Contemporary Judaism
The Major Branches


Judaism, like all modern religions, has struggled to meet the challenge of secularization: the idealization of science, rationalism, industrialization, and materialism. The response of the Orthodox has been to stand by the Torah as the revealed word of God and the Talmud as the legitimate oral law. Orthodox Jews feel that they are bound by the traditional rabbinical halakhah, as a way of achieving closeness to God. But within this framework there are great individual differences [e.g. Ultra-Orthodox (Haredi), Modern-Orthodox, Hasidic, Chabad (Lubavitchers)], with no central authority figure or governing body. (Living Religions, 291)

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The Reform (or Liberal) movement, at the other end of the spectrum, began in nineteenth-century Germany as an attempt to help modern Jews appreciate their religion and find a place for it in contemporary society, instead of regarding it as static and antiquatd. In imitation of Christian churches, synagogues were redefined as places for spiritual elevation, with choirs added for effect, and the Sabbath service was shortened and translated into the vernacular. The liturgy was also changed to eliminate references to the hope of return to Zion and animal sacrifices in the Temple. Women and men were allowed to sit together in the synagogue, in contrast to their traditional separation. Halakhic observances were re-evaluated for their relevance to modern needs, and Judaism was understood as an evolving, open-ended religion rather than one fixed forever by the Torah. (Living Religions, 292-3)

The liberalization process has also given birth to other groups with intermediate positions. With roots in mid-nineteenth-century Germany, Conservative Judaism seeks to maintain, or conserve, traditional Jewish laws and practices while also using modern means of historical scholarship, sponsoring critical studies of Jewish texts from all periods. ... Conservative Jews believe that Jews have always searched and added to their laws, liturgy, Midrash, and beliefs to keep them relevant and meaningful in changing times. Conservative women have long served as cantors and have been ordained as rabbis since 1985. (Living Religions, 293)

Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, an influential American thinker who died in 1983, branched off from Conservatism and founded a movement called Reconstructionism. Kaplan held that the Enlightenment had changed everything and that strong measures were needed to preserve Judaism in the face of rationalism. Kaplan asserted that “as long as Jews adhered to the traditional conception of the Torah as supernaturally revealed, they would not be amenable to any constructive adjustment of Judaism that was needed to render it viable in a non-Jewish environment.” ... Kaplan created a new prayer book, deleting traditional portions he and others found offensive, such as derogatory references to women and Gentiles, references to physical resurrection of the body, and passages describing God as rewarding or punishing Israel by manipulating natural phenomena. (Living Religions, 293)

In addition to those who are affiliated with a religious movement, there are many Jews who identify themselves as secular Jews, affirming their Jewish origins and maintaining various Jewish cultural traditions while eschewing religious practice. (Living Religions, 293)
The “Messianic Jewish identity” is wholly dependent on the person of Yeshua: God Himself comes to earth to reconcile the Jewish people and all nations to Himself. (See our Statement of Faith to find out more.)

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Isaiah 53:6

The foundation of Messianic Judaism, therefore, is each individual’s personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through Messiah Yeshua. In the Hebrew Law God clearly demands a blood sacrifice for the remittance of sins. Each Messianic Jew recognizes his or her own sinfulness and has accepted that Yeshua Himself provided this sacrifice.

Another important aspect of the Messianic Jewish movement is Jewish congregational worship. If Yeshua really is the Jewish Messiah of whom all the Jewish Law and Prophets spoke, then it is the most Jewish thing in the world to follow Him!

Should Jews really attempt to assimilate into churches and forego their Jewish identity when they choose to put their faith in the Jewish Messiah? Messianic Judaism answers, “No!” As Yeshua Himself embraced His Jewishness, Messianic Jews seek to embrace theirs, by meeting in congregational communities with other Jewish believers and by maintaining a Biblically Jewish expression of their faith. Every congregation is different, but this expression often means worshiping in Hebrew, following Mosaic Law, dancing as King David did before the Lord, and keeping Biblical holidays such as Pesach, Sukkot, or Shavuot.

Also important is Messianic Judaism’s ministry to both the Jewish community and the Christian body of believers. Messianic Jews are part of the larger Body of Messiah throughout the world, and Messianic Jews hope to help all believers in Yeshua to better understand the Jewish roots of their faith. Finally, Yeshua declared that no-one can comes to the Father – the God of Israel – except through Him (John 14:6). Messianic Jews seek to share this way, this truth, and this life with their Jewish brothers and sisters. (Messianic Jewish Alliance of America)

What do all of these forms of Judaism have in common?