In this project I intend to learn about how two main Jewish groups, Hasidism and the Reform, began and developed into a modern day sect of Judaism. I will learn how the different movements agree and disagree with one another by studying their beliefs, attitudes, social practises and the effect it has on their adherents. By looking at the advantages and disadvantages, I will also learn if Jews overcoming their differences and uniting is a good or bad idea.
(i) Describe the origins of two main Jewish groups and the ways in which they have developed.
(ii) What were the religious issues, which caused the origin and development of these two groups?
b) In what ways have the religious issues, which caused the group to develop, affected the moral behaviour, attitudes and social practises of their adherents?
c) ‘Jews should try to overcome their differences and unite.’
Do you agree? Give reasons to support your answer and show that you have thought about different points of view.
(i) Describe the origins of two main Jewish groups and the ways in which they have developed.
The two groups I have chosen to describe are: (i) Hasidism, (ii) Reform.
In the early seventeenth century, most of the Jews in Europe dwelled in Poland. Many famous yeshivot (Talmudic academies) were also situated in Poland, at that time. However, in 1648, Jews and Poles were murdered by Cossack gangs from Ukraine. Soon after this massacre, Russia invaded Poland destroying every community they passed by. At the end of the seventeenth century, Poland was no longer the centre of Jewish learning due to the horrendous loss of life. However, the Jews had not been annihilated and Lithuania replaced Poland for a new centre of Torah learning.
All Eastern European Jews experienced a great religious development in the eighteenth century. There was a vast spread of Kabbalistic mysticism among the scholars as well as popular traditions of mass enthusiasm, which provided the upbringing for the appearance of a new spiritual movement, Hasidism (- from hasidut, meaning ‘piety’).
Israel ben Eliezer, 1698-1760, who was known as the Ba’al Shem Tov -the master of the good name, was a rabbi from Podolia in southeast Poland and the founder of Hasidism. He was considered a healer, miracle worker, rapturous mystic an enigmatic leader and brought about the recovery of the Jews in Poland. At an early age, he joined the nistarim -hidden mystics and started to visit Jewish communities to recuperate the Jewish observance. In the 1730’s he settled in Medzibozh, in Podolia, where he excelled his teachings to a community of disciples. In 1734 at the age of 36 he left the nistarim and began to acquire many followers due to his open teaching and preaching. Through his religious teachings, the Ba’al Shem Tov stimulated all Kabbalists and enticed scholars and rabbis from the finest Jewish societies. It was in Medzibozh, around 1736 where he was revealed as a zaddick -a righteous man. He believed and taught that Jews could achieve higher levels by praying with joy, meaning, and obeying the commandments with zest and happiness. He preached that a simple Jew that prayed and observed with genuineness would receive the same amount of love from G-d than the most learned scholar. Rabbis and scholars were drawn to his idea of serving G-d with joyfulness and a new movement was born, Hasidism and they soon became known as Hasidim.
In 1760, the Ba’al Shem Tov died and Dov Baer of Mezhirech, 1704-1772, succeeded him as a leader of the movement. Baer was also known as the maggid -preacher, who broadened the teachings of his rabbi and expanded the tiny community into a rapid developing movement. Eastern Europe was scattered with hundreds of escalating Hasidic communities. The leaders and rabbis of these communities were the disciples of the Maggid. By 1772, his disciples had established many centres stretching across Poland, Galicia, White Russia and Ukraine. People would go to the Rebbe -the Hasidic leader to seek help. The Rebbe would also give blessings e.g. for bringing up children. The Rebbeim -plural of Rebbe assisted the establishments of Hasidic centres and yeshivot, thereby expanding the Hasidic teachings through education.
The Hasidic movement instigated great opposition as scholars believed the principle importance should be placed on Talmudic studies rather than one’s joyous expression towards G-d. They further feared that Rabbi Israel would claim to be the Messiah just as Shabtai Tzvi had falsely claimed, approximately two centuries prior. The Mitnaggedim -opponents, did not want a repetition of the atrocities and hoax that Shabtai Tzvi caused.
