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  1. How did the progressive and orthodox denominations come about?
  2. What is the orthodox view towards the existence of a progressive denomination?

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Sam, welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for this interesting question! I look forward to seeing you around. –  Isaac Moses Feb 1 '12 at 4:24
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MODERATOR NOTE: The chatting in the comments on this question and its answers has gotten excessive, so I've created a chat room for continued chat. Please make further comments to this question and its answers only if you are addressing their accuracy, format, fitness, etc., but not if you want to discuss what you think should be the case. For the latter, please go to the chat room. –  Isaac Moses Feb 1 '12 at 15:09
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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

You are basically asking 2 questions.

To answer point 1: Historically, the Progressive forms of Judaism came about as a response to the emancipation of Jewish rights in Europe. For centuries, Jews in Europe were second or third class citizens, often residing in Ghettos and having direct laws against their integration with Christian society. Along with the influences of the enlightenment and a general separation of the views of "good citizens" to keep their religion private and at home, many Jewish people reacted to the new freedoms in Europe by trying to become "better Europeans". They felt the best way to practice Judaism, and to be a light unto the nations was to be fully integrated in European society, and to make Christians feel comfortable in a Jewish home or house of worship.

While many of the reforms started out as being halachically acceptable, more traditional Jews felt that this general idea of trying to assimilate into Europe on purpose went against all the main teachings of Judaism. Judaism went through this crisis before, with the Hellenist and the story of Hanukah, and the traditional Jews of Europe did not want to fall down that path again. There then became a clear schism amongst the Jewish people, with each group not willing to be part of the community of the other.

Along with the Haskala movement, and recent fights between Yishivish and Chasidic Jews, a complete separation was perceived to be needed if there was going to be any success in keeping the Jewish people from assimilating and losing all Jewish identity.

That is the basic story of Reform Judaism.

For Conservative Judaism, the split came about because of a change of demographics in America around the 40s and 50s. People, in general started to move away from the big cities, and created suburbs, and these suburbs lost a lot of the close community that existed in the inner cities. Being unhappy with the ideals and assumptions of Reform Judaism, but also at the same time, fearing a loss of Jews to the American way of life, they tried to form a compromise in which Halacha was followed, but the preservation of the Jewish American way of life was the first concern. That is, their halachic stances would mostly be aimed at making sure that American Jews could fully live the American life style, and still feel some connection to Judaism.

Again, the now Orthodox sectors of Judaism, felt that trying to adapt Judaism to American life, instead of adapting American life to Judaism was the wrong way to go about things. One of the biggest splits happened over the Conservative ruling that allowed people to drive to Shul on shabbat if they lived too far away to walk. This was a clear violation of Halacha that Orthodox leaders could not accept, and a sociological divide was created. Those who lived close to shuls and those who did not, as well as different schools and congregations picking one side over the other.

Other progressive forms of Judaism have their own unique histories and philosophical arguments.

To answer number 2:
Orthodox Judaism basically views the more "progressive" forms of Judaism as having a poorly thought out hierachy of Jewish values. Due to that difference in view, the end result is that in many cases, Orthodox Jews view "progressive Jews" as not following or keeping Jewish Law or Halacha.


This was really just a very long comment on the Question before the clarifications, I'll keep it just cause it's good info to have around.

There have been many forms of Judaism over the centuries, not all of them progressive, and not all of them are still around, and some have made revivals. Just to list the different names and systemic changes (or maybe meta-halachic?) within Judaism.

Perushim, Tzadukim, Kaarites, Samaritans, Early Christians, Hassidut, Sephardi, Kabbalistic, Rationalist, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Humanitarian, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Messianic, Haredi, Chabad, Secular Zionist, Religious Nationalist, Open Orthodox, Partnerships.

Of that list, there are what you call the "progressive" forms of Judaism. Those today would be: Reform, Conservative, Humanitarian, Reconstructionist, Renewal, Partnership and Open Orthodox.

Jews who fall into the Orthodox camp of Judaism, generally view the "progressive" forms of Judaism as being "invalid", or just not following the path of Judaism. The reason for why each "progressive" camp is not valid differs, but they each have some meta-halachic principle which Orthodoxy feels is not authentic or breaks some key component of Judaism. Reasons differ from a need to Assimilate, a rejection of the Divine as traditionally understood, or just being too influenced by non-Jewish culture. However, and this is an important point.. These feelings of being invalid, do not just exist for these "progressive" forms, but depending on which camp someone is in, they might feel that other camps are also not valid.

Jews who fall into the Orthodox camp of Judaism generally view the following camps as valid in one way or another: Perushim, Orthodox, Hasiduth, Kabbalistic, Rationalist, Sephardi, Haredi, Chabad(?), Religious Nationalist, some forms of Partnership, and Open Orthodox.

