Has Judaism Evolved Over The Ages? (Requested Topic)

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.

More info: USCJ (official site), How the Middle Became a Movement.


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.

Shomer negiah: My Jewish Learning.

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!

23 thoughts on “Has Judaism Evolved Over The Ages? (Requested Topic)

  1. This is all post-Enlightenment though. I thought the question was more about change over much longer periods. Like, is even Orthodox Judaism like the Judaism of Rashi, let alone Rabbi Akiva. In which case I would say “yes and no” and ask for more time to research an answer…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      After all that work, I had the same realization about the question. 😄 I agree the religion of Judaism we know of today has many points of divergence from the religion of the sages and is very different from the religion of the ancient Israelites. I’m working on another piece about the religion of the Israelites vs the religion we know of as Judaism. Thanks for your comment and input!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      I’d love for you to write a post in regards to this question about the points of divergence from the religion of sages, such as Rashi and Rabbi Akiva. I’m going to tackle Israelite religion vs Judaism as we know it. My great-grandparents and grandparents were ‘frum’ (Orthodox for others reading), but they just thought of themselves as “Jewish.” Jewish life was a lot simpler for them. They were quite content just being ‘frum.’ Keeping Kosher, Shomer Shabbos, davening, going to shul, shabbat dinners, hachnasat orchim, etc.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. It would be an interesting post, although I feel that doing it justice would require more research, time and energy than I have to devote to it at the moment.

        Yes, things were different when denominational divisions were less obvious.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Here’s another question; how much of said change is really for the better or even necessary?

    Humanity has a bad habit of being too impatient to learn established wisdom and often seeks to reinvent the wheel instead. Since I’m not Jewish and don’t feel I have enough understanding to analyze various aspects of it, let me give a couple of other examples:

    Meditation being reinvented into mindfulness and numerous articles about meditation being too difficult and unrealistic is a textbook example. If one can’t calm their mind, endure a little practice to improve, or understand that the key to getting rid of that “monkey mind” is simply to release all the random thoughts, is the problem with the system, or the practitioner?

    I see the same thing with martial arts. It took 20 years of HARD work to be declared a master at the Shaolin temple. Now everybody wants to be a black belt in six months. Whole sections of material have been eliminated from traditional schools and they wonder why they can’t compete with brawlers in an MMA cage.

    Should religion and other institutions grow over time? Absolutely. The “Gd never changes” argument against it is silly IMO. Gd is the “parent” in this case. Humanity is the “kid”. As kids grow and gain understanding, the rules slowly change for them. The core principles remain the same though.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Random thought. Meditation and mindfulness are 2 different things. Meditation is stillness and connection. Mindfulness has some of that but is about being present in the moment. One who meditates should in theory live mindfully always. One who practices mindfulness won’t necessarily be able to meditate.

      Liked by 2 people

        1. I went to a mindfulness course where they said it was the same thing…. the teachers were taught to teach that. I tried to explain why it was different but found it really hard to put it into words. And it was – is – a really great, structured course that I’m actually going to do again.

          Liked by 2 people

    2. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      Good points! I really resonated with what you wrote about marital arts.

      I already mastered the core and did the decades of hard work to earn my black belt in Judaism, before I started to indulge in different modes of spiritual expression. Yet sometimes those who took the fast-track to la-de-da Judaism (where whole sections were eliminated) want to challenge me in the cage. 😂

      Finding the balance between growth and tradition can be very tricky. Thank you for the thought provoking comment!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The fun thing is when you DO understand that core and then look at other beliefs, it’s easy to see the similarities and understand those other systems better. It doesn’t mean one has to change their beliefs, just that they’ll be less threatened by others

        Liked by 2 people

        1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

          Amen! I can now indulge in the different modes of Jewish expression and the spiritual expressions of other belief systems with a deep level of connectivity and understanding. Instead of feeling threatened by different beliefs, I can simply appreciate them. 😊

