Reform Judaism

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Interior of Congregation Emanu-El of New York, the largest Reform synagogue in the world.

Reform Judaism (also known as Liberal or Progressive) is a major confessional division within Judaism, which emphasizes the evolving nature of the religion, the superiority of its ethical aspects compared to the ceremonial ones, and a belief in a continuous revelation not centered on the theophany at Mount Sinai. It is characterized by a lesser stress on ritual and personal observance, regarding Jewish Law as of basically non-binding nature, and great openness to external influences and progressive values. The origins of Reform Judaism lay in 19th-century Germany, where its early principles were formulated by Rabbi Abraham Geiger and his associates, and its greatest center today is in North America.

"Reform Judaism" as a proper term specifically refers to two denominations, the American Union for Reform Judaism and the British Movement for Reform Judaism. Along with other regional branches sharing the same basic convictions, such as British Liberal Judaism, they are members of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, founded in 1926; Reconstructionist Judaism, espousing an unrelated doctrine, entered the Union in 1990.


The inherent pluralism and great importance it places on individual autonomy impede any simplistic definition of Reform Judaism;[1] its various strands regard Judaism throughout the ages as derived from a process of constant evolution. They warrant and obligate further modification, and reject any fixed, permanent set of beliefs, laws or practices.[2] A clear description became particularly challenging since the turn toward a policy favouring inclusiveness ("Big Tent" in the United States) over a coherent theology, in the 1970s. This largely overlapped with what researchers termed as the transition from "Classical" to "New" Reform in America, paralleled in the other, smaller branches across the world.[1]

The movement ceased stressing principles and core beliefs, focusing more on the personal spiritual experience. This shift was not accompanied by a distinct new theology or by the abandonment of the former, but rather with ideological ambiguity, as the leadership allowed and encouraged a wide variety of positions, from selective adoption of halachic observance to elements approaching religious humanism. The declining importance of the theoretical foundation, in favour of pluralism and equivocalness, did draw large crowds of newcomers. It also diversified Reform to a degree which made it hard to formulate a clear definition of it. Early and "Classical" Reform were characterized by a move away from traditional forms of Judaism; "New Reform" sought, to a degree, the reincorporation of some within the framework established during the former stages.[3]



In regards to God, while some voices among the spiritual leadership approached religious and even secular humanism – a tendency that grew increasingly from the mid-20th Century, both among clergy and constituents, leading to broader, dimmer definitions of the concept – the movement had always officially maintained a theistic stance, affirming the belief in a personal God.[4]

Early Reform thinkers in Germany clung to this precept;[5] the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform described the "One God... The God-Idea as taught in our sacred Scripture" as consecrating the Jewish people to be its priests, and was grounded on a wholly theistic understanding though the term "God-idea" was excoriated by outside critics. So was the 1937 Columbus Declaration of Principles, which spoke of a "One, living God who rules the world".[6] Even the 1976 San Francisco Centenary Perspective, drafted at a time of great discord among Reform theologians, upheld "the affirmation of God... Challenges of modern culture have made steady belief difficult for some. Nevertheless, we ground our lives, personally and communally, on God's reality."[7] The 1999 Pittsburgh Statement of Principles declared the "reality and oneness of God". British Liberal Judaism affirms the "Jewish conception of God: One and indivisible, transcendent and immanent, Creator and Sustainer".


The basic tenet of Reform theology is a belief in a continuous, or progressive, revelation,[8][9] occurring continuously and not limited to the theophany at Sinai, the defining event in traditional interpretation. According to this view, all holy scripture of Judaism including the Pentateuch were authored by human beings who, though under divine inspiration, inserted their understanding and reflected the spirit of their consecutive ages. All the People of Israel are a further link in the chain of revelation, capable of reaching new insights: religion can be renewed without necessarily being dependent on past conventions. The chief promulgator of this concept was Rabbi Abraham Geiger, generally considered founder of the movement. After critical research led him to regard scripture as a human creation, bearing the marks of historical circumstances, he abandoned the belief in the unbroken perpetuity of tradition derived from Sinai and gradually replaced it with the idea of progressive revelation. While also subject to change and new understanding, this basic premise endures in of Reform thought.

In its early days, this notion was greatly influenced the philosophy of German idealism, from which its founders drew much inspiration: belief in humanity marching toward a full understanding of itself and the divine, manifested in moral progress towards perfection. and Claude Montefiore. This highly rationalistic view virtually identified human reason and intellect with divine action, leaving little room for direct influence by God. Geiger conceived revelation as occurring via the inherent "genius" of the People of Israel, and his close ally Solomon Formstecher described it as the awakening of oneself into full consciousness of one's religious understanding. The American theologian Kaufmann Kohler also spoke of the "special insight" of Israel, almost fully independent from direct divine participation, and English thinker Claude Montefiore, founder of Liberal Judaism, reduced revelation to "inspiration", according intrinsic value only to the worth of its content while "it is not the place where they are found that makes them inspired." Common to all these notions was the assertion that present generations have a higher and better understanding of divine will, and they can and should unwaveringly change and refashion religious precepts.[2]

In the decades around World War II, this rationalistic and optimistic theology was challenged and questioned. It was gradually replaced, mainly by the Jewish existentialism of Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, centered on a complex, personal relationship with the creator, and a more sober and disillusioned outlook.[10] The identification of human reason with Godly inspiration was rejected in favour of views such as Rosenzweig's, who emphasized that the only content of revelation is it in itself, while all derivations of it are subjective, limited human understanding. However, while granting higher status to historical and traditional understanding, both insisted that "revelation is certainly not Law giving" and that it did not contain any "finished statements about God", but rather that human subjectivity shaped the unfathomable content of Encounter and interpreted it under its own limitations. The senior representative of postwar Reform theology, Eugene Borowitz, regarded theophany in postmodern terms and closely linked it with quotidian human experience and interpersonal contact. He rejected the notion of "progressive revelation" in the meaning of comparing human betterment with divine inspiration, stressing that past experiences were "unique" and of everlasting importance. Yet he stated that his ideas did not at all negate the concept of ongoing revelation affecting all.[9]

Ritual, Autonomy and Law

Reform Judaism emphasizes the ethical facets of the faith as its central attribute, superseding the ceremonial ones. Reform thinkers often cited the Prophets' condemnations of ceremonial acts, lacking true intention and performed by the morally corrupt, as testimony that rites have no inherent quality. Geiger centered his philosophy on the Prophets' teachings (He named his ideology "Prophetic Judaism" already in 1838), regarding morality and ethics as the stable core of a religion in which ritual observance transformed radically through the ages. However, practices were seen as a means to elation and a link to the heritage of the past, and Reform generally argued that rituals should be maintained, discarded or modified based on whether they served these higher purposes. This stance allowed a great variety of practice both in the past and the present. In "Classical" times, personal observance was reduced to little beyond nothing. The postwar "New Reform" lent renewed importance to practical, regular action as a means to engage congregants, abandoning the sanitized forms of the "Classical".

Another key aspect of Reform doctrine is the personal autonomy of each adherent, who may formulate his own understanding and expression of his religiosity. Reform is unique among all denominations in placing the individual as the authorized interpreter of Judaism.[11] This position was originally influenced by Kantian philosophy and the great weight it lent to personal judgement and free will. This highly individualistic stance also proved one of the movement's great challenges, for it impeded the creation of clear guidelines and standards for positive participation in religious life and definition of what was expected from members.

The notion of autonomy coincided with the gradual abandonment of traditional practice (largely neglected by most members, and the Jewish public in general, before and during the rise of Reform) in the early stages of the movement; it was a major characteristic during the "Classical" period, when Reform closely resembled Protestant surroundings; and later, was used to encourage adherents to seek their own means of engaging Judaism. "New Reform" embraced the criticism levied by Rosenzweig and other thinkers at extreme individualism, laying a greater stress on community and tradition. though by no means declaring that members were bound by a compelling authority of some sort. The "New Reform" approach to the question is characterized by an attempt to strike a mean between autonomy and conformity to some degree, focusing on a dialectic relationship between both.[12]

The movement never entirely abandoned halachic (traditional jurisprudence) argumentation, both due to the need for precedent to counter external accusations and the continuity of heritage, but had largely made ethical considerations or the spirit of the age the decisive factor in determining its course. The German founding fathers undermined the principles behind the legalistic process, and Rabbi Samuel Holdheim advocated a particularly radical stance, arguing that The Law of the Land is Law doctrine must be universally applied and subject virtually everything to current norms.

