Membership, Community, Diversity

What is distinctive about Orthodox Judaism?

Emphasis on the direct, verbatim revelation of the Torah to Moses is the foundation of Orthodox Jewish tradition. Rabbinical interpretation of Torah serves the purpose of drawing out the meanings of scripture so that every situation in life is anchored in divine revelation. If scripture does not address an issue directly, the rabbi employs traditional principles of exegesis to make what limited adaptations are deemed necessary. Strict observance of the 613 commands and prohibitions contained in the Torah is perhaps the most significant feature of Orthodoxy. As an increasingly distinctive approach, Orthodoxy began to emerge in eighteenth-century Europe in response to the perception that Jews were being assimilated too rapidly into society at large. Reform attempts to adapt ritual observance in early nineteenth-century Europe elicited a strong reaction on the part of those who refused to acknowledge a need for more than the most minimal adaptation. Orthodox Jews consider their communities a last bastion of tradition in an increasingly secularized world. Just over one American Jew out of ten belongs to an Orthodox synagogue.


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