Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Orthodox Judaism--Part I

I want to preface this and any future articles I may write with this statement: The opinions expressed are my own, based on personal experience, studies and research. I am not an authority and Strongly Advise you to check with a Qualified Rabbi in all cases. These articles are for general information in the hope that you will do your own research and discovery in your personal search for truth. I have spoken with many people (including rabbis) and attended synagogues of the various movements in an effort to "find" my own community. For the record, I am a follower of the Orthodox movement.

The State of Israel has two “chief” rabbis to serve the Orthodox communities--one for the Ashkenazi (primarily from Eastern Europe) and the other for the Sephardi (primarily Spanish-Portugese and Arab).
There are some differences in the prayer books, but all follow the three daily services of Shacharis (morning), Minchah (afternoon) and Maariv (evening) as well as the bedtime Shema (generally last thing said prior to turning out the lights). Women's obligations to prayer are slightly different from those of men--I will deal with that in later article. There are slight variances in the Siddur each group uses, but generally, you can feel at home in most synagogues.
All Orthodox Jews believe Gd is one, incorporeal and not limited by time or space, that He gave Moses the whole Torah (both written and oral) at Mount Sinai. They believe that the Torah is divine truth, that has come down to us intact and unchanged and cannot be added to, taken from, or modified in any way. They believe that the Torah contains 613 mitzvot binding upon Jews but not upon non-Jews. They believe that the Jewish people were the preservers of the word of God.

In the Siddur, at the end of the Shacharit service, are the Thirteen Principles of Faith compiled by Maimonides. These principles include all of the basic tenets which one must acknowledge as truths in order to be considered a Jew, and to partake in the world to come. Although this is not the sole reason for comprehending these ideas, it is crucial to understand them and know them as true. Whoever does not believe in any of these 13 principles, is not considered part of the Jewish people, and will not have a share in the world to come.

The thirteen principles are organized into three general categories:
(I) The Nature of Belief
I hold with complete faith that the Creator whose Name shall be blessed:
1) is the Creator and Director of all creatures, and that he alone made, makes and will make everything that exists.
2) is [the perfect] Unity and there is no Unity like him in any manner and that he alone, our God, was is and will be.
3) has no [physical] body, nor can any corporeal effect influence Him, and that he has no form at all.
4) is the First and the Last. [is eternal]
5) is alone worthy to be the object of prayer, and that it is not fitting to pray to anything other than Him alone.

(II) Authenticity of the Torah
I hold with complete faith:
6) that all the words of the [Jewish] prophets are true.
7) that the prophecy of Moses our teacher, E"H [variously translated as servant of God, or peace be upon him, but absent in the Arabic version] was truthful, and the he was the root of the prophets who came both before and after him.
8) that all of the Torah which now exists in our hands is that which was given to Moses our teacher.
9) that this Torah will not be exchanged [for another, or overturned], and that there will never be another Torah from the Creator whose Name shall be blessed.
(III)) Reward and Punishment
I hold with complete faith that the Creator whose Name shall be blessed:
10) knows every deed of human beings and all of their thoughts, as it is written, Who created together their hearts, who understands all their deeds.
11) grants good to those who observe His commands and causes those who transgress His commands to be punished.
...I hold with complete faith:
12) in the coming of the Moshiach [Anointed King], and even though he may tarry, with all this I will wait for him every day that shall come.
13) that there will be a resurrection of the dead at a time which shall arise in the WIll of the Creator whose Name is blessed, and consciousness of Him will arise forever and ever.
Although there is no longer a Sanhedrine, there are Rabbinical authorities and Orthodox Jews are expected to follow the decisions of the rabbis. "You shall not turn aside from the law that they [the Rabbis] declare to you"...Deuteronomy 17:11.
According to Rambam, "All who believe in the Torah of Moses are obligated to abide by the [decisions of the] High Court and to rely upon them." In other words, the obligation to abide by the words of the Sages stems from the authority that the Torah itself granted them.
Ramban, on the other hand, holds that we follow the Rabbis by virtue of the correctness of their words. Their strength stems from the fact that their words are true and their advice is good. By virtue of the quality of their advice we must follow them, for one who refuses to accept correct and true council is considered foolish.

Because Jewish law is so complex, and rulings vast, in every case one must consult a rabbi for halachic advice. It is important to note that there are differences of opinion, therefore you should not go looking for the most "lenient" rabbi every time you have a question! Minhagim vary from country to country and community to community, so it is vital that you choose your community, get to know your rabbi and consult him whenever you are in doubt.
...To Be Continued

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