For centuries, there have been 3 basic divisions of Judaism, and we find, in recent years, several other sub-cultures have evolved. For brevity's sake, this report will deal with only the major divisions: Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed.
The ultra Orthodox can be distinguished, for the most part, by their distinctive clothing and appearance, ranging from black long coats, fringed shirts, black skull caps, (yalmalkas), untrimmed beards, and long sideburns; and for the women, modest apparel, and sometimes, wigs and/or head coverings. At prayer, in the shuel, (a building used for worship), men and women sit on separate sides, with only the men participating in the services, which are entirely in the Hebrew language. The source of the study material is the Torah, (the first 5 books of Moses), with teachings from the Mishna and Talmud, (commentaries on the Law of Moses).
The Orthodox are ascetic in lifestyle, and rigidly disciplined in dietary habits, following the Kosher diet prescribed in the Tenach, (Old Testament ), and keeping a Kosher home, as taught by Rabbinical law. Great emphasis is placed on keeping the rites, rituals and traditions of both the Tenach and Rabbinical teachings, and the 13 principles of faith, with focus on their relationship with G-d, fellowman, and Israel. There is room for liberal thought, great controversy, and much diversity in opinions on the afterlife, the future of the world, and the will of G-d. Though they have a belief and hope in a soon coming Messiah, there is great difference of opinion of how and when He will appear, what His agenda will be, and how He will affect humanity.
As with all the Jews who are still looking for a Messiah, their concept of His work will be that of regathering Israel, subduing all International/national levels of discord, and acting as a Peacemaker to restore the dignity of Israel, none of which include any spiritual values. They give no credibility to the ministry of Jesus, other than possibly a historical personality.
Their synagogue services are not segregated, (as are the Orthodox), with both men and women participating in the service. In recent years, there are even women Rabbis leading the congregation in more liberal synagogues. The services are held in both Hebrew and English, with a sedur, (prayer book), that is written in both languages, as well as transliterations of the prayers. The basic belief system is the same, with latitude toward believing in the validity of Old Testament stories and history in a strict literal sense.
Many of the accounts of the Exodus history are thought to be lessons of example more than fact. Their emphasis is placed more on relationship to humanity, and dedication to Jewish causes, (Zionism and cultural regeneration of Israel), than on the written word of the Old Testament. They have established Jewish centers at many colleges, offering diverse cultural programs and speakers, catering to the intellectual needs of Jewish students.
They observe the 3 major Levitical Feasts, bringing the Jewish community together through their culture and traditional rites. There is no specific doctrinal belief system, other than Rambam's thirteen articles of faith, which may be embraced in part, according to the individual's faith. Messianic references are made based in the sedur reading, but little hope is expressed on a personal level in a future Messiah's appearance, and all energy is spent on making today's world a better place for humanity. Because they believe that God's law changes with time to meet modern man's needs and human government, they feel they are not bound to observe the antiquated Levitical dietary commands and laws, and they tend to view the Biblical account of history as metaphorical, and as object lessons written by Scribes.
There is no serious study of Old Testament prophecy in light of the events taking place in Israel today because more credibility is given to Rabbinical writings that deal with man's concepts in the practical here and now. The emphasis is more on man's relationship to his world, and his fellowman, rather than between man and his God and Spiritual values. Their religious concepts and activities are based on the year round reading of the Torah, ( the first 5 books of Moses), with occasional reading from the prophets/ Psalms or other of the canon, but not relating any of their writings to present day events.
They are liberal in their belief system, making no demands to adhere to any particular doctrines, codes, or law. This group is more a social sect, based on a common Jewish heritage or race. They embrace a very liberal philosophy, and are more concerned with ethics, politics, Zionism and the economy than Biblical standards or Spiritual values. They observe the traditional Holy days, and Feasts, such as Passover, Purim, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Channukah in the same manner the Conservatives do; ..as a time for families to gather and rejoice in their common heritage. There is little regard for Biblical history being valid, and Talmud and other Rabbinical writings have more influence.
Reformed Jews are very community minded and principled, but as in all 3 sects of Judaism, having no teaching on the hope of a Heaven or fear of a Hell, they are motivated by compassion and mutual respect rather than Spiritual values. Their concepts do not define sin, nor the consequences of sin. Death is undefinable, and each must find their own purpose and goal for life without any Biblical guidelines, which is the reason there are so many Jews seeking a reason for life in so many other sources outside of the framework of Judaism. They are seeking the purpose and plan for man instead of their purpose in the God's plan for them.
