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Pluralism

I get upset when I see different Jewish denominations at odds with each other. Why doesn’t everyone just accept everyone else? Or perhaps is there a way to know which of the denominations is the most correct?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

A Jewish man is shipwrecked on a desert island. After 10 years he's finally rescued by a passing ship. When the rescuers embark on the island, they are surprised to find the man has built himself an entire civilization: golf course, restaurant, and two synagogues.

"But since you're here all alone on the island," they asked, "why do you have TWO synagogues?"

"Because," replied the man, pointing to the buildings, "that's the one I go to, and that's the one I don't!"

At the core of the pluralism issue is the debate over whether there's "More than one way to be a good Jew." Indeed, there have always been divergent streams of observance – like Chassidic, Sefardic vs. Ashkenazic, and even the Talmudic arguments between the Talmudic academies of Shammai and Hillel.

And yet, historic precedents show that there are limits to pluralism, beyond which a group is schismatic to the point where it is no longer considered Jewish. For example, everyone considers Jews for Jesus as outside of the legitimate Jewish sphere. The disagreement, then, lies in defining exactly what are the acceptable limits of divergence.

Historically, any Jewish group which denied the basic principles of Jewish tradition – Torah and mitzvah-observance – ultimately ceased to be part of the Jewish people. The Sadducees and the Karites, for instance, refused to accept certain parts of the Oral Law, and soon after broke away completely as part of the Jewish People. The Hellenists, secularists during the Second Temple period, also soon became regarded as no longer "Jewish." Eventually, these groups vanished completely.

Early Christians were the original "Jews for Jesus." They accepted the Divine revelation of the Torah, but not the eternal, binding nature of the commandments. Initially, these Jews were reliable in their kashrut, and counted in a minyan. But the turning point came when Paul, realizing that Jews wouldn't accept the concept of a dead Messiah, opened up membership to non-Jews. At that point, these "Jews" experienced a total severing of Jewish identity.

I can’t predict what will happen to the various streams within Judaism today, but I do believe that the best bet for a strong Jewish future is to remain loyal to our faith and traditions.

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