The leader of the Mitnaggedim was a great Lithuanian scholar, Elijah of Vilna known as the Gaon of Vilna, 1720-1797. After the massacre in Poland, he set out to Lithuania to restore the high standard of Jewish learning. He solely believed one should devote their whole life to learning each passage of the Jewish scriptures to attain a broad understanding of the literature. As a result of this, he became a lamdan -a man with extensive understanding of the Talmud. There was a constant battle between the Hasidic followers and the Mitnaggedim consisting of various persecutions, excommunications and denunciations.
The first pronouncements made against the Hasidim occurred in 1772 in Vilna. One of the Maggid’s disciples, P. Horowitz, settled as the first Hasidic rabbi in Frankfurt, Germany, demonstrating their ongoing determination to prosper. Communities propagated in Belorussia and in 1777 Mendel led dozens of Hasidim to the former Palestine. In 1788, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Lyady, a Hasidic leader in Belorussia, founded the Habad movement. The Habad movement, also known as the Lubavitch movement, is a branch of the Hasidic movement and has similar principles. It differs from traditional Hasidism as the Habads encourage all Jews, religious or irreligious into the community, the reason it grew so quickly. In 1797, the argument between the Hasidism and the Mitnaggedim subsided in Vilna after the death of the Gaon of Vilna. Despite the separation of the Ukrainian, Lithuanian and central Polish Jews, Hasidism as a movement continued to spread throughout Eastern Europe.
Hasidim unified traditional Judaism guaranteeing its survival in times when Jewish independence was beginning to fade. Even though Hasidism lacked certified authority, it provided a protection against Western influences, which were starting to threaten Orthodox Jewry.1 Hasidism continued to expand and by the mid 1930’s, there were several million Hasidim living in Eastern Europe. Like all other Jews, Hasidim suffered severe losses of numbers during the Holocaust. The Nazis wiped out huge Hasidic communities, towns and centres during the Second World War. The few Hasidim that survived escaped to the West and to Israel, then Palestine. They repopulated in their new settlements and restored their way of life. As a result of this, there are now Hasidic communities in New York, Jerusalem, Antwerp, Melbourne, Rio de Janeiro and many other cities around the world. Today, there are approximately 250,000 Hasidim, primarily in Israel and the United States.
During the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, a movement emerged in Western Europe, known as the Enlightenment. It attacked accepted traditions, which were viewed as outdated. Gentiles soon began to question the Christian perspective that Jews were very different, therefore shouldn’t be accepted into society. They believed that if Jews were granted the same opportunities as other members of society, such as an adequate education they could eventually become ‘good citizens’ and may be entitled to civil rites. The thought of emancipation grew on Jews and the Haskalah -Jewish Enlightenment was determined to achieve this. Followers of the Haskalah movement, known as Maskilim, wanted to change the way other Jews lived and aimed to make Judaism more acceptable to gentiles. The Maskilim triggered a new movement, which came about in the early nineteenth century, today known as the Reform.
Unlike most sects of Judaism, e.g. Hasidism, the establishment of the Reform movement was not intended nor planned by any one person. In the late eighteenth century, many assimilated Jews in Germany began to develop and expand their thoughts and ideas about the Jewish way of life. They first began to alter and modify small matters, such as the synagogue service. In 1778, a school was founded in Berlin offering secular education to Jewish children. After this similar schools were opened and German Jewish parents soon began to guide their children away from the Jewish observance, wanting their offspring to be accepted into German society and not believing they could have the best of both worlds. The German Jews began to distance themselves as far as possible from the practices of Judaism. Consequently many were baptised into the Christian faith, refusing any connection to Judaism.
However, other German Jews recognised the importance of their religion and therefore wanted to remain attached to it. They believed that if they modified the synagogue service, developing it around the Lutheran Church, the Germans would treat Jews with respect. In 1810, Israel Jacobson founded a school in Seesen, Hanover. Jewish children were taught secular subjects and the services included vernacular prayers as well as the introduction to a weekly vernacular sermon, music from the organ, choir and confirmation, a program very similar to the Church. These services spread elsewhere and in 1818, the Hamburg Temple opened, the first Reform synagogue. After this advance, different communities began to change certain practises both in and outside the synagogue. The German language was frequently used in prayers, organs commonly accompanied the singing, circumcision was abolished and some Jews even moved the Shabbat to Sunday. The fundamental belief that was cultivating was the ability to adjust Judaism to suit one’s personal lifestyle.
