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Orthodox Judaism

Updated February 1, 2012


Orthodox Judaism is adhered to by around 10% of American Jews and consists of sects with various levels of engagement with modernity. The movement includes Modern Orthodox Jews, who engage fully with the modern world and may, at the leftmost streams, find ways of being more inclusive towards women and LGBT individuals. It also includes groups that may shun or minimize their exposure to secular education, have more restrictive roles for women, or have other practices designed to preserve a unique character to their way of life.

Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, walking to/from synagogue with their lulav and etrog for the festival of Sukkot. More here.

Practices and Beliefs

Orthodox Judaism is characterized by resting on Sabbath and holidays, observance of the Jewish dietary laws (kashrut), and observance of niddah (refraining from sexual activities (or, often, any touching or direct passing of objects) during a women's menstrual period and for seven days afterwards). Orthodox men cover their hair with a yarmulke (kippah), and some sects wear specific types of hats, black pants and white shirt, or black outfits originally popular in Poland. Women endeavor to dress modestly — in some circles that includes wearing skirts past the knee and covering their elbows and collarbones, with various other restrictions applying depending on the community. Many Orthodox families send their children to full-time religious schools instead of public schools. Depending on the type of Orthodoxy, women may receive more or less exposure to traditional Jewish texts, and boys and girls may be taught separately.

Services in Orthodox synagogues are conducted in Hebrew, and are very similar liturgically to the services in traditional Conservative communities. Men and women sit separately during prayer, separated by a divider called a mechitzah. Different communities will divide their space in different ways, giving women more or less of an ability to see the proceedings, touch the torah during the processional, or speak publicly.

Views on Intermarriage and Conversion

Orthodox Judaism is more opposed to intermarriage than other Jewish movements, and may make it difficult for people to convert if they are known to be in a relationship with a Jewish person at that time. Orthodox Judaism will not usually accept people as Jews if they have converted through other streams of Judaism, and may not accept people as Jews depending on which Orthodox rabbi sponsored their conversion.

In order to convert, someone would find a rabbi to work with, take extensive classes and make a commitment to the mitzvot (commandments), immerse in a mikveh, and have a circumcision (brit) or a ritual drawing of blood (hatafat dam brit) if they are male. Orthodox Judaism considers people to be Jews if they converted under a trusted Orthodox rabbi or if they were born to a Jewish mother.

People who intermarry in Orthodoxy may be ostracized in the community, and may no longer receive communal honors, such as being called to the torah during a prayer service. In most communities, it would be extremely difficult for the non-Jewish partner to play any role in the service or synagogue.

Derived from the Greek word for "assembly," a Jewish house of prayer. Synagogue refers to both the room where prayer services are held and the building where it occurs. In Yiddish, "shul." Reform synagogues are often called "temple." A divider (such as a curtain or barrier) that separates men and women at prayer. Yiddish for "skullcap," also known in Hebrew as a "kippah," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. Hebrew for "fit" (as in, "fit for consumption"), the Jewish dietary laws. Plural form of the Hebrew word "mitzvah" which means "commandment," it has two meanings. The first are the commandments given in the Torah. ("You should obey the mitzvah of honoring your parents!") The second is a good deed. ("Helping her carry her groceries home was such a mitzvah!") A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Hebrew for "skullcap," also known in Yiddish as a "yarmulke," the small, circular headcovering worn by male Jews in most synagogues, and female Jews in more liberal congregations. Traditional Jews were kippot (plural of kippah) all the time. Hebrew for "collection," referring to the "collection of water," is a bath used for the purpose of ritual immersion in Judaism. Today it is used as part of the traditional procedure for converting to Judaism, by Jews who follow the laws of ritual (body) purity, and sometimes for making kitchen utensils kosher. Hebrew word for a yellow citron, used ritually in the holiday of Sukkot. Hebrew for "my master," the term refers to a spiritual leader and teacher of Torah. Often, but not always, a rabbi is the leader of a synagogue congregation. The first five books of the Hebrew Bible (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), or the scroll that contains them. Hebrew for "covenant," often referring to the ritual for Jewish boys when they are 8 days old ("brit milah" - "covenant of circumcision"). It is commonly known as "bris," which is the Ashkenazi or Yiddish pronunciation of "brit."
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