Branches of Judaism
The religious Jewish community in Michigan is divided among five
major groups: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and
Secular Humanist. Each group has its own approach to traditional Jewish
practice. All are committed to Sabbath and holiday worship, to love of
learning and to the principle that all Jews are responsible for one
The Jewish house of worship is referred to as a synagogue, temple or shul
(Yiddish). Each synagogue offers various educational and social
programs, as well as religious services. There are educational programs
for all ages and social groups, such as Brotherhood (for men),
Sisterhood (for women), and youth groups. These social groups hold
regular meetings and conduct many activities, such as luncheons,
dinners, Sunday morning breakfasts, Chanukah parties, dances and
community service projects. They provide a means of meeting and
socializing with other Jewish people in a combined religious and social
setting. In most synagogues, Jewish dietary laws are observed,
requiring separation of dairy and meat products and prohibition of
certain foods, such as pork products and shellfish.
Attire: When attending religious services, men should
wear suits or sports jackets with ties. In Conservative, Orthodox and
some Reform synagogues, men cover their heads with a kippah (also called a yarmulke),
or skullcap. These usually are available at the entrance to the
sanctuary. At Conservative and Reform synagogues, women may wear
dresses or pants and should have their shoulders covered. At Orthodox
synagogues, women must wear modest knee-length dresses with their elbows
covered, married women should cover their heads with a hat, scarf or
wig, and they do not carry a purse on the Sabbath.
Religious Services: Services are conducted by a rabbi
or a lay leader of the congregation, with chanting being led by the
cantor. Worship in Orthodox and Conservative synagogues is almost
entirely in Hebrew, while Reform, Reconstructionist and Secular Humanist
services have a greater portion in English. Men and women sit
separately in Orthodox congregations. In addition to covering their
heads during services, traditional Jewish men wear a tallit (prayer
shawl) for some prayer services.
The focal point of the sanctuary is the ark, which contains the
Torah scrolls. The Torah is a parchment scroll containing the Five Books
of Moses written in Hebrew. A portion of the Torah is read each week
during prayer services. A Bar Mitzvah
(boy) or Bat Mitzvah
(girl) ceremony celebrates a young person’s reading of a portion of the Torah for the first time.
Orthodox Judaism rests on the traditional teaching of Jewish law,
consisting of the Written Law contained in the Hebrew Bible, and the
Oral Law represented by the Talmud, Responsa, Codes and
Commentary. Orthodox Jews accept the doctrine of revelation: that the
Law, both Written and Oral, was given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai and
is, therefore, the everlasting and only true guide of Jewish life and
conduct. Orthodoxy advocates unswerving loyalty to Jewish traditions and
adherence to Jewish law as it has been interpreted by recognized
authorities in each generation.
Like Orthodox Judaism, the Conservative Movement holds Jewish laws
to be sacred. However, they may be changed and adapted, if necessary, to
modern conditions of Jewish life, though not discarded. This can be
done only by proper scholars and authoritative bodies. The Conservative
movement has tried to “conserve” and to protect Jewish faith and
culture, and maintains that the Jews are not only a religious group, but
a people with a distinct culture, historic language and a holy land.
Reform Judaism stresses the importance of adapting religious life
to the spirit and mood of the modern age. Reform Jews believe that the
Torah was written by people through divine inspiration, not by literal
revelation. Therefore, every generation has the right to accept only
those laws and practices that it considers essential. Reform Judaism
emphasizes the belief that the Jewish people were destined to fulfill a
great mission among the nations of the earth: to teach the belief in God
and the ethical ideals of fellowship, justice and peace.
Founded by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan in the 20th century,
Reconstructionist Judaism sees Judaism as an evolving religious
civilization, embracing religion, peoplehood, history, tradition,
liturgy, music, literature and art. As such, Reconstructionist Judaism
emphasizes understanding, observing and celebrating Jewish culture,
tradition and heritage.
Humanist Judaism, based in Detroit, views Judaism as a living
culture and a way of life rather than as a religion. It is a voice for
Jews who value their Jewish identity and who seek an alternative to
conventional (traditional) Judaism. It provides modern ways to practice
Jewish commitment, Jewish holidays and life-cycle events, Jewish
experience and Jewish history without belief in a deity.
Secular-Humanist Judaism believes in human reason and integrity and
affirms the right of individuals to shape their own lives. It
recognizes the importance and meaningfulness of change.