This reforming trend expanded and in communities where a large number of Jews preferred their ideas, they began to consider the beliefs of their own Rabbis. The newly developing Reform communities began to search for leaders and rabbis to employ. The Reform Jews that were requested to be Rabbis for Reform communities had slight if not no knowledge of the traditional beliefs or practices. Most of them went to universities rather than Yeshivot because they were assimilated German-Jewish intellectuals and academics. The critical study programmes of the universities influenced their modern approach to Judaism. The first of these rabbis were men, the most famous being Samuel Hirsch, 1815-59. He perceived the numerous mitzvot as symbols of divine truths not being translated or taken in literally. He encouraged his followers to change their lifestyle so that the truths were no longer expressed through symbols and he taught that once this had been achieved these symbols could be readily discarded. In 1806-60, Samuel Holdheim followed. To him the mitzvot were just outdated laws and customs of the ancient Jewish state destroyed 2,000 years earlier2. Holdheim even went as far as to condemn the rabbis who taught their followers to live by ‘the laws of a long dead state’.
Perhaps the most influential Rabbi was Abraham Geiger, 1810-74. He together with many assimilated Jews felt no obligation nor expressed a desire to follow the messiah to the Holy Land and felt entirely at home in Germany. Furthermore, as Geiger believed Jews to be a religious community rather than a nation he did not feel the need to pray for a re-established Jewish State. Geiger’s rationale or justification for thinking it reasonable for modern rabbis to alter the traditional Jewish way of life was that he felt Judaism had always changed or adjusted slightly to suit new circumstances.
He believed the remodelling of Judaism of the Talmudic period by medieval rabbis and the adaptation of Judaism of Biblical times by the Talmudic rabbis was successful. Geiger’s ideal was to live by -ethical monotheism- high standards of moral behaviour and aimed to achieve this by reducing to primarily believing in one God and encouraging ethical monotheism to be at the forefronts of their minds. He didn’t consider the other mitzvot neither significant nor necessary for their lifestyle and felt it was only meaningful in earlier ages. Geiger contributed hugely to the rapid development of the Reform movement by producing these validations, making it possible to adjust the Jewish religion and its way of life.
Various rabbis opposed these changes and modern ideas of the Reform movement. They feared that the introduction of such a movement might split the unity of the Jewish people by organising their own separate community. They attempted many methods to counteract the Reformers from advancing to a movement including trying to persuade the German authorities to close down Reform synagogues and writing letters disapproving the Reformers. The majority of these rabbis were ill qualified to successfully present the movement, as they didn’t attend secular universities. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, 1808-88, was the only rabbi to put forward a convincing argument and even managed to persuade Geiger by upholding ‘true’ Judaism in such a way, which won him Geiger’s admiration. Despite Hirsch’s efforts, the Reform movement spread throughout Germany, into the Netherlands and other European countries. Although in 1824 it reached the United States, it wasn’t till 1841, when the first reform synagogue was built there. In Britain, it began in 1842, when members of the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London left and formed the West London Synagogue.
Many conferences were held by Reform leaders between 1844-71 to discuss the beliefs and practices of the new movement. Their aim was to reach some form of agreement and formalise some direction fro the Reform to take, however this proved increasingly difficult due to the numerous variety of opinions shared by the leaders. Many changes were however made, forming the foundations of the Reform movement as it is today. The reform movement followed Geiger’s example and discontinued prayers fro the Holy Land and the rebuilding of the temple. In addition they gave up the belief in the coming of a Messiah, or a Saviour as such but reinterpreted this to mean the Messianic Age. They furthermore made all dietary laws concerning Kashrut-keeping Kosher- voluntary and they decided to abolish the second day of all Jewish festivals.
The Reform movement today has dramatically expanded since the 1960’s and its views on the Jewish state have changed. During the first half of the nineteenth century there were three Reform synagogues in Britain, in comparison to the now forty. United States however currently holds the largest number of Reform congregations. The leaders now teach a more positive view towards Israel, after all the movement alters with time and members of the Reform movement are increasingly associated with Jewish education and youth activities.
(ii) What were the religious issues, which caused the origin and development of these two groups?
