Version 1 November 15, 1976

Version 2 February 05,  2003

Orthodox, Conservative  and Reform Judaism



By David Steinberg

Home page


Issue Orthodox Conservative Reform


Born out of a self-redefinition of Traditional Judaism in reaction to 19th century Reform Judaism

Born, within 19th century scientific/liberal paradigm,  out of  Traditional Judaism in reaction to 19th century Reform Judaism

Radical reinvention of Traditional Judaism in confrontation with Christianity, Western civilization and political-social emancipation

Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy)

a God-given work communicated in its entirety to Moses known as the doctrine of Torah Min Hashamayim

a God-inspired work but perceived through the medium of one or more human beings.  Some parts (e.g.. 10 Commandments) may be more God-inspired than others (e.g. the demands to exterminate entire Canaanite populations)

Same as Conservative

Relevancy of Torah

As expounded in the Halakha (Oral Law) binding on all aspects of life of Jews except where it conflicts with civil law (doctrine of dina demalkhuta dina)

As expounded in the Halakha, including latest Conservative interpretations, binding on all aspects of life of Jews except where it conflicts with civil law

Considered as source of Jewish history and the history of Israel's relationship with God.  Only ethical aspects considered binding though other elements may be adopted by individuals if they find them meaningful**..

Study of Torah

- confined to traditional commentaries except for occasional illustrations from archaeology and comparative linguistics. - Modern Critical approach (MCA)* not permitted.

Traditional commentaries plus MCA

Same as Conservative

Study of  Niviim and Ketuvim (Hebrew Bible beyond Deuteronomy)

- Except among Modern Orthodox in Israel it is little studied. 

- Parts generally well known are those connected with the liturgy i.e. the haphtarot, Psalms, Esther, Song of Songs, Lamentations. 

- Traditional commentaries, above all Rashi, are used.  No principle would prevent use of MCA* but its use is frowned upon.

Traditional commentaries plus MCA

Same as Conservative

Study of Talmud

- Practically the only subject of serious study. study almost exclusively traditional using medieval commentaries.  - No principle would prevent use of MCA* but its use would be psychologically disturbing i.e. it might raise such questions as "have binding and axial decisions in the development of Halakha been based on a corrupt or misunderstood text?".

- Traditional commentaries plus MCA.  - Talmud study less wide-spread among the laity than among religious Orthodox.

Same as Conservative though little study carried out in practice except for rabbinic specialists.

Belief in Origin of Halakha

- Basic methods of deriving Halakha, and hence the origin of the Oral Law - Mishnah, Gemara, codes, commentary on codes - was given to Moses on Mt. Sinai by God along with the Written Torah.  Hence, the Halakha is binding. 

- This position is based on faith.  I.e. it can only be defended in rational comparative literary-historical analysis through special pleading.

The Oral Law grew up, under divine influence, through such factors as:

- interpretations and developments within the Torah

- decisions and influence of the rabbis

- folk customs

- economic pressures

- outside cultural, religious and other influences


Essentially this is based on faith as informed by modern scholarly research

Same as Conservative

Derivation of Halakha

- Mainly from: codes (especially Shulkhan Arukh); their commentaries (e.g. Mishnah Berurah); and, the responsa literature. 

- Relatively little discretion given to modern rabbis (doctrine of mi'ut hadorot - i.e. as we get further from the revelation on Sinai we understand it less)

- tendency to go for strictest option in rabbinic rulings to avoid criticism from Ultra-orthodox

- little desire to mould Halakha to modern realities

Several inputs:

- codes, their commentaries and, the responsa literature. 

- historical awareness of the changes, and reason for the changes, in Jewish practice through the ages

- a division between more and less important mitzvoth (commandments)

- a strong desire to mould Halakha to modern realities

- the full discretion exercised by early medieval authorities exercised by the movement's Committee on Jewish Law and Standards

Do not accept binding nature of Halakha so this is a non-issue**

Importance of Halakha

- considered binding on all aspects of life of Jews except where it conflicts with civil law

- free will - every Jew has the choice of either obeying the mitzvahs thus submitting to the will of God or defying God's will by flouting the mitzvahs i.e. sinning

same as Orthodox

considered a source from which individual Jews may draw ceremonies and other practices which they, personally find meaningful.

Actual Observance of Halakha

Among observant high

High mainly among rabbinate.  Low among lay members.

Do not accept binding nature of Halakha so this is a non-issue

Dedication to Jewish Scholarship

Among observant often high

High mainly among rabbinate.  Low among lay members.

