2452 Judaism

the US from Eastern Europe, which mostly had
not yet experienced the Haskalah. Hence, they
usually brought Orthodoxy with them. Many
felt that Orthodoxy was too traditional for the
US, which was much different from Eastern
Europe, but many also felt that Reform Juda
ism had given up too much tradition. So a
middle ground, Conservative Judaism, devel
oped. Conservatism agrees with Orthodoxy in
many beliefs, but is closer to Reform in prac
tices. A fourth branch of Judaism in the US,
Reconstructionism, views Judaism as an evol
ving religious civilization and follows some
modern practices, such as ordination of women.
Sephardic Jews did not follow this migration
pattern to the US, and hence did not divide
into either Reform or Conservative Judaism.
Sephardic Judaism is Orthodox, but because it
represents all Sephardim with various degrees
of traditionalism and modernization, it tends to
be more flexible than Ashkenazi Orthodoxy.
In contemporary Israel, because of political
alignments within the Knesset (Israels parlia
ment), Orthodoxy (mostly of the Ashkenazi per
spective) has been the arbiter of religious and
cultural disagreements. This includes the ques
tion of who is a Jew, and has led to major con
flicts between traditional and non traditional
Jews. A large number of Israeli Jews are secular
rather than religious. Reform and Conservative
Judaism have made some progress in Israel, but
progress has been limited because of insuffi
cient political power. The Masorti movement,
founded in 1979, is the umbrella for Conserva
tive Jews in Israel.
Judaism has several major holidays and a
number of minor holidays. Most important
are Rosh Hashanah, Jewish new year, and
Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Rosh
Hashanah begins a 10 day period of repentance
that ends with Yom Kippur, the holiest day of
the Jewish year. As noted, both occur in Sep
tember or October. Other major Jewish holi
days are a reflection of Judaisms long religious
and cultural history, including persecutions and
victories. Purim (FebruaryMarch) is a joyful
holiday that celebrates the victory of the Jews
over a plot to destroy them in ancient Persia.
Pesach, or Passover (MarchApril) is a celebra
tion of the Jewish escape from slavery in
ancient Egypt in the thirteenth century BCE.
Sukkot (SeptemberOctober) is a joyful festival
symbolized by booths (sukkot) which represent
the huts which Jews lived in during the years in
the wilderness during their return from Egyp
tian slavery. Sukkot is celebrated for 7 days and
nights and concludes with Simchat Torah, a
joyful holiday which celebrates the completion
of the annual reading of the Torah and the
beginning of a new cycle. Hanukkah (usually
December) lasts for 8 days and celebrates the
victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid
oppression in 165 BCE. Historically, Hanukkah
was a relatively minor holiday, but it has
become more important in Christian countries
partly to offset Christmas so that Jewish chil
dren do not feel left out.
Judaism has several life cycle events begin
ning with circumcision (brit milah) for a male
Jewish child on the eighth day after birth. This
is to renew the covenant between Abraham and
God (Genesis 17:913). When a child is 13
years of age, a rite of passage into adulthood is
celebrated: bar mitzvah for the male and bat
mitzvah for the female. In the US and some
other places in recent decades, these ceremonies
have become expensive celebrations for some
youths. Bat mitzvahs, traditionally not cele
brated as much as bar mitzvahs, have increased
in importance in recent decades to lessen the
gender gap. Marriage and death, as in most
religions, also have special religious ceremonies.
Intermarriage of Jews with non Jews has
become very common in a number of places,
including the US, in the last few decades. This
reflects the extent to which Jews have been
accepted in larger societies, but it also is a
numerical threat to the Jewish community
because of the tendency of children of inter
married couples to merge into the larger
society. Assimilating often is easier than main
taining a separate identity. Some non Jews who
marry Jews convert to Judaism, but overall
intermarriage is a numerical loss to the Jewish
At the same time that Judaism is losing peo
ple to intermarriage, there are two groups of
people who are returning to Judaism. In the
Americas, thousands of descendants of Jews
who left Judaism during the Spanish Inquisition
(especially 1391 to 1492) are returning to a
Jewish identity. This is found especially in
the Southwestern US, but is evident in most
areas with large numbers of Hispanics, such as