Basically, Judaism has no formal set of doctrines; no dogma; no thread that would connect one sect to another in a firm belief system that could define one as a Jew. There are "Principles of Faith", Rambam's 13 statements, that have been taught as minimum requirements of Judaism, but even these statements have been challenged and disputed within the various Jewish movements.
Principles of Faith
1. God exists
2. God is One and unique.
3. God is incorporeal.
4. God is eternal.
5. Prayer is to be directed to God alone and to no other.
6. The words of the prophet are true.
7. Moses's prophecies are true, and he was the greatest of prophets.
8. The Torah, and the oral Torah, (teaching contained in the Talmud), were given to Moses.
9. There will be no other Torah.
10. God knows the thoughts and deeds of men.
11. God will reward the good and punish the wicked.
12. The Messiah will come.
13. The dead will be resurrected.
There is great latitude for opinion and debate on all of the above points, but the common thread of Judaism is relationship between mankind, Zionism, family values and the nation of Israel. There is little, today, to connect with the ancient Rambam requirements of Judaism concerning the coming of the Messiah, in spite of events that have happened, and are unfolding daily that point to His very near appearing.
Most contemporary Jews regard the Old Testament as a history book, with no personal application to man's life today. Believing that most of the stories are allegorical or symbolism, it's easy to understand why they believe the Old Testament is not identified with absolute truths. Yet, it is the only book that validates the origin of the Hebrews, (through the call of Abram); It is from the pages of the first book of Moses, in Genesis, that we learn how God revealed Himself to this chosen man as the One true God, and established with Abram a covenant that would, one day, be the basis of a system of worship and praise that is regarded as Judaism today.
Based upon that very event and covenant is the present day claim of their legal inheritance of Israel, given to them by God's edict to Abraham! Were this book only fable or folklore, Jews wound have no foundation to claim Israel as their inheritance! What irony that Judaism's very identity is found in a book that most Jews find difficult to receive as valid! In the Jewish mind-set, there is no description of "sin", nor of sin's consequences or it's remedy, even though this is clearly spelled out from the Law through the Prophets. There is no teaching on a personal relationship with the Lawgiver, but only upon the works of keeping the law.
How ironic that the Torah/law is regarded as the basis and foundation for all their highly revered Rabbinical works including the Talmud, Mishna, Midrash and countless other commentaries, and yet, there is more emphasis placed on the commentaries than on the original Torah because they question the authenticity of its Author!
The prophet Isaiah predicted this day over 2000 years ago, when anointed by God, he wrote, " wherefore, the Lord said, forasmuch as these people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor Me, ( reciting formal liturgy with empty rites and rituals*), but have removed their heart far from Me, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precept of men." (Isaiah 29:13) Contemporary Judaism is based on the writings and teachings of the " great Rabbins", just as predicted,...the precepts of men!
The unregenerate or "carnal mind", (including people from all walks of life and religious backgrounds), undermines and ridicules those who have the faith to accept the historical account of the Bible as fact. Many "religious", unable to accept the Old Testament and relate it to themselves personally, (using only intellect and logic), deny great spiritual truths that lay the groundwork for a possible spiritual experience and relationship, which comes through intellect, logic and faith.
The Jews seems to have no difficulty in believing that Moses was led by an invisible God, Who directed him to lead almost 3 million people of out Egypt to Canaan. They followed Moses, believing that this 80 year man wasn't suffering from delusions caused by a desert heat stroke. Then they continued to follow this same man who claimed to have talked to a fiery bush. We question why not use the same kind of believing faith for other texts, in the same book, written by the same Author? Isaiah, a respected and often read prophet, under the same anointing Moses had been under, from the same God, penned a prophecy regarding the coming of the long awaited Messiah. "...and a virgin shall conceive." (Isaiah 7:14) Faith to believe the Moses story, but not this! Ironic, that this kind of believing faith caused Abraham to become the first Hebrew...the "father of the Jews", and yet, today, his kids struggle, in unbelief, with what Abraham had no problem believing! Genesis 15:6 "...and Abram believed, and...God counted it for righteousness".