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Wow! Abi. You have really researched this subject and detailed thoroughly the different branches of Judaism. To this ignorant observer, anyway. Thank you for putting so much thought into this. You always go way beyond what is expected. I found the structure of the different groups interesting as like-minded people come together to share their beliefs. I attempted this in our local Catholic Parish about thirty-odd years ago. Our church had over 2,000 members and I attended some seminars on ” Small Christian Communities”. The idea at the time was that Sunday mass would be the highlight of the week but small groups would take turns to meet in individual homes to discuss Catholic Catechism and share their Catholic lives. It met with a great deal of apathy as most Catholics were just interested in turning up for Sunday Mass. I like the above comment by Silk Cords, in relation to having to put the time in to learn a new discipline. In this social media age, we all like the edited version of disciplines, the Cole Notes version, and are not willing to put in the time and effort to thoroughly understand a subject. I have great respect for Talmudic and Biblical scholars who spend their whole lives studying the texts. Having said all that, we do live busy and varied lives and have family responsibilities, etc. So it’s hard for many of us to devote the time and effort to have a full in-depth understanding of a particular subject. Thanks once again, Abi, I appreciate your efforts in educating the uninitiated like myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      I can’t thank you enough for your response, Len! You truly bless me with your words. I’m so happy you found it interesting and enlightening! I kept redoing the post, feeling discontented and unsettled with the first attempts. When that happens, I know there is something interfering with what I really want to say (usually some unresolved emotions I haven’t processed) and I need to start again. So I did! Now I feel content with it.

      Sorry your attempts were met with apathy. It caught on though, as I see quite a few Christian groups that meet, share and study in private homes or small focus groups at church.

      It is hard to devote the time to life-long study, but you work it in whenever you can. Jewish communities everywhere offer a slate of life-long learning classes one can attend weekly or bi-weekly, so that helps. Of course now everyone is doing zoom rooms. Pre-pandemic there was always the internet and various ways to participate in ongoing online learning on your own schedule.

      You can and should study on your own, but the Sages said that alone isn’t sufficient, for if you don’t acquire study partners you get mired in ignorance (they felt strongly about it😅) because you only entertain your own perspectives and get stuck in your own head.

      I was worried I didn’t answer your questions correctly, but then I thought, the post does give a good window into how Judaism has evolved and how the desires and needs of each generation brought change and growth.

      Like

  4. I did not realize there were so many groups today. That’s fascinating. I’d say I hope they get along with each other–and I do hope this–though I know the Christian example would not be a happy one. Each denomination has split (and splits) into groups. Fortunately, there are ecumenical efforts to bridge differences and other gaps. I’m intensely interested in ecumenism between groups, traditions, and religions.

    This is not on-topic, but I’m wondering about the Talmud. I understand it’s been added to over centuries. Are additions still composed and approved and entered? Maybe I understand the whole document incorrectly.

    Thank you, again, for writing not only with information but also with clarity. Both qualities are much appreciated.

    I hope you are really well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      We have the same interdenominational divisiveness — people are people wherever you go. I have seen efforts in Judaism to be more internally ecumenical, but the counterproductive divisiveness still exists. I share your passion for ecumenism and hope one day we can all just respect each other’s paths.

      The Jerusalem Talmud was completed in the 5th century and Babylonian Talmud in the 6th century. There have been numerous commentaries and extrapolations on the texts since that time, right up to contemporary rabbis and current day. There will be no new additions or redactions however, which has been the case for over 1500 years. That said, the subject matter of the Talmud is a living body of work, so even though the writing process is over, the process of commentary, study and interpretation lives on.

      Thank you bunches for the blessing of your inspirational words. Sending many good wishes your way!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Fred Freedman

    Hi Abigail:As usual thanks for keeping us all spiritually up to date. I’m dealing with end of life steps needed now preparing myself with my Executor I chose.  When I get a chance will respond to your teachings.  Love, Fred

    Sent from Yahoo Mail on Android

    Liked by 1 person

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