Alternative Judaism’s

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By Benny Powers on June 20, 2010 -- 2:43pm

Two Categories of Jewish Groups:
1) Traditionalist
2) “Not-Only-Traditionalist”

Traditionalist groups: Judaism derives only from tradition.
Tanach, Midrash, Zohar, Halachah, etc, are the only relevant sources for determining Jewish ideas, and NO OTHER.
Whatever one does as a Jew is because of tradition and only because of tradition.

Wants a positive relationship with Tradition
Also wants other sources to affect his Judaism
Jewish identity derives from multiple sources: Tradition, Greek Philosophy, Roman Law, Parisian Fashion, American Culture, etc.

Case 1: Women Rabbis
In the early 70s, the Conservative movement debated the subject of women rabbis.
Stage One: The Talmud faculty of Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) was assigned to research the question and they responded “NO”, the Talmud does not allow for women rabbis
Stage Two: The rest of the faculty (Psychology, Literature, History, etc.) was then asked. They voted in favor, and the motion passed.
NOT HYPOCRITICAL. They first made an attempt within the tradition, and then decided to use extra-traditional sources. This was consistent with their methodology.

NOTE: Dialogue is possible between traditional and NOT groups is possible, but only if NOT groups agree in advance to limit themselves to traditional sources. BUT this is not really a dialogue, because the NOT representative will not truly be able to speak his mind.
Even within the NOT camp, discussion is difficult, because anyone can import his own sources.

Case 2: Who is a Jew / Conversion
Conservative: A convert must circumcise, immerse in a mikva and commit to keeping conservative mitzvos.
Reform: Pay shul dues, put your name on the list. No beliefs, no commitment, no circumcision, and CERTAINLY no mikva.
Conservative took issue with Reform on their policies, to which reform replied “Hey, you dropped the tradition! We’re doing exactly the same thing, just to a greater degree than you. Who are you to argue?”

NOTE: These categories are sometimes framed as “Inclusivists” (NOT) and “Exclusivists” (Traditionalist)
he Truth is that any group based on a common ideal requires exclusion.

Case 3: Beth Adam
A reform congregation opened in Cincinnati called Beth Adam.
They were shortly expelled from the Reform movement.
Why? They rewrote the Reform prayer book to exclude all references to God.
They claimed that Reform only requires “openness to the ‘God Concept’”

Case 4: Patrilineal Descent
Without tradition, policy making becomes a crass and self serving exercise.
Reform claimed that Tradition was unfair to men, denying them the ability to pass on Jewishness to their children by a non-Jewish woman.
To solve this problem (and, incidentally, help to bolster the plummeting numbers of Reform adherents), Reform accepted patrilineal descent.
But was their original claim true? In fact, Tradition states that tribal affiliation is passed through the father, so it’s clearly not biassed against men.

Subgroups Among the Traditionalists
If traditionalistst are limited to the Traditon, how come there are so many and varied subgroups?
a) Differences are in custom (Minhag). Tradition encourages different customs
B) Differences of opinion in Jewish law. Different communities went with different (and equally legitimate) authorities. e.g. Sefardim Machmir on meat, more than Ashkenazim.
c) When subgroups do claim that the other group is flat out wrong, history shows that consensus eventually develops.
E.g. burning of Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed), in the next generation, Rambam accepted.
Similarly, Rambam’s code fought at first, eventually accepted.
Similarly, Chassidim vs. Misnagdim
Hot, divisive issues will eventually be resolved.
This is unexpected according to the usual laws of historical development

NOTE: Sometimes individuals make breaks with the tradition, and are later either accepted or rejected. Eg. Shabbetai Tzvi.
NOTE: NOT groups cannot claim continuity with tradition, because they by definition are based on the acceptance of foreign sources.

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