What would it take to encourage an intellectual and pragmatic Jewish mind-set to open itself to the possibility that the Tenach is the infallible word of God, from Noah's Ark all the way to Jonah's prayer room inside the belly of a whale? What would it take to convince them that the kings/dynasties/ and cities mentioned in the Old Testament, and the accounts of wars and exiles,encounters and other events in Jewish history once really existed outside the pages of the Tenach? The archeological discoveries in the last 40 years have unearthed ancient tablets recording tax records from cities identifiable, with dates corresponding to the reign of kings and tetrarchs of that period found listed in the Old Testament!
Carbon dating has been instrumental in validating cultures that existed 3-4000 years ago, whose entire cities have been buried by the winds of time in the sands of the then known world of the mid east. Busy seaports, including the peninsular city of Tyre, the trade center of the then mid-eastern world, submerged under the waters, cut off from the mainland when attacked by their adversary, Alexander, the Great, with only enough land emerging above the sea level for the local fishermen to spread and dry their nets on...a prophecy fulfilled to the letter, given when the city was thriving, and at the height of its glory!
This book, the Tenach, is filled with amazing predictions that were made by people of all walks of life; from different social/economic backgrounds during a 1500 year span of time, and each prediction came to pass with amazing and accurate fulfillment..some, within a short period of time; others more than 2500 years later, and some, as yet, unfolding today! What is written on those pages is not dead and ancient history, but words that can direct man's future for today. It is beyond man's ability to understand how men could be moved upon with such Supernatural powers to pen events with such accuracy... which is where the problem is; what we can't understand, we shy away from..we negate it, because it is foreign to man's intellect to work in an area of faith. Yet, we have a tendency to read and believe whatever else is published..we step out in faith even when we try a new recipe from a Cookbook! Funny business, this thing called faith!
Judaism's own identity and origin is found within the pages that they, themselves, doubt the validity of. What an ambiguous position to be in! To deny the truth of the Old Testament would deny the existence of Judaism, and would strip ourselves of our own identity. To believe it is to see how God has been so faithful in fulfilling His promises to the Jew, on a personal and a national level, and to know that today's events are in His control, and He has a plan for each one of us. The words of prophecy found in the Old Testament are not dead works, but living words, written by men, by a living God, inspiring them to write as He moved upon their hearts and minds. Scan over a few prophecies...
Isaiah 11:12 "And He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the 4 corners of the earth."
This was an event that would happen nearing the end of world history, when Jews from all 12 tribes would be gathering together from the 4 corners of the world where they had been dispersed to from exiles, cast out from their different countries over hundreds of years; the Inquisition; the Holocaust, and anti-Semitism, and gather in their own nation. When Isaiah wrote this, 2700 years before Israel became a nation, Israel had never been exiled before, and yet, he wrote about a regathering of the people before they even left!
God."Amos 9:14: "...and I will bring again the captivity of My people Israel, and they shall build waste cities and inhabit them; and they shall plant vineyards and drink the wine thereof; they shall also make gardens, and eat the fruit of them. And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall no more be pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord, thy God.
God was predicting that they would inhabit a nation where there had not been one for 1900 years. It was a parched desert waste, having been uninhabited for centuries, and yet, He said they would build it, and produce wine and fruit, and rebuild the cities. Today, Israel boasts of beautiful cities, visited by millions of tourists every year, overflowing with students from all over the world, seeking education in their finest colleges, and the world has been importing the finest wines and fruit from Israel, a young nation just over 60 years old!! A nation with fast developing cities such as Haifa, Jerusalem, Tel-a-viv...thriving metropolises. He said they would never be pulled up from their land, in spite of the fact that even in it's young existence, there have been wars and confrontations, terrorism on every hand, on everyday; the PLO, etc Israel has not lost any ground to their offenders.
Isaiah 35:1: " the wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose".
The fertile fields, that were once dry deserts, are now producing multiple harvests a year, due to state- of- the- art irrigation systems, using atomic distillation methods, and roses have become an important export for Israel!
Ezekiel 36: 9-11: "For behold, I am for you, and I will turn unto you, and you shall be tilled and sown.: I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it. and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be builded; and I will multiply upon you man and beast, and they shall increase and bring fruit; I will settle you after your old estates, and will do better unto you than at your beginnings; and ye shall know that I am Lord"
God said He was going to increase the people. Do you know the Jewish population today? Over 13million, in over 95 different countries, and a major segment of that population is migrating to Israel, just as prophesied! God used Israel as a role model, so that the world would know that, in spite of near annihilation, a holocaust, an inquisition and many exiles, His word is valid, and He has done as He predicted because He is a living God, and faithful to His word. He did not provide and protect and bless Israel as He has these last days because they are special people..or because they were obedient...just the opposite! Their own history tells us they were backsliding, backbiting,disobedient people, always worshiping idols and breaking the commandments.It wasn't for their sake that G-d blessed them, but He said "not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you", but that His glory might be seen, so men would know that God will keep His words. God promised Israel a nation, and in 1948, He gave them one. He promised them prosperity..He has given them that. He also said that in the last days, "I make Jerusalem..like a cup of poison, ( in other versions," a cup of trembling"), to all the near-by nations that send their armies to surround Jerusalem. Jerusalem will be a heavy stone, burdening the world, and though the nations of the earth unite in an attempt to move her, they will all be crushed."
