey attorney Stephen E. Schwartz, Esq., convinced the Star-Ledger to become the first mainstream newspaper to drop the term. 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.”
The roots of Orthodox Judaism can be traced to the late 18th or early 19th century, as a response to the Age of Enlightenment, Jewish Emancipation and Haskalah, whereby elements within German Jewry sought to reform Jewish belief and practice in the early 19th century. They sought to modernise 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 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  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)
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.]
Contemporary Orthodox Jews believe that they adhere to the same basic philosophy and legal framework that has 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.
However, the Orthodox claim to absolute fidelity to past tradition has been challenged by scholars who contend that the Judaism of the Middle Ages bore little resemblance to that practiced by today's Orthodox. Rather, the Orthodox community, as a counterreaction to the liberalism of the Haskalah movement, began to embrace far more stringent halachic practices than their predecessors, most notably in matters of Kashrut and Passover dietary laws, where the strictest possible interpretation becomes a religious requirement, even where the Talmud explicitly prefers a more lenient position, and even where a more lenient position was practiced by prior generations.
Jewish historians also note that certain customs of today's Orthodox are not continuations of past practice, but instead represent innovations that would have been unknown to prior generations. For example, the now-widespread haredi tradition of cutting a boy's hair for the first time on his third birthday (upshirin or upsheerin, Yiddish for "haircut") "originated as an Arab custom that parents cut a newborn boy's hair and burned it in a fire as a sacrifice," and "Jews in Palestine learned this custom from Arabs and adapted it to a special Jewish context." Similarly, the Ashkenazi prohibition against eating kitniyot (grains and legumes such as rice, corn, beans, and peanuts) during Passover was explicitly rejected in the Talmud, has no known precedent before the 12th century and represented a minority position for hundreds of years thereafter, but nonetheless has become a mandatory prohibition among Ashkenazi Orthodoxy.
In practice, the emphasis on strictness has resulted in the rise of "homogeneous enclaves" with other haredi Jews that are less likely to be threatened by assimilation and intermarriage, or even to interact with other Jews who do not share their doctrines. Nevertheless, this strategy has proved successful and the number of adherents to Orthodox Judaism, especially Haredi and Chassidic communities, has grown rapidly. Some scholars estimate more Jewish men are studying in yeshivot (Talmudic schools) and Kollelim (post-graduate Talmudical colleges for married (male) students) than at any other time in history.
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 is heterogeneous, whereby subgroups maintain significant social differences, and less significant differences in understanding Halakha. What unifies various groups under the "Orthodox" umbrella is the central belief that Torah, including the Oral Law, was given directly from God to Moses at Mount Sinai 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:
Based on their philosophy and doctrine vis-a-vis these core issues, adherents to Orthodoxy can roughly be divided into the subgroups of Modern Orthodox Judaism and Haredi Judaism, with most Hasidic Jewish groups falling into the latter category.
Modern Orthodoxy comprises a fairly broad spectrum of movements, each drawing on several distinct though related philosophies, which in some combination have provided the basis for all variations of the movement today. In general, Modern Orthodoxy holds that Jewish law is normative and binding, while simultaneously attaching a positive value to interaction with contemporary society. In this view, Orthodox Judaism can “be enriched” by its intersection with modernity; further, “modern society creates opportunities to be productive citizens engaged in the Divine work of transforming the world to benefit humanity”. At the same time, in order to preserve the integrity of halakha, any area of “powerful inconsistency and conflict” between Torah and modern culture must be avoided. Modern Orthodoxy, additionally, assigns a central role to the "People of Israel".
Modern Orthodoxy, in general, places a high national, as well as religious, significance on the State of Israel, and Modern Orthodox institutions and individuals are, typically, Zionist in orientation. It also practices involvement with non-orthodox Jews that extends beyond "outreach (Kiruv)" to continued institutional relations and cooperation; see further under Torah Umadda. Other "core beliefs" are a recognition of the value and importance of secular studies, a commitment to equality of education for both men and women, and a full acceptance of the importance of being able to financially support oneself and one's family.