When the Cossacks overtook Polish Jewry during the second half of the nineteenth century, Poland ceased to be the centre of Jewish learning. Few Jews survived the mass murdering of the Jews and the few who did were less likely to remain strong throughout the epidemic the following year. Those Jews who did survive were poor people who worked extremely hard long hours and had few prospects of obtaining a Jewish education. The concept of yearning for a Jewish education and identity began to drift away and by the 1730’s, three generations had been brought up with little or none Jewish education or Talmudic study. Although they were still praying and reciting psalms devoutly, this was not enough to fulfil their needs.
The Jews grew sad as they felt incomplete without Jewish education. At the same time, scholars from Lithuania ridiculed their lack of education and spirituality, making them feel diminished. The Jews in Poland needed a dramatic change, something that would revive their spiritual Torah learning and regain their Jewish education. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov did exactly this. He recognised their need for Torah study, consequently he began preaching and teaching to all the Jews. His level of spirituality and education was too great for the deprived Jews to comprehend, so he simplified his teachings of Kabbalah. His teachings attracted all Jews as he taught that one could attach themselves to God by praying and obeying commandments with sheer enthusiasm. The religious issue for the birth of Hasidism was that the Jewish people living in Poland were desperate for a change. They were consumed with the level of physical labour they had to endure in order to earn a living and had no time to study. They aspired to a modern lifestyle and Hasidism provided this solution.
Hasidism was the perfect solution as the Jews regained their spirits whilst serving God well. The task was simple yet highly effective as they had to remain sincere on praying and learning and in turn receive the same reward as a scholar who studied Torah every day of his life. This way of perceiving Judaism was very much welcomed as Jews were taught that serving God with joy was essential and made living a more joyous task. This is they key aspect and major contributor to the rapid growth of the movement. For the poor Jews Hasidism accepted them into society as it taught that humility was an advantage to studying and learning. They could have been considered better off than scholars as pride didn’t cloud their studies.
The reason for the movement expanding so quickly was due to the Jews being previously dejected and now they could serve God whilst uplifting their spirits. Now they were inspired, they began studying the Torah enthusiastically, which was an essential aspect to life for Hasidim. The Rebbeim helped spread Hasidism by setting up numerous Yeshivot to teach the new ways of praying, providing a Jewish education system in which answered the problems that people faced. Groups fled to the Holy Land and other places, resulting in the further expansion of Hasidism. The religious issue for the expansion of Hasidism was firstly due to the fact that it attracted all Jews and was a joyous way of living life whilst serving God in accordance with the Torah. Secondly, the Rebbeim educated and answered people’s questions concerning the principles of the new Hasidic movement. They set up Yeshivot, which made learning Torah more easily accessible to everyone. Thirdly, groups of Hasidic Jews fled to other countries, taught all the Jews the Hasidic principles and set up Hasidic Yeshivot for Torah study. This contributed vastly to the expansion of the new movement.
Lithuanian scholars opposed the Hasidic movement due to the chaos that the false Messiah produced and they didn’t want a repetition of such mayhem. They feared that the Ba’al Shem Tov might turn into a false Messiah. They also thought some Hasidim made serving God with joy the centre of their Judaism rather than placing adequate attention on Talmudic study. The Lithuanian scholars disagreed with this as they didn’t want Talmudic Study to be secondary and they dreaded it might soon become forgotten about. The Vilna Gaon believed no one could possibly understand everything about the Torah as he claimed that Talmud learning is infinite and there will always remain something else to learn. Therefore the Vilna Gaon believed that Talmudic study was primary and serving God with joy was secondary. The religious issues for the opposition of Hasidism included the dire possibility of another false Messiah and the fact that Lithuanian scholars didn’t want the serving of God with joy to become of primary importance as they felt that Talmudic study was more important.
In the mid-eighteenth century, Jews living in Germany strived for the acceptance into their German society, so much so that they were willing to detach themselves from their Jewish faith. They believed that they deserved to be accepted into the German society and even gentiles began to reconsider the potential of the Jews. They suggested that if Jews were granted equal opportunities, they could become good citizens. The Jews grew sick and tired of the persecutions they were suffering and the various oppressions they were under. Their history caused them to aspire to make Jewish life resemble that of the non-Jewish world. These people were known as the Maskilim and belonged to the Haskalah movement. They began to learn the vernacular language in this case German and studied secular subjects such as maths and philosophy. They consequently detached themselves from their Jewish roots.