While Reform rabbis in 19th-Century-Germany had to accommodate conservative elements in their communities, at the height of "Classical Reform" in the United States, halachic considerations could be virtually ignored and Holdheim's approach embraced. Later on, Rabbi Solomon Freehof and his supporters reintroduced such elements, but they too regarded Jewish Law as too rigid a system. Instead, they recommended that selected features will be readopted and new observances established in a piecemeal fashion, as spontaneous minhag (custom) emerging by trial and error and becoming widespread if it appealed to the masses. The advocates of this approach also stress that their responsa are of non-binding nature, and their recipients may adapt them as they see fit.[13] Freehof's successors, such as Rabbis Walter Jacob and Moshe Zemer, further elaborated the notion of "Progressive Halacha" along the same lines.

Messianic Age and Election

Reform sought to accentuate and greatly augment the universalist traits in Judaism, turning it into a faith befitting the Enlightenment ideals ubiquitous at the time it emerged. The tension between universalism and the imperative to maintain uniqueness characterized the movement throughout its entire history. Its earliest proponents rejected Deism and the belief that all religions would unite into one, and it later faced the challenges of the Ethical movement and Unitarianism. Parallel to that, it sought to diminish all components of Judaism which it regarded as overly particularist and self-centered: petitions expressing hostility towards gentiles were toned down or excised, and practices were often streamlined to resemble surrounding society. "New Reform" laid a renewed stress on Jewish particular identity, regarding it as better suiting popular sentiment and need for preservation.

One major expression of that, which is the first clear Reform doctrine to have been formulated, is the idea of universal Messianism. The belief in redemption was unhinged from the traditional elements of return to Zion and restoration of the Temple and the sacrificial cult therein, and turned into a general hope for salvation. This was later refined when the notion of a personal Messiah who would reign over Israel was officially abolished and replaced by the concept of a Messianic Age, of universal harmony and perfection. The considerable loss of faith in human progress around World War II had greatly shook this ideal, but it endures as a precept of Reform.[14]

Another key example is the reinterpretation of the Election of Israel. The movement maintained the idea of the Chosen People of God, but recast it in a more universal fashion: the mission of Israel was to spread among all nations and teach them divinely-inspired ethical monotheism, bringing them all closer to the Creator. One extreme "Classical" promulgator of this approach, Rabbi David Einhorn, substituted the lamentation on the Ninth of Av for a celebration, regarding the destruction of Jerusalem as fulfilling God's scheme to bring his word, via his people, to all corners of the earth. Highly self-centered affirmations of Jewish exceptionalism were moderated, though the general notion of "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation" retained.

Soul and Afterlife

As part of its philosophy, Reform anchored reason in divine influence, accepted scientific criticism of hallowed texts and sought to adapt Judaism to modern notions of rationalism. In addition to the other traditional precepts its founders rejected, they also denied the belief in the future bodily Resurrection of the dead. It was viewed both as irrational and an import from ancient middle-eastern pagans. Notions of afterlife were reduced merely to the Immortality of the Soul. While the founding thinkers, like Montefiore, all shared this belief, the existence of a soul became harder to cling to with the passing of time. In the 1980s, Borowitz could state that the movement had nothing coherent to declare in the matter. The various streams of Reform still largely, though not always or strictly, uphold the idea[15] the 1999 Pittsburgh Statement of Principles, for example, used the somewhat ambiguous formula "the spirit within us is eternal".[16]

Along these lines, the concept of Reward and Punishment in the World to Come was abolished as well. The only perceived form of retribution for the wicked, if any, was the anguish of their soul after death, and vice versa, bliss was the single accolade for the spirits of the righteous. Angels and Heavenly Hosts were also deemed a foreign superstitious influence, especially from early Zoroastrian sources, and denied.[17][18]



The first and primary field in which Reform convictions were expressed was that of prayer forms. From its beginning, Reform Judaism attempted to harmonize the language of petitions with modern sensibilities and what the constituents actually believed in. Jakob Josef Petuchowski, in his extensive survey of Progressive liturgy, listed several key principles which defined it through the years and many transformations it underwent. The prayers were abridged, whether by omitting repetitions, excising passages or reintroducing the ancient triennial cycle for reading the Torah; vernacular segments were added along or instead the Hebrew and Aramaic text, to ensure the congregants understood the petitions they expressed; and some new prayers were composed to reflect the spirit of changing times. But chiefly, liturgists sought to reformulate the prayerbooks and have them express the movement's theology. Blessings and passages referring to the coming of the Messiah, Return to Zion, renewal of the sacrificial cult, Resurrection of the Dead, Reward and Punishment and overt particularism of the People Israel were replaced, recast or excised altogether.

In its early stages, when Reform Judaism was more a tendency within unified communities in Central Europe than an independent movement, its advocates had to practice considerable moderation, lest they provoke conservative animosity. German prayerbooks often relegated the more contentious issues to the vernacular translation, treating the original text with great care and sometimes having problematic passages in small print and untranslated. When institutionalized and free of such constraints, it was able to pursue a more radical course. In American "Classical" or British Liberal prayerbooks, a far larger vernacular component was added and liturgy was drastically shortened, and petitions in discord with denominational theology eliminated.

"New Reform", both in the United States and in Britain and the rest of the world, is characterized by larger affinity to traditional forms and diminished emphasis on harmonizing them with prevalent beliefs. Concurrently, it is also more inclusive and accommodating, even towards beliefs which are officially rejected by Reform theologians, sometimes allowing alternative differing rites for each congregation to choose from. Thus, prayerbooks from the mid-20th Century onwards incorporated more Hebrew, and restored such elements as blessing on phylacteries. More profound changes included restoration of the Gevorot benediction in the 2007 Mishkan T'filah, with the optional "give life to all/revive the dead" formula. The CCAR stated this passage did not reflect a belief in Resurrection, but Jewish heritage. On the other extreme, the 1975 Gates of Prayer substituted "the Eternal One" for "God" in the English translation (though not in the original), a measure which was condemned by several Reform rabbis as a step toward religious humanism.[19]


During its formative era, Reform was oriented toward lesser ceremonial obligations. In 1846, the Breslau rabbinical conference abolished the second day of festivals; during the same years, the Berlin Reform congregation held prayers without blowing the Ram's Horn, phylacteries, mantles or head covering, and held its Sabbath services on Sunday. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, American "Classical Reform" often emulated Berlin on a mass scale, with many communities conducting prayers along the same style and having additional services on Sunday, and the official rescheduling of Sabbath to that day was advocated by Kaufmann Kohler for some time. Religious divorce was declared redundant and civil one recognized in 1869; the laws concerning dietary and personal purity, the priestly prerogatives, marital ordinances and so forth were dispensed with, and openly revoked by the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform, which declared all ceremonial acts binding only if they served to enhance religious experience. From 1890, converts were no longer obligated to be circumcised. Similar policy was pursued by Claude Montefiore's Jewish Religious Union, established at Britain in 1902. The Vereinigung für das Liberale Judentum in Germany, which was more moderate, declared virtually all personal observance voluntary in its 1912 guidelines.

"New Reform" saw the establishment and membership lay greater emphasis on the ceremonial aspects, after the former sterile and minimalist approach was condemned as offering little to engage in religion and encouraging apathy. Numerous rituals became popular again, often after being recast or reinterpreted, though as a matter of personal choice for the individual and not an authoritative obligation. Circumcision or Letting of Blood for converts and newborn babies became virtually mandated in the 1980s; ablution for menstruating women gained great grassroots popularity at the turn of the century, and some synagogues built baths. A renewed interest in dietary laws (though by no means in the strict sense) also surfaced at the same decades, as were phylacteries, prayer shawls and head coverings.

While defined mainly by its progress away from ritual, proto-Reform circles also pioneered new ones. In the 1810s and 1820s, the circles (Israel Jacobson, Eduard Kley and others) which gave rise to the movement introduced confirmation ceremonies for boys and girls, in emulation of parallel Christian ceremonies. These soon spread outside the movement, though many of a more traditional leaning rejected the name "confirmation." In the "New Reform", Bar Mitzvah largely replaced it as part of the retraditionalization, but many young congregants in the United States still perform one, often at the Feast of Weeks. Confirmation for girls eventually developed into the Bat Mitzvah, now popular among all except strictly Orthodox Jews.

Some branches of Reform, while subscribing to its differentiation between ritual and ethics, chose to maintain a considerable degree of practical observance, especially in areas where a conservative Jewish majority had to be accommodated. Most Liberal communities in Germany maintained dietary standards and the like in the public sphere, both due to the moderation of their congregants and threats of Orthodox secession. A similar pattern characterizes the Movement for Reform Judaism in Britain, which attempted to appeal to newcomers from the United Synagogue, or to the IMPJ in Israel.


