Orthodox Judaism

Doctrines Orthodox Judaism is the direct successor of early Rabbinic or Talmudical Judaism (See Talmudical Judaism), holding that the "Oral Torah" particularly as it is contained in the Bavli (or Babylonian Talmud) has divine authority equal to that of the "Written Torah" in the Hebrew Bible. In addition to the ancient literature of the Talmudic period, orthodoxy gives special authority to a number of mediaeval commentaries and codes of which the works of Rashi (1040-1105), Maimonides (1135-1204) and Joseph Caro's Shulhan Arukh (1565) are the most used. Another important source of halakhic authority is the mediaeval and modern Responsa literature, that is, collections of "answers" (Responsa) given to specific questions by scholars, some of whom, like Maimonides, gained a worldwide reputation during their lifetime.
In the orthodox tradition practice in relation to circumcision, the dietary laws, the sabbath, the calendar, the role of women, marriage, the use of Hebrew in worship, the study of the Talmud and the rabbinate, is of such importance that it to some extent outweighs deviations in theological belief. Hence a Jew can remain a Jew and at the same time absorb himself in Kabbalah mysticism (see Kabbalah, Hasidism), or even give up his belief in God altogether, provided he observes orthodox practice. Where observing a law conflicts with the saving of life (pikkuah nefesh), however, the law must be broken. The only exceptions are the three cardinal laws forbidding idolatry, incest and murder, which must be obeyed even if the consequence is certain death, that is, martyrdom.
Orthodox responses to the Holocaust were to treat it, like other tragic instances of Jewish suffering down the ages, as an impenetrable mystery transcending human understanding as God transcends it, but no reason to change any of the fundamental principles of traditional Jewish faith. The continuation of Jewish history after Auschwitz, especially in the newly established State of Israel, provided proof of God's continuing love for his people. There is now an annual commemoration of the Holocaust, known as Yom ha-Shoah ("catastrophe"), focussing on the huge Holocaust Memorial, "Yad va-Shem", in Jerusalem.
Orthodox Jewish women, inspired by the women's movement in secular society, have questioned traditional teaching on such matters as the remarriage of divorcees and the participation of women in public worship. Some have written their own liturgies, including various women's "Passover Haggadot", the Rosh Hodesh ("New Moon") festival, and a ceremony for naming their daughters corresponding to the traditional male Bar Mitzvah service. Jewish women's organizations within the Orthodox tradition include Benot Esh "daughters of fire" and Nishmat Nashim ("Women's Soul").

History Orthodox Judaism has developed in two forms, Sephardi and Ashkenazi. The Sephardis are distinguished by their use of Judaeo-Spanish or Ladino as opposed to Yiddish (a Jewish variety of German) which is used by Ashkenazis, and also by their pronunciation of Hebrew and some liturgical customs. They were originally the Jews of Spain and Portugal, whose long and creative history ended there when they were expelled by the Christian authorities in 1492. Sephardi communities were established in Italy, Holland, Turkey, the Land of Israel and elsewhere, and today account for 61% of the world Jewish population. In Israel they have their own Chief Rabbi. The Ashkenazis are the Jews of Germany, Poland, Russia and other parts of Europe whose history was one of constant persecution and destruction, culminating in the Holocaust in which their numbers were reduced from about 9,000,000 to 3,000,000. Most now live in the United States, and in Israel where they too have their own Chief Rabbi.
Mainstream Jewish tradition as distinct from Karaism (See Karaites), Shabbateanism (see Shabbateans) or the like, was not defined as "Orthodox" until the challenge of modernism and emancipation split Judaism during the 18th and 19th centuries into several forms. Ultraorthodoxy and Hasidism were at one end of the spectrum, and Reform and Conservative Judaism at the other, with the majority of Jews, led by such men as Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) in Germany and Rabbi Israel Salanter (1810-1883) in Lithuania, holding the "orthodox" middle ground. New Yeshivot ("rabbinical colleges") in which the emphasis was on studying Torah were established all over Europe. From the late 19th century the political Zionism of Theodore Herzl (1860-1904) and subsequently the Kibbutz movement supporting the settlement of Jews from Europe in Palestine, presented a further challenge to orthodoxy. Some religious groups such as the ultra-orthodox Neturei Karta "Guardians of the City", dissociated themselves from what they saw as an entirely secular movement, while others like the Gush Emunim ("the faithful group"), following the teaching of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), evolved forms of "religious Zionism" in which possession of the Land of Israel was equated with divine redemption. Most orthodox Jews hold the middle ground between these two extremes. They account for the majority of Jews in some countries, including Great Britain where the Chief Rabbi is orthodox, although not in the United States and Israel where orthodoxy is now in the minority after Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Symbols Since the 19th century the Magen David (six pointed Star (or Shield) of David) has become the most distinctive Jewish symbol, and now appear both on the national flag of the State of Israel, and as the insignia of the Magen David Adom, Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross. The Menorah is also very common, as are the other traditional Jewish symbols derived from the Temple and the festivals. Distinctive dress in many orthodox communities includes the small round skull-cap (Hebrew kippah, Yiddish Kappel or Yarmulka) worn by men and the four prayer-shawl "tassels" (Hebrew tzitziot) visible at the waist. During prayer orthodox men cover their heads or shoulders with a tallit and wear tefillin. A decorative mezuzah is fixed to the right hand doorpost at the entrance to most Jewish homes (see Ancient Judaism, Talmudical Judaism). Since the 16th century a decorative spice-box used in the Havdalah ceremony at the end of the Sabbath, has become another popular Jewish religious objet d'art.

Adherents about 2,000,000 world wide, 1,000,000 in the States

Main Centre
 Agudath Israel World Organization, 84 William Street, New York 10038
Union of Orthodox Rabbis, 235 E Broadway, New York 100002
Conference of European Rabbis, Adler House, Tavistock Square, London WC1H 9HN. Tel: 0171 387 1066
Israel Chief Rabbinate, Heikhal Shelomo, 58 King George Street, Jerusalem. Tel: 252712