Who’s More Religious?

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Something that I find fascinating is that no matter what type of Jewish setting I’m in (all Orthodox, mixed, Reform heavy, etc), I often hear people citing a scale of religiosity that places Orthodoxy on one end, and either Reform or unaffiliated on the other end.

People will say things like “there were all types of Jews there, from unaffiliated to Orthodox.” That statement implies those two groups to be outliers that encompass every other groups of Jews between them.

This is truly perplexing – especially when I hear it come out of very committed Conservative and Reform Jews.

I would not balk at a scale of halachik observance, or strict ritualistic practice, but it’s the scale of “how religious” that really throws me for a loop.

There are many Reform and Conservative Jews who are deeply religious, committed to their faith, and unwavering in their practice. On the flip side, there are many Orthodox Jews who are ambivalent or apathetic about their Judaism, and consider it to be more cultural/societal than religious.

And what does “religious” even mean? Is it the Jewish rules someone follows? Is it how long/intensely/often someone prays to God? Is it how moral and ethical a person is? What is it?

There is no basis to imply that any group of Jews is more or less religious than any other. Religion is what we make of it, and how we choose to manifest our relationship with God in this world.

I may be nitpicking with the language we use, but I recommend everyone think twice before implying any sort of inherent hierarchy within the greater Jewish community.

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3 thoughts on “Who’s More Religious?

  1. “religion is what we make of it”; what the Jewish religion is making in Palestine? is it social, political, racist, exclusive, peaceful, pre-emptive, apartheid, one religious State? we have got to judge on deeds and not on abstract structures and notions. read “Jesus denied the Sanhedrin”

  2. shemaya

    I disagree. Religiosity in Judaism is defined vis-a-vis the Torah and the Rabonim as observance to the mitzvos. For the Jew, religiosity does not entail some vague or mystically oriented feeling of adherence to denominational bylaws, but instead, an attachment to halakha. I think you’re quite right, there is no “sliding scale” of religiosity– rather, one observes the mitzvos or one does not.

  3. Are you series?

    Agreed with Shemaya.

    Being religious is defined by adherence to mitzvot, and one’s desire to improve in that realm. For instance, the “committed” reform or conservative Jew, no matter how committed he is – is not committing himself to authentic Judaism, so how can you define him as a religious Jew.

    On the other hand, a “wavering” Orthodox Youth aspires to follow authentic Torah, therefore making him religious. The fact that he may be wavering or struggling, is a fact of life and his being not perfect. Not a fault in his level of religious observance.

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