Judaism encompasses various branches and denominations, each with its own distinct practices, beliefs, and interpretations of Jewish tradition. Keep in mind that the groups mentioned below were only formed in the 19th century or later as a response to the enlightenment, but there was immense diversity of approach and observance level even before then. Here are some of the major branches and denominations within Judaism:
- Orthodox Judaism: Orthodox Judaism is a traditional form of Judaism that emphasizes strict adherence to Jewish law (Halakha) as interpreted by traditional authorities. It includes various subgroups such as Modern Orthodox and Israel’s Dati Leumi, which seeks to combine traditional observance with engagement in the modern world, and Haredi Judaism, which places a strong emphasis on maintaining strict religious practices and often emphasizes separation from secular society in order to maintain a focus on Torah study and cultural preservation.
- The Orthodox world is the oldest, by definition, and the most intellectually diverse with many groups based on region (e.g. Ashkenazim, Sephardim, Teimanim, etc.) and also worldviews (e.g. Litvaks and Chasidim). These people all maintain perfection, divinity, and immutability of God and the Torah, but with lots of differing customs and aproaches.
- Conservative Judaism: Conservative Judaism seeks to strike a balance between traditional observance and modernity. It upholds the importance of Jewish law but also allows for some flexibility in its interpretation. Conservative Jews generally observe a moderate level of religious practice, and there is a range of beliefs and practices within the movement.
- Reform Judaism: Reform Judaism is a progressive movement that places a strong emphasis on individual autonomy and personal interpretation of Jewish tradition. Reform Jews often adapt religious practices to align with modern values and societal norms. This movement has been open to changes such as gender equality, LGBTQ+ inclusion, and interfaith relations.
- Jewish Renewal: Jewish Renewal is a movement that focuses on spirituality and personal connection to Jewish tradition. It incorporates a variety of mystical and meditative practices from both Jewish and non-Jewish sources. Jewish Renewal often encourages creative and experiential approaches to prayer and ritual, as opposed to observance to Torah.
- Humanistic Judaism: Humanistic Judaism is a non-theistic movement that emphasizes Jewish culture, history, and ethics rather than belief in a divine being. It views Judaism as a human-created tradition and emphasizes human responsibility and the pursuit of social justice.
It is important to note that these categories are not rigid or exclusive, and there is often overlap and diversity of beliefs and practices within each branch. These different groups will also not neatly correlate globally, with some regions being more or less strict, active etc. than others that use the same label. Additionally, there are other smaller denominations and subgroups within Judaism that may have specific focuses or ideologies. Ultimately, the Torah is steadfast, but relationships to it are not.