Same as Conservative

Attitude to Jewish Peoplehood and Zionism

Theoretically strong but practically can be anything from strong to very weak.  Attitude to Zionism can be anything from strong to very weak.

Theoretically and practically strong.

Originally denied Jewish Peoplehood and was anti-Zionist.  Both positions now reversed**.

Attitude to Secular Studies

varies from total rejection to accepting that they are economically beneficial and may even, selectively, enhance the understanding of Torah



* Modern Critical approach (MCA), as used here, includes 3 types of modern diachronic (historical-evolutionary) criticism:

1. Current Text (Lower Criticism) - Questions relating to the state of the current text e.g. has the text become corrupt by processes such as misspelling of words, confusion of word order, marginal notes being copied into the text, words dropped out, wrong word division?

2. Pre-History of the Text (Higher Criticism) - How did the current text come into being?

3. Historical Background - Exploration of the forces at work on society that produced the text as reflected in the text itself e.g. the intellectual milieu, economic conflicts.  This will often show, for example, that the scientific outlook and intellectual categories of the Tennaim were Hellenistic and not specifically Jewish or that laws were discarded because of economic stress or because they appeared abhorrent to the dominant culture (e.g.. polygamy).

** see

Orthodox, Conservative  and Reform Judaism

Strengths and Weaknesses

  Orthodox Conservative Reform


- Aura of being the genuine Traditional Judaism

- fervor of committed

- flexible interpretation of Halakha

- power professional scholarship

- wide tolerance of divergent trends

- fits exactly into the "religion" pigeonhole of modern Western Culture.

- is not burdensome in that it does not transgress widely into the social and economic spheres except on the level of ethics

- wide tolerance of divergent (even atheistic!) trends


- very limited flexibility and little desire to attempt a symbiotic meeting with the modern world

- refusal to use MCA (see above) with Torah and Talmud caused a sort of intellectual split between the rational-analytic tools to be used to solve mundane problems and the tools to be used to solve religious problems.

- the greatest weakness, in terms of its own principles, is the low level of commitment to obeying the Halakha among its own members

- lack of fervor among members

- lack of rigorous intellectual rationale for considering the Halakha as divinely required for Jews with developed historical understanding

- The platforms adopted since the famous Pittsburgh Platform 1885 (see have been somewhat lacking in cogency.  Since Reform has traditionally been a dogmatic religion< not coincidentally like Christianity, this is important

- its recognition of a legitimate secular sphere of life may be seen to run counter to holistic thought which would maintain that every aspect of a person's life, and every decision made, is implicitly value-laden

- it is, in terms of practical burdens imposed, an easy option for Orthodox and Conservative dropouts.



Conservative Views on Revalation



Conservative Theology

Conservative Jews believe that God in some way revealed His will to Moses and to later prophets. Records and traditions relating to such events were transmitted in various forms for centuries, until the Torah was redacted into its final form, sometime around the time of Ezra (450 B.C.E.). Thus, Conservative Jews are comfortable with the findings of archeological and linguistic research and critical textual study; these reveal that the Torah was redacted together from several sources coming from different times and places. In fact, Conservative Jews make use of literary and historical analysis to understand how these texts developed, and to help them understand how they may applied in our own day. Thus, they see no conflict between modern biblical scholarship and adherence to Jewish law.”















Berkovits, Lamm

No distinction between Peshat (meaning that the author intended) and Derash (the meaning(s) given the text by the later tradition). For Orthodox, meaning of text = meaning that traditional commentators assigned to it.

Verbal Revelation:

The Torah, including both the Written and Oral Traditions, consists of the exact words of God. He gave it all as one piece at Sinai.

God's will


None, since God revealed the answers to all future questions at Sinai and man does not know more than God.


1) Applications to new situations (which were also revealed at Sinai).

2) Choice of one position in the codes over others.


a) God in fact dictated His will at Sinai and at other times.

b) These revelations were written down by human beings, however, and hence the diverse sources of biblical literature.

c) Since the revelation to Moses was by far the clearest and most public, it is the most authentic recording of God's will.

d) From Sinai on, Jewish law and theology are to be identified with the way sin which the rabbis of each generation interpreted and applied the laws of the Torah.

e) Hence the authority of Jewish law is based upon the fact that it is God's will, as stated first in the Torah and then by rabbis of each generation. Rabbis are authorized to modify the law for their time, but only with extreme caution.

Leeser, Kohut,

Schechter (?),

Heschel,, Novak


HISTORICAL METHOD: Distinguish between Peshat and Derash; determine Peshat through literary and historical analysis.


