38 Facts About Reform Judaism


Reform Judaism, known as Liberal Judaism or Progressive Judaism, is a major Jewish denomination that emphasizes the evolving nature of the faith, the superiority of its ethical aspects to its ceremonial ones, and belief in a continuous revelation, which is closely intertwined with human reason and not limited to the theophany at Mount Sinai.

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Early and "Classical" Reform were characterized by a move away from traditional forms of Judaism combined with a coherent theology; "New Reform" sought, to a certain level, the reincorporation of many formerly discarded elements within the framework established during the "Classical" stage, though this very doctrinal basis became increasingly obfuscated.

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Critics, like Rabbi Dana Evan Kaplan, warned that Reform Judaism became more of a Jewish activities club, a means to demonstrate some affinity to one's heritage in which even rabbinical students do not have to believe in any specific theology or engage in any particular practice, rather than a defined belief system.

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British Liberal Reform Judaism affirms the "Jewish conception of God: One and indivisible, transcendent and immanent, Creator and Sustainer".

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Basic tenet of Reform Judaism theology is a belief in a continuous, or progressive, revelation, occurring continuously and not limited to the theophany at Sinai, the defining event in traditional interpretation.

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The American theologian Kaufmann Kohler spoke of the "special insight" of Israel, almost fully independent from direct divine participation, and English thinker Claude Montefiore, founder of Liberal Reform 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".

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Reform Judaism 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.

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Reform Judaism emphasizes the ethical facets of the faith as its central attribute, superseding the ceremonial ones.

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However, practices were seen as a means to elation and a link to the heritage of the past, and Reform Judaism generally argued that rituals should be maintained, discarded or modified based on whether they served these higher purposes.

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The postwar "New Reform Judaism" lent renewed importance to practical, regular action as a means to engage congregants, abandoning the sanitized forms of the "Classical".

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From its beginning, Reform Judaism attempted to harmonize the language of petitions with modern sensibilities and what the constituents actually believed in.

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In 1846, the Breslau rabbinical conference abolished the second day of festivals; during the same years, the Berlin Reform Judaism congregation held prayers without blowing the Ram's Horn, phylacteries, mantles or head covering, and held its Sabbath services on Sunday.

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Reform Judaism is considered to be the first major Jewish denomination to adopt gender equality in religious life.

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Reform Judaism pioneered family seating, an arrangement that spread throughout American Jewry but was only applied in continental Europe after World War II.

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American Reform Judaism, especially, turned action for social and progressive causes into an important part of religious commitment.

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The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism became an important lobby in service of progressive causes such as the rights of minorities.

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In truth, it is political, basically a mirror of the most radically leftist components of the Democratic Party platform, causing many to say that Reform Judaism is simply 'the Democratic Party with Jewish holidays'.

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The North American Union for Reform Judaism accepted it in 1983, and the British Movement for Reform Judaism affirmed it in 2015.

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The title "Reform Judaism" became much more common in the United States, where an independent denomination under this name was fully identified with the religious tendency.

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Reform Judaism was interested in decorum, believing its lack in services was driving the young away.

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Massive Orthodox reaction halted the advance of early Reform Judaism, confining it to the port city for the next twenty years.

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Reform Judaism was not alone: Solomon Formstecher argued that Revelation was God's influence on human psyche, rather than encapsulated in law; 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.

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Reform Judaism himself differentiated between his principled stance and quotidian conduct.

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Reform Judaism 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 but to the civil ones (memonot), where the Law of the Land applied.

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Except Berlin, where the term "Reform Judaism" was first used as an adjective, the rest referred to themselves as "Liberal".

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Outside Germany, Reform Judaism had little to no influence in the rest of the continent.

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Reform Judaism was of little ideological consistency, often willing to compromise.

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Rabbi Jacob K Shankman wrote they were all "animated by the convictions of Reform Judaism: emphasized the Prophets' teachings as the cardinal element, progressive revelation, willingness to adapt ancient forms to contemporary needs".

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In June 1931, the South African Jewish Religious Union for Liberal Reform Judaism was organised, soon employing HUC-ordained Moses Cyrus Weiler.

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Reform Judaism's approach echoed popular sentiment in the East Coast.

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Reform Judaism redrafted the Union Prayer Book in 1940 to include more old formulae and authored many responsa, though he always stressed compliance was voluntary.

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On 29 May 1937, in Columbus, Ohio, a "Declaration of Principles", 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 – and opened not with theology, but by the statement, "Reform Judaism is the historical religious experience of the Jewish people".

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The Columbus Principles signified the transformation from "Classical" to the "New Reform Judaism", characterized by a lesser focus on abstract concepts and a more positive attitude to practice and traditional elements.

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Reform Judaism 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.

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In 1954, the first permanent Reform Judaism congregation was established in the State of Israel, again at Jerusalem.

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Reform Judaism called for a policy of outreach and tolerance, rejecting "intermarriage, but not the intermarried", hoping to convince gentile spouses to convert.

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On 26 May 1999, after a prolonged debate and six widely different drafts rejected, a "Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism" was adopted in Pittsburgh by the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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In 2008, the Society for Classical Reform Judaism was founded to mobilize and coordinate those who preferred the old universalist, ethics-based and less-observant religious style, with its unique aesthetic components.

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