Religious Practice and Mentality
For the bulk of premodern Jews, Judaism was a way of life that one followed without much questioning. For this reason scholars distinguish between a relatively unreflective "traditional Judaism" before modern times and "Orthodoxy" as a conscious decision to adhere to traditional practices and beliefs for ideological reasons. The bulk of Jews in Germany before the nineteenth century practiced traditional, not Orthodox, Judaism despite the fact that memoirists often referred to their ancestors rather loosely as "Orthodox." Unlike the greater strictness of later Orthodoxy, Jewish traditional life often deviated in some details from the official Judaism proclaimed by rabbis and Holy Books. The practice of ordinary Jews in Germany contained both more and less than official doctrine prescribed. In certain areas there was widespread neglect of halachic (religious legal) practice, while in others practice was stricter than the law required. Life cycle and holiday customs added many practices not codified in law, while folk beliefs often went beyond those prescribed, or even allowed, by official Jewish philosophy. The Jewish "masses" were just as dedicated to the preservation of folk customs and beliefs as to the observance of actual Jewish law.
Premodern Jewish communities aspired to control individual practice. Granted a measure of autonomy by the gentile authorities, they were quasi-governmental bodies that regulated both the religious and political-economic life of their members. They had their own courts, taxed their membership, and could punish violations of their regulations by fines or excommunication. Besides