Continuous Revelation:

God dictated His will at Sinai and other times. It was written down by human beings, however, and hence the diverse traditions in the Bible.


God's will


Same as Orthodox (but usually choose the lenient position in the codes) plus:

3) Places where there are clear scribal errors.

4) Clear borrowings from other cultures. That is, distinguish the divine and human elements in our texts.


a) Human beings wrote the Torah at various times and places.

Hence the diverse documents, laws, and ideas in the Torah.

b) These people were, however, divinely inspired, and therefore their words carry the insight and authority of God.

c) Jewish laws and ideas may be changed for two reasons. First since the Torah is a combination of divine inspiration and human articulation, we must distinguish the divine and human elements in the Tradition and change the latter when circumstances require it. Second, divine inspiration did not happen once and for all at Sinai. The Torah is the document on which Judaism is based, and it therefore has special importance for us; but divine inspiration continues on in the form of new interpretations of the Torah in each generation (not new revelations).

d) When changes are made, they must be made by the community

Bokser, Gordis


HISTORICAL METHOD: Distinguish between Peshat and Derash; determine Peshat through literary and historical analysis.


Continuous Revelation:

Human beings wrote the Torah, but they were divinely inspired.

God's will


Human beings can change them because rabbis in each generation may be inspired to a new Midrash (interpretation); they must because the rabbis of each generation are charged with the responsibility to keep Jewish Law viable by balancing tradition and change.


a) Revelation is the disclosure of God Himself. It is not the declaration of specific rules or ideas, but rather a meeting between God and man in which they get to know each other. This meeting is asserted for different reasons and described in different ways by the existentialist and objectivist thinkers of this group. In other words, there are variant understandings of the act of revelation.

b) Both schools agree, however, on the nature of the texts of revelation: the Torah is the record of how human beings responded to God when they came into contact with Him.

c) Jewish law has authority for the Jew both because it represents the attempt of the Jewish People to spell out God's will, as revealed in the ongoing encounter with Him, and also because Jews are members of a covenanted community and have obligations under that covenant to God and to the Jewish community of past, present, and future. The divine and communal aspects of Jewish law make it a series of mitzvot (commandments), and not just minhagim (customs), in contradistinction to the  Reconstructionist position below.

For Conservative III, both God and the Jewish community command a Jew to act in accordance with Jewish law as it is interpreted in each generation, and the Jew renews his own personal contact with both in so acting.

d) However, since the Torah was written by human beings, if we want to learn about the origins and meaning of the Bible, we must use the techniques of biblical scholarship as thoroughly and honestly as we can.

e) Moreover, because the Bible is the human recording of the encounter between man and God during times past, the specific ideas and laws contained therein reflect the practice, values, and attitudes of those times. They may no longer be an adequate expression of our own understanding of what God demands of us now. We in our day have not only the right, but the responsibility, to make appropriate changes in the Tradition that has come down to us so that it will reflect God's will as accurately as possible and accomplish it as effectively as possible in the contemporary world.

f) While every person may have his own relationship with God, it is God's encounter with the Jewish People as a whole that is of primary importance. The  communal character of revelation is, in fact, a distinguishing feature of Judaism. Consequently, changes in the laws of Judaism must be made by the rabbis on behalf of the community, as the Tradition requires, and not by individuals on their own. But the entire body of Jewish law, as interpreted by the rabbis of our times, is binding on every Jew as a member of the community covenanted with God and with generations of Jews, past, present, and future


Jacobs, Siegel


HISTORICAL METHOD: Distinguish between Peshat and Derash; determine Peshat through literary and historical analysis.


Continuous Revelation:

The Torah is the human record of the encounter between God and the People Israel at Sinai. Since it was written by human beings, it contains some laws and ideas which we find repugnant today.

1) God's will.

2) Covenant with God and the Jewish People of past, present and future.


We continue to have encounters with God, and the law must be changed to reflect the new understanding of God's will that results from those encounters. It is the rabbis, representing the community, and not every individual on his own, who must determine the content of Jewish law in our day.


Kaplan, Einstein, Shulweis


HISTORICAL METHOD: Distinguish between Peshat and Derash; determine Peshat through literary and historical analysis.



No Revelation:

Human beings wrote the Torah.

No claim for divinty of the product.

1) Tradition (custom)

2) Internal Wisdom


Communal authorities in each generation can and must help individuals reconstruct Judaism with current and meaningful customs and ideas, but observance of rituals is voluntary; an organized creative community of the future could establish and enforce moral laws.