In your question, you brought up another division of Torah Judaism vs Rabbinic Judaism. All the camps previously mentioned are forms of Rabbinic Judaism. Torah Judaism camps, are the Tzadukim, Kaarite, Saamaritans, and Early Christians, Messianic Each of these groups have created their own layer of interpretation which is different from Rabbinic Judaism.

In all cases, the differences between the various camps is in some issue which is not directly addressed by the Torah, or is influenced by some historical or philosophical point that did not exist earlier in history.

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Partnership are groups of Jews and minyanim who don't adhere to modern Rabinic authority. I.e. Poskim. But instead read the sources themselves, and come to their own conclusions. They ignore most minhagim that are not written as pure halacha. They consider themselves to not belong to any particular camp or branch that currently exists. Yes, Open Orthodoxy is both progressive, and "valid" by most Orthodox Jews. There is no question that they view the current reality of the status of Woman in society as a meta-halachic game changer. –  avi Feb 1 '12 at 9:45
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@Will Meta-halachic means that there is some overriding principle in their halachic criteria. For Haredim, that principle is Alegience to their rebbe, for Rationalists it's removing practiced based on mysticism, for Kabbalists its doing a tikun of the sefirot, for Orthodoxy its making sure that they don't give legitimacy to Reform or Conservative. For religious Nationalists it's bringing the geulah and building the state of Israel. Everyone has an answer in mind and tries to find the sources that fit the answer. Some are more honest about that than others... to be cont. –  avi Feb 1 '12 at 13:49
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MODERATOR NOTE: The chatting in the comments on this question and its answers has gotten excessive, so I've created a chat room for continued chat. Please make further comments to this question and its answers only if you are addressing their accuracy, format, fitness, etc., but not if you want to discuss what you think should be the case. For the latter, please go to the chat room. –  Isaac Moses Feb 1 '12 at 15:09
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+1. Great summary of the history and issues. Worth noting: while Conservative has a central authority for binding halacha (unlike Reform), it support majority/minority opinions. So, for example, the driving-to-shul ruling permits a community to rule that way but doesn't require it. Today I don't know of any that don't, but I suspect it was more controversial and diverse at the time. (I don't know; I wasn't there.) Another example is yom tov sheni; some do and some don't, and occasionally a shul gets a new rabbi who changes it and you get tzuris for a while. –  Monica Cellio Feb 1 '12 at 18:55
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@MonicaCellio Thanks, I wasn't aware of that flexibility –  avi Feb 1 '12 at 20:41
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Progressive Judaism has typically held than certain, often times many, aspects of Jewish practice need to be updated--or frankly "fixed".

Judaism as traditionally defined affirms that G-d gave the Torah to Israel and cannot be "fixed" in any essential way.

Prior to the rise of "progressive" movements within the Jewish people the naturally conservative nature of Torah Judaism mean that any change happened either organically or by applying Torah principles to a specific new situation. Subsequent to the progressive movement any change has to be measured against the new backdrop of many Jews feeling that the Torah needs to be fixed rather than that the Torah needs to guide us in new situations.

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Should orthodox Jews who avoid going to liberal services and talk to liberal rabbis comment on what the progressive movements think or why they do things? I am a regular at a liberal synagogue and I have never heard that the "Torah needs to be fixed" or anything like that. I believe maybe there are as many orthodox fantasies about non-orthodox Judaism as there are non-Jewish fantasies about Judaism as such. –  Andrew J. Brehm Feb 2 '12 at 14:26
    
actions speak louder than words. –  Yirmeyahu Feb 2 '12 at 15:27
    
What about words about actions? –  Andrew J. Brehm Feb 2 '12 at 17:07
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Judaism maintains (a) that the Torah is God-given, (b) that the power great rabbis have to enact regulations and to interpret the Torah is also God-given, and (c) that others don't have those powers to the same extent.

As I understand it (though I'm no expert on the subject), many Jews, who practice/believe what they call "Judaism", don't believe any of those three points.

This leads to many, many differences in belief and practice.

You say in your question "I'm especially keen to hear the views of those that believe in Judaism's adaptability"; I'm glad to provide that view. As an orthodox Jew, I can assure you that Judaism adapts to the times: rabbis enact (or dissolve) regulations because of the changing times, and issue unusually lenient (or strict) legal decisions because of the changing times. But these are done only after those doing them are grounded very firmly in Jewish belief and study.

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Penned as an answer to an earlier version of the question, this serves also as an answer to item 2 of the current version. –  msh210 Feb 1 '12 at 16:50
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