The Maskilim set out various targets in order to achieve their ultimate goal of emancipation. They attempted to alter the lifestyles of all Jews and began by integrating themselves subtly into their gentile society. This modern reforming way of thinking allowed the changing lifestyle and adjustments made to bring about acceptance into German society. This reforming tendency became popular amongst many German Jews as they strived for emancipation, stimulating the introduction of this Reform movement.
The religious issue of ‘expansion’ is another contributing factor to the rapid growth of the Reform movement. People fell in love with this new idea of adjusting their religious practises and beliefs to suit their own lifestyle. This provided them with freedom and the Jews no longer felt restricted in their lifestyle. They developed a fundamental belief that G-d didn’t personally give the Torah to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, rather the laws were simply inspired by Him. This provides the Jews with the freedom to change or adjust the laws, as they believe the laws were not intended to be taken literally; they are not the actual words of G-d. The Torah is therefore to be taken as guidelines and suggestions as to how to lead a moral life and not a series of compulsory obligations. Many Jews were attracted to this idea that one could change their religious practises in order to suit their own lifestyle. The sheer number of followers multiplied allowing this expansion of the movement.
Since this introduction of reforming Judaism, rabbis have opposed their beliefs and claimed that their expansion may very well divide the Jews as a nation. Many rabbis attempted to argue this, however most failed due to the lack of qualifications they had in secular studies, i.e. they didn’t attend universities only yeshivot. Furthermore the traditional fundamental belief of the Jews is that the Torah is God given. Jews are therefore in no position to alter or adjust the laws spoken or written by God Himself. If God had composed the Torah He is Ultimate Knowledge -omniscient- and therefore the Torah must plausibly be Perfect in its essence. The fundamentalists, i.e. the other Jews at the time argued that nothing should be changed, as it must be perfect. This caused great discrepancy between the Jews and those who believed that the mitzvot are outdated were separated from those who believed that the mitzvot would never be outdated.
In what ways have the religious issues, which caused the group to develop, affected the moral behaviour, attitudes and social practises of their adherents?
There are many ways in which the religious issues of the movements have affected the lifestyle, moral behaviour, attitudes and social practices differ. As the Hasidim fundamentally believe that the Torah was not only inspired by God but the true word of God, their relationship with Him is very different to that of the relationship between God and a member of the Reform movement. Every mitzvah Hasidim carry out is furthermore done with joy and enthusiasm. They don’t see the God-given laws as a tedious task that must be carried out, rather a way of life. A member of the Hasidic movement may argue that through carrying out many more God-given laws or mitzvot they are able to form a stronger bond both to their fellow Jews and God. It may seem that members of the Reform movement are effected in the opposite way as they have in the past abolished or made optional many laws of the Torah, including kashrut, resting on the Sabbath and the laying of teffilin. An outsider may interpret this as the Reform members distancing themselves from God by refusing to obey Him. As they carry out fewer mitzvot, their opportunity to strengthen their relationship with Him will lessen.
Both movements place different authority over the Torah. Hasidim see themselves as continuing ancient traditions in a modern environment whereas the Reform claim to observe a modernised form of Judaism. Hasidim believe that the Torah must remain preserved to maintain its true essence as it is said to be ‘the eternal will and wisdom of God’.3 This will cause the Hasidim to respect the Torah and consequently take great care in its preservation i.e. by transcribing it and producing hand-written identical copies. In contrast, due to their principle belief that they have the ability to adjust the Torah, only inspired by God, many members chose to pray in English rather than Hebrew in the synagogue. The translation from Hebrew to English may alter the ‘essence’ of the original words hence changing the meaning. Hasidim believe that we should adjust our lives around the Torah rather than adjusting the Torah to suit our lifestyles. The Reform therefore feel they have the authority to abolish outdated laws, thereby adjusting the Torah’s original state.
Great difference is placed on the role of women in religion by both the movements. The Reform believe women should have equal rites to men and therefore encourage women to become rabbis, say blessings, carry the Sefer Torah, sing or lain from the Sefer Torah and undertake a batmitzvah at the same age as boys i.e. at 13 years. Women still light the candles to bring in the Sabbath however they believe they are allowed to commence it any time after sunset, unlike Hasidim who would follow a set time. The Reform may debate as to whether the Hasidic movement grants equal rites to the women of their community and may even suggest a discrimination against them. Hasidim may argue that although women do not have equal obligations to men for example they are not obligated to wear a kippah, this by no means suggests that they are of unequal importance.
