Samaritans (Kutim) have an intermediate status in the Mishnah, but the Talmud largely counts them as out (Hulin 6a).
Beotheans and Saducees (Tsedukim) count as sectarian Jews.
Minim, unspecified sectarians, populate the Talmud.
In Geonic times and thereafter, the followers of Anan ben David (8th century), later called Karaites, present a serious alternative to Rabbinical Judaism. Rabbinic and Karaite Jews coexisted in several communities in North Africa, Asia and Europe.
The Cairo Geniza contained several ketubot, marriage documents which specify that the rabbinite husband shall not interfere with his wife’s observing according to Karaite halakhah.
Rav Saadia Gaon (882-942) wrote against the Karaites, and instituted acts to separate the Rabbinic Jews from the Karaites. In much of his writing against the Karaites, he marshals arguments against specific Karaite doctrines, such as their denial of the value of the Talmud, their refusal to use fire on Shabbat, their insistence on setting the calendar by observation, their permitting Pesah to begin on any day of the week, and beginning Shavuot always on a Sunday.
Rambam (1135-1204) did not favor separatism. He wrote that the Karaites ‘should be treated with respect, honor, kindness and humility as long as they do not slander the authorities of the Mishna and Talmud. They may be associated with, one may enter their homes, circumcise their children, bury their dead and comfort their mourners.’ (Responsa of Rambam) He recommends treating Karaites with friendship, in the hope that they will return to the source of strength, the Torah They are like “captive children,” raised to believe what they believe through no fault of their own (Laws of Rebels 3:3) Wine remains kosher if a Karaite handles it, according to Rambam: this defines Karaites as Jews in good standing.
Shulhan Arukh does not mention a limit on marriage with Karaites (Even HaEzer 4). Radvaz explicitly encourages such marriages (1:73).
Rama, in his commentary on Shulhan Arukh, does not permit one to marry a Karaite, since their process for divorce differs from ours, they are “doubtful mamzerim.” According to Rama, we also do not accept penitent Karaites who wish to rejoin rabbinic Judaism. (Even HaEzer 4:37).
Other rabbis have permitted intermarriage with Karaites by invalidating their marriages – the witnesses never count – so they are unlikely to become mamzerim. Still others permit intermarriage with other explanations (Teshuvot Noda BeYudah)
In the 1600s: Sabbateans. Followers of Shabtai Tsevi (1626-1676). Mystical, messianic leader, attracted wide followership even among learned Jews and rabbis. Some rabbis excommunicated Shabtai Tsevi at the height of his success. When he converted to Islam (under duress from the leader of the Ottoman Empire) some of his followers remained Jews, but kept their beliefs secret. Most communities accepted former Sabbateans back.
In the 1700s: Hasidim. Followers of Rabbi Yisrael ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov (1698–1760). Early responses to Hasidism raised crucial debates on the mystical doctrine of Tsimtsum, divine contraction to make room for creation provided fuel for split. Hasidic strictures in ritual slaughter threatened to divide the observant Jewish world into two also drove the split. Rabbi Elijah, the Gaon of Vilna, excommunicated followers of Hasidic doctrine.
Reform: In 19th century Germany, governments supported religious communities. As the Reform movement grew, some communities became majority-Reform, but retained more traditional synagogues as well. Rabbis generally opted to head the synagogue in a majority-Reform community; for example, Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer in Berlin. In Frankfort, Rabbi Shimson Rephael Hirsch took the dramatic step of separating from the Jewish community, and appealing the government for status as a separate faith community.
Rabbi Hirsch noted that proponents of reform called their more traditional co-religionists “Orthodox.” Later, in the mid-19th century, traditional Jews took up the name Orthodox for themselves. The name does not have a history in classical Jewish texts.
In the late 19th century: the rabbis who broke from the Reform movement proclaimed themselves “Conservative” and founded the Jewish Theological Seminary. The relationship between this new movement and Orthodoxy remained complex for decades.
In the early 20th century, issues that defined and split Orthodoxy included moving the reading platform to the front of the synagogue, putting a clock in the synagogue, celebrating weddings in the synagogue, delivering sermons in the vernacular, and maintaining the partition between the men’s and women’s sections. Mehitsah became the defining issue in the mid-20th century.
In “Kol Dodi Dofek,” (1956) Rabbi Soloveitchik identifies two different covenants which tie Jews together. In the “covenant of destiny” (brit yi’ud), we choose to observe halakhah. In the “covenant of fate” (brit goral) we willingly self-identify as members of the people, and so, whether we will or not, share the fate of oppression and persecution.
Developing this dichotomy, Rabbi Soloveitchik permitted cooperation with non-Orthodox Jews on matters relating to the fate of the Jews, while keeping away from discussions based on our commitment to halakhah.
Consistent with this teaching, the Rabbinical Council of America permitted representation on the Synagogue Council of America, along with Reform and Conservative rabbis.
