What are the different denominations (types) of Judaism?


In North America today, the four main branches of Judaism are Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist. Within these denominations themselves, however, there is a great degree of variation in practice and observance.

Orthodoxy is the modern classification for the traditional section of Jewry that upholds the halakhic way of life as illustrated in a divinely ordained Torah. Halakha refers to the legal aspect of Judaism, and is also used to indicate a definitive ruling in any particular area of Jewish law.

Reform Judaism (also known as Liberal or Progressive Judaism) subjects religious law and customs to human judgment, attempting to differentiate between the facets of the Torah that are divine mandate and those that are specific to the time in which they were written.

Conservative Judaism developed mainly in the twentieth century as a reaction to Reform Judaism's liberalism. It sought to conserve tradition by applying new, historical methods of study within the boundaries of Jewish law to the mainstream of American society. It is the largest denomination of the four.

Reconstructionism is the most recent denomination within Judaism, and, rejecting the assertion that the Torah was given to Moses at Mount Sinai, views Judaism as a continual process of evolution, incorporating the inherited Jewish beliefs and traditions with the needs of the modern world.

In addition to the four main branches, there are several other noteworthy Jewish movements. Jewish Renewal is a transdenominational movement grounded in Judaism's prophetic and mystical traditions. It seeks to restore the spiritual vitality of the 19th century Hasidic movement, yet like the Reconstructionist movement, believes that Judaism is an evolving religious civilization. Therefore, Jewish Renewal regards men and women as fully equal and welcomes homosexuals and converts.

Secular Humanistic Judaism is a movement begun in the 1960s which embraces "a human-centered philosophy that combines rational thinking with a celebration of Jewish culture and identity." In the Humanistic Jewish view, the focus is not on a relationship with God or religious ritual but in a belief that the "secular roots of Jewish life are as important as the religious ones." The emphasis is therefore placed on celebrating the Jewish human experience, and Jewish tradition, culture, ethics, values, and relationships.

-- Does every Jew fit within a denomination?

Not at all. According to a recent JOI survey, 28% of the 2.6 million married Jews in the US are married to non-Jews. Of those intermarried families, 40% have no clear religious identity, and many consider themselves to be "just Jewish," without affiliating with any particular denomination.