The Hasidic movement believes that people have different roles in society, just as a doctor may have a different role to a dustmen; this doesn’t mean that their roles are in any way on different levels of importance. The woman’s obligation according to the Hasidim is to raise a family, whereas the man is obligated to pray three times a day and lain from the Torah. This difference in the role of women amongst Reform and Hasidic communities is vital in the way in which their lifestyles are affected. Women in the Reform movement may feel they are able to contribute more to the service and religious practices; in turn they may be encouraged to do so. Many women however may be discouraged or may feel they are unable to contribute to a Hasidic service. It is more probable however that those women from the Hasidic movement recognise the significant yet different roles and therefore feel equal to their male counterparts.
The practices of both movements in a synagogue differ as their beliefs about the compilation of the Torah differ. The length of the services carried out by the Reform are shorter than a typical service carried out by a Hasid. Even though the ordering of worship may differ slightly amongst different Reform synagogues, they follow an underlying uniformity. Many prayers are, as discussed earlier, read in English rather than Hebrew the language they were originally written in. In contrast the Hasidim pray in Hebrew as they believe the essence of God’s word and meaning may be lost otherwise. One could argue that members of the Reform are able to pray with more emotions, as they are able to understand each prayer, enabling them to strengthen their relationship with God.
One could furthermore suggest that many Jews attending a Hasidic service may be discouraged or feel alien to the community, as many are unable to understand word for word the meaning of each prayer. Hasidim may however have an increased understanding and knowledge of Biblical Hebrew. This very much reminds them of their past and provides them with the same identity as their ancestors who spoke in this language. Their thirst for further knowledge increases and they may feel inclined to set up youth centres for educational purposes. This has multiple effects including the strengthening of the community, a real sense of purpose, the ability for the wise to pass on their acquired knowledge and an opportunity for Jews to meet and interact.
The Hasidic and Reform movements have different interpretations of how to apply the Torah laws to the observation of the Sabbath. The Reform don’t observe the entire thirty-nine melachot4. They take a broader view of the term wok to meaning earning a profit. Hasidim however take a very literal meaning of the term ‘rest’ as stated in Genesis, ‘and God rested on the seventh day, making it Holy’. As humans, created by the Ultimate Goodness and Perfection, namely God, we are said to be ‘created in His image, after Our likeness’. Jews hence use God’s example of resting on the seventh day and imitate this in order to feel a closer connection to Him.
The Sabbath can prove very restrictive to Hasidic Jews as the thirty-nine melachot prevent one from carrying out various activities. For example lights are not to be switched on or off on the Sabbath as this generate a spurge of electricity, in turn causing one to have done work i.e. not ‘rested’. This on the other hand grants them more time to contemplate on God’s involvement in the world. It provides a unique opportunity for one to forget about the everyday secular buzz of life and focus on spirituality. More time is spent with family and friends at mealtimes, strengthening Jewish communities. Furthermore one may feel that on observing these melachot one is laying a strong foundation for the Jewish identity of future generations. In that sense one may argue that the Jewish identity of future generations may be more evident or able to withstand the pressures of the outside world in a more advanced way than the Reform.
Due to the historical background of the Hasidic movement, their typical style of dress is different to that of the Reform. Hasidim may wear Polish forebears, a long black coat, knee length breeches, large black hats and some fur hats called streimels and speck the same dialect of Yiddish. The Hasidic women dress very modestly as interpreted from the Torah. The Reform attempt to blend in with their surroundings and the modern society, as they feel it unnecessary to dress traditionally. This hugely affects the lifestyle of members of both movements. The traditional way of dressing for the Hasidim unfortunately causes them to stand as a target. In the modern times one must be careful not to provoke any anti-Semitism and even in some countries foe example France, one is forbidden to wear obvious religious garments or ornaments. In this sense the Reform prove well aware of the current situation and even though they are not at all embarrassed or feel they have anything to hide, they know it is safer to integrate more with the society.
