Who Practices Judaism


Judaism, an ancient monotheistic faith and the ancestor of Christianity and Islam, is often considered the oldest of the world’s major religions. Over its three-thousand-year history, it has seen both thriving and difficult times, finding its adherents scattered throughout the world. Even today, Jewry is composed of various branches of which a number of distinct groups practice both different flavors of traditional Judaism, and alternative religious views. While many people are familiar with the basics of Judaism, fewer are able to identify the diverse forms of practice that exist within it. It is thus important to consider its complexities in order to fully appreciate its current state.

Observance of Mitzvot

One of the most basic forms of practice common to all branches of Judaism is the observance of mitzvot. Generally speaking, a mitzvah is a commandment that Judaism outlines as necessary for a Jew to fulfill in order to lead a spiritual life and fulfill the obligations of the Torah. These can include anything from saying the Shema upon rising in the morning, to adhering to commandments on how a Jew should live his or her life. Traditionally, the study of rabbinical literature and subsequent observance of its guidance were two of the primary ways for Jews to express their commitment to the Mitzvot.

Conservative Judaism

Conservative Judaism is a form of Judaism that attempts to bridge traditional values with the demands of modern life. It is often considered an intermediary position between the more traditional Orthodox and more progressive Reform Judaism. The primary focus of Conservative Judaism is to maintain a certain level of religious practice and custom at the same time that modernity perpetuates change. Common practices such as Kashrut, Shabbat, and circumcision remain important elements of Conservative Judaism that allow its adherents to remain connected with their Jewish heritage while also engaging with the secular world.

Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism, often considered to be the most progressive of the three major branches of Judaism, places its primary emphasis on spirituality and the worship experience rather than specific religious observances or ceremony. Reform Jews are more likely to follow a blend of traditional practices, adapted to their own lifestyles, rather than a strict adherence to all of the laws of the Torah. Some Reform Jews do not adhere to the Kashrut laws of dietary observance; instead, certain restrictions may be observed on certain holidays. Further, Reform Judaism tends to be more accepting of homosexuality, interfaith marriages and other shifts from traditional values.

Orthodox Judaism

Orthodox Judaism, considered to be the most traditional of the three major branches of Jewish practice, is grounded in adherence to the laws of the Torah as expressed in the Talmud. This branch of Judaism emphasizes a strict observance of the Halacha, or religious law, as interpreted by the interpretations of Torah study over millennia. While there are specific variations depending on the type or denomination of Orthodox Judaism, the core emphasis is on adhering to strict Korbanot (sacrifices) and other laws as expressed in the Torah.

Reconstructionist Judaism

Reconstructionist Judaism, although relatively small compared to the other branches of Jewry, is a unique approach to Jewish practice. It is distinct in that it maintains a connection to Jewish heritage and culture while embracing a critical approach to the tradition itself. While Reconstructionist Judaism incorporates many of the practices of Orthodox and Conservative Judaism, its primary focus is on examination, raising questions and reformulating beliefs in order to make them meaningful to modern people.

Humanistic Judaism

Humanistic Judaism is another alternative form of practice, although it is not as common as the others mentioned here. It focuses on creating meaning for Jews based on modernist roots. This can include an exploration of one’s identity, a recognition of shared Jewish history, and the practice of Jewish ethics and social justice. Humanistic Judaism emphasizes personal autonomy as opposed to a reliance on a Divine Being, and it continues to gain traction among progressive Jews.

Alternative Forms

In addition to the main branches of practice outlined above, some groups of Jews follow one of the lesser known paths. Examples of these include Hasidic Judaism, Karaite Judaism, Jewish Renewal, and Messianic Judaism. While there are different levels of commitment and observance for each subgroup, all of these alternative paths seek to sustain a connection to Jewish faith, heritage and culture in different ways.


The history of Judaism is filled with multiple branches of practice, some more traditional and some more progressive in nature. While Orthodox Judaism remains largely committed to traditional principles, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist and Humanistic Judaism incorporate principles of modernism into the faith. In addition, some follow alternative forms of practice which are distinct and unique in their own right. As such, it can be seen that there is a vast array of Jewish practice, one which continues to evolve in the present day.

Josephine Beck is a passionate seeker of religious knowledge. She loves to explore the depths of faith and understanding, often asking questions that challenge traditional beliefs. Her goal is to learn more about the different interpretations of religion, as well as how they intersect with one another.

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