adherence to these laws which are prescribed in the Shulhan Aruch or Code
of Jewish Law. Orthodox Jews believe themselves to be the most determined
guardians of Jewish tradition and adhere rigidly to the traditional rituals and
practices, resisting any significant changes. Orthodox groups insist that their
members adhere strictly to the dietary and Sabbath laws, that men and
women be segregated in the synagogue, that practices such as covering the
head during services and the donning of phylacteries be observed, and that
the use of the Hebrew language predominate in the worship services.
Adherents of Orthodox Judaism can be divided into three groups based
on the geographical areas from which they come:
THE SEPHARDIM.The Sephardic Jews are those who lived in Spain
(Shephard is a Hebrew term for Spain). The descendants of the Spanish
Jews have preserved their own customs and religious rituals.
THE ASHKENAZIM.The Ashkenazic Jews are those who lived in
Germany (Ashkenaz is a Hebrew term for Germany). Their customs and
religious rituals differ in some ways from the Sephardim.
ORIENTAL JEWS.The Oriental Jews are more varied in their
religious customs and traditions and have settled in the countries of the
Middle East and North Africa.
Reform Judaism began in 19th-century Germany as a result of Jewish
liberation, the breakdown of the ghetto walls, and the attempts of the people
to meet the demands of modern life by introducing modifications in tradi-
tional Jewish thought and practice. The Reform groups believe that the
spiritual and ethical values of Judaism cannot be changed; however,
practices are secondary. Customs which no longer have an impact on the
worshipper may be abandoned and new ones may be fashioned. Their prac-
tices are typified by saying prayers not in the original Hebrew, but in the
native language. They use musical instruments in worship services. Practices
such as covering the head during services, dietary restrictions, the donning of
phylacteries, and other traditional customs and laws have been abandoned.
In 1924,47 members of Congregation Beth Elohim in Charleston, South
Carolina, requested reforms in the ritual and the introduction of English
prayers in the worship service. The congregation rejected the request, and a
group of members withdrew and founded The Reformed Society of
Israelites on November 21, 1924.
Conservative Judaism originated in the middle of the 19th century. The
conservative movement in the United States began as a reaction against the
radical stand of the Reform rabbis at the Pittsburg Conference in 1885.
Conservative Jews oppose extreme changes in traditional practice but permit
certain modifications. In addition to being a 20th-century phenomenon, the
Conservative movement seeks to provide a middle ground and meeting
place for the Orthodox and Reform Jews who represent widely divergent