Len, at Lensdailydiary, asked “Has Judaism evolved over the ages as a religion? Is it interpreted the same today as 500 years ago? Are younger generations more discerning and demanding in their answers to theological questions?”
Judaism, like Christianity, has evolved over time and continues to evolve. We have denominations — just as Christianity has Lutheran, Protestant, Presbyterian, Catholic, Episcopalian, etc.
Each denomination of Judaism has their own minhagim (customs), beliefs, prayerbooks and policies. Most have a progressive and evolving approach. Social justice work and social reform is pivotal to Jewish life.
I don’t think I answered the question in the way it was intended, so back to the drawing board!!
In the interim, here’s the scoop on the different denominations:
Reform Judaism. The first Reform temple opened in Germany in 1810. The first Reform temple opened in the USA in 1841.
Reform Judaism is the largest branch of Judaism in the USA.
Torah is a living, God-inspired document that enables us to confront the timeless, timely challenges of our everyday lives. We believe that Judaism must change and adapt to the needs of the day…”
More info: WHAT DO REFORM JEWS BELIEVE?
Conservative Judaism: Evolved from the Positive-Historical School in Europe (Rabbi Zecharias Frankel, 19th-century). Rapid growth in the USA during the interwar and post–WW II periods. Meant to be a happy medium between Reform and Orthodox Judaism.
Conservative Judaism is rooted in the wisdom gained at the intersection of heritage and progress. Modern Jews should study Torah in harmony with their mental world and not solely through the eyes of their ancestors.
Reconstructionist Judaism: Founded by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan and his son-in-law Ira Eisenstein in 1922.
We delve into the wellsprings of our tradition, taking hold of Torah and challenging it to speak to our lives today. We open ourselves to manifestations of the divine as transmitted in our tradition and experienced in our lives.
More info: Reconstructing Judaism
Jewish Renewal: Influenced by the counterculture trends of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Founded by rabbinical visionaries Rabbi Waskow and Reb Zalman.
We value deep ecumenism; in Hillel’s words, we learn from every person and spiritual tradition. We create innovative, accessible, and welcoming prayer experiences. We shape halacha (Jewish law) into a living way of walking in the world.
More info: Aleph: What is Jewish Renewal?
Humanistic Judaism: Founded in 1963 by Rabbi Sherwin Wine.
Celebrates Jewish identity and culture consistent with a humanistic philosophy of life independent of a supernatural authority.
We see Jewish history as testimony to the continuing struggle for human dignity and, like the history of other peoples, as a product of human decisions and actions.
We demonstrate our bond to the Jewish people through humanistic celebrations of Jewish holidays and life-cycle events. We create non-theistic Jewish rituals, services, and celebrations that invoke the ethical core of Jewish literature and culture.
More info: Society for Humanistic Judaism.
Orthodox Judaism: An umbrella term for Orthodox, Modern Orthodox and all branches of Hasidic Judaism. It’s diverse and there isn’t a singular branch that represents them all.
Hasidic branches have different Rebbes. I wrote Prayer From The Heart based on the teachings of Rebbe Nachman of the Breslover Hasidim, although my extended family members were Lubavitcher Hasidim.
The essence of Hasidic Judaism is Kabbalah. Torah is the literal word of GD. Rabbinical Law (Talmudic) is as binding as Torah law. Halacha, Shomer Shabbat (Shomer Shabbos) and shomer negiah are structural components of Orthodox life.
General info: My Jewish Learning.
Universal Shabbat Customs:
Standard greeting: Shabbat Shalom or Good Shabbos. The blessings are recited over Kosher wine, grape juice and challah (braided bread) offered to the congregation. Shabbat services are followed by an oneg (Jewish gathering with refreshments served) or Kiddush lunch. Hasidic branches share Shabbat dinner (Friday night) and Shabbat meals (Saturday).
Universal Customs of Judaism:
Study and discussion of Torah and Talmud is viewed as a life-long practice. Anyone can give a “d’var Torah” — their personal interpretation of a Torah portion. It’s an honor to give one.
Mitzvot and Jewish Law (Halacha) are generally considered to be a primary fount of Jewish direction, guidance and wisdom.
We have denominational as well as post-denominational (non-denominational) congregations. It’s not uncommon for Jews to get together and start their own congregations (lay-led or with clergy).
Chavurot/Havurot (plural/click link for the history!). A Havurah (singular) is a ‘Jewish circle of friendship’ that gathers together for Shabbat, High Holidays, Jewish learning, connectivity and social functions. Any individual/s can start a chavurah (often in private homes). Some operate under the umbrella of a synagogue, others are independent.
Via Pew Research’s 2013 Jewish population survey — 35% of American Jews identified as Reform, 18% as Conservative, 10% as Orthodox, 6% as ‘other’ and 30% as “just Jewish” (not affiliated with a denomination).
Thanks for your request, Len!