The behaviour of the Hasidic and Reform movements towards each other creates great discrepancy due to the differences in their religious issues. The Hasidim are seen by the Reform as a very restrictive movement. The Reform would claim that Hasidim excessively practice unnecessary mitzvot. In contrast the Hasidic movement opposes the Reform movement on the grounds that they have diluted the once traditional and concentrated Jewish religion. They claim that the Reform has placed many strains on the unity of the religion and that as a result it has divided. Furthermore the Reform has grown bitter, as the Hasidim have refused to accept many Reform conversions as valid.
The marriage ceremony is one of the few key aspects to Judaism that does not differ in Hasidic or Reform services. However the Reform movement, unlike the Hasidic, allow and accept homosexual marriage. One of the traditional procedures of divorcing one’s spouse is to receive a get-a document to certify the termination of your marriage signed by both parties-. This procedure is accepted by both movements, however complications are introduced when for example the husband refuses a get.
The Reform Bet Din has the power to produce a document to dissolve the marriage, however the Hasidim use other methods in order to persuade the husband to agree. Sexual matters during marriage hugely differ amongst movements. The Reform have rejected the laws of family purity-taharat mishpacha-. These state that a woman must attend a mikvah-pool of nectar-after they have menstruated before they are allowed any physical contact with their husbands. This is firmly kept to by Hasidim and encourages self-discipline ti strengthen during that time. The idea of purity is very central not just in a physical way but also symbolising mental purity and taking control of one’s desires. It is proven to help maintain a healthy marriage, contrary to the popular belief that it may cause various strains on the marriage. The Talmud describes the physical re-uniting of the couple at their monthly separation as being under the hupah-wedding canopy under which the couple is married.
The issue of Zionism5 is prevalent amongst most Jews. The Reform don’t pray for the return to the Holy Land. Most Reform congregations do pray for the welfare of Israel. The Hasidim however constantly pray for the re-building of the Temple and have always recognised Israel to be the Holy Land given by God. The Reform history suggests their changing view of their attitude towards Israel. At around 1845 in Germany the Reform leaders discontinued all prayers for a Jewish state. More Hasidim may be inclined to live in Israel, whereas members of the Reform have adjusted to suit the secular society’s lifestyle. This means that the Reform are constantly exposed to the Western influences and their will-power is very much tested, whereas it is easier to adjust to an orthodox way of life i.e. in keeping with the laws of the Torah in Israel.
In conclusion there are many ways in which the attitudes, social and moral behaviour and religious practices amongst the members of both movements are affected. Hasidim may be considered a more spiritual movement, more in touch with their history and maintaining significant traditions to pass on to the future such as the recitation of prayers in its original language-Hebrew. This has numerous effects, one of which is likely to strengthen the relationship between the Jew and God. On the other hand the Reform members have the ability to adjust according to their ever-changing environment. This is likely to strengthen their belief as it is a hard task to fulfil especially on faced with the harsh realities of today’s world. The Hasidic and Reform movements influence different affects on others and aspire to better themselves as a movement.
c) ‘Jews should try to overcome their differences and unite.’
Do you agree? Give reasons to support your answer and show that you have thought about different points of view.
One can either agree or disagree with this statement. There are many reasons for both ways of looking at it.
If you were to agree, you might do so because you believe that tradition is not as important as unity and faith. Unity and faith could be thought to be the essential and tradition can come after that. Once you have unity and faith, you can build up on tradition as a whole, not as individual groups do, like today. For example, Orthodox male Jews would sit separately from females in the synagogue, however Reform Jews would sit together with the opposite sex- mixed. This is through tradition. What is being said is to forget about this tradition for example, and then come back and sort it out after unifying, i.e. unity comes before tradition.
Another reason for agreeing would be because all Jews believe in the same laws that the same G-d gave and therefore Jews shouldn’t have traditions as such in the first. If we should all have the same traditions then we would not have to overcome any differences because there wouldn’t be any, and Jews would be unified. For example, a Chasidic Jew believes in the same G-d as a Liberal Jew, so in theory they should practise the same traditions and laws as each other. However, in the world today they don’t. This is why people think it would sensible to unify because Jews all believe in the same G-d and therefore should have the same practices.
All Jews are from the same religion- Judaism. They all have the same heritage as each other, so surely they should be believing and practising the same laws. If they did, they would as one race in unity. Therefore, they should sort out their differences because there shouldn’t be any in the first place. If you are from the same religion and have the same heritage, then their forefathers would all have been the same so why not unify and be the same like they were? Surely, they should!
