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An Enlightening Post Enumerating the Different Sects of Judaism

Different Sects of Judaism
Religion in itself was founded to draw one closer to God. It is a faith that is instilled within us since the time we are born. But the differences in human ideologies led to differences in opinions, which also got reflected in the practice of religion. Thus, came up many branches of religion, which we know as sects. SpiritualRay strives to understand the different denominations of Judaism, as it is practiced today.
Samarpita Choudhury
Last Updated: Mar 9, 2018
Different Sects of Judaism
The differences between complex and liberal practices in religions give birth to religious denominations.
Abraham isaac and jacob
From Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was born a monolithic faith that has been running strong and steady since centuries. This faith has only gained in its stronghold despite the odds, and retains its foothold to this day. Faith has its roots in the culture. Repeated practice incessantly converts it into a religion. Hence, was born Judaism, which has global followers. Though it originated in the Middle East, it spread onward to Europe, America, and other parts of the world. Like the fate of many other religions, Judaism has been sub-divided into branches and sects, which have their own differences of beliefs and practices. Needless to say, these subtle, and sometimes marked differences caused the Jews to have sects in the first place.

In the trailing sections of this article, we shall indulge in an in-depth understanding of the factors that have led to the birth of the branches of Judaism as they exist in the present times, and also variations and additions that have evolved in due course. But before we jump into the complexities of the differences in the sects, we should have a clear outlook of the terminologies that would be used in this article, as we venture further into the depths of this age-old religion.
A sect may be defined as an off-shoot, which consists of a small group of people who have actually formed from a significantly big religion. In belief and practice, this new, smaller group retains the ethos of its parent religion, but in addition, has some newer beliefs incorporated into the existing ones.
But, it is important for one to know that, the term is more often used in negative light, essentially because sects mostly deviate from the path of the original religion, in pursuit of their own.
Denomination, too, is a sub-group of a bigger religion, and is practiced by a common name and sets of traditions. Usually, they come into existence when there crops up differences in the geographical movement of some members of the religion, or some changes in the core beliefs, or when different religious teachers teach the same core beliefs, but differently. The word denomination is widely accepted and used, and is never taken in negative connotations.
While talking about the different branches of religion, people make use of different words and jargon, most of the time referring to the same things. For better comprehension about the various branches in Judaism, we shall use the term sects and denominations interchangeably, while discussing the differences, origin, and characteristics of these branches that Judaism has under its umbrella. Judaism can be divided into various movements and denominations, based on their historical appearance in the timeline. This article would divide them into two major time zones, viz, Historical Denominations and Modern Denominations.
Historical Denominations of Judaism
Alexander the great
Alexander the Great
Maccabean revolt
Maccabean Revolt
Festival of hanukkah
Festival of Hanukkah
Followed by the division of the Greek Empire after the death of Alexander the Great, there was chaos. The entire Middle East was divided among the three generals of Alexander. This was when there erupted the age-old fight which became prolonged. This led to the infamous Maccabean Revolt, which was eventually won by the Jews. This became known as the festival of the Jews, called the Festival of Hanukkah.
Mattathias jews
Mattathias exhorts the Jews
The Jewish priest who facilitated the revolt against the atrocities of the king is Mattathias, who continued the war along with his five sons and the rest of the Jewish community. A priest family is now known as the Hasmoneans and the Maccabees. Post-war, the Jews somehow got divided in their opinion, and thus came into existence the four sects of Judaism at the time of the New Testament and the New Temple. These four ancient sects are listed as under-
Ancient torah
Ancient Torah
Pharisees are also alternatively known as Chasidim or Hasidim. The literal meaning is 'pious'. It still holds significance, perhaps the most significant position as an ancient sect of Judaism, and are the precedents of Judaism that followed later. They adhered to the traditional belief that God gave Moses both, the written and the oral law. The written law is known as the Torah.
They also held Moses as the most knowledgeable, as he was taught the contents of the Torah and the Oral Law by God himself, which he was to teach to the Jews. They vested acute belief in the existence of life after death. Man bore the brunt of his actions in the form of punishment and rewards in the next world.

