What Makes Orthodox Judaism Different?
What Makes Orthodox Judaism Different
The core belief in orthodox judaism is that both the Written Law and the Oral Torah, which is interpreted by the authoritative rabbinic tradition, were revealed to Moses at Mount Sinai and have been transmitted from generation to generation in an unbroken chain. This belief has been the basis of orthodoxy since at least the Second Temple Period.
A variety of scholarly texts provide commentary on the laws and halakhic interpretations of orthodox judaism, and there are many different approaches to the study of halakha. Some rabbis are more comfortable with the study of historical-critical scholarship, while others feel that halakha must be interpreted in the context of modern times.
These differences arise because the orthodox world is not a fixed and unified “denomination” or community, but rather an expansive spectrum of groups united in broad affirmation of several matters of faith and practice that share a common consciousness and discourse. This plurality of orthodox communities and their leaders is not restricted by geography, nor does it necessarily have an enforceable hierarchy or legal coercion.
While there are a number of established bodies, including the Rabbinical Council of America, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, and the Rabbinical Alliance of America, there is no one unifying body or leadership to guide observance in orthodox communities. Consequently, the various orthodox communities often criticize each other for deviation from their halakhic beliefs and practices.
Moreover, there are significant social and cultural differences between the various subgroups within orthodox judaism, which range from the more traditional Haredi communities to the liberal Modern Orthodox movement and the Religious Zionism movement, which is primarily centered on Jewish nationalism.
The dress of orthodox Jews is also distinctive, and there are various differences in the styles of men and women. For example, married Orthodox women are expected to cover their heads and wear scarves or turbans to conceal their hair, while Orthodox men are required to have tzitzit, a ritual fringe that can be worn at all times.
This clothing is meant to be modest and reflects the fact that a Jewish person’s livelihood and life are focused on worship. They spend all of their time at home and don’t leave the house except for specific occasions such as weddings, funerals and shabbat (the holy day of rest).
Another defining feature of orthodox judaism is its emphasis on prayer and the study of the rabbinic literature. A number of books, including the Talmud, have been written during the rabbinic period that are regarded as authoritative and essential by orthodox Jews.
These books are used for guidance in the practical application of Jewish law (halakha), and the majority of orthodox Jews rely on these sources to guide their practice. For example, the Shulchan Aruch, which was composed in the sixteenth century by Rabbi Joseph Caro, is a popular source of advice for observant Jews.
Unlike other forms of Jewish worship, orthodox judaism is a form of monotheism, or one God, and it adheres to the covenantal agreements that formed between Jews and their God. This means that it is a religion with very strict beliefs about who God is and what He requires of His followers.