Judaism accommodates many different types of Jews. Even from our beginning we had twelve major divisions, the twelve tribes.
At the turn of the first millennium C.E. we see the demise of Babylon as a center of Jewish thought and the formation of two great branches which exist down to this day, Ashkenazic and Sfardic Jewry.
The ritual differences between Ashkenazic and Sfardic Jewry are mostly cosmetic.
Ashkenazic Jewish communities are initially established in Western Europe and develop eastward. Rabbi Gershom is regarded to be the founder of Ashkenazic Jewry. He passes away in 1040, the year that Rashi is born.
Rabbi Alfasi (the `RIF') is considered to be the founder of Sfardic Jewry. He passes away in 1103.
The growth of Sfardic Jewish communities follows the Moorish conquests and eventually concentrates in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Sfarad is Hebrew for Spain. Under the tolerant and educated Islamic Moors, these Jews live in a culturally enlightened world, on the cutting edge of civilization. This probably contributes to their involvement in philosophy and secular studies. Sfardic Jewrys creativity contributes to the composition of many classic poems, which will echo throughout the future generations.
Their hazards are mainly spiritual - assimilation.
In contrast, Torah studies for Ashkenazic Jewry have no competition from Medieval Christian European culture. Thus, they are afforded the opportunity to grow in their love and appreciation of Torah study. They are not into poetry. Their hazards are physical.
As communities draw closer in proximity the differing outlook regarding philosophy and secular studies becomes more felt. In the early fourteenth century, the great Ashkenazic Rabbi Asher takes leadership and lobbies against the study of philosophy and secular studies, which compete with the students devotion to Torah studies, the Jewish peoples great wealth.
Not every division has been viewed as a branch. Historically, some are considered to be branches and others are considered to be break-off movements.
From the perspective of mainstream Judaism, which has survived the test of time, a division is considered to be a legitimate branch of Judaism if it subscribes to, is based upon, and promotes full observance of the Written and Oral Torahs.
I now present you with a riddle. Here is a list of several movements which all claim to be legitimate branches or sub-branches of Judaism. The list is non-exhaustive. Some groups overlap, some don't and can't. You decide which are branches and which are break-offs. You may need to do some research to find the answers.
Here they are: Jews for Rebbes (Chassidic Jews), Jews for Young Israel, Jews for Reform, Jews for Reconstruction, Jews for Orthodoxy, Jews for Jesus, Jews for Conservative, Jews for Zionism, Jews for Chabad-Lubavitch, Jews for Yeshivas, Jews for the Ashkenazics, Jews for the Sfardics, Jews for Yemen.
Alas, today we also know some who are Jews for Nothing.
If you're Jewish, you really should get the answers and criteria clear in your mind. Your destiny and the destiny of your children are at stake. Again, no break-off has ever survived the test of time.
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