In Hebrew context, pharisee means the separated. When some of the Hasidim accepted Hellenism, believing that their inability to follow the way of life as stated in the Torah, has made the foreign influence creep into their land. This group of Hasidim were eventually known as the Pharisee, or the Perishaya. The Pharisee are thus the most stringent believers of the Torah, which they followed in toto. Thus, true to the meaning of their name, they aspired to stay separated from being impious and defying the Torah. The New Testament holds the Pharisee as the most fierce opponent of Christ. The Pharisee also worked to bind the Oral dictates of God into a written format, called the Talmud.
Sadducee is the embodiment of the royalties, priests, and the Jewish aristocrats. What set them apart from the Pharisee was that they belonged to the elite group, and the most important point of difference was their eagerness to adopt Hellenism, something that the Pharisees despised greatly. They didn't conform to the Oral Law, and had full faith in the Torah instead. They believed in the rituals which were practiced in the Temple. This word is taken from the Hebrew word, sadaq which equals to righteousness, in English translation.
Priest zadok
It is quite a matter of concern to jot down concrete information about this sect, because post their destruction, there was not much written text to follow their beliefs and ways of life. Their origin traces back to the high priest Zadok, who lived during the time of King Solomon and King David. He was revered as the father of the priests and their respective families. Hence, they were a party of aristocrats, high priests, and merchants. They had civil and amicable relations with the Roman rulers. They are known to be the arch enemies of the Pharisees. They always had opposing beliefs and philosophies related to the practice of traditions among the Jews. They always had contradicting opinions about the revelations God had made to the Jews. They denounced the existence of life after death, and had no faith in the presence of angels and demons.

The only similarity between the Pharisee and the Sadducee is that, both the sects didn't approve of the existence of Jesus as the Son of God, and had significant contributions in His death on the Cross.
Essene has risen in Palestine, and the meaning of the name can be attributed to the Greek word hosios, which means sacred or holy. Before going further into the details of Essene as a sect in Judaism, it is important to know here that, there are popular beliefs that this sect later merged with Christianity as we have it today. They preferred living in isolation, and were thus easily identified. Perhaps, this is enough reason which led to their destruction at the hands of the Romans. They took pride in the belief that they were the descendants of Gods, and were blessed with magical and mysterious powers.
Qumran cave
Qumran Cave
When talking about the Essene, the mention of the Dead Sea Scrolls shouldn't be missed. During the decade of 1946 - 56, a series of ancient writings were discovered in the eleven caves situated on the west coast near the west bank of the river Jordan. The place is known as Qumran. These ancient scrolls are believed to have belonged to this sect of Judaism, who during their time resided in this area.
They were in total contradiction with the two other sects mentioned above. They opined that the other sects were directly responsible for the rapid degradation of the religion as a whole, and the degradation of the Temple as well. They are perhaps the only sect who did not believe in the institution of marriage, and embraced celibacy in order to attain religious excellence.
Zealots, like the Essene, looked down upon the other sects of Pharisee and Sadducee. But unlike the Essene, they didn't get aloof from the dominant sects, and rather chose to face their opponents head-on. They were the rebels against the Romans and the other sects who adhered to Roman way of life.

They were the religious group, but they are often likened to extremist rebels who dared to rebel against the extreme power. They believed ardently in the Torah. They actually formed from the Pharisee. They hated Hellenism and its spread. But like the Pharisee, who in a way gave in to the fast spread of Hellenism on the grounds that God shall decide their conditions of life and livelihood, the Zealots differed to the extreme. They vehemently rebelled, and thus became famous as the 'zealous' rebels.
Other Sects
The Talmud was written, which actually is a compilation of the oral dictates given by God. In this light, there arose two more sects of the Jews. They are the Karaites and the Rabbanites.
Karaites and Rabbanites
The Karaites comprised the group of people who hailed complete faith in the Torah. They didn't associate with the Talmud or any other written format of scriptures with complete reliance. They were of the opinion that, the compilation of the oral dictates were done by the sages. Hence, they were not communicating the words of God completely, and were afflicted with human errors. Though this sect appeared long back, we still have some of them who faced the odds and are still standing strong. The word has its roots in the Hebrew word for 'Karaim', which means the 'one who follows the scriptures'. They have no faith in the New Testament.
Temple of jerusalem
Temple of Jerusalem
The origin of the Rabbanites can be traced somewhere after the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed. They rested full faith in the commandments mentioned in the Talmud, unlike the Karaites. Misnah, another holy scripture of the Rabbanites, is also equally important to them, as is the Talmud.

The Karaites and Rabbanites are way different from each other. They practice different calendar systems and holidays. Their rituals are also markedly different from one another. Their system of diet and the manner of observing the Sabbath are also not the same. A point of significance here is that, Rabbanite Judaism is the foundation which has facilitated the formation of all the modern sects of Judaism that are prevalent today.
Contemporary Denominations of Judaism
In the current scenario, Judaism can boast of its four main denominations, though they again have sub-divisions. However, let us first begin with the four major sects of Judaism. They are known as-

● Orthodox
● Conservative
● Reform
● Reconstructionist
To begin with the dating facts, Orthodox Judaism began in the 18th and 19th century. As is evident from the very term 'orthodox', it refers to the primitive, the ancient, and is opposed to modernity. They are that denomination of Jews who conform wholly to the traditions of Judaism, the core beliefs, practices and teachings, with no deviations or alterations. They are stern followers of the Torah and the Talmud. They despise the modern additions or alterations associated with religion and culture.