Its philosophy made Progressive Judaism, in all its variants, much more susceptible to change and new trends than any of the major denominations. It was the first to embrace innovations such as gender equality in religious life. As early as 1846, the Breslau conference announce that women must enjoy identical obligations and prerogatives in worship and communal affairs, though this decision had virtually no effect in practice. Lily Montagu, who served as a driving force behind British Liberal Judaism and WUPJ, was the first woman in recorded history to deliver a sermon at a synagogue in 1918, and set another precedent when she conducted a prayer two years later. Regina Jonas, ordained in 1935 by later chairman of the Vereinigung der liberalen Rabbiner Max Dienemann, was the earliest known female rabbi to officially be granted the title. In 1972, Sally Priesand was the first female graduate of Hebrew Union College. Reform also pioneered family seating, an arrangement which spread throughout American Jewry but was only applied in continental Europe after World War II. Egalitarianism in prayer became universally prevalent in the WUPJ by the end of the 20th Century.

Tolerance for LGBT and ordination of LGBT rabbis were also pioneered by the movement. Intercourse between consenting adults was declared as legitimate by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1977, and openly gay clergy were admitted by the end of the 1980s. Same-sex marriage were sanctioned by the end of the following decade.

American Reform, especially, turned action for social and progressive causes into an important part of religious commitment. From the second half of the 20th Century, it employed the old rabbinic notion of Tikkun Olam, "repairing the world", as a slogan under which constituents were encouraged to partake in various schemes for the betterment of society. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism became an important lobby.

Jewish Identity

While opposed to interfaith marriage in principle, CCAR officials estimated in 2012 that about half of their rabbis partake in such ceremonies. The need to cope with this phenomenon – in 2013, 80% of all Reform-raised Jews in the United States were intermarrying –[20] led to the recognition of patrilineal descent: every child born to a couple in which a single member was Jewish, whether mother or father, was accepted as a Jew on condition that he received corresponding education and committed himself as such. Conversely, an offspring of a Jewish mother only will not be accepted if he did not demonstrate affinity to the faith.

This decision was taken by the by British Liberal Judaism already in the 1950s. The North American Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) accepted it in 1983, and The British Movement for Reform Judaism affirmed it in 2015. The various strands also adopted a policy of embracing the intermarried and their spouses. British Liberals offer "blessing ceremonies" if the child is to be raised Jewish, and the MRJ allows its clergy to participate in celebration of civil marriage, though none allow full an actual Jewish ceremony of Chupah and the like. In American Reform, 17% of synagogue-member households have a converted spouse, and 26% an unconverted one.[21] Its policy on conversion and Jewish status led the WUPJ into conflict with more traditional circles, and a growing number of its adherents are not accepted as Jewish by either the Conservative or the Orthodox. Outside North America and Britain, patrilineal descent was generally not accepted. As in other fields, small WUPJ affiliates are less independent and often have to deal with more conservative Jewish denominations in their countries, such as vis-à-vis the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel or continental Europe.

Organizational structure

The term "Reform" was first applied institutionally – not generically, as in "for reform" – to the Berlin Reformgemeinde (Reform Congregation), established in 1845.[22] Apart from it, most communities which were oriented toward this approach for Judaism preferred the more ambiguous "Liberal", which was not exclusively associated with Reform Judaism. It was more prevalent in relation to the religiously apathetic majority among German Jews, and also applied to all rabbis who were not clearly Orthodox (including the rival Positive-Historical School). The title "Reform" became much more common in the United States, where an independent denomination under this name was fully identified with this religious tendency. However, Isaac Meyer Wise suggested in 1871 that "Progressive Judaism" was a better name.[23] When the movement was institutionalized in Germany between in 1898 and 1908, its leaders chose "Liberal" as self-designation, founding the Vereinigung für das Liberale Judentum. In 1902, Claude Montefiore termed the doctrine espoused by his new Jewish Religious Union as "Liberal Judaism", too, though it belonged to the more radical part of the spectrum in relation to the German one.

In 1926, British Liberals, American Reform and German Liberals consolidated their worldwide movement – united in affirming tenets such as progressive revelation, supremacy of ethics above ritual and so forth – at a meeting held in London. Originally carrying the provisional title "International Conference of Liberal Jews", after deliberations between "Liberal", "Reform" and "Modern", it was named World Union for Progressive Judaism on 12 July, at the conclusion of a vote.[24] The WUPJ established further branches around the planet, alternatively under the names "Reform", "Liberal" and "Progressive." In 1945, the Associated British Synagogues (later Movement for Reform Judaism) joined as well. In 1990, Reconstructionist Judaism entered the WUPJ as an observer. Espousing another religious worldview, it became the only non-Reform member.[25] The WUPJ claims to represent a total of 1.8 million people, both registered synagogue members and non-affiliates who identify with it.

Worldwide, the movement is mainly centered in North America. The largest WUPJ constituent by far is the Union for Reform Judaism (until 2003: Union of American Hebrew Congregations) in the United States and Canada. As of 2013, the Pew Research Center survey calculated it represented about 35% of all 5.3 million Jews in the U.S., making it the single most numerous Jewish religious group in the country.[26] Steven M. Cohen deduced there were 756,000 Jewish synagogue members – about a quarter of households had an unconverted spouse (according to 2001 findings), adding some 90,000 non-Jews and making the total constituency roughly 850,000 – and further 1,154,000 "Reform-identified non-members" in the United States. There are also 30,000 in Canada.[20][21] The URJ generally claims to represent 1.5 million people. It has 846 congregations in the U.S. and 27 in Canada, the vast majority of the 1,170 affiliated with the WUPJ which are not Reconstructionist.[27] Its rabbinical arm is the Central Conference of American Rabbis, with some 2,300 member rabbis, mainly trained in Hebrew Union College. As of 2015, the URJ was led by President Rabbi Richard Jacobs, and the CCAR headed by Rabbi Denise Eger.

The next in size, by a wide margin, are the two British WUPJ-affiliates. In 2010, the Movement for Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism respectively had 16,125 and 7,197 member households in 45 and 39 communities, or 19.4% and 8.7% of British Jews registered at a synagogue. Other member organizations are based in forty countries around the world. They include the Union progressiver Juden in Deutschland, which had some 4,500 members in 2010 and incorporates 25 congregations, one in Austria; the Nederlands Verbond voor Progressief Jodendom, with 3,500 affiliates in 10 communities; the 13 Liberal synagogues in France; the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism (5,000 members in 2000, 35 communities); the Movement for Progressive Judaism (Движение прогрессивного Иудаизма) in the CIS and Baltic States, with 61 affiliates in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and several thousands of regular constituents; and many other, smaller ones.



A segment of the 1818 Hamburg prayer book. Stating "accept the uttering of our lips instead of our obligatory sacrifices" and omitting the traditional "O gather our dispersions... Conduct us unto Zion" passage.

With the advent of Jewish emancipation and acculturation in Central Europe during the late 18th Century, and the breakdown of traditional patterns, the response Judaism must offer to the changed circumstances became a heated question. Radical, second-generation Berlin maskilim (Enlightened), like Lazarus Bendavid and David Friedländer, offered to reduce it to little above Deism or allow it to dissipate. A more palatable course was the reform of worship in synagogues, making it more attractive to a Jewish public whose aesthetic and moral taste became more attuned with that of Christian society. The first considered to have done so was the Ashkenazi congregation "Adath Jessurun" in Amsterdam. Emulating the local Sephardim's custom, it omitted the "Father of Mercy" prayer, beseeching God to take revenge upon the gentiles, in 1796. Adath Jessurun used fully traditional argumentation and was short-lived, but is often regarded a harbinger by historians.[28]

A relatively thoroughgoing program was adopted by Israel Jacobson, a philanthropist from the Kingdom of Westphalia. Traditional dogma was eroded for decades by both by Enlightenment criticism and apathy, but Jacobson himself did not bother with principled issues. He was interested in decorum, believing its lack in services was driving the young away. Many of the aesthetic reforms he pioneered, like a regular vernacular sermon rather than the common Judaeo-German pilpul, would be later adopted by the modernist Orthodox.[29] On 17 July 1810, he dedicated a synagogue in Seesen which employed an organ and a choir during prayer and introduced some German liturgy. This day is celebrated by Reform Judaism worldwide as its foundation date. The Seesen temple – a designation quite common for prayerhouses at the time; "temple" would later become, somewhat misleadingly (and not exclusively), identified with Reform institutions via association with the elimination of prayers for the Jerusalem Temple –[30] closed in 1813. Jacobson moved to Berlin and established a similar one, which became a hub for like-minded individuals. Though the prayerbook used in Berlin did introduce several deviations from the traditional text, it did so without an organizing principle. In 1818, Jacobson's acquaintance Edward Kley founded the Hamburg Temple. Here, changes in the rite were eclectic no more: prayers for the restoration of sacrifices by the Messiah and return to Zion were quite systematically omitted. The Hamburg edition is considered the first comprehensive Reform liturgy.

