As a chaplain assistant, and a member of the unit ministry team (UMT), you must assist the chaplain
with staff and religious responsibilities. One of the tasks you must perform is to prepare the worship site
for religious services. Before beginning specific discussions on preparing a chapel for Jewish services,
let's take a brief look at Judaism.
Judaism is the oldest of the three major western religions, and is the forerunner of both Christianity and
Islam. The history of Judaism is well known, recorded first in the Bible and later in rabbinic literature.
Unlike Christianity, Judaism reflects remarkable agreement among its various groups in terms of
organization, beliefs, and requirements. In many instances, differences are a matter of degree rather
than large disagreement. Nevertheless, differences do exist--even to the extent that there is not a general
agreement as to how divided Judaism really is.
The three largest groups within Judaism are the Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform bodies. These
groups are generally seen as the major Jewish "denominations," and Jewish military chaplains are
divided between them. From this perspective, other groups can be viewed as related to one of these
three. However, some other groups, such as the Reconstructionist Jews, tend to see themselves as a
separate branch of Judaism. Reconstructionists, therefore, refer to the "four major branches of Judaism,"
rather than three. Within the three largest groups there may also be subdivisions which will arise. There
are differences, for example between Orthodox Jews who follow the Ashkenazic rite (from Jeremiah
51:27) and those who follow the Sephardic rite (from Obadiah 20). Ethnic differences may also exist, in
that Ashkenazic rites were largely followed among Germanic Jews, while Jews of Spanish and
Portuguese descent have largely observed the Sephardic rite.
Black Jews, including the Black Hebrew Israelite Nation, trace their history through more than 2,500
years of Judaism in Africa. Other racial or ethnic variations also exist.
In general, however, Judaism remains relatively constant in terms of basic beliefs and practices, and
most American Jews will be identified with the groups mentioned above.