1937 Guiding Principles


HISTORICAL METHOD: Distinguish between Peshat and Derash; determine Peshat through literary and historical analysis.



Progressive Revelation:

The Torah is God's will written by human beings. As time goes on, we get to understand His will better and better (="progressive revelation").

1) Moral laws come from God.

2) Ritual laws have no authority because:

a) prophets canceled them.

b) Rabbinic laws were intended for specific periods only.

Every individual decides both what and how to obey.



Source Adapted from Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to Our Descendants by Elliot N Dorff, United Synagogue of America 1977



Jacob Neusner on Reform and Orthodoxy

From The Way of Torah: An Introduction to Judaism, Second Edition by Jacob Neusner, Dickenson 1974

From the nineteenth century, the efforts of Judaic theologians have been devoted to formulating a “modern” statement of the faith, congruous to contemporary philosophy: The theological enterprise itself is the most striking exemplification of modernization. One chief issue faced by these thinkers has been this: Having abandoned what I conceive to be “the traditional faith," do I thereby cease to be a Jew?

It is a very slight step from such a question to a sociological, rather than a theological, reply. Many have not hesitated to take that step: Your "Jewish identity" remains valid. You may supply whatever reasons you choose. I can conceive of no more striking transformation of theological into ideological language than the very question with which discourse begins.  The issue of "identity" is sociological not theological. Nor are the concomitant issues less secular: survival, consensus, commitment. Central issues of the Judaic tradition have, therefore, taken on a secular character in the hands of modern Judaic theologians.

The two most interesting cases of theological modernization are Reform Judaism and Orthodoxy….   

Reform Judaism, as its name implies, began as an effort to effect a reformation of the classical tradition. The Judaic Reformation proceeded on two levels, that of the virtuosi and that of the masses.

Large numbers of Jews in the great cities of Germany and, later on, in France, Britain, and the United States responded to the new situation of Emancipation by acculturation. They thereby sought to meet the requirements of the world to which they supposed they were invited. Accepted as citizens, they abandoned any pretense of separate nationality. Granted full economic equality, they shaped their own economic ideals to conform to those of the majority.  They were desperately eager to deserve the promises of cultural Emancipation. Like the maskilim a generation or two earlier, they examined their cult to discover those practices that were alien to the now interested world, and determined to do away with them.

These were not Jews who would choose the road of assimilation through conversion, perfunctory or otherwise. They chose to remain Jews and retain Judaism. One might say they wanted to be Jews but not too "Jewish"-not so "Jewish" that they could not be men, achieving a place in the undifferentiated society. This they wanted so badly that they saw and eagerly seized upon a welcome that few gentiles, if any, really proffered.

The religious virtuosi, those who had a better education, a richer family experience, a deeper involvement in the tradition to begin with, had the task of mediating between "the tradition" and the changes they saw about them and enthusiastically approved. For them, change became reform. The direction of the people proved to be providential. As Solomon Freehof wrote, "It was the Reformers who hailed the process and believed in it." They founded their reformation upon the concept that "essential Judaism" in its pure form required none of the measures that separated the Jew from other enlightened men, but consisted rather of beliefs and ethics, beliefs that were rational and destined in time to convince alI mankind, and ethics that were universal, far in advance of any available from other sources. Freehof commented: "Reform Judaism is the first flaming up of direct world-idealism in Judaism since the days of Second Isaiah."

Isolating the prophets as the true exponents of Judaism, they chose within the messages of the prophets those texts that best served as useful pretexts for the liberalism of the age. The reformers looked back upon the "golden age" when Judaism spoke to all mankind of the obligations of justice and mercy. It was that message they saw to be "essential." All else was expendable. So the social ideals of the masses, who yearned for a liberal society in which even Jews would find acceptance, and those of "essential Judaism" were identical. The necessary changes would indeed constitute a reformation and a return to that time of the true and unadorned faith.

But more than this, the reformers turned not only back to a golden age, but also forward to a golden age in the future, that time when bigotry and injustice would cease. They exhibited an idealism, an almost otherworldly confidence in mankind that suggests a radical disjuncture between their fantasies, on the one hand, and reality, on the other. The Jews were Europe's blacks, and Germany was their Mississippi or New York. They were excluded from the universities, ridiculed in the pulpits, libeled in the newspapers, insulted in private life. Yet they saw men as God's partners in the rebuilding of creation. They had the effrontery even to see themselves as bearers of a mission to mankind: God's Kingdom would be realized only through Judaism, "that most rational and ethical of all religions." The Jews had, they believed, an inherited, innate ability to give the world an "- ethical consciousness. In the symphony of the nations-so common a metaphor in these decades-Jews would play the ethical melody.