They also believe that they are the closest to the first Jews, since they follow the legacy thoroughly. They don't have any reservations regarding the oral form of God's words, and value the written and the oral forms of God's message equally. They follow both these laws in order to remain attached to God's way of life, without any changes. They uphold the importance of the Hebrew language as a religious one. The sect didn't arise spontaneously, but arose instead as a befitting answer to the modern and liberal sects of Judaism. For them, flexibility is something which is to be distanced at all costs. Therefore, the interpretations of the Torah and the Talmud is certainly not a welcoming task to take. They reject modern interpretations outright. Some of the age-old norms still find due place in the lifestyle of an Orthodox Jew. Some of them being, following dietary rules, gender differentiation at the synagogue, reading the Torah, following a daily routine of the traditional prayer modes, practicing the Sabbath, and following the traditional Jewish attire.
Mount sinai
Mount Sinai
Like the Orthodox Jews, the Conservative Jews too uphold the importance of Torah and the Talmud as being given to the sages of the Jews at Mt. Sinai. This sect of Judaism is also known as Masorti Judaism. They are a traditional sect, but also give importance to an inquisitive mind, and are tolerant towards the ones who thinks a little different from them, clinging to the diction of the Jewish Law simultaneously.

Then what sets them apart from the Orthodox? Well, the answer lies in their acceptance of science and technology. They hold on to the roots, but also don't render the new ways of life as totally useless. They rather live by the principle that, any noticeable work in the fields of science, literature, archaeology, and history can bring more significant information in the context of religion, and in the context of Judaism. Therefore, they are more liberal in their understanding. They strive to understand religion through the eyes of modernity. They rightly say that Jewish tradition should not only be practiced at home or in synagogues, but rather should be practiced everywhere, because God is omnipresent. This 'everywhere' could be a place of work, a market, a transport medium, or a place of study. Their spirit for learning the unknown makes them open to new schools of thoughts.

The difference between Orthodox and Conservative also lies in the fact that both these sects read and understand traditional objects with clarity. The difference is in their ways of using the same, their application. They believe in change, and that after all change is the only constant. Without change, the world would be stagnant and laden with inertia. Their reverence for traditional Jewish teachings is so high, that they don't believe in limiting them to the books and manuscripts, but rather want to practice them in everyday life. Thus, for practicing these, they should be molded in a way which could be practiced with ease, contradictory to the norms which are stringent as written in their original form.
This sect of Judaism is perhaps the most humane and tolerant denomination, who put the tenets of equality and rationality on the top of the list. Reform Judaism is considered the most liberal sect. It stands on the pillars of change and transformation. Therefore, in order to adapt to a lifestyle of modernity, it has let go of the age-old dogmas that used to be the part and parcel of every Jew. The changing facets of modernity can be the change in politics, in economy, social changes, cultural diffusion, et al. In an attempt to embrace modernity, Reform Jews have in the process changed the traditional norms, or have quit from following them altogether.

They have embraced many significant changes, like the ordination of women, inter-religion marriages, and the like. It is known as the very first sect of modern Judaism. It is pertinent to know that, this sect emerged and spread during the 18th and 19th century in Germany, and then spread to other parts of Europe and America. At this time, there was rapid political changes that hovered, and adhering to the traditional Jewish practice was challenging. Thus, many people did what they ought to do, but not in totality, as was the norm. Many people resorted to follow what was within their limited capacity. Gradually, these groups of scattered Jews were organized as a movement, and gave rise to what we know to this day as Reform Judaism. In a nutshell, it wouldn't be wrong to conclude that Reform Judaism is the middle-path between traditional Judaism, which resorted only to the written and oral Torah, and Christianity, which was more liberal as a faith. Thus, Reform Judaism helped one remain a Jew in the easy way. Because of the above ideology, this sect is also known as Liberal Judaism.
Their sole belief is in the presence of a singular God, but the mode of expressing belief in Him and the medium of expression of that faith in Him may be different. In many ways, Reconstructionist Judaism is a shadow of Conservative Judaism, and echoes the same concepts. The followers of this sect associate Judaism, not as a mere faith, but an evolving civilization and a way of progression in life. The very name defines it appropriately. It means that this sect reconstructs itself with the changing times and situations. And why not? By now we are all in a position to safely say that Judaism has undergone ample changes right from its inception to this day. This also explains the existence of so many sects and denominations, some which survived the testing times with a dash of change, and some withering away in the sands of history.
In the closing lines, we need to mention the Humanist movement and the Renewal movement, which are no less than denominations, per se. Humanist Jews believe that God resides in all human beings, and cannot be segregated from them. He is not a supernatural entity who will evade us from all human sufferings miraculously. Renewal Jews' doctrines speak about the connections that existed between the Jews and God. These connections are broken, and Jews have to tread the spiritual path in order to reestablish the lost connections.
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