While Orthodox protests to Jacobson's initiatives were scant, dozens of rabbis throughout Europe united to ban the Hamburg Temple. Its leaders attempted to justify themselves based on canonical sources, being still attached to old modes of thought. They had the consistent, though not unequivocal support of one rabbi of liberal convictions, Aaron Chorin of Arad. The massive Orthodox reaction halted the advance of the new trend, confining it to the port city for the next twenty years. Although many synagogues introduced mild aesthetic reforms as the process of acculturation spread throughout Central Europe, synchronized with the breakdown of traditional society and growing religious laxity, those were carefully crafted in order to assuage conservative elements – albeit the latter often opposed them anyhow; the vernacular sermon or secular education for rabbis was a matter of immense contention in Moravia and Hungary for decades – and lacked a serious ideological undertone.[31]

An isolated, yet far more radical step in the same direction was taken across the ocean. The younger congregants in the Charleston Sephardi synagogue "Beth Elohim" were disgruntled by prevalent forms. Led by Isaac Harby and other associates, they formed their own prayer group, "The Reformed Society of Israelites", and unequivocally excised pleas for restoration of Jerusalem, stating their country was their only Zion. The Society was short-lived, and they merged back into Beth Elohim in 1833. As in Hamburg, the reformers were laymen, operating in a country with little rabbinic presence.

Consolidation in German lands

Rabbi Abraham Geiger, circa 1840.
Rabbi Samuel Holdheim, 1850?

In the 1820s and 1830s, thinkers like Solomon Steinheim imported the philosophy of Kant, Hegel, Schleiermacher and others directly into the Jewish religious discourse, attempting to draw from the means they employed to reconcile their faith with modern sensibilities. But it was the rise of Judaic Studies (Wissenschaft des Judentums) which became the focus of controversy. Leopold Zunz, who pioneered this new approach, was quite radical in his youth yet soon despaired and turned his interest in Wissenschaft to a purely academic one. Those who delved into the new science vacillated whether and how it should be applied against the contemporary plight of Judaism. Opinions ranged from the strictly Orthodox Azriel Hildesheimer, who subjugated research to the predetermined sanctity of the texts and refused to allow it any practical implication over traditional methods; to the more moderate Solomon Judah Loeb Rapoport and Samuel David Luzzatto; via the Positive-Historical Zecharias Frankel, who did not deny Wissenschaft a role in determining religious conduct, but only in deference to tradition, and opposed critical study of the Pentateuch; and up to Abraham Geiger, who rejected any limitations on objective research or its application in the practical field. He is widely considered the founding father of Reform Judaism.[32]

Geiger wrote that at seventeen already, he discerned that the late Tannaim and the Amoraim imposed a subjective and forced interpretation on the Oral Torah attempting to diffuse its revolutionary potential by linking it to the Biblical text. Believing that Judaism became stale and had to be radically transformed if it were to survive modernity, he found little use in the legal procedures of halacha, arguing that hard-line rabbis often demonstrated they will not accept major innovations anyway. His venture into higher criticism led him to regard the Pentateuch as reflecting power struggles between the Pharisees and the Saducees, who had their own, pre-Mishnaic halacha. Having concluded the belief in unbroken tradition back to Sinai or a divinely dictated Torah could not be maintained, he began to prepare a theology of progressive revelation, presenting the Pharisees as reformers who revolutionized the Saducee-dominated religion. His other model were the Prophets, whose morals and ethics were the only true, permanent core of Judaism. Ritual was a cask that should be renewed or discarded without resolving to complex mechanisms of traditional argumentation. While these views gradually coalesced throughout his life, from a very early stage he intended to formulate the very tenets of Judaism anew. He was not alone: Solomon Formstecher, his later associate, argued for an understanding of revelation drawn from Schelling's philosophy, stating it was God's protracted influence on human psyche rather than something encapsulated in law and tradition; Aaron Bernstein was apparently the first to deny inherent sanctity to any text when he wrote in 1844 that "The Pentateuch is not a chronicle of God's revelation, it is a testimony to the inspiration His consciousness had on our forebears." Others shared basically similar convictions.[33]

In 1837, Geiger hosted a conference of like-minded young rabbis in Wiesbaden. He told the assembled that the "Talmud must go." In 1841, the Hamburg Temple issued a second edition of its prayerbook, the first Reform liturgy since its predecessor of 1818. Orthodox response was weak and quickly defeated. Most rabbinic posts in Germany were now manned by university graduates susceptible to rationalistic and critical ideas, which also permeated liberal Protestantism led by such figures as Leberecht Uhlich. They formed the backbone of the nascent Reform rabbinate. Geiger intervened in the dispute not just to defend the Hamburg congregation, but to criticize it severely, stating the time of mainly aesthetic and unsystematic reforms has passed. In 1842, the power of progressive forces was revealed again: Geiger was employed as a preacher and assistant in Breslau since 1838, to the discontent of his superior Rabbi Solomon Tiktin. The latter bickered with community institutions for years; they eventually sent a circular to other rabbis in Central Europe with a liberal reputation, enquiring if a person who held such unorthodox views could serve in this post. 15 of 17 responded positively. Geiger himself differentiated between his principled stance and quotidian conduct: deeply committed to his ideas in theory, he believed they could be implemented only gradually and carefully. As part of his approach, he remained personally observant.

Second only to Geiger in the ranks of Reform leadership, Rabbi Samuel Holdheim distinguished himself as a radical proponent of change. While the former stressed continuity with the past and described Judaism as an entity which gradually adopted and discarded elements along time, Holdheim accorded present conditions the highest status, sharply dividing the universalist core from all other aspects that could be unremittingly disposed of. Declaring that old laws lost their hold on Jews anyhow and the rabbi could only act as a guide for voluntary observance. His principal was that the concept of "the Law of the Land is the Law" was total. He declared mixed marriage permissible – almost the only Reform rabbi to do so in history; his contemporaries and later generations opposed this – for the Talmudic ban on conducting them on Sabbath, unlike offering sacrifice and other acts, was to him sufficient demonstration that they belonged not to the category of sanctified obligations (issurim) but to the civil ones (memonot), where the Law of the Land applied. Another measure he offered, rejected almost unanimously by his colleagues in 1846, was the institution of a "Second Sabbath" on Sunday, modeled on Second Passover, for he argued that most people violated it – at the same time, the Orthodox Azriel Hildesheimer was also forced to have an additional Torah reading and Musaf prayer on Saturday afternoon, since many schoolchildren did not attend synagogue at morning, though he did not attempt to legitimize it –[34] and having another one in the official day of rest was imperative.

The pressures of the late Vormärz era were intensifying. In 1842, a group of radical laymen determined to achieve full acceptance into society was founded in Frankfurt, the "Friends of Reform." They abolished circumcision and declared that the Talmud was no longer binding. In response to pleas from Frankfurt's rabbi, virtually all rabbis in Germany, including the most radical Reform ones and even Holdheim, declared circumcision obligatory. Similar groups sprang in Breslau and Berlin. These developments, and the need to bring uniformity to practical reforms implemented piecemeal in the various communities, motivated Geiger and others into action. Between 1844 and 1846, they convened three rabbinical assemblies, in Braunschweig, Frankfurt am Main and Breslau respectively. Those were intended to implement the proposals of Aaron Chorin and others for a new Sanhedrin, made already in 1826, that could assess and eliminate various ancient decrees and prohibitions. A total of forty-two people attended the three meetings, including moderates and conservatives, all quite young, usually in their thirties.[35]

The conferences made few concrete far-reaching steps, albeit they generally stated that the old mechanisms of religious interpretation were obsolete. The Braunschweig assembly, between the 12th and 19 June 1844 – Geiger, commented Susannah Heschel, was "greeted as an eminence grise" by the participants –[36] abolished Kol Nidrei, the Jewish oath, still administered by rabbis, and established a committee to determine "to which degree the Messianic ideal should be mentioned in prayer." It also released a statement that declared intermarriage acceptable as long as the offspring could be raised Jewish. This measure, repeating the response of the 1806 Paris Grand Sanhedrin, was intended to ban such unions without offending the Christians, as no state in Germany allowed mixed-faith couples to have their children adopt another faith. It enraged critics anyhow. A small group of conservatives, clinging to traditional beliefs, also attended; they lost all votes. On the opposite wing were sympathizers of Holdheim, who declared on 17 June that "science already demonstrated that the Talmud has no authority either from the dogmatic or practical perspective... The men of the Great Assembly had jurisdiction only for their time. We posses the same power, when we express the spirit of ours." The majority was led by Geiger and Ludwig Philippson, and was keen on moderation and historical continuity.

The harsh response from the strictly Orthodox came as no surprise. Moshe Schick wondered, "why shall we not disclose the truth about the sentence of these men according to our Holy Law: as they have blasphemed against the Divinity of the Law, they are no Israelites and equal to Gentiles". Yet they also managed to antagonize more moderate progressives. Both S. L. Rapoport and Zecharias Frankel severely criticized the Braunschweig assembly. Another discontented party were Christian missionaries, who feared Reform on two accounts: it could stem the massive tide of conversions, and loosen Jewish piety in favor of liberal, semi-secularized religion which they opposed among Christians as well, reducing the possibility they would ever accept new dogma fully.[37]

Frankel was convinced to attend the next one, held in Frankfurt on 15–28 July 1845, after many pleas. But he walked out after it passed a resolution that there "was no objective necessity of retaining Hebrew in the liturgy". While this was quite a trivial statement, well grounded in canonical sources, he regarded it as a deliberate breach with tradition and made his final and utter break with the Reform movement. The 1840s, commented Meyer, saw the "Reform movement crystallized both intellectually and institutionally," narrowing from "reformers (in the generic sense)" who wished to modernize Judaism to some degree or other (including both Frankel and the Neo-Orthodox Samson Raphael Hirsch) "a broad stream that embraced all opponents of the premodern status quo", to "a more clearly marked current which rejected not only the religious mentality of the ghetto, but also the modernist Orthodoxy which altered form but not substance."[38] After his withdrawal, the conference adopted another key doctrine which Frankel opposed already in the second Hamburg Temple dispute of 1842; declaring that "today, Messianic belief can only be accepted as the hope for the liberation of mankind in an era of peace and fraternity", it officially enshrined the idea of a future Messianic era rather than a personal redeemer, expressed as early as 1818. Rabbi David Einhorn elucidated a further notion, that of the Mission to bring ethical monotheism to all people, commenting that "Exile was once perceived as a disaster, but it was progress. Israel approached its true destiny, with sanctity replacing blood sacrifice. It was to spread the Word of the Lord to the four corners of the earth."

The last meeting, convened in Breslau (13–24 July 1846), decidedly marked the break with the moderates. Rapoport, Frankel, Adolf Jellinek, Leopold Löw, Michael Sachs, Hirsch Bär Fassel, Abraham Kohn and others all refused the invitation of Geiger, who labored to ameliorate the radical image of the assembly. Breslau was quite innocuous in comparison with the former two. The topic of Sabbath, which was widely being desecrated by the majority of German Jews, was tackled. The participants argued whether leniencies for civil servants should be enacted, but could not agree on the issue and released a general statement about the sanctity of the day. Holdheim shocked the assembled when he proposed his "Second Sabbath" scheme, astonishing even the radical wing, and his motion was rejected offhand. They did vote to eliminate the Second Day of Festivals, noting it was both an irrelevant rabbinic ordinance and scarcely observed anyway.

While eliciting protest from the Orthodox, the Frankfurt and Braunschweig also incensed the radical laity, which regarded them as too acquiescent. During March 1845, a small group that sought a more drastic change formed a semi-independent congregation in Berlin, the Reformgemeinde. They invited Holdheim to serve as their rabbi, though he was often at odds with board led by Sigismund Stern. They instituted a drastically abridged prayerbook in German and allowed the abolition of most ritual aspects.

Geiger and most of the conferences' participants were far more moderate in character. While Holdheim administered in a homogeneous group, they had to serve in communities which remained unified and included many conservative members. Though practice was modified and reformed liturgies issued, the German variant of the movement was decidedly restrained. Except Berlin, where the term "Reform" was first used as an adjective, the rest referred to themselves as "Liberal". Two further rabbinical conferences much later, in 1869 and 1871 at Leipzig and Augsburg respectively, were marked with a cautious tone. Their only practical outcome was the bypassing of the Loosening of the Shoe ceremony via a signed prenuptial agreement and the establishment of the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, though officially non-denominational, as a rabbinical seminary. While common, noted Michael Meyer, the designation "Liberal Jew" was more associated with political persuasion than religious conviction. The general Jewish public in Germany demonstrated little interest, especially after the 1876 law under which religious affiliation and paying parish taxes were no longer mandatory, allowing exit without needing to convert to another faith. It also handed the Orthodox, who were a minority but well-organised, the ability to threaten secession en masse, deterring congregations from overly radical modifications. German Jewish religious life were characterized by large apathetic "Liberal" majorities, small but dominant traditionalist factions with separate synagogues, and even smaller numbers of committed Liberals.[39]

Apart from that, Reform had little to no influence in the rest of the continent. Radical lay societies, imitating the ones in Frankfurt and Berlin in the hope for quick emancipation, sprang in Hungary during the 1848 Revolution but were all dispersed by 1852. Olry Terquem was a single voice in France for the same measures. Only in Germany, commented Steven M. Lowenstein, did the extinction of old Jewish community life lead to the creation of a new, positive ideology that advocated principled change.[40] In Western and Central Europe, personal observance disappeared, but the laity was not interested in bridging the gap between official religion and their daily conduct or actual beliefs; the academically-trained rabbinate – secular education became mandated by mid-century, and yeshivas all closed due to lack of applicants, replaced by modern seminaries – whether affirming basically traditional doctrines or liberal and influenced by Wissenschaft, was scarcely prone to anything beyond aesthetic modification and de facto acceptance of the masses' laxity, if not outright apathy. Only in Hungary, where a truly traditional society endured under the belated pressures of modernity, did the similarly moderate liberals (known as Neologs) encounter stiff resistance from the strictly Orthodox. Further to the east, among the unemancipated and unacculturated Jewish masses in Poland, Romania and Russia, the stimulants which gave rise to Reform were virtually unheard of. Religious life and the rabbinate remained almost totally old-school traditionalist. Eventually, in the 1870s, the loss of belief among the small maskilic strata would lead not to religious reform of any sort, but to secularization and a recasting of Jews as a modern nationality.[41][35]

In 1840, several British Jews formed the West London Synagogue of British Jews, headed by Reverend David Woolf Marks. While the title "Reform" was sometimes applied to them, their approach was described as "neo-Karaite" and was utterly opposite to continental developments. Only a century later did they and other synagogues embrace mainland ideas and established the British Movement for Reform Judaism.[42]

America and Classical Reform

At Charleston, The former members of the Reformed Society gained influence over the affairs of Beth Elohim. In 1836, Gustavus Poznanski was invited to serve as preacher and minister. He spent time in Hamburg and knew the rite of its Temple. Poznansky was at first traditional, but around 1841 he excised the Resurrection of the Dead and abolished the Second Festival Day in the Diaspora, five years before the same was done at the Breslau conference.

In addition to Poznansky himself, the American Reform movement was chiefly a direct German import, brought along with the many Jewish immigrants from that country. In 1842, Har Sinai Congregation was founded by such in Baltimore. Administered from its inception according to the Hamburg rite, it was the first synagogue to be established as Reformed on the continent. In the new land, there were neither old state-mandated communal structures of the European variety, nor strong conservative elements among the newcomers, who were mostly thoroughly modernized individuals. While the first generation was somewhat still attached to old forms, their Americanized children had no such qualms and were keen to find a religious expression not at odds with their surrounding. Reform quickly spread even before the Civil War. While fueled by the condition of immigrant communities granted full civic equality and little concerned with traditional law, in matters of doctrine, wrote Michael Meyer, "However much American Reform Judaism was a response to its particular social context, the basic principles it has espoused since the mid-19th Century are those put forth by Abraham Geiger and the other German Reformers – the idea of progressive revelation, the historical-critical approach to Jewish tradition, the centrality of the Prophetic literature."[43]

The American Reform rabbinate, which was almost exclusively transplanted from Central Europe – Rabbis Samuel Hirsch, Samuel Adler, Gustav Gottheil, Kaufmann Kohler and others all played a role both in Germany and across the ocean – was led by two individuals: the radical Rabbi David Einhorn, who participated in the 1844-6 conferences and was very much influenced by Holdheim (though utterly rejecting mixed marriage), and the moderate pragmatist Isaac Meyer Wise, who while sharing deeply heterodox views was more an organizer than a thinker. Wise was distinct from the others, arriving early in 1846 and lacking much formal education. He was of little ideological consistency, and was willing to compromise.

