Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox Judaism

The Faith of a People that Suffered

The Faith of a People Through Torah and Talmud

Ultra Orthodoxy

Orthodox Approaches to Zionism


Text 1: The Faith of a People that Suffered

How is Judaism to be maintained? It is a faith of a people, who sees its line go back to Moses (1280 BCE) and Abraham (1800 BCE), and whose experiences are recalled through symbolic practices. The Jews maintain a Covenant where Abraham agreed to observe the One God in return for descendants and the Promised Land of Canaan.

There are two main experiences which define a Jew within this Covenant. There is exile with wandering, and suffering. Out of suffering comes the promise of hope; out of wandering comes the desire for returning to the homeland.

The first identity through history is that of Abraham the Patriarch (father figure). He left Ur and polytheistic Persia for the Promised Land, Canaan (Israel).

There was a famine and the descendants went to Egypt for food and were enslaved. The story tells of ten plagues and then freedom under Moses and receiving the Ten Commandments. This deepened the Covenant. They wandered through the wilderness for 40 years before returning to the Promised Land.

In 722 BCE the Assyrians took the Israelites from Canaan into exile. In 586 BCE the second Babylonian empire destroyed the Temple and took the Jews from Judaea just to the south. In 538 BCE the Jews returned but many stayed and prospered under the Persians. In 70 CE the Romans destroyed the rebuilt second Temple and by 135 CE all Jews had dispersed.

In Britain there were Sephardim and Ashkenazim Jews. Sephardim are Spanish and Ashkenazim refers to Germany. These two groups developed differently because the Jews had
prospered in Islamic Spain until the Roman Catholic backed victory in 1492 which again sent those Jews wandering as both Muslims and Jews were thrown out. Others, called the Ashkenazim, were in Germany and spread east.

In 1290 Jews had been evicted from England, having been over taxed of their assets and at times massacred, and Jews were not allowed in again until the time of Oliver Cromwell in the 1640s who used them for trade and banking, having seen the prosperity they generated in the Netherlands. Those that came in subsequently were either Sephardim or Ashkenazim. They formed different synagogues but joined together in the United Synagogue of Great Britain.

Jews were seen as people of the Bible, if not all the Bible, and were well tolerated by the elite in this country. In Europe they were much more separate, distinct and seen as different. The view that the Jews had killed Christ, and then their leading roles in countries like Germany, led to their being scapegoated for social and economic problems, and oppression led to industrial scale murder in the Holocaust under the Nazi period.

Thus for the Orthodox maintaining practices is vital in order to recall their suffering and wandering, the faith of Abraham that remembers Moses, the Exodus, the destruction of the Temples and all subsequent suffering including the Holocaust.

Text 2: The Faith of a People Through Torah and Talmud

The Orthodox say that as they encounter contemporary society and its technological life, the Torah and Talmud (interpretations of the Rabbis) must be maintained in and through practices.

The Orthodox take the Mitzvot (commandments) very seriously. There are 613 but some do not apply because they refer to the Temple. The first Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE by the second Babylonian Empire and then the second Temple was razed to the ground in 70 CE by the Romans. Some of the strongest the commandments refer to the Shabbat (Sabbath) and not working.

Work is tightly defined. As new technology appears, Rabbis need to take decisions.

Orthodox Jews, for example, cannot put a light on during the Sabbath. Lights used to burn continuously for 25 hours. Now a timer switch can put them on and off, from evening to daylight to evening. However, there is also a commandment against making fire during the Sabbath. Some people thought this meant electric lights could not come on, but it was decided by the rabbis that they can burn.

Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) attempted to combine Judaism with modernising Western culture, especially in Germany. His ideas spread around Europe once repression took place in the 1930s while Jews were still able to flee. Nevertheless he maintained the principle observances in the Torah and Talmud and thus his view became that of the mainstream Orthodox who applied Judaism to society rather than have society compromise Judaism.

Against this the Ultra-Orthodox do not apply their practices to the modern world (even though they live within it). They believe that the sacred canopy of the Middle Ages (when people more easily believed in the workings of the supernatural) was the most suitable time for the wider cultural support to their faith. They combine therefore something of the Middle Ages Judaism with learning and enthusiasm, keeping to intense and minutely detailed traditions, whatever the modern world may think.