Zechariah 12:2, written in 520 BC, more than 2500 years ago, about events that are happening today! As God allows the players to move into position, there will be a war to end all wars, involving all the nations surrounding Israel, just as He prophesied. Every country that has tried to dominate Israel has been defeated, (in spite of the fact that this nation is barely larger the state of New Jersey, and it's armed forces smaller than it's adversaries), and yet, they won every war they have been involved with..the 6 day war; the Yom Kippur war; and presently, with the terrorists and the Humas and PLO.
There are yet predictions of other adversaries that will come from the north, and the results do not make for a pretty story, but these events are what pre-empts the coming of the Messiah, and with His coming, peace and tranquility, but not before judgment. He prophesied He would come again, just as He prophesied all the other scriptures I have quoted here...(just a few, of over hundreds of fulfilled prophecies!) He did exactly as He said He would do, and He will do the rest! But to believe He will come again requires that one believe that He came the first time. Did He ever say He would?
Isaiah 43:3: "For I am the LORD, thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Savior." If we can believe He's the same One that spoke to Moses in a burning bush, the we have to believe He will be our Savior! He re-affirms in Isaiah 43: 10,11: " Ye are My witnesses saith the LORD, you know and My servant, whom I have chosen..(talking to the Jews), that and believe Me, and understand that I am He: before Me there was no God formed. neither shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, and beside Me, there is no savior."
What are you saying, God?
"I am saying to the Jews, that I am your God, and also your Savior, the Messiah, that I promised to you..the Messiah, that you say in your religious agenda, you are looking for, but not in reality! You say, in the 13 Principles, that I exist; that I am unique and that I am one, and this is true..I am your Creator, your Father, your Provider, your God, as well as your Savior, but you draw lines and pick and choose what parts of Me you want, and ignore the totality of Who I am!!" (paraphrased)
Through His word, He has described Himself by His roles..and these various manifestations are but a description of His attributes..not a number of gods He shares His Deity with!! There's only ONE GOD!
.Isaiah 43:15: " I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King" 5:15: One God!
Isaiah 4: thou art a God that hides Thyself, O God of Israel, the Savior."
This very God, our Messiah/Savior, hid Himself within a human body, to walk in this world with us, calling Himself Yeshua, (meaning Savior), and in doing this, fulfilled many prophecies concerning:
what tribe He would come from...
what family line He would be born through..
what city He would be born in..Micah 5:2
what rejection He would suffer...
the betrayal concerning His arrest...Zechariah 11:4
His brutalization prior to His death..
His death..Isaiah 50:6; Psalm 22:16
His ascension...Psalm 69:18
All these prophecies concerning God's walk in the world as Messiah, God in flesh,...all fulfilled with 100% accuracy! The Dead Sea Scrolls have authenticated the validity of these Scriptures, proving they were written between 500-2000 years before His birth!
God, in His great wisdom, knew much of the world would reject Him, and that worship would be reduced to a "form of godliness" without the power of God. Isaiah predicted it this way, 29:13: " Wherefore, the Lord said, forasmuch as the people draw near Me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, (talking about having formal services with much ritual), but have removed their heart far, and their fear toward Me is taught by the precepts of men."
This is what Rabinical Judaism is today...precepts of men...based on the sayings and teaching of Rabbis and sages, commentaries upon commentaries, but no reference to the original word of God in the Old Testament. There is no longer "Bible Judaism" as G-d gave it to Moses...Abraham...Jacob...It is now the "precepts of men".
Isaiah 29:14: " Therefore behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder". Is it not "a wonder" that Israel is restored, growing and prospering even in the face of such great adversity? G-d is doing a mighty work today, and we are living in a time and hour when we are seeing many predictions coming to pass by the work of His power and His word of prophecy.