Jewish Movements

In Eastern Europe, only the larger communities could afford to maintain yeshivot in the 18th century due to events that forced many Jews into poverty. This severely limited the numbers of students that could be admitted. Lots of Jewish children didn’t get education, and many of them grew up thinking God didn’t like them.

Then Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov turned up. He started to teach openly, which gained him a large number of followers. He taught that prayer was attachment with God, and said that the most ignorant Jew was as much part of God’s plan as the most learned scholar. Once Rabbi Israel had died, his foremost disciple became the leader (Rabbi Dov Baer of Mezritch). He taught a few close disciples to prepare them to lead and when Rabbi Dov Baer died, the disciples he taught settled in Poland, Galicia, White Russia and the Ukraine. By the mid-1930s, there were several million Chassidim in Eastern Europe.

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The Chassidim decreased in size greatly during the Holocaust. There are now Chassidic communities in places such as Jerusalem, London and New York, but includes many other cities. They live in their own communities, with their own shuls, schools, yeshivot, etc.

Reform Judaism

In Germany, during the 19th century, the Reform Movement began from a desire for change following the Emancipation and the Enlightenment. The Emancipation is where governments granted political freedom to Jews. The Enlightenment is where people, such as Moses Mendelssohn, prepared Jews for entry into European society. He translated the bible into German, stood for secular education for Jewish boys and encouraged Jews to train for professions.

Reform has a desire for change to adapt to modern conditions. In 1801, Israel Jacobson opened a boarding school for Jewish and Christian boys. The synagogue had an organ, and some prayers were said in German. The Hamburg Temple was created in 1818 and is seen as the first reform synagogue. It followed a similar service as to one in a church. Abraham Geiger designed the philosophy and direction of the movement.

Today, Reform synagogues have shorter prayers, and some are read in English. The Temple sacrifices and the return to the Holy Land aren’t mentioned. Men and women sit together, and some synagogues have female Rabbis. On Shabbat, they believe that ‘work’ is okay (such as driving cars and turning on lights), and only work as in office work or work which makes you a profit is considered ‘work’. Kosher does not need to be kept unless in a synagogue either (although it doesn’t need to be rabbinically supervised.

Neo-Orthodox Judaism

The Jews in Western Europe, unlike those in Eastern Europe, had begun to enter European society. Many had become assimilated and some converted to Christianity. The Reform movement emerged – its leaders believing Judaism should be adapted to suit modern conditions. Rabbi Sampson Raphael Hirsch saw where the Reform movement was coming from, but opposed the idea that Judaism needed to be changed. He said, “It is Jews who need reforming, not Judaism.”

Neo-orthodox Jews started to write books in German instead of Hebrew, and wore western clothes. They took on secular education (a famous example being in Frankfurt where Rabbi Hirsch set up a school for Jewish children to study Jewish and secular subjects.

During the 1930s, many neo-orthodox Jews fled Germany to places such as Britain and America, and set up their own neo-orthodox communities. Communities nowadays have school and synagogue systems where the ideals of Hirsch and his successors are taught and practised.

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