Reform Vs. Orthodox Judaism

by Amanda Graber

Reform and Orthodoxy are two different factions of the Jewish faith, and both are still practiced. Though they differ on many of the finer points of doctrine, both Reform and Orthodox Jews trace their roots to ancient Jewish history, and each tradition, in its own way, seeks to follow Jewish teachings.

Common Ground

Orthodox and Reform Jews trace their roots to a common beginning, as both derive their teachings from the revelation Moses received from God on Mount Sinai, the Torah. While they follow different methodologies in the practices of these laws, Orthodoxy and Reform still have more similarities than differences between them. Some Reform traditions, such as the development of the synagogue as a community center and not just a place of prayer, have even been accepted by Orthodox synagogues. This is exemplified in the shared Reform and Orthodox practice of holding a communal Passover meal for members of the community who do not have family.

Services

Traditionally, Orthodox synagogues conduct services solely in Hebrew, while Reform synagogues use a mixture of Hebrew and the local language. The role of women remains a stark difference between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. In Orthodox synagogues, women and men are still seated separately, and only the men are permitted to lead the service. Reform synagogues, however, allow women and men to sit together during the service and allow women to become rabbis.

God's Revelation

The Orthodox tradition holds that the revelation the Jews received through Moses at Mount Sinai was God’s word for all time. Aspects of this revelation could be interpreted but never altered. Reform Judaism teaches that God’s will is continually revealed and that each generation will receive direction from God in its own time. This means that while the revelation at Mount Sinai remains important in Reform Judaism,modern insights and new scientific knowledge are also considered to be a part of God’s revelation.

Religious Practice

Though ancient teachings are open for interpretation, many religious traditions and rituals remain important components of Orthodox Judaism. Reform Judaism, however, places emphasis on moral commands over ritual practices. Reform synagogues do not necessarily reject all rituals; however, Reform Judaism teaches that rituals are insignificant without moral and ethical conduct. Additionally, rituals are believed to be a means of enhancing spiritual life, and therefore any ritual that limits one’s ability to participate in religious life have been rejected. For example, the ban on driving to synagogue on the Sabbath was originally implemented as a means to keep the Mosaic law of refraining from working on the seventh day. However, Reform Judaism teaches that bans like this, which in this instance may limit access to services for those who live far from synagogue, should be rejected, because they are more of an inhibition than an asset to spiritual life.

About the Author

Amanda Graber has been a writer and editor since 2009. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous publications. As an editor, she has worked for both a commercial magazine and a children's literary agency. Graber holds a master's degree in writing and publishing from DePaul University.

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