Reform Judaism

Doctrines Influenced by rationalists and critical scholars of the late 18th and early 19th century, and inspired by a new openness to what was going on in the world outside, a number of Jewish scholars sought to abandon traditional beliefs and practices, while at the same asserting their Jewishness in new ways. They argued, on the basis of the historical nature of Judaism, that halakhah was a process, not fixed for ever as it was in ancient times. It was therefore no longer necessary to believe that Moses wrote the entire Torah, for example, or to practise the dietary laws meticulously, or for men and women to sit separately at public worship. Only the moral laws are binding, and teachings which assert the divine nature of the human spirit and seek to promote a just society.
Today Reform teaching is less radical in some respects than it was in the 19th century. It is committed to supporting the State of Israel, as well as to belief in a messianic goal of justice and peace, and a concern to preserve some traditional Jewish practices, including the use of Hebrew in worship. Against orthodox tradition, however, a decision was taken in 1972 to permit the ordination of women rabbis, and in 1983 it was decreed that a child of either a Jewish mother or a Jewish father should be regarded as a Jew. Reform practice concerning the conversion of non-Jews, marriage between Jews and non-Jews or Reform converts, and the remarriage of divorcees, also differs radically from orthodoxy.
Reform theologians' responses to the Holocaust include the difficult view that the Jews who died in the concentration camps were sacrificial victims slain to purify a sinful world, and the claim that, through the Holocaust, God paradoxically revealed his will that the Jewish people must survive whatever happens. "Prayers for the Six Million" are now printed in Reform prayer books.

History Reform Judaism had its origins in two developments in 18th century Europe which affected the relationship between Jewish communities and the rest of the world. On the one hand, the Enlightenment ensured that traditional religious beliefs were challenged with new vigour by secularists and rationalists, and on the other hand, Jewish legal and political emancipation opened the way for Jews to enter into non-Jewish society. Respected as much in the non-Jewish world as by his fellow Jews, it was the distinguished German philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86), father of the Jewish enlightenment ( Hebrew haskalah), who more than any other forged a way of holding the two worlds together in a way that Spinoza (1632-77) had not been able or willing to do a century earlier. Many Jews like Leopold Zunz (1794-1886) and Heinrich Graetz (1817-1891) were inspired by his life and work to tackle non-Jewish philosophy and scholarship without giving up totally their Jewish traditions.
More radical leaders, notably Rabbi Avraham Geiger (1810-1884) who among other things, opposed the use of Hebrew in public worship, helped to establish the independence of the new movement in Europe. The earliest places of Reform Jewish worship in Seesen (1810), Berlin (1815) and Hamburg (1818), were called "temples" rather than synagogues. The first Reform community in the States was established in South Carolina in 1825, and Hebrew Union College, the first Reform seminary, in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1875. The Central Conference of American Rabbis was founded four years after the radical "Pittsburg platform" in 1885, at which the dietary laws as well as belief in a future Messiah, heaven and hell and the return to Zion were abandoned.
In the 1930s when Nazi antisemitism posed new threats to Jews in Europe, Reform Judaism became in several respects less radically different from orthodoxy, and a declaration made at Columbus, Ohio in 1937 ("the Columbus platform") replaced the "Pittsburg platform" as an expression of Reform Jewish principles. In London Leo Baeck College was founded in 1956 for the study of Judaism and the training of Reform Rabbis and teachers, although in many ways Reform Judaism in Britain is closer to the American Conservative (Masorti) tradition than Reform. Hebrew Union College established a campus in Jerusalem in 1963.

Symbols Reform Judaism employs the same symbols as other Jewish traditions.

Adherents 1,250,000 world wide. 1,000,000 in the States

Main Centre
 World Union for Progressive Judaism, 838 Fifth Avenue, New York 10021
Central Conference of American Rabbis, 192 Lexington Avenue, New York City, 10016