Orthodoxy is a creation of the Reformation, for only in response to the reformers did traditionalists self-consciously formulate what they regarded as orthodox about Judaism.

Orthodox organizations were founded a half-century after the Reform movement took shape, not only in Germany, but in the United States. Orthodoxy, too, accepted the premises of the Reformation, that the Jews were going not only to live among gentiles, but with them, and that therefore they had better learn the languages and adopt the culture, in its broadest form, of the West. But Orthodoxy determined on a different interpretation of what living with gentiles must mean, a different ideal for modern Judaism. Orthodoxy stood for the tradition first, last, and always; it accepted, but only grudgingly affirmed, the conditions of modern life. Modernism was to be judged by the criterion of Torah, not the contrary. What was up-to-date was, standing by itself no source of truth, let alone revelation.

Underlying this presupposition, nonetheless, is a vast reformation in traditional attitudes. Before the Jews could conceive themselves in such a new situation, they had to accept living with gentiles as a good thing. They had to affirm it as the will of heaven, in a way in which they never had accepted or affirmed the high cultures of medieval and ancient times. Modernization long antedated both the modernist movement and its opposition. But the opposition at first was at a deep disadvantage, for it had to debate the issues already set by the Reformation, and to take a negative view where, in a more congenial situation, it might have found the grounds foe affirming natural change as within the spirit of the Torah.

Favoring the Orthodox party were four factors. First was the natural conservatism of religious men who, within Judaism, followed not only the path of the fathers, but the ways of the father himself. These ways were set by traditional parents, who lent powerful psychic support to the Orthodox viewpoint.

Second, the Orthodox claimed that they represented the true and authentic Judaism. This claim was strengthened by the fact that the Orthodox were more like the preceding generations than were the reformers. The reformers' claim that they were "the true Judaism" had to be based upon a highly sophisticated, historicistic argument that if the prophets or the Pharisees were alive in the nineteenth century, they would have been reform Jews; therefore reform Judaism was authentic, and Orthodoxy was not. But that argument persuaded only those who to begin with believed in it. For the rest, the claim of Orthodoxy to historical authenticity seemed reasonable, for it conformed to their own observations of religious life.

Third, the virtuosi of reform were concerned for authenticity, but reform laymen were not. The Orthodox continued to attract those Jews most serious about Judaism.  Orthodoxy therefore benefited from the high level of commitment of its lay men and women, people prepared to make every sacrifice for the faith. In a measure, reform was attractive not only to reformers, but also to assimilationists. That is to say, whatever the virtuosi's intent, for the lay follower the Reform movement was a vehicle of his own convenience, used by the passenger to reach a point quite outside the itinerary of the driver. Two sorts of Jews participated in the creation of the Reform movement. One was the virtuoso, the Jew who not only was raised in a traditional environment, but took seriously the propositions of the tradition, and therefore made changes on the basis of commitment and reflection. The other was the ordinary man who, while intending to remain a faithful Jew, could see no reason to preserve what he thought were outdated, "medieval," or simply outlandish habits of dress, nourishment, speech, prayer, and the like. For him the Reform movement offered a satisfactory way to continue within the Judaic faith; he felt not the slightest interest in the rationalizations for that way….  But those responsible for … changes needed to persuade themselves that greater, more solemn truths than merely aping the gentile were expressed through the reform of the liturgy.

The fourth factor favoring Orthodoxy was that, as the Orthodox claim to constitute the one legitimate form of Judaism and to measure by itself the "authenticity" of all "deviant" forms developed, Orthodoxy came to offer a security and a certainty unavailable elsewhere. Its concept of a direct relationship between the individual's conformity to the tradition and the will of the Creator of the Universe bore a powerful attraction for those seeking a safe way in the world and feeling less concerned with the golden age to come, though still hoping for it.

Just as not all Europeans were liberals, but preferred another way, so too not all Jews, not even most Jews in many places, responded to the liberal message of the Reformation. And many who did were in time won back to the "tradition" in its Central European "cultured" form to be sure-when Orthodoxy addressed itself to them in good German, rather than in good Yiddish. What some wanted was merely to dress like gentiles and speak like them, but to live, nonetheless, by patterns they believed were revealed at Sinai. The achievement of the Orthodox thinkers was to offer reassurance that certain arts of life were truly neutral; but in so saying, they accomplished the grandest reformation of all.

Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888), the chief spokesman for Western European Orthodoxy…. 

Hirsch … in his Nineteen Letters,  issued no threats of excommunication, but stressed the affirmative requirement to study the Torah, with the rationalistic, perhaps ironic, certainty that knowledge would yield assent, an optimism different in form but not in substance from that of the reformers....

Hirsch accomplished this radical change chiefly by founding a school. He designed the curriculum so that the next generation would conform to the ideal by which he lived: "Torah and Derekh Eretz," that is, traditional science combined with general secular enlightenment. Judaism, he held, "encompasses all of life, in the synagogue and in the kitchen. . . . To be a Jew-in a life which in its totality is borne on the world of the Lord and is perfected in harmony with the will of God-this is the scope and goal of Judaism. . . . In so far as a Jew is a Jew, his views and objectives become universal. He will not be a stranger to anything which is good, true, and beautiful in art and in science, in civilization and in learning….  He will hold firmly to this breadth of view in order to fulfill  his mission as a Jew and to live up to the function of his Judaism in areas never imagined by his father.

Hirsch therefore proposed a model of "the Jewish-man," who fears God, keeps the commandments, and looks at the "wonders of the Lord in nature and the mighty deeds of the Lord in history." He added, however, that "Jewish-man" brings about not only the redemption of Israel, but also the redemption of all mankind. No less than the reformers’, Hirsch's reformation spoke of a "mission of Israel," and aimed at the "redemption of mankind," both the hallmarks of the liberal, enlightened German of the day.

Both Reform and Orthodox Judaism represent, therefore, modes of response to modernization. For both, the constants were Scriptures, concern for the religious dimension of existence, concentration upon the historical traditional sciences, though in different ways, and concern for the community of Jews. These persisted, but in new forms. Hirsch's "Torah and Derekh Eretz," no less than the "science of Judaism" (Wissenschaft des Judentums) produced within the Reform movement, constituted strikingly new approaches to the study of the Torah. The rhetoric of Israel's mission, now focusing in both movements upon the private person, reflected the new social datum of Jewish living – no longer as a nation but as individuals – and concealed, in both instances, the utter decay of the traditional social context. For both, concentration upon the community and its structures, policies, and future involved considerable use of sociological language. For neither were the traditional categories of covenant and sacred community any longer characteristic of a broad and catholic concern for all Jews in a given place.  Both addressed themselves, because the times required it, to German or French or English-speaking Jews.

Neither could conceive of a parochial and self-sustaining language of Jewish discourse. Both spoke of a mission of Israel to the world, and conceived of redemption in terms at least relevant to the gentile. This is not to suggest that the tradition in its earlier formulations was here misrepresented; but both Orthodox and Reform Judaism were very different from contemporary, premodern, archaic Judaism in Eastern Europe, North Africa, and elsewhere. Both were far more sophisticated, intellectual, articulate, and self-conscious than traditional Judaisms outside Western Europe.

The religious virtuosi of Reform and Orthodoxy were already prepared for a new formulation of the tradition long before either Reform or Orthodoxy made an appearance. Indeed, in significant ways, both represent a very considerable lag. The rigidity of Orthodoxy, moreover, is peculiarly modern and was called forth by changes in the quality of the Jews' way of living. We can hardly locate, in earlier times, an equivalent rejection of contemporary learning. We can find only few premodern examples of such paralysis in the face of need to update legal doctrines. Quite obviously, it was a fearful inability to cope with changes which produced the claim that change was, for the most part, undesirable and even impossible. Change not only was not reform, it was the work of the devil. Similarly, the sectarianism of both Reform and Orthodox groups, their abandonment of the ambition to struggle with all Jews for the achievement of universal goals within a single, united community, constitutes a failure of nerve in the face of the diversities and inconstancies of the modern situation.

Modernization called forth many changes indeed, but those were produced by a tradition already much in flux, and by men who had come a long way toward the modern situation before the challenges of modernization in political, cultural, and religious matters had to be faced consciously. Nor is it a consistent matter, for modernization ought to have produced one response only, and that is the Reform one. Yet in Germany the responses were in significant measure reaffirmations of what men conceived to be the tradition. Modern culture acted upon traditional religion, but the contrary proved also to be the case: the modern Jew was surely as much shaped by his inherited culture as that culture was shaped by modernization. And that modern Jew had a significant impact indeed upon the formation of what subsequent generations understood to be modernity.