Quite haphazardly, he instituted a major innovation when introducing family pews in 1851, after his Albany congregation purchased a local church building and retained sitting arrangements, a feature unknown in synagogue design until then. While it was gradually adopted even by many Orthodox in America and remained so well into the 20th Century, the same was not applied in Germany until after World War II. Wise attempted to reach consensus with the traditionalist leader Rabbi Isaac Leeser in order to forge a single, unified American Judaism. In the Cleveland Synod (17–20 October 1855), Wise was at first acquiescent to Leeser's demands, accepting the authority of the Talmud as binding, but reverted immediately after the other departed. The enraged Leeser disavowed any connection with the Synod. Yet the harshest critic was Einhorn, who arrived from Europe just on 29 September and soon rose to prominence. Demanding principled and clear positions, he headed the radical camp as Reform turned into a distinct current, rather than the major factor within the American Judaism which Wise once hoped for.

On 3 November 1869 Wise, Einhorn and mainly followers of the latter met in Philadelphia for a conference which lasted until the 6th. Described by Meyer as American Reform's "declaration of independence", they stated their commitment to the principles already formulated in Germany: priestly privileges, the belief in Resurrection and a personal Messiah were denied. A practical, far-reaching measure, not instituted in Germany until 1910, was acceptance of civil marriage and divorce. A Get was no longer required. In 1873 Wise founded the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (since 2003, Union for Reform Judaism), the denominational body. In 1875 he established the movement's rabbinical seminary, Hebrew Union College, at Cincinnati, Ohio. He and Einhorn also quarreled in the matter of liturgy, each issuing his own prayerbook, Minhag America (American Rite) and Olat Tamid (Regular Burnt Offering) respectively, which they hoped to make standard issue. Eventually, the Union Prayer Book was adopted in 1895. The movement spread rapidly: in 1860, when it began its ascent, there were few Reform synagogues and 200 Orthodox in the United States. By 1880, a mere handful of the existing 275 were not affiliated with it.[44]

In 1885, Reform Judaism in America was confronted by challenges on its both flanks. To the left, Felix Adler and his Ethical movement rejected the need for the Jews to exist as a differentiated group. On the right, the recently arrived Rabbi Alexander Kohut, an adherent of Zacharias Frankel, lambasted it for having abandoned traditional Judaism. Einhorn's son-in-law and chief ideologue, Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler, invited leading rabbis to formulate a response. The eight clauses of the Pittsburgh Platform were proclaimed on 19 November. It added virtually nothing new to the tenets of Reform, but rather presented them in a lucid and concise manner, declaring unambiguously that "to-day we accept as binding only the moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives." The platform was never officially ratified by either the UAHC or HUC, and many of their members even attempted to disassociate from it, fearing that its radical tone would deter potential allies. It indeed motivated a handful of conservatives to cease any cooperation with the movement and withdraw their constituencies from the UAHC. These men, like Marcus Jastrow and Benjamin Szold, joined Kohut, Sabato Morais, Bernard Drachman and others in establishing the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. It united all non-Reform currents in the country and would gradually develop into the locus of Conservative Judaism.

While having little official status, the Pittsburgh Platform is considered a defining document of "Classical Reform", the sanitized and rationalistic form of belief and practice that characterized the denomination from roughly after the Civil War until the second quarter of the 20th century. At its height, some forty congregations adopted the Sunday Sabbath and UAHC communities had services without most traditional elements in a manner seen in Europe only at the Berlin Reformgemeinde. In 1889, Wise founded the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the denominational rabbinic council.

However, change loomed on the horizon even before Pittsburgh. From 1881 to 1914, over two million immigrants from Eastern Europe drastically altered American Jewry, increasing it tenfold. The 40,000 members of Reform congregations became a small minority overnight. The newcomers arrived from backward regions, where secular education was scarce and civil equality nonexistent, retaining a strong sense of Jewish ethnicity. Even the religiously lax had very traditional sentiments. While at first alienated from the native modernized Jews descended from Western and Central Europe, a fortriori the Reform ones, they slowly integrated. Growing numbers did begin to enter UAHC prayerhouses. The CCAR soon readopted elements long discarded in order to appeal to the new congregants: in the 1910's, inexperienced rabbis in the East Coast were given Ram Horns fitted with a trumpet mouthpiece, seventy years after the Reformgemeinde first held High Holiday prayers without blowing the instrument. The five-day workweek soon made the Sunday Sabbath redundant. Temples in the South and the Midwest, where the new crowd was scant, remained basically Classical.

The World Union of Progressive Judaism

In Germany, Liberal communities stagnated since mid-century. Full and complete Jewish emancipation granted to all in the German Empire in 1871 largely diffused interest in harmonizing religion with zeitgeist. Immigration from Eastern Europe also strengthened traditional elements. In 1898, seeking to counter these trends, Rabbi Heinemann Vogelstein established the Union of Liberal Rabbis (Vereinigung der liberalen Rabbiner). It numbered 37 members at first and grew to include 72 by 1914, about half of Germany's rabbis, a proportion maintained until 1933. In 1908, Vogelstein and his close associate Rabbi Cäsar Seligmann also founded a congregational arm, the Union for Liberal Judaism in Germany (Vereinigung für das Liberale Judentum in Deutschland), finally institutionalizing the current which until then was active as a loose tendency within German Jewry. The Union had some 10,000 registered members in the 1920s. In 1912, Seligmann drafted a declaration of principles, "Guiding Lines towards a Program for Liberal Judaism" (Richtlinien zu einem Programm für das liberale Judentum). It stressed the importance of individual consciousness and the supremacy of ethical values to ritual practice, declared a belief in a messianic age and was adopted as "a recommendation", rather than a binding decision.

In 1902, Claude Montefiore and several friends, including Lily Montagu and Israel Abrahams, founded the Jewish Religious Union (JRU) in London. It served as the cornerstone of Liberal Judaism in Britain. Montefiore was an outspoken activist for religious change since delivering his Hibbert lecture, "The Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Hebrews", in 1892. He studied at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, where he was greatly influenced by the ideas of early German Reformers, stating that he regarded Holdheim as a mentor. He and his associates were mainly driven by the example and challenge of Unitarianism, which offered upper-class Jews a universal, enlightened belief. Meyer noted that while he had several original strains, Montefiore was, by his own admission, largely dependent on Geiger and his concepts of progressive revelation, instrumentality of ritual, universal mission and so forth: "Montefiore's was largely a response to British development, but it turned for an answer to the ideology of the German movement". His Liberal Judaism was radical and puristic, matching and sometimes exceeding the Berlin and American variants of Reform. They conducted most of their prayers in English, sharply abridged their liturgy and largely discarded traditional practice. Montefiore's influence swayed West London and other breakaway synagogues toward a more systematic reform of ritual.[45]

In 1907, the former Consistorial rabbi Louis-Germain Lévy, who shared a similar worldview, formed the Union Libérale Israélite de France, a small congregation which numbered barely a hundred families. It eventually evolved into the Liberal Jewish Movement of France.

It was Cäsar Seligmann who first suggested the creation of an international umbrella organization for all those who shared his basic premise. He corresponded with Kohler, met Emil G. Hirsch and respected Montefiore. An assembly scheduled to have taken place at Elberfeld during 1914 was canceled due to the outbreak of World War I. It was only on 10 July 1926 that representatives from around the world gathered in London. Rabbi Jacob K. Shankman wrote of them: "The leaders who gathered in London were animated by the same convictions which characterized the spirit of Reform Judaism: they emphasized the teachings of the Prophets as the cardinal and central element in our religion, they believed in progressive revelation, and they were unanimous in their willingness to adapt the ancient forms of Judaism to their contemporary needs."[46] The conference was attended by representatives of the Union for Liberal Judaism in Germany, the British JRU, the American UAHC and CCAR, and Lévy from France. Others present were Leah Jhirad, chair of the Bene Israel Mumbay branch of Montefiore's JRU, and Heinrich Wolff of Stockholm, in which the Hochschule-trained chief rabbi Gottlieb Klein introduced German-style Liberal Judaism from 1883. The representatives, after weighing their options, chose "Progressive" rather than either "Liberal" or "Reform" as the umbrella term for their movement, a name which Wise first coined in 1871.

The organization began to disseminate its religious worldview shortly after, eventually establishing branches in numerous countries. The first new chapter was founded in the Netherlands, where two new synagogues have broken with the Orthodox and formed the Verbond voor Liberaal-Religieuze Joden in Nederland on 18 October 1931.

Already in 1930, the West London Synagogue affiliated with WUPJ. In the coming decade, waves of refugees from Nazi Germany arrived in Britain, bringing with them both the moderation of German Liberal Judaism (few mingled with the JRU, from which they were estranged both by language and its radicalism) and a cadre of trained rabbis. Only then did British Reform emerge as a movement. 1942 saw the founding of the Associated British Synagogues, which affiliated with the WUPJ as a whole in 1945. Preserving the relative traditionalism of Germany, they later adopted the name "Reform Synagogues of Great Britain" (since 2005, Movement for Reform Judaism), distinct from the smaller "Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues" which succeeded the JRU.[42][47] Tens of thousands of refugees from Germany brought their Liberal Judaism to other lands as well.