Agudas Yisrael issued a total ban on joining with non-Orthodox rabbis, because joining would appear to grant legitimacy to non-Orthodox Judaism. That argument seems more plausible when Liberal movements in Judaism make up a tiny percentage of the population. When halakhically-observant Jews make up a minority, then perhaps we do not have to worry about granting legitimacy.
In the mid-1950s, Rabbi Soloveitchik negotiated with Rabbi Saul Lieberman at the Jewish Theological Seminary to develop a Beit Din for conversions that would accept candidates who studied with Conservative teachers, and confer conversions according to Orthodox standards. Some characterized this as a joint Beit Din. The negotiations fell through. During the negotiations, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein and several Rashei Yeshivah connected with Agudas Yisrael issued their prohibition on any cooperation with the Conservative movement, and this may have contributed to the collapse of the negotiations.
Rabbi Feinstein published opinions in which he explicitly invalidates all conversions and marriages performed by Conservative rabbis. Rabbi Feinstein in this way rules that thousands of American Jews cannot fall into the status of mamzer. When I studied in Yeshiva, beginning 50 years ago, people believed that Rabbi Feinstein would endorse the conversions performed by specific rabbis of Conservative synagogues, those known to him to observe halakhah to his standards.
Rabbi Soloveitchik maintained the commitment never to enter a Conservative or Reform synagogue. He befriended the Rabbi Joseph Shubow, rabbi of a local Conservative synagogue, Temple Bnai Moshe in Brighton, MA. Invited to co-sponsor a testimonial dinner in honor of his friend, and of the dedication of the new Temple building, Rabbi Soloveitchik sent a letter praising his “dear friend” Rabbi Shubow, but declining, because the Temple would have mixed seating (letter of May 5, 1954 to Philip Fleisher). The label “Conservative” did not appear in his letter; he objected to mixed seating. When Rabbi Shubow died, the funeral took place at that synagogue, and Rabbi Soloveitchik showed his respect, not by attending the funeral, but by standing outside of the synagogue.
Rabbi Eliezer Cohen followed the same policy as Rabbi Soloveitchik. Though Rabbi Cohen vigorously encouraged Orthodox Jews to attend the Intercongregational Men’s Club Dinner, and he himself attended those dinners even when they were held in the social halls of non-Orthodox synagogues, he made it his policy not to enter those synagogues on other occasions. In my last conversation with Rabbi Cohen, I challenged him about that policy. I asked him about how non-Orthodox synagogues differ from the many Orthodox institutions that teach a version of Judaism which he decried. He explained he kept away from organizations that permit what the Torah forbids.
It seems obvious that, according to the Agudas Yisrael standard, we should not call non-Orthodox rabbis by the title “rabbi.” Some Haredi sources put the title in quotation marks. Rabbi Feinstein, in Igrot Moshe, provides a variation on this theme. He refers to Orthodox rabbis with the Hebrew word, “rav.” He refers to Conservative rabbis with a transliteration of the English word, “rabbi.”
A certain student began to attend Rabbi Soloveitchik’s class after receiving ordination at the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary, where he then taught Hebrew language. When the registrar asked about this student’s right to attend class, and Rabbi Soloveitchik discovered the student’s history, he accepted the student has his own personal admit, and insisted on calling him “Rabbi Kirschenbaum.” Rabbi Aaron Kirschenbaum (1926-2016), later the editor of “Dinei Yisrael,” a leading journal of Mishpat Ivri, non-ceremonial Jewish law.
Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein told his Talmud class (in 1970 or 71) which included me, that, appearances do the contrary, haredi rabbis are closer to us than Conservative or Reform rabbis, because we share crucial matters of belief with the haredi rabbis. My son Yoel informs me that in his later years Rabbi Lichtenstein did not make this claim. In Mevakshei Panekha, a series of interviews with the novelist and Talmud teacher Haim Sabbato, Rabbi Lichtenstein rejected a complete break with liberal Jewish movements. “Can anyone imagine that we would be stronger without them?” Commenting on Rav Hirsch’s separatism, Rav Lichtenstein says “Today I believe that separatism is simply not realistic. It is not realistic in practical terms and in essential terms” (149).
"So long as we are in the position of power and influence, we can never give recognition to the Reform [a catch-all phrase that in haredi parlance means all of the non-Orthodox Jewish movements]. Although they are Jews, they will not get any recognition. In Judaism there is only one stream – the religious path of Moses and Israel,” R. Aryeh Deri, who is also chairman of the Sefardi haredi Shas Party, said, according a report on the radio interview published by Arutz Sheva.
Yeshiva University School Partnership, under Orthodox auspices, is in the process of merging with the Schechter Day School Network of the Conservative movement, Day Schools of Reform Judaism of the Reform movement, the Jewish Community Day School Network of nondenominational schools, and Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education. Torah U Mesorah, whose leaders affiliate with Agudas Yisrael, has not joined the merger. On a policy level, Torah U Mesorah opposes coeducation of boys and girls, and so remains separate from Orthodox co-ed schools; Torah U Mesorah certainly also opposes joining with other movements of Judaism.
