I watched a UsefulChart video on Jewish denominations, which I found very educative as an atheist interested in history.

It was not clear however whether the various denominations can share/understand a religious event at a synagogue of another denomination (or another place where a religious event happens).

To place this in context: if a Catholic would go to attend a Protestant liturgy, they would be mostly lost in the flow of the event - what happens during that time is very much different from a mass.

Similarly, the messages provided by, say, Mormons are disconnected from those of Catholics.

Still - they are all "Christians".

Is there such a disparate tradition in Judaism? For instance would an Orthodox Jew at a Reformed Bar-Mitzvah feel completely "at home"? (and know what to do when)

Are there moments where the denominations diverge a lot and what happens during an event is a surprise for someone from another domination?


2 Answers 2


I think Rabbi Kaii has provided this an excellent answer. He has given the broad strokes, and I would emphasize that the experience of many Orthodox Jews would be that they would feel "at home" in an Orthodox/traditional Shabbat service in any country in the world, even across the Ashkenazi/Sefardi divide, but going to a Reform synagogue across town would be disorienting and extremely difficult halachically, particularly because of the following:

(1) Reform congregations often use microphones and musical instruments, which Orthodox Jews would see as strict violations of Shabbat laws, and even worse, these violations are occurring publicly and intentionally, which carry strict penalties under Torah law.

(2) Many prayers are skipped and/or recited in English and/or altered, which means that Orthodox Jews would not fulfill their obligation (or feel they did not fulfill their obligation) by attending these services unless they can find a traditional prayer book.

(3) The use of female cantors (who lead the congregation in prayer and in reading the Torah), and also females called up to the Torah, as well as mixed seating, are alien to Orthodox Judaism.

On the flip side, I know from experience that many Reform Jews are quite uncomfortable at an Orthodox service. For one thing, unless it is a bar mitzvah and the Rabbi sees that there are many non-traditional Jews present, it is rare that congregants are told which page/prayer they are on, and (in Ashkenazi synagogues) much of the service is davened (prayed) in an undertone. As a result, many Reform Jews will not know what's going on, and will need someone next to them to show them "where we are." And there will be very many prayers with which they will be unfamiliar. There are of course exceptions, and some will be able to follow along well, but that would be the minority.

Second, Reform Jews, who are used to egalitarianism, which in fact is one of the focal points of Reform Judaism, will be struck by the lack of female involvement in any aspect of the service. I have heard from many Reform Jews (male and female) that the reason they avoid Orthodox synagogues is because they palpably feel a sense of injustice during the service due to what they view as gender inequality. The same issue may arise for Conservative Jews, who are generally trending in that direction.

So for very concrete reasons, the divide between the the more liberal and traditional forms of Judaism results in a situation where both sides would feel a great deal of discomfort attending a service of the other. This is really unfortunate, and I wish I knew where the solution lies.


Yes and no.

Within traditional denominations (ones that preserve the tradition without modification), there is a near universal phenomena of mutual understanding. A sefardi orthodox jew can pray in an ashkenazi synagogue and understand everything (even though there are many differences). He may struggle with the accent, but the language is the same, and the practices will be similar enough. Any differences might arise from small differences in opinions in the earlier authorities, and each community picking a different opinion. Other differences will be superficial, such as the build of a Scroll of Torah, and these are personality differences, rather than substantial differences. The content in that Torah will be identical, letter for letter.

However, the problem arises with non-traditional denominations. They will often struggle to share, agree or even understand each other, as well as traditional denominations and vice versa. Generally speaking, if I were to go into a reform synagogue as an orthodox Rabbi, there would be some things I'd recognise, and some things I'd feel are antithetical to Torah, and some things that are clearly not Torah-based at all.

One point you made, that they are all "christian". Same will be true of Judaism. All Jews, traditional or non-traditional, are Jewish. Judaism is inherited at birth and is permanent, irrespective of practice or tradition.

My source for this is personal experience, as well as common knowledge. Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb has a wonderful lecture that explains this traditional/non traditional divide.

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    Of course in a different denomination, you might go in not knowing quite what to expect, so just keep your eyes and ears open. Often the biggest confusions happen with something almost like what you know, but just slightly off. "Why am I sitting down when everyone's standing? I feel sheepish ... oh wait, they put this part at the end instead of the middle ... okay...now I get it..." (That's what happens when you go to a different flavor within Orthodoxy.)
    – Shalom
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 20:54
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    Some of the "superficial" differences can lead to larger confusion. For example, a Sepharadi guest at an Ashkenazi synagogue might have no idea what to do for hagbah, and an Ashkenazi guest at a Sepharadi synagogue might be very confused when it comes time to do birkat kohanim.
    – magicker72
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 21:25
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    I don't think this is correct. An ashkenazi orthodox jew will follow along in a Reform service much better than in a baladi temani service. Sure the OJ will notice all the things missing/skipped etc. but they'll know what's going on. A women leading something or a paragraph in English may be halachically problematic (or whatever) but the OJ will still understand and follow along just fine. Moreoever, even in a Reform Temple the Torah scroll will contain all the same letters (unlike the Temoni place for that matter)
    – Double AA
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 22:48
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    I know what you are all saying and can't find anything wrong with it. I also feel my argument is correct (I've been to a baladi shul too). If it can be argued both ways, perhaps it's a sign of a quality of the question.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 22:39
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    lol what's with folks making it seem like Baladi is radically different than any other O congregation? Defective vs plene spellings in a handful of places in reading the Torah isn't what's gonna throw people off. The most difficult part is the accent (which @RabbiKaii addresses) beyond that I think most Ashkenazi OJs, would be able to follow along mostly fine. Commented Apr 14 at 17:37

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