The religion of the Jewish people. With its 4,000-year history, it is one of the first recorded monotheistic faiths and one of the oldest religious traditions still practiced today. Its beliefs and history are a major foundation for other Abrahamic religions, including Christianity and Islam. It traces a covenant between the Jewish people and God that began with Abraham and continued through Jacob, Moses, David and others to today’s modern Jews. Jews believe that the Messiah will one day establish a divine kingdom on earth, opening an era of peace and bliss. They believe that God called their ancestor, Abraham, to be the father of their nation, which works toward the goal of establishing this kingdom. Throughout history, Jews have been heavily persecuted. The Holocaust is the most high-profile example. The modern Jewish state of Israel was established in 1948. There are three major branches of Judaism. Reform Jews are the largest branch in the U.S., followed by Conservative and Orthodox Jews. See Reconstructionist Judaism for information on a smaller, fourth branch.
- Reform Judaism: Reform Jews believe that the spirit of Jewish law can be adapted to time and place, so they tend to emphasize social justice issues more than dietary laws, Sabbath rules and other particulars of traditional Jewish life. They are represented by the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, both based in New York City. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, based in Washington, D.C., is the political voice of the movement.
- Orthodox Judaism: Orthodox Jews practice strict adherence to traditional Jewish laws, including the rules that prohibit work on the Sabbath and kosher dietary laws that prohibit such things as eating pork products or shellfish and eating meat and dairy products together. Some Orthodox Jews might consider themselves “modern Orthodox,” meaning that the men do not keep long beards or wear traditional garb. Most Orthodox congregations are represented nationally by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, and most of its rabbis are members of the Rabbinical Council of America.
- Conservative Judaism: Conservative Jews follow a middle path between Reform and Orthodox Judaism. Congregations and individuals vary in terms of how observant they are of dietary laws, and though some do not, many drive to synagogue on the Sabbath. They are represented nationally by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly.