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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 2.2:
What are the major Jewish movements?

Answer:

The three major denominations in Judaism are, in alphabetical order, Conservative Judaism, Orthodox Judaism, and Reform/Progressive Judaism.

Outside of the United States and Israel, the distinction tends to be along Orthodox/Liberal lines. Outside of North America, the equivalent of North American Reform Judaism is called Progressive or Liberal Judaism. Outside of North America, the equivalent of North American Conservative Judaism is called "Reform" or "Masorti", although there are differences in all cases from the North American versions. To be more specific, all synagogues associated with the movement in North and South America are called 'Conservative', all synagoues in Israel and England are called 'Masorti', and all synagogues in Hungary are called 'Neolog'. Note that the Neolog movement developed independently of the rest of Conservative Judaism. Their philosophy was also based on the work of Rabbi Zecharias Frankel, the founder of the Positive-Historical school of thought (Mid 1800s, Germany, Breslau). The evolution of their school of thought basically followed the same path as the Conservative movement, and in recent years they have formalized this by joining the World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synagogues.

With respect to the United Kingdom, there are about 11 synangogues that are officially part of The World Council of Conservative/Masorti Synangogues (http://www.masortiworld.com ), and all of these synangogues refer to themselves as 'Masorti'. Most of them even have the word 'Masorti' in their name. Their philosophy is identical to that of Conservative Jews in the US - and Masorti Jews in Israel - and almost all of their rabbis (perhaps even all by now) are officially members of the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly.

In Israel, the Conservative and Reform movements are very small (although they do exist). Rather, the split tends to be along secular/non-secular lines, with further internal devisions with the non-secular adherents. An estimated breakdown might be 30% secular, 50% traditional (those who keep some Mitzvot), and 30% religious. These numbers have been provided by Hillel Applebaum (alpebaum@cs.huji.ac.il) and are being reinvestigated because they add up to over 100%. This breakdown may be misleading, because the Mitzvot observed by the majority of "traditional" Israelis include some that are imposed by secular law (Jewish marriage and divorce) and others that have been adopted voluntarily because of their social, cultural, and/or national content (e.g. Passover Seder, Chanukah candles). Conversely, most members of this group do not keep the Mitzvot that are considered by non-secular Jews to lie at the heart of Judaism: Shabbat (observance of the Sabbath) and Kashruth (observance of the dietary laws), and should therefore be regarded as "nearly secular" rather than "moderately religious".

There are also a fourth movement which is considered major by some: Reconstructionist. It is an offshoot of Conservative.

Note: "Messianic Judaism[sic]" and other groups accepting the tenets of Christianity are not Jewish movements.

Sephardic(Southern European/Spanish/North African) Orthodox tend not to bother with liberal/traditional distinctions as much as Ashkenazi (Northern European/Franco-German/Russian) Jews.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to questions@scjfaq.org. The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at maintainer@scjfaq.org.

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