Reform Judaism

What is Reform Judaism?

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Reform Judaism is the most liberal expression of modern Judaism. In America, Reform Judaism is organized under the Union for Reform Judaism (formerly known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations), whose mission is "to create and sustain vibrant Jewish congregations wherever Reform Jews live." About 1.5 million Jews in 900 synagogues are members of the Union for Reform Judaism. According to 1990 survey, 42 percent of American Jews regard themselves as Reform. {1}

Reform Judaism arose in Germany in the early 1800s both as a reaction against the perceived rigidity of Orthodox Judaism and as a response to Germany's increasingly liberal political climate. Among the changes made in 19th-century Reform congregations were a de-emphasis on Jews as a united people, discontinuation of prayers for a return to Palestine, prayers and sermons recited in German instead of Hebrew, the addition of organ music to the synagogue service, and a lack of observance of the dietary laws. Some Reform rabbis advocated the abolition of circumcision and the Reform congregation in Berlin shifted the Sabbath to Sundays to be more like their Christian neighbors. Early Reform Judaism retained traditional Jewish monotheism, but emphasized ethical behavior almost to the exclusion of ritual. The Talmud was mostly rejected, with Reform rabbis preferring the ethical teachings of the Prophets. {2}

Modern Reform Judaism, however, has restored some of the aspects of Judaism that their 19th-century predecessors abandoned, including the sense of Jewish peoplehoood and the practice of religious rituals. {2} Today, Reform Jews affirm the central tenets of Judaism - God, Torah, and Israel - while acknowledging a great diversity in Reform Jewish beliefs and practices. Reform Jews are more inclusive than other Jewish movements: women may be rabbis, cantors, and synagogue presidents; interfaith families are accepted; and Reform Jews are "committed to the full participation of gays and lesbians in synagogue life as well as society at large." {3}

Timeline of Reform Judaism

1875  Reform Judaism's Hebrew Union College is founded in Cincinnati. Its founder was Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the architect of American Reform Judaism. 
1885  A group of Reform rabbis adopts the Pittsburgh Platform. 
1922  Reform Rabbi Stephen S. Wise establishes the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. It merged with Hebrew Union College in 1950. A third center was opened in Los Angeles in 1954, and a fourth branch was established in Jerusalem in 1963. 
1937  The Central Conference of American Rabbis adopts "The Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism", known as the Columbus Platform. 
1976  On the occasion of the centennials of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopts "Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective". 
1983 The Central Conference of American Rabbis formally states that a Jewish identity can be passed down through either the mother and the father, thereby making official what had been the state of affairs in many Reform communities since the early twentieth century. Despite its rejection by Conservative Judaism and Orthodox Judaism, descent through the mother or the father becomes the standard for North American Reform and unaffiliated Jews. This leads to the disintegration of the inter-denominational Synagogue Council of America.
1997 On the occasion of of the centenary of the first World Zionist Congress, the Central Conference of American Rabbis adopts the Miami Platform, dedicated to the relationship between Reform Judaism and Zionism.
1999 The Central Conference of American Rabbis adopts "A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism" in Pittsburgh.

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References and Sources
  1. "About the Union for Reform Judaism." Union for Reform Judaism official site.
  2. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, "Reform Judaism." Jewish Literacy (William Morrow and Company, 2001), 241-43.
  3. "What is Reform Judaism?" Union for Reform Judaism official site.
  4. George Robinson, Essential Judaism (Pocket Books, 2000).
  5. The timeline is from "Reform Judaism." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. January 7, 2005.

External Links on Reform Judaism

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