What is Judaism?

This article is from Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector’s Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008)
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While Judaism finds its genesis in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, its modern-day expression is largely a function of the destruction of the temple in AD 70. As such, Judaism now finds expression in Torah study rather than temple sacrifice. The three main branches of Judaism are Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative.

First, Orthodox Judaism (Torah Judaism) is best known for its strict dedication to the eternal and unalterable Mosaic Law as reinterpreted by rabbis subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem. Only through devotion to the complex code of Jewish law (Halakhah) can one experience nearness to God. Orthodox Jews await a rebuilt temple, a Jewish Messiah who will restore the kingdom to Israel, and the physical resurrection of the dead. Ironically, it is possible to be an Orthodox Jew and yet not believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Furthermore, unlike Orthodox Judaism, which teaches that observance of the Law leads to freedom, Reform Judaism (Liberal) begins with the freedom to decide what Law to observe. In other words, human autonomy trumps the authority of Halakhah. As a movement arising in the eighteenth century, Reform Judaism seeks to adapt to the modern world in order to preserve Jewish identity amidst pressures of assimilation. Thus, Reform Judaism is reformed and always reforming.

Finally, Conservative Judaism (Historical) is a late–nineteenth-century reaction to the liberal tendencies inherent in Reform Judaism. As such, Conservative Judaism forges a middle way between Orthodox and Reform Judaism. On the one hand, adherents embrace modern culture. On the other, they observe Jewish laws and customs without the fundamentalistic fervor of the Orthodox.

Regardless of the religious affiliation of those to whom we are witnessing, our duty is to demonstrate the reality of Jesus Christ through the testimony of our love, our life, and our lips. For as the apostle Paul explains, the gospel of Jesus Christ “is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Romans 1:16–17).

For further study, see Richard Robinson, “Understanding Judaism: How to Share the Gospel with Your Jewish Friends,” Christian Research Journal, 19, 4, (1997), available through the Christian Research Institute (CRI) at http://www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/.


“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you
while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled
that is written about me in the Law of Moses,
the Prophets and the Psalms.’”

Luke 24:44

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