Judaism is an extremely small religion in the present world. There are currently 15 million Jews spread around the world and 50% on average, are marrying out, i.e. marrying a non-Jew and therefore not populating in Jewish eyes. This 15 million compares to about 1800 million Christians (or more) in this world. That’s 0.83% of the Christian population and if there are approximately 6 billion people in the world, the Jews are 0.25% of the world population!! That’s tiny. These 15 million Jews are split up into many different sects and customs such as Liberal, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, etc. This dilutes the Jewish population even more. However, if all the different sects overcome their differences and unify, then Judaism will become a much stronger religion. Judaism is a small religion anyway and divisions are weakening it even more, so the least it can do is unify as a one whole race to become that little bit stronger.
The problem with this is that trying to unify the different groups will cause many more problems than it will solve. The reason being, people won’t want to give up their beliefs. For example, if there were a Liberal Jew and a Chasidic Jew, and everyone wanted to unify, neither the Liberal nor Chasidic Jews would want to change their beliefs even to find a median. It would be such a change for both Jews to have to go through, for them it would be like changing their religion. In response to this, if the Jews did succeed in unifying, whether you believe they would or not, lets say they did. Judaism would be so much stronger and it would be the ideal for them to unify. It should be the ideal that every Jew should be looking for.
A different reason for disagreeing with the statement would be that these differences in each Jew are fundamental differences. They are so huge, it is nearly impossible for them to change. If these differences were things like, saying the Shema at a different time, then it would be easy to d ao, however, the differences that will have to be changed are principal beliefs and at the heart of their ethos.
Everybody has different interpretations of the Torah and the way to live their lives. Therefore, if they believe in their own interpretations, then trying to unify and compromise their beliefs would be sinning according to what they believe in. For example, if a Reform Jew believes he/ she can play musical instruments in the synagogue on the Sabbath and an Orthodox Jew believes he/ she cant then for an Orthodox Jew to change/compromise to playing an instrument on the Sabbath, then he/she would be sinning (according to their beliefs) and visa versa.
It is interesting for people to have different customs but if everything was the same and all people believed and practised the same laws, then there would be no such thing as custom. This would be a shame because it is good to have some variety in Judaism and that’s what custom does.
In conclusion, the ideal would be for Judaism to be a unified race with no differences. However, if this were to be attempted at this present time, it would make things a lot worse then they already are because people would have to change their beliefs dramatically and it would end up creating more divisions then there are. Although it wouldn’t be practical for this to happen, something needs to be done because throughout the world more and more divisions are being created. For example, there is a new sect in America, which is a mixture between a Conservative and Orthodox Jew, called CONSERVADOX. Soon there will be hundreds of different sects of Judaism so some kind of unity will have to occur, in order to prevent this from happening.
In doing this project, I have learnt the origins and development of two main Jewish sects-Reform and Hasidism. I have discovered the detailed origins and developments of these two movements and how they differ by studying their beliefs, attitudes, social practises and the effects they have on their adherents. I have decided that Jews overcoming their differences and uniting is good and bad for multiple reasons, however something needs to be done in order for Judaism to remain a nation.
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1 The very old tradition of extreme Talmudic scholarship produced a new religious phenomenon, in 1849, the Moral (Musar) movement. The Musar movement consists of strict ethical behaviour combined with an intensive study of the Halakah (Jewish Law). From 1849-57, Rabbi Israel Salanter taught the ideas of the Musar movement in Konvo, Lithuania. By the 1880’s the Musar movement had produced a new generation of Yeshiva graduates dedicated to Judaism.
2 The Jewish state was destroyed by the Romans 2,000 years prior to Holdheim’s time. He argued that those customs therefore had no place in this society.
3 Arye Forta, Heinmann Education Publishers 1995, Examining religions, Judaism.
4 These are specific laws devised by rabbis contained within the Oral Law in order to help Jews retain the essence of the Sabbath. The Pirkei Avot suggests one should build a fence around the Torah in order to prevent one from carrying out certain sins and this is the ‘safety fence’ that has been built around the mitzvah -good deed- of ensuring the Sabbath maintains a day of rest.
5 The belief that, ‘Jews should have a national homeland on their ancestral soil.’ Ayre Forta, Heinmann Educational Publishers 1995, Examining Religions, Judaism.