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Orthodoxy

Judaism

Religious orthodoxies are not necessarily historically ancient. Judaism's distinctive Orthodox tradition is fairly recent: 1791. In this year, France recognized Judaism as a separate religion. This was partly in response to Moses Mendelssohn's influence, but also to Hasidism (established by Shem Tov [1700–1765]), which became an international movement emphasizing the return to the fundamentals of the tradition. By the beginning of the nineteenth century it had become clear to practicing Jews that the Orthodox way of life could be demarcated from those who affirmed a reforming vision of the tradition. Those who believed that the law, whether oral or written, was divine came to be known as Orthodox; for them, Torah could not be subject to modernization or cultural alteration, as the Reform Tradition insisted should be done.

For the Orthodox believers, however, the central ideas of their faith had nothing to do with Reform doctrine. Rather, Orthodoxy was based on limitations on the kinds of food that could be eaten under the laws of kashrut, proper observance of the Sabbath (i.e., restraint on activities on the day of rest), and a vigorous commitment to family purity. In effect, Orthodoxy was (and is) home-centered in ways other Judaic traditions were not, for the purity of the family arose out of relations between husband and wife and could not be observed by outsiders, while the laws of kashrut were principally practiced in the home. A life of training at home coupled with school-supported teachings and solid synagogue attendance constituted the main parameters of the Orthodox way of life; a corollary of this approach was (and is) a certain reluctance toward participation in modern life and even a trend towards isolation, especially in the face of contemporary secularism.

These beliefs have institutional impact; a central perception is that both non-Orthodox rabbis and converts to Judaism are beyond Orthodoxy and hence outside the community of those who practice the true Torah life. Consequently, community membership is hence strongly defined. In North America, Orthodox communities have steadily maintained their presence through an emphasis on the Hebrew language, yeshivot (day schools), and a trained rabbinate through Yeshiva University. Such an emphasis on a "true" Torah education also sets the Orthodox tradition apart from believers in the Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist branches of modern Judaism. The experience of the Orthodox in Judaism highlights the fact that orthodoxy is not always rooted in religion's antiquity.

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