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Sephardic Leader Calls Western Wall Deal “Horrible” – Compares Reform Jews to “Dogs.”
Forward JERUSALEM Feb. 4, 2016— A former head of the Shas Sephardic Orthodox party slammed the Israeli Cabinet’s approval to expand the egalitarian section of the Western Wall, joining several politicians who have ridiculed the deal and liberal movements of Judaism.
“This is a horrible disaster and an attack on the Holy of Holies,” Eli Yishai said in an interview Thursday with Army Radio. “The next thing we’ll see is Reform Jews putting tefillin on dogs and calling them up to the Torah.”
Moshe Gafni, a haredi Orthodox lawmaker who chairs the Israeli Knesset’s powerful Finance Committee, said he would not recognize the decision and called Reform Jews “a group of clowns who stab the holy Torah.”
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Rabbi Saul Berman, in a 1999 interview with then rabbinical student Josh Yuter
Edah does not have a position on the question of the relationship to the Conservative and Reform movements. We don’t engage in dialogue; it’s not our mission to do so. On the other hand, we are committed to the proposition that it is important for us to sustain a relationship to the Conservative and Reform movements that emerges from the mitzvah of Tochaha. That is I don’t believe that it is useful to stand on the street corners and condemn Conservative and Reform Jews. I believe that it is important for them to understand where we stand. And they do. I mean there is no doubt in the mind of the Conservative and Reform rabbis as to where Edah stands as an Orthodox organization on questions of patralineality, on the impermissibility of homosexual intercourse or on the question of gitten. On the other hand, we believe that it is possible for us to make greater progress in moving them in relation to these issues by maintaining a kind of relationship with them that is expressive of what is necessary in Tochaha, which means Tochacha yotzeit meahava. When Tochacha emerges from love, when they know that there is a loving concern on our part for their well being as Jews, then there is a possibility of movement. If they believe that we simply hate them and have dismissed them from the Jewish people, then anything that we say is irrelevant to them, and then we don’t fulfill the mitzvah of Tochacha at all.
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So what options do observant Jews have today?
We could consider one who does not observe ritual halakhah (according to our understanding of halakhah) as a willful sinner; leaders deserve condemnation, and followers we should ostracize as bad influences on our children.
We could consider the non-observant Jews (according to our understanding of halakhah) as misguided, in classical terminology, each one as “tinok shenishba” a captive child, who never had the opportunity to learn Torah. According to this stance, leaders of non-halakhic Judaism deserve condemnation, but we should deal kindly with ordinary Jews, until we can draw them close to observance. Hazon Ish, R. Avraham Yeshaya Korelitz (1978-1953) employed this terminology.
Rabbi Norman Lamm (born 1927) opposed the distinction between leaders and followers: even the leaders of other streams of Judaism could qualify as “captive children.”
We could treat them with respect, considering that they have accomplishments that we must recognize from a pure Torah perspective. Rav Avaraham Yitzhak Kook (1865-1935) stressed that that non-observant Jews who built the Jewish community in Israel accomplished tremendous mitsvot, not less significant than the accomplishments of Jews who kept Shabbat and kashrut.
We could recognize that non-observant Jews, and Jews who observe according to different standards, include a great multitude, many people with the most admirable values and the highest accomplishments, some, sadly, not so admirable. Rabbi Lichtenstein wrote “I do not want to judge this whole community, nor am I able to do so. . . . If we had to grant a certificate of rectitude we would have to judge the whole person . . . as they do in schools, that give one mark in one subject, and a different mark in another. In some ways they are like thorns in our eyes, and in others, they have values and accomplishments in some specific areas that I only wish we could match” (Mevakshei Panekha 143).
This insight applies even in Torah. Bible scholar and Conservative Rabbi Jacob Milgrom (1923-2010) once helped me through public recitation of a Psalm at a house of mourning. I had trouble reading the text in small print and dim light (my excuse) and he helped me from memory. Nehama Leibowitz quotes liberal Rabbi Benno Jacob.
In practice . . .
Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), known in the West as Averroes, distinguishes between two types of disagreement. I can disagree with you and argue that the facts do not support your position, or I can disagree with you and argue that you do not belong in our organization any longer. The Muslim thinker considers that the argument about the facts has intellectual content. I can learn something from listening to your opinions respectfully, and answering them with my own reasoning. The argument about belonging has no intellectual content. It just represents social pressure.
According to R. Jonathan Sacks, the Jewish thinker Rabbi Shelomo Luria, known as Maharshal (1510-1573), quotes ibn Rushd by name, and approves of his analysis of the two ways of disagreeing. Rabbi Sacks also approves of this approach.