The Orthodox practice the full range of rituals and festivals through the year. Most descriptions of Judaism are about Orthodox Judaism. Reform and Liberal Jews make compromises with modernity, this the Orthodox do not do. They do not because the Orthodox maintain that the written and oral law came to a historical person Moses in revelation, and therefore the commandments must be maintained.

Text 3: Ultra Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy and Ultra-Orthodoxy define Jewishness by maintaining practices. They do this in the knowledge that some Jews have wanted to merge (in terms of beliefs and dropping practices) with Western societies. These Jews turned to secular subjects for education above the Torah and Talmud, and some sought a political identity over religious one.

There was a counter-reaction. The Chassidic (Ch pronounced as in Loch) movement developed in Eastern Europe in the 1700s when it became costly to educate themselves. Rabbi Israel Baal Shem (1698-1760) preached openly from 1734 on enthusiasm and attachment to God, available to everyone rather than just the educated. In the 1800s the Musar movement put an emphasis on Judaism through good character, humility and compassion. Chassidism did compromise to opponents and produce a stronger learning element rather than simple reliance on enthusiasm and direct connection to God.

Rabbis still write and still advise but with the intention in the mainstream Orthodox too keep the Laws and interpretations, and the Ultra-Orthodox carry on as before.

The Ultra-Orthodox maintain high ethical practices. For example, men are very modest when in the company of their wives in public. There are no displays of affection. Their appearance again matches in detail the demands of the Jewish tradition as in the days of the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages were the most Torah-True. The Jewish faith developed over time with its Rabbis, as the tradition was taught and expanded into various details. The peak was when all society was very religious (even though the Jews suffered
from others). Now the times are unfriendly towards religion when there is so much naturalistic explanation for phenomena. It is difficult to maintain a supernatural faith in detail. Yet the Ultra-Orthodox believe this is necessary.

The reason is because of the solemn Covenant. The Jews are a chosen people. This means not that they are better than others but that they have to be a holy people. They must carry out the observances of the One God. The Ultra-Orthodox take this demand to its every detail according to the traditions and become a very holy people of the One holy God.

Text 4: Orthodox Approaches to Zionism

Zionism is the movement towards establishing the State of Israel on a political basis rather than the religious one where a Messiah appears and establishes the Promised Land, part of the Covenant Abraham made with God and Jews still observe today.

Zionism grew in the nineteenth century inspired by Theodore Herzl (1850-1904) in terms of practical moves. As a journalist he was shocked that the French Government could blame the Jews as a people for an issue of the accusation of treason against a Jewish officer in the French Army in 1895, Alfred Dreyfus. Herzl wrote a pamphlet arguing for a Jewish homeland, and this attracted both criticism and support.

Ideas for a homeland included Argentina and Palestine. Land at Tel Aviv was purchased by a fund to help establish a homeland. After the Holocaust, the British Mandate in Palestine was favourable towards creating a Jewish homeland there. The Jews who went there fought the British and declared independence. When attacked by neighbouring Arabs, the new State defended itself and took more land than intended.

Whilst Reform Jews thought the Diaspora (dispersed Jews) was beneficial to mixing with other peoples, and the socialist Jews wanted Jewish nationality recognised (especially in Russia), the Orthodox were opposed on the grounds that a Messiah had not come and established the State. Also such a State would have to welcome secular or not quite so Orthodox Jews (incidentally Israel only recognises Orthodox Judaism in its religious laws, although it is a State welcoming all Jews as well as having freedom of religion and democratic institutions). To welcome others would weaken Israel as the Promised land.

So some Orthodox were against the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

However, the Holocaust demonstrated a real need for self- protection in the such horrendous experience of industrial killing as experienced in Nazi occupied Europe.

The Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox who support the existence of Israel do so on the basis that this State facilitates the coming of the Messiah. It allows conditions to exist to encourage the Messiah. They remain disappointed however that the State is secular and do all they can to promote religious laws. Certainly rites of passage are governed by Orthodox religious law (there is no civil marriage, and the Liberal/ Reform views are not included).

A major issue for Israel, as its settlements spread into Arab lands on the basis that they are Jewish in the Bible, is how to live with Palestinians. Israel is arguably oppressing Palestinians something towards the extent that Jews have been oppressed, and many Palestinians are homeless, rootless and suffer, and others are refugees in their own homeland.


The Faith of a People that Suffered

The Faith of a People Through Torah and Talmud

Ultra Orthodoxy

Orthodox Approaches to Zionism