What makes a Jew modern orthodox?
How big is Judaism?
Although they are only a small people, the tribes of Israel founded a world religion that is also the starting point and point of contact for Christianity and Islam.
Almost eight billion people live in the world (as of 2020). Of these, more than two billion are Christians and more than 1.5 billion are Muslim. Compared to these enormous numbers, there are currently around 15 million Jews worldwide. One reason for the low expansion is that Jews do not proselytize, i.e. do not recruit new followers of their religion.
The extermination of the Jews in the Third Reich has also left tremendous wounds to this day: around six million Jews fell victim to the Shoah. Today almost six million Jews live in the United States and more than five million in Israel. There are around 100,000 Jews in Germany.
There is no clear answer to who is ultimately a Jew. Even in Judaism itself, this is a very controversial question to this day. It is true that under certain conditions one can convert to the Jewish religion as a non-Jew, just as one can accept the creed of other religions. But as a Jew you are born first of all. Jew is whose mother is Jewish.
However, the Jews not only form a religious community, but also a people. Only since the middle of the 20th century has there been a Jewish state again, the State of Israel. For centuries, the Jews had no nation-state territory and therefore belong to different nations to this day.
Judaism can therefore be described with vocabulary such as religion, people, culture, belief, faith, community of fate or tradition. The Jewish religious scholar Ruth Lapide answered the question "Who is a Jew?" The following answer is ready: "You are a Jew when you are born as a Jew, convert in or not convert out."
Judaism - a scriptural religion
Judaism is a religion of scripture. It knows neither a clergy like the one in the Christian churches nor a spiritual leader like the Pope. Even priests - mediators between God and human beings - are alien to Judaism.
Instead there are the rabbis: specially learned, pious and wise Jews. As community leaders, they are responsible for their community members and advise them on religious, personal and everyday matters.
The Jewish holy scripture, the Tanakh, consists of three books: Torah (Hebrew for "instruction"), Nebi'im ("prophets") and Ketubim ("writings"). There is also the Talmud, the rabbinical interpretation of the Torah and its laws.
The Torah is the center and source of Jewish life. It includes the five books of Moses. For Christians, these five books are part of the Old Testament.
Orthodox Jews believe that the words of the Torah are the words of God that he passed on to Moses 3,000 years ago on Mount Sinai. It contains the early history of the Jewish religion and the people of Israel.
In addition, the Torah regulates many questions in everyday Jewish life. She is always treated with awe. Specially trained scribes transfer their text onto parchments, which are stapled together in rolls and taken out during the word service in the synagogue.
A small community changes the world
There is a very significant story in the Koran (sura 21, 51-67), which, by the way, cannot be found either in the Torah or in the Bible. It makes it clear that a new era begins with the history of the people of Israel. The story is about Abraham, one of the Jewish patriarchs, who also plays a major role in Islam and Christianity.
God appears to the nomad Abraham and expects faithfulness and loyalty from him. But now Abraham lives at a time when people do not worship one god (monotheism), but many gods (polytheism). Abraham's father does not believe in one God, but sells small idols and statues of gods.
Abraham smashes his father's entire inventory, only one of the statues - the largest - he spares. He puts the beating in his hand and pretends that the destructive work had come from this idol statue.
On the one hand, Abraham wants to show his people that there is no point in believing in false gods. On the other hand, history is a picture of the fact that the one God, the God of Abraham, does not tolerate any other gods beside him.
This is exactly the groundbreaking cultural achievement that has emanated from the Jewish people. The God of the Jews will supplant all other gods, the Jewish religion will have a great influence on the world religions. Abraham and his descendants, who are said to have lived nearly 4,000 years ago and founded the tribes of Israel, were only a small people - but with great effect.
The powerful advanced civilizations of the world - the Egyptians, the Mesopotamians, Sumerians and Babylonians, the Greeks and Romans - are long gone today. Likewise, their religious ideas and beliefs and their many gods are a thing of the past.
But the small Jewish people, who were never a superpower politically, but were heavily oppressed by the Egyptians and Romans, have survived to this day with their religious ideas. And not only that: Judaism is the point of contact for Christianity and Islam.
Different directions of Judaism
Judaism today knows a variety of different currents and conceptions of piety. In the age of the Enlightenment (18th century) the idea of a reform movement began to gain acceptance, which sought new, contemporary forms of Jewish religious practice. According to the reformers, this should be done in accordance with the needs and circumstances of the present.
The critical examination of the traditional heritage of Jewish culture and its integration into modernity led to various currents that ran in a conservative, a liberal and a still orthodox direction.
- Orthodox Judaism: Orthodox Jews understand the Torah as being directly revealed by God. Halacha, the Jewish religious law, is followed in everyday life. Orthodox Jews always eat kosher and strictly observe a large number of ritual and liturgical rules, such as keeping the Sabbath.
- Liberal / Progressive Judaism: Progressive Judaism translates and interprets the Torah into the present. The religious commandments are not recognized as given by God, as in Orthodoxy, but understood as made by man. Therefore, scriptures and commandments can also be interpreted and explained anew by humans. The mitzvot, the Jewish laws, are handled loosely or not at all according to the progressive reading.
- Conservative Judaism: Conservative Judaism - an important trend particularly in the USA - sees itself as a middle ground between Orthodox and progressive Judaism. On the one hand it wants to preserve Jewish tradition, on the other hand it wants to push through modernizations compatible with the Jewish religious law.
The various Jewish piety movements in Germany were organized under the umbrella of the "unified community". Before the Holocaust, the group of progressive Jews formed the majority, which had a decisive influence on the development of progressive communities in other European countries.
In the Third Reich, the persecuted Jews recognized a liberal rabbi, Leo Baeck, as a representative of all German Jewry. Since the Second World War, Jewish life in Germany has been largely orthodox in its orientation.
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