Haredi Judaism advocates segregation from non-Jewish culture, although not from non-Jewish society entirely. It is characterised by its focus on community-wide Torah study. Haredi Orthodoxy's differences with Modern Orthodoxy usually lie in interpretation of the nature of traditional halakhic concepts and in acceptable application of these concepts. Thus, engaging in the commercial world is a legitimate means to achieving a livelihood, but individuals should participate in modern society as little as possible. The same outlook is applied with regard to obtaining degrees necessary to enter one's intended profession: where tolerated in the Haredi society, attending secular institutions of higher education is viewed as a necessary but inferior activity. Academic interest is instead to be directed toward the religious education found in the yeshiva. Both boys and girls attend school and may proceed to higher Torah study, starting anywhere between the ages of 13 and 18. A significant proportion of students, especially boys, remain in yeshiva until marriage (which is often arranged through facilitated dating – see shiduch), and many study in a kollel (Torah study institute for married men) for many years after marriage. Most Orthodox men (including many Modern Orthodox), even those not in Kollel, will study Torah daily.
Hasidic or Chasidic Judaism overlaps significantly with Haredi Judaism in its engagement with the secular and commercial world, and as regards social issues. It differs, however, in its origins and, relatedly, in its focus. The movement originated in Eastern Europe (what is now Belarus and Ukraine) in the 18th century. Founded by Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760), it originated in an age of persecution of the Jewish people, when a schism existed between scholarly and common European Jews. In addition to bridging this class gap, Hasidic teachings sought to reintroduce joy in the performance of the commandments and in prayer through the popularisation of Jewish mysticism (this joy had been suppressed in the intense intellectual study of the Talmud). The Ba'al Shem Tov sought to combine rigorous scholarship with more emotional mitzvah observance. In a practical sense, what distinguishes Hasidic Judaism from other forms of Haredi Judaism is the close-knit organization of Hasidic communities centered around a Rebbe (sometimes translated as "Grand Rabbi"), and various customs and modes of dress particular to each community. In some cases there are religious ideological distinctions between Hasidic groups, as well. Another phenomenon that sets Hasidic Judaism apart from general Haredi Judaism is the strong emphasis placed on speaking Yiddish; in (many) Hasidic households and communities, Yiddish is spoken exclusively.
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).
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.
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, 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.
Although sizable Orthodox-Jewish communities are located throughout the United States, the majority of American Orthodox Jews live in New York State, particularly in the New York City Metropolitan Area. Two of the main Orthodox communities in the United States are located in New York City and Rockland County. In New York City, the neighborhoods of Borough Park, Williamsburg, and Crown Heights, located in the borough of Brooklyn, have particularly large Orthodox communities. The most rapidly-growing community of American Orthodox Jews is located in Rockland County and the Hudson Valley of New York, including the communities of Monsey, Monroe, New Square, and Kiryas Joel. There are also sizable and rapidly growing Orthodox communities throughout New Jersey, particularly in Lakewood, Teaneck, Englewood, Passaic, and Fair Lawn.
In addition, Maryland has a large number of Orthodox Jews, many of whom live in Baltimore, particularly in the Park Heights, Mount Washington, and Pikesville areas. Two other large Orthodox Jewish centers are southern Florida, particularly Miami Beach, and the Los Angeles area of California.
In contrast to the general American Jewish community, which is dwindling due to low fertility and high intermarriage and assimilation rates, the Orthodox Jewish community of the United States is growing rapidly. Among Orthodox Jews, the fertility rate stands at about 4.1 children per family, as compared to 1.9 children per family among non-Orthodox Jews, and intermarriage among Orthodox Jews is practically nonexistent, standing at about 2%, in contrast to a 71% intermarriage rate among non-Orthodox Jews. In addition, Orthodox Judaism has a growing retention rate; while about half of those raised in Orthodox homes previously abandoned Orthodox Judaism, that number is declining. According to The New York Times, the high growth rate of Orthodox Jews will eventually render them the dominant demographic force in New York Jewry.
Politically, Orthodox Jews tend to be far more right-wing than other American Jews. While the overwhelming majority of American Jews are on average strongly liberal and supporters of the Democratic Party, the Orthodox subgroup tends to be more conservative, with roughly half describing themselves as political conservatives, and are mostly Republican Party supporters. Orthodox Jews also tend to have a stronger connection to Israel than other Jews.
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