The WUPJ spread. In 1930, the first Liberal congregation, Temple Beth Israel Melbourne, was founded in Australia. In 1936, it hired as a permanent rabbi the Hochschule graduate Herman Sanger. In June 1931, the South African Jewish Religious Union for Liberal Judaism was organised, soon employing HUC-ordained Moses Cyrus Weiler. The Congregação Israelita Paulista of São Paulo, first branch in South America, was established in 1936.

The New Reform Judaism

Contemporary Reform service, with many congregants wearing head coverings and prayer shawls.

Kohler retired in 1923. Rabbi Samuel S. Cohon was appointed HUC Chair of Theology in his stead, serving until 1956. Cohon, born near Minsk, was emblematic of the new generation of East European-descended clergy within American Reform. While not diverging from progressive revelation and the other tenets formulated by his predecessors, he was deeply influenced by Ahad Ha'am and his cultural nationalism, both directly and via the his American disciple Mordecai Kaplan. Viewing Judaism as a Civilization rather than a religion, though he and other Reform sympathizers of Kaplan fully maintained the notions of Election and revelation which the latter denied, Cohon valued Jewish particularism over universalist leanings. Owing to that, he encouraged the reincorporation of traditional elements long discarded, not as part of a comprehensive legalistic framework but as means to rekindle ethnic cohesion.[48] His approach echoed popular sentiment in the East Coast. Another prominent leader who shared Cohon's convictions was Rabbi Solomon Freehof, son to immigrants from Chernihiv, who advocated a selective rapprochement with Halakha, which was to offer "guidance, not governance"; Freehof advocated replacing the sterile style of community life, allowing isolated practices to emerge spontaneously and reincorporating old ones. He redrafted the Union Prayer Book in 1940 to include more old formulae and authored many responsa, though he always stressed compliance was voluntary.[49]

Cohon and Freehof rose against the background of the Great Depression, when many congregations teetered on the threshold of collapse. Growing Antisemitism in Europe led German Liberals on similar paths. Rabbis Leo Baeck, Max Dienemann and Seligmann himself turned to stressing Jewish peoplehood and the importance of tradition and solidarity during the interwar period. The Nazis' takeover in 1933 effected a religious revival in communities long plagued by apathy and assimilation. The great changes convinced the CCAR that a new definition of Reform principles was imperative. On 25 May 1937, the Conference met in Columbus, Ohio. On the 29th, they adopted a new "Declaration of Principles" (eschewing the more formal, binding "platform"), authored by Cohon. It promoted a greater degree of ritual observance, supported Zionism – considered by the Classicists in the past as, at best, a remedy for the unemancipated Jewish masses in Russia and Romania, while they did not regard the Jews as a nation in the modern sense, but a religious community – and used a language stressing peoplehood: unlike Pittsburgh, it opened not with theology but by the statement "Judaism is the historical religious experience of the Jewish people." The Columbus Principles are considered a crucial stage in the transformation from "Classical" to the "New Reform Judaism", characterized by a lesser focus on abstract concepts of theology and rationalism, and a more positive attitude to practice and traditional elements.[50]

The Holocaust and the establishment of the State of Israel reinforced the tendency. The Americanization and move to the suburbs in the 1950s facilitated a double effect: the secular Jewish ideologies of the immigrants' generation, like Labour Zionism or Bundism, became anachronistic. Military service exposed recruits – who were raised, in a pattern resembling that of Eastern European Jewry, at often non- or-anti-religious households in neighbourhoods where synagogues were old-style Orthodox – to the family-oriented, moderate piety of middle-class America. Many sought a religious affiliation in the early years of the Cold War. The "Return to Tradition", as it was termed, smoothed the path for many such new congregants who flocked to the UAHC. It grew from 290 communities with 50,000 affiliated households in 1937 to 560 with 255,000 in 1956. A similar tendency was expressed overseas. Even the purist Liberals in Britain introduced minor customs which bore sentimental value to their many new Eastern European-descended constituents, such as Bar Mitzvah instead of confirmation.[51][52]

Rabbi John D. Rayner – echoing the sentiment of Reform rabbis in America towards related phenomena in their temples –[51] scorned this attitude: "It is disconcerting to find that Bar Mitzah is coming back... Why?... In nearly every case, because of pseudo-Orthodox grandparents who often have no knowledge of Judaism, but who have a sentimental obsession to hear chanting in ill-understood Hebrew to a congregation who would barely understand the difference if he chanted in Chinese." In 1972, the Classical bastion Congregation Emanu-El of New York renewed the ceremony, 124 years after it abolished it in 1848. In 1981, the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London was apparently the last in Britain to succumb as well.[53]

World War II shattered many of the assumptions about human progress and benevolence held by liberal denominations, Reform included. In the following years, a new generation of theologians attempted to formulate a response. Thinkers such as Eugene Borowitz and J.J. Petuchowski turned mainly to the existentialism of Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig and the like, which portrayed humans in a more fragile state, in a complex relationship with the divine. While religious humanism was an ever present philosophy within the movement, it remained confined to a small group, and official positions retained a theistic approach. But the main focus in American Reform lay elsewhere: in 1946, Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath was appointed President of the UAHC. He turned the notion of Tikkun Olam, "repairing of the world", into the practical expression of affiliation, leading involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam War opposition and other progressive causes.

The 1960s and 70s saw the rise of multiculturalism and the weakening of organized religion in favour of personal spiritual expressions. The pressure to conform to mainstream society diminished, replaced by a growing "return to ethnicity" in the younger generation, which was keen to exhibit its own long-forgotten background. Items and practices such as prayer shawls, head coverings and ablution, long discarded if not expressly banned as primitive relics in Reform circles, became fashionable. Already in 1963, HUC-graduate Sherwin Wine seceded from the denomination and formed an openly atheistic community, Birmingham Temple, declaring that for him Judaism was a cultural-historical tradition, not a faith. Knowing that many in their audience held quite overlapping ideas, the pressure on the CCAR to move toward nontheistic humanism grew, deriving also from Richard L. Rubenstein Death of God theology.[54]

In 1975, the diversity and lack of consensus surfaced in the compilation of a new standard prayer book, "Gates of Prayer." To accommodate all constituents, no less than ten differing liturgies for morning service and six for evening were offered for each congregation to choose from. One traditional-leaning rite included long-omitted texts, such as the blessings for donning phylacteries and half-Kaddish in Aramaic; the other extreme was marked in the sixth Sabbath evening prayer, which retained the traditional Hebrew text for God but translated it as "Eternal Power" in English, a measure condemned by many Reform rabbis who viewed it as de facto humanistic. "Gates of Prayer" symbolized the movement's decision to favor what would be termed a "Big Tent Judaism", welcoming all, over theological clarity. In the following year, an attempt to draft a new platform for the CCAR in San Francisco ended with poor results. The board, headed by Borowitz, abandoned any notion of issuing guidelines but rather authored a "Centenary Perspective" with few coherent statements, though it maintained belief in God, revelation and the like.[55] The "Big Tent", while taking its toll on the theoreticians, did substantially bolster constituency. The UAHC slowly caught up with Conservative Judaism on the path toward becoming the largest American denomination.[56] While becoming rather elastic in matters of theology, Reform did not erase boundaries. It rejected outright those who held syncretic beliefs like Jewbu and "Messianic Judaism", and also Secular Humanism. Congregation Beth Adam was denied UAHC membership by a landslide vote of 113:15 in 1994.[54]

In 1972, the first Reform female rabbi, Sally Priesand, was ordained at Hebrew Union College. In 1977, the CCAR declared that the biblical ban on male same-sex intercourse referred only to the pagan customs prevalent at the time it was composed, and gradually accepted openly LGBT constituents and clergy. The first LGBT rabbi, Stacy Offner, was instated in 1988, and full equality was declared in 1990. Same-sex marriage were accepted guidelines for them published in 1997. In 1978, CCAR President Alexander Schindler admitted that measures aimed at curbing intermarriage rates by various sanctions, whether on the concerned parties or on rabbis assisting or acknowledging them (ordinances penalizing such involvement were passed in 1909, 1947 and 1962), were no longer effective. He called for a policy of outreach and acceptance, rejecting "intermarriage, but not the intermarried" hoping to convince gentile spouses to convert. In 1983, the CCAR accepted patrilineal decent, a step taken by British Liberals already in the 1950s. The 1978 turnabout engendered a rapid growth: HUAC membership grew by 23% in the 1975-1985 decade, reaching 1.3 million affiliates. Schindler estimated that 10,000 intermarried couples were joining annually.[56][57]

