Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism

Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism

Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism

Sectors of American Judaism: Reform, Orthodoxy, Conservatism, and Reconstructionism

Excerpt

In this second and concluding part of the present anthology, we turn from the local synagogue and rabbi to what is referred to as "the national scene." We continue to stress the simple facts of organized Judaism in America, and so, on the "national scene," we examine the large groupings of synagogues and rabbis formed into what people call "movements," e.g., "the Reform Movement," or "the Conservative Movement in Judaism."

I prefer the term "sector" to stress that Judaism in America is a single religious tradition, spread across a spectrum of practices, to a lesser extent, of beliefs as well, but essentially a unified and unitary structure. All elements which constitute American Judaism derive from classical, or Rabbinic, Judaism. All refer to the sacred literature, the theology, the symbols and religious rites, of Rabbinic Judaism. The differences among the several elements are stated in terms of Rabbinic Judaism, and appeal to the authority of "the ancient rabbis" characterizes all the organized manifestations of Judaism. Accordingly, we deal with expressions of a single religion, sectors of one religious tradition.

To be sure, much is made of the differences between one sector and another. Yet the observer, standing at the outside, will also discern a great deal characteristic of all sectors in common. Above all, a single set of questions and agendum of programs is shared among all sectors. While the superficial differences cannot be ignored, the commonalities also should not be overlooked.

Each group sees itself as "Judaism." This claim is phrased in various ways. Each finds language suitable for its conception that, in the end, it is really right. The Orthodox state matters baldly: Orthodoxy is the sole "legitimate" or "authentic" expression of Judaic tradition now, just as in the past. Conservatism tends to pretend it is co-extensive with the whole of Judaism. As Rabbi Waxman says, "It is Judaism." Speaking of catholic Israel and seeing itself as the vital center, Conservatism finds difficulty in admitting even its own existence. The claim of Reform is stated in terms of the development of Judaism. Reform is the natural and right outcome of the development of . . .

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