Aviva Directory » Faith & Spirituality » World Religions » Abrahamic Religions » Judaism » Denominations & Sects » Reform

Also known as Liberal Judaism and Progressive Judaism, Reform Judaism characterized by a de-emphasis on personal observance and ritual.

Reform Jews believe in a continuous revelation of God, and de-emphasize personal observance and ritual, while being more open to progressive influences. Individuals are considered to be autonomous, and unbound by Jewish Law.

The origins of Reform Judaism are in 19th century Germany. In the early 1800s, German Reformers sought to regenerate Jewish public worship by cutting out what they viewed as obsolete material, by introducing vernacular prayers, a weekly vernacular sermon, organ and choral music, and new ceremonies, such as confirmation.

The first Reform temple was constructed during the occupation of Westphalia by the French in 1810, but the French withdrawal ended that experiment. In Berlin, Reform Judaism was limited to a weekly home service in the home of Israel Jacobson. The first lasting Reform Temple was at Hamburg, built in 1818

The Reform movement spread throughout Germany to Austria, Denmark, France, and Hungary. In 1824, a Reformed movement began in South Carolina and, in January of 1842, the West London Synagogue was established.

By the late 1800s, the Reform movement was a dominant force in American Jewry.

Of Jews who are affiliated with a synagogue, Reform Judaism accounts for about a third of American Jews and a fifth of the Jews in Britain. There are smaller populations of Reform Jews in the countries of the former Soviet Union. The Reform movement is active in Israel, but not officially recognized.

Prominent Reform Jewish organizations include the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, Liberal Judaism in Britain, the Movement for Reform Judaism, the Union for Reform Judaism, and the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

The various strands of Reform Judaism regard the Jewish religion as being a produce of constant evolution, rejecting the concept of a fixed set of beliefs, laws, or practices. Consequently, the theology of Reform Judaism tends to be ambiguous. Generally, a variety of positions have been tolerated or embraced.

The movement has maintained a theistic stance, holding to a belief in a personal God, although definitions vary.

The chief tenet of the Reform movement is the belief in an progressive revelation, one that is not limited to the Law given to Moses at Sinai. Reform Jews believe that the scripture of Judaism was written by human beings who, although divinely inspired, inserted their own understandings, and created a work that reflected the spirit of their times.

Reform Judaism emphasizes the ethics of the Jewish faith, while placing less stress on ceremony. The movement never abandoned traditional Jewish jurisprudence altogether, and selected features were reintroduced in the 1900s, although they are considered nonbinding on individuals.

The Reformers sought to adapt Judaism to secular ideas of rationalism. They rejected a belief in a future bodily resurrection of the dead as being irrational. Reform belief in an afterlife was confined to a belief in the immortality of the soul. Early Reform leaders believed in the immortal soul, but this concept proved difficult to maintain over the years. Although the various streams of Reform Judaism uphold the idea in theory, modern teachings on the subject have become ambiguous. For example, the 1999 Pittsburgh Statement of Principles refers to "the spirit within us is eternal."

Similarly, the idea of rewards and punishments in the afterlife is no longer clearly taught, although there remains a perception of anguish for the wicked, and bliss for the righteous.

Angels and heavenly hosts are rejected as a product of superstition.

One of the early changes that Reform Jews made was to the liturgy. Prayers were shortened by omitting repetitions and cutting other passages, as well as through a reintroduction of the triennial cycle of Torah reading. Vernacular segments were added alongside of the Hebrew and Aramaic text, and sometimes replaced the original text. Passages that referred to the coming Messiah, a return to Zion, the Resurrection of the Dead, and reward and punishment in the afterlife were replaced reworded or cut altogether.

The early Reformers cut several of the traditional Jewish holidays, and omitted much of the ritual from many of those that remained.

In the late 1900s, an internal movement known as New Reform resulted in a greater emphasis on the ceremonial aspects of Judaism, arguing that the minimalist approach had led to apathy within the membership. Jewish rituals which had originally been cut have become popular again, although sometimes reinterpreted.

The acceptance of New Reform has resulted in Reform Judaism competing with Conservative Judaism as a centrist movement.



Recommended Resources

Search for Reform on Google or Bing