On 26 May 1999, after a prolonged debate and six widely different drafts rejected, the Conference, convened at Pittsburgh, adopted a "Statement of Principals for Reform Judaism". It affirmed the "reality and oneness of God", the Torah as "God's ongoing revelation to our people" and committed to the "ongoing study of the whole array of Commandments and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community. Some of these sacred obligations have long been observed by Reform Jews; others, both ancient and modern, demand renewed attention." While the wording was carefully crafted in order not to alienate the estimated 20%-25% of membership which retained Classicist persuasions, it did raise condemnation from many of them.[58]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kaplan, Challenges and Reflections, pp. 7, 315; Jonathan Romain, Tradition and Change: A History of Reform Judaism in Britain, 1840–1995, Vallentine Mitchell, 1995. pp. 39-45.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Jakob Josef Petuchowski, The Concept of Revelation in Reform Judaism, inside: Studies in Modern Theology and Prayer, Jewish Publication Society, 1998. pp. 101-112.
  3. Kaplan, Contemporary Debates, pp. 136-142.
  4. Kaplan, American Reform: an Introduction, p. 29; Challenges and Reflections, p. 36; Contemporary Debates, 136-142.;Jonathan Romain Reform Judaism and Modernity: A Reader, SCM Press, 2004. p. 145.
  5. Meyer, p. 96.
  6. Challenges and Reflections, pp. 34-36.
  7. Kaplan, Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal, pp. 131.
  8. Dana Evan Kaplan, Contemporary Debates in American Reform Judaism, Routledge, 2013. p. 239.; Challenges and Reflections, pp. 27, 46, 148.; Elliot N. Dorff, Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to Our Descendants, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, 1979. pp. 104-105.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Eugene B. Borowitz, Reform Judaism Today, Behrman House, 1993. pp. 147-148.
  10. Robert G. Goldy, The Emergence of Jewish Theology in America, Indiana University Press, 1990. pp. 24-25.
  11. Dorff, p. 132; Dana Evan Kaplan, American Reform Judaism: An Introduction, Rutgers University Press, 2009. pp. 41-42; Jonathan Sacks, Crisis and Covenant: Jewish Thought After the Holocaust, Manchester Uni. Press, 1992. p. 158.
  12. Leon A. Morris, Beyond Autonomy: the Texts and Our Lives, in: Dana Evan Kaplan, Platforms and Prayer Books: Theological and Liturgical Perspectives on Reform Judaism, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002. pp. 271-284.
  13. Walter Jacob, Liberal Judaism and Halakhah, Rodef Shalom Press, 1988. pp. 90-94.; Michael A. Meyer, Changing Attitudes of Liberal Judaism toward Halakhah and Minhag, Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies, 1993.
  14. Borowitz, "Reform Judaism Today, pp. 81, 88-90.
  15. Martha Himmelfarb, Resurrection, in: Adele Berlin (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, Oxford University Press, 2011. p. 624.; Kaplan, Platforms and Prayer Books, p. 217.
  16. Kaplan, Contemporary Debates, p. 106.
  17. Romain, p. 8; Borowitz, Today, p. 168; Petuchowski, pp. 183-184.
  18. Walter Homolka, Liturgie als Theologie: das Gebet als Zentrum im jüdischen Denken, Frank & Timme GmbH, 2005. pp. 63-98; and especially: J. J. Petuchowski, Prayerbook Reform in Europe: the Liturgy of European Liberal and Reform Judaism, World Union for Progressive Judaism, 1968.
  19. For a concise introduction, see: Dalia Marks, Prayer in the Reform Movement:History and Assessment (Hebrew), in: Avinoam Rosenak, היהדות הרפורמית : הגות, תרבות וחברה, Van Leer Jerusalem Institute, 2014. ISBN 9789650207120. pp. 307-346.
  20. 20.0 20.1 Steven M. Cohen, As Reform Jews Gather, Some Good News in the Numbers, Jewish Daily Forward, 5 November 2015.
  21. 21.0 21.1 Steven M. Cohen, Members and Motives: Who Joins American Jewish Congregations and Why, S3K Report, Fall 2006
  22. Meyer, Response, p. 425.
  23. Isaac Meyer Wise, Reformed Judaism, 1871. p. 261.
  24. For the protocol of the vote, see: International conference of liberal Jews, Saturday, July 10th - Monday July 12th, 1926, Jewish Religious Union. pp. 118-130.
  25. American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Year Book, 1992, University of Nebraska Press, 1992. p. 257.
  26. A Portrait of Jewish Americans, 1 October 2013.
  27. Find a Congregation (under the rubric 'country'), For the mutually exclusive of list of Reconstructionist congregations worldwide, see Directory of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot,
  28. David Harry Ellenson, After Emancipation: Jewish Religious Responses to Modernity, Hebrew Union College Press, 2004. p. 103.
  29. Dr. Michael K. Silber, Orthodoxy, The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe.
  30. Meyer, p. 42.
  31. Meyer, Response, pp. 111-115, 150-157.
  32. Michael A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism, Wayne State University Press, 1995. pp. 89-99.
  33. Meyer, Response, pp. 125-127.
  34. David Ellenson, Rabbi Esriel Hildesheimer and the Creation of a Modern Jewish Orthodoxy, University of Alabama Press, 1990. p. 65.
  35. 35.0 35.1 Steven M. Lowenstein, The 1840s and the Creation of the German-Jewish Religious Reform Movement, in: Werner E. Mosse ed., Revolution and Evolution, 1848 in German-Jewish History, Mohr Siebeck, 1981. pp. 258-266.
  36. Susannah Heschel, Abraham Geiger and the Jewish Jesus, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1998. p. 38.
  37. Meyer, Judaism Within Modernity, p. 135.
  38. Meyer, Response, p. ix, 178.
  39. Meyer, Response, p. 210; Michael Meyer, Deutsch-jüdische Geschichte in der Neuzeit: Band 3', C.H. Beck, 1997. pp. 100-110.
  40. Lowenstein, The 1840s, p. 256.
  41. Meyer, Response, pp. 154-160, 168-170, 195-200.
  42. 42.0 42.1 Daniel R. Langton, A Question of Backbone: Contrasting Christian Influences upon the Origins of Reform and Liberal Judaism in England, published in: Melilah; Manchester Journal for Jewish Studies 3(2004), pp. 1-47.
  43. Michael A. Meyer, Judaism Within Modernity: Essays on Jewish History and Religion, Wayne State University Press, 2001. p. 108.
  44. Jack Wertheimer, The American Synagogue: A Sanctuary Transformed, Cambridge University Press, 2003. p. 43.
  45. Meyer, Response to Modernity, p. 214-215; Michael A. Meyer, Judaism Within Modernity, pp. 309-324.
  46. Jacob K. Shankman, Essays in honor of Solomon B. Freehof, Rodef Shalom, 1964. p. 129.
  47. Geoffrey Alderman, Modern British Jewry, Oxford University Press, 1998. p. 354.
  48. Arnold M. Eisen, The Chosen People in America: A Study in Jewish Religious Ideology, Indiana University Press (1983), ISBN 9780253114129. pp. 59-65.
  49. Joan S. Friedman, "Guidance, Not Governance": Rabbi Solomon B. Freehof and Reform Responsa, Hebrew Union College Press (2013). ISBN 9780878204670. pp. 68-80.
  50. Dana Evan Kaplan, The Cambridge Companion to American Judaism, Cambridge University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780521529518. pp. 119-123.
  51. 51.0 51.1 Dana Evan Kaplan The New Reform Judaism: Challenges and Reflections, University of Nebraska Press (2013). ISBN 9780827611337. pp. 260-263.
  52. J. J. Petuchowski, Refom Judaism: Undone by Revival, First Things, January 1992.
  53. Michael Hilton, Bar Mitzvah, a History, University of Nebraska Press, 2014. p. 102.
  54. 54.0 54.1 Kaplan, Contemporary Debates, pp. 136-142, 242-270.
  55. Dana Evan Kaplan, Contemporary American Judaism: Transformation and Renewal, Columbia University Press, 2013, pp. 119-121.
  56. 56.0 56.1 Jonathan Sarna, Contemporary Reform Judaism: A Historical Perspective, in: Rosenak, היהדות הרפורמית, pp. 499-509.
  57. Joseph Berger ,Rise of 23% Noted in Reform Judaism, New York Times, 1 November 1985.
  58. Kaplan, An Introduction, pp. 236-238.

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