Quantitatively speaking, the presence of many divisions within Judaism neither implies nor negates a weakening of the Jewish faith. Judaism has been a faith of divisions practically from its inception. It is the quality and nature of these divisions, including the motives that provoked them and the practical implications for Jewish religious life that must act as the criteria for ascertaining how pluralism affects the strength of the Jewish faith. When the Jewish people experienced the Exodus from Egypt they were divided into 12 tribes.
Each tribe camped together in the desert. When the Jews entered into “The land of Israel,” each tribe lived separately in an allotted piece of land. In temple times (according to the zohar 3, 170a) each tribe had a specific gate by which to enter the temple courtyard, that only members of that tribe could enter. Similarly (Magen Avraham, Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim sec 68, shulchan aruch HaRav 86:2,) all cite the view that each tribe had a specific variant of the prayer liturgy unique for themselves.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explains that rather than being an arbitrary division, dividing one nation into 12 sub-nations; each tribe possessed a distinct, unique spiritual, emotional and intellectual characteristic that enhanced the nation as a whole. This form of divisiveness cannot be said to weaken the Jewish faith, on the contrary, it was the ideal. Each division complimented the whole. It expresses from the outset that Judaism is a religion that is sophisticated enough to handle certain differences.
The fact that a religion could be divided yet could still strive towards an ultimate goal, without compromising on individuality, really highlights the strength and sophistication of that goal. However this was not a division on the grounds of theological belief. In a similar vein, nowadays Sephardim make up a segment of the Anglo-Jewish community. They are a division in their own right. However it’s a division based solely on cultural differences stemming from their geographical differences, which Judaism recognises and respects.
So much so, that there are halachic issues in changing from (for example) one variant of the prayer liturgy to another. However Jewish geographical customs do not impact on the fundamental theological principles of Judaism, and so it does not impact negatively on the strength of the faith. If anything, it expresses the fundamental significance of the traditional principles of Judaism; for people who have been dispersed for two thousand years and follow different customs to still be committed to the nucleus of Judaism, the fundamental principles, shows the power of that drive.
On the other side of the coin, there are relatively modern interpretations of Judaism, whose existence challenges the traditional fundamental principles of Judaism. The Jewish faith is unable to handle such progression. Thus divisions caused by progression from the fundamental principles of Judaism, weakens Judaism from a traditional point of view. However simultaneously it provokes a strengthening amongst orthodox Jews to their traditional principles. This is an attack on the nucleus of Judaism.
In the same way a normal person would not tolerate people harassing a loved one, Orthodox Jews cannot tolerate an attack on the fundamentals of their faith; which some believe is the secret to Jewish survival Forget progression of this type weakening the Jewish faith- it has no place within the Jewish faith. To paraphrase the 7th Lubavitcher Rebbe in a letter, (vis a vis Rambam hilchos teshuvah) there were always progressive groups in Judaism that came and went; for the Lubavitcher Rebbe the presence of progressive movements is temporary.
Examples of this can be seen in the fact that the Reform movement in America different has an extremely different theology to the Reform movement of Geiger and Mendelson. Progression also provoked a strengthening in solidarity within traditional Orthodox Judaism. 18th century divisions between Chasidim and Misngadim, which did not really hack at the fundamental principles of Judaism, fell apart with the onslaught of the Haskallah movement in the 18th century. Suddenly little differences were not so important as displaying a united front. Yet ironically, it was the Haskallah that brought them closer together.
The standpoint of the Lubavitcher Rebbe shows that traditional Orthodox Judaism has principles that cannot be reckoned with. Yet at the same time it limits the faith to not being able to handle fundamental theological progression. Of course from a progressive perspective, their existence strengthens the Jewish faith. In the preamble to a statement of principles for Reform Judaism adopted at the 1999 Pittsburgh Convention, “the great contribution of Reform Judaism is that it has enabled the Jewish people to introduce innovation while preserving tradition… they believe themselves to be preserving tradition, which they see as the nucleus of Judaism.
It could also be argued that progressive Judaism strengthens the Jewish faith by creating a dialectic playing field. Progressive Judaism will prevent Orthodox traditional Judaism drifting too far to the right. However for this to be the case, Orthodox Jews would have to recognise the existence of progressive Judaism as a division of Judaism. The above can only be said to apply to theologically motivated divisions. In the case of Anglo-Jewry, theology was primarily not the reason for progressive divisions.
The crux of the formation of divisions within Anglo Jewry was really the desire to fit in with English culture. This issue was made more complicated by mass immigration to England from Europe at various intervals, creating many groups at different stages of absorption into English culture. The first main split came in 1836 when members of the Spanish and Portuguese congregation sought “such alterations and modifications as were in line of the changes introduced in the reform synagogue in Hamburg and other places.
The main motivation being that they wanted to become more English which is clear from their demands (a convenient hour of service and the introduction of a choir,) shows that from the outset the Reform synagogue in Great Britain was founded because people were no longer focussed on theology. Such divisions show the weakness of the theology and faith, that it can be overrun by a desire to seem a little more anglicised. This is particularly the case when we consider that the majority of Jews in England considered themselves to be sufficiently accepted in the English culture that they did not need to renounce “particularist rituals.
This explains the slow development of the Reform synagogue in Great Britain. From its very inception it was not focussed on theology but rather making the service more comfortable. The Manchester Reform synagogue was founded out of discontent with the Chief Rabbi. The foundation of the movement was politics and a transfer of focus from religion, to how to make religion suit them best. This division (albeit small) hugely weakened the Jewish faith in England with rabbi Solomon Hirschell proclaiming, “persons who rejected the authority of the Oral law could not be permitted to associate with observant Jews in any religious rite or ceremony.
The slippery slope of this initial division led to other reformations like an organ and a mixed choir that made the Reform movement in Great Britain unable to retrace its steps. The impact of the manifestation of the Reform movement in England was the changing by Rabbi Nathan Adler to parts of the synagogue services within the framework of Jewish law. On the one hand this shows the weakness of the faith that a breakaway impacts a reform of parts further along the chain.
On the other hand Adler shows in a similar vein to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, showed that it is possible to be English within the framework of traditional Orthodox Judaism. However, it set the pace for further divisions. The leftist trend of the United Synagogue, provoked the formation of Mahzikei Ha-Dat. They decided that the United synagogue was too English. They had their own synagogue and their own Shochtim. This turned into the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. No longer was the united synagogue now the right as there was something much more right than it.
The division caused tension, and showed the inability of the United synagogue to satisfy all their customers. The same applies to the formation of the Liberal synagogue. They felt Adler was not going far enough. The fact that there are so many movements across the spectrum showed that the United Synagogue was no longer a strong movement. It showed the flaws in Anglo Jewry, namely that it was motivated by a desire to fit in with English society, which stems from an inferiority complex regarding Judaism.
Montefiore himself stated, “I am an Englishman of the Jewish persuasion. ” Rather than the divisions here weakening the faith, the weakening of the faith, caused divisions. In conclusion within Anglo-Jewry the presence of many divisions shows how weak the Jewish faith in England was. Generally speaking divisions in Judaism only connote weakness when they interfere with the nucleus of Judaism. Even then divisions provoke a strengthening of the faith as a response to the threat of destruction.