Reform Judaism

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Reform Judaism: Also known as Progressive Judaism.

Philosophy of Reform Judaism: To be added

History and development of Reform Judaism: To be added:


Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut writes "there is no such thing as a Jewish theological principle, policy, or doctrine." This is because Reform Judaism affirms "the fundamental principle of Liberalism: that the individual will approach this body of mitzvot and minhagim in the spirit of freedom and choice. Traditionally Israel started with harut, the commandment engraved upon the Tablets, which then became freedom. The Reform Jew starts with herut, the freedom to decide what will be harut - engraved upon the personal Tablets of his life." [Bernard Martin, Ed., "Contemporary Reform Jewish Thought", Quadrangle Books 1968.]

Historically, Reform Judaism has officially promoted theism. This belief is reaffirmed in its new statement of principles. However, it also holds that personal autonomy is absolute; in recent decades it has no longer asked that its adherents hold any particular beliefs. Reform rabbis and laypeople have come to affirm various beliefs including theism, deism, Reconstructionist naturalism, polydoxy, and humanism (non-theistic). All of these positions are considered equally valid within Reform Judaism. The official American Reform prayerbook, "Gates of Prayer: The New Union Prayerbook", is predominantly theistic, but also includes a non-theistic, humanist service that deletes all references to God (p.204-218).

The Reform movement has had a number of official platforms. The first was the 1885 Declaration of Principles, the Pittsburgh Platform. The next platform was written in 1937 by the Reform movement's Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). CCAR rewrote its principles in 1976 with its "Centenary Perspective" and rewrote them again in the 1999 "A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism". While original drafts of the 1999 statement called for Reform Jews to consider re-adopting some traditional practices on a voluntary basis, later drafts removed most of these suggestions. The final version is thus similar to the 1976 statement. According to CCAR, personal autonomy still has precedence over these platforms.

Halakha (Jewish law)

The classical approach of Reform Judaism was based on the views of Rabbi Samuel Holdheim (1806-1860), leader of Reform Judaism in Germany. He believed that Reform Judaism should be based soley upon monotheism and morality. Almost everything connected with Jewish law and custom was of the ancient past, and was no longer appropriate for Jews to follow in the modern era. This approach was the dominant form of Reform Judaism from its creation until the 1940s. Since the 1940s the American Reform movement has slowly begun distancing itself from its previous stances. Reform Jews no go to Temples on Saturday, have some Hebrew in their religious services, and on a voluntary basis follow some of the various Jewish laws and customs. The return to tradition can be seen in the fact that some Reform Jews today even study Talmud and keep kosher.

Note that even those in the traditionalist wing of Reform Judaism still accept the primary principle of classical Reform: personal autonomy still has precedence over Jewish tradition; halakhano longer has authority. The difference between the classical Reformers and the Reform traditionalists is that the traditionalists feel that the default position towards choosing to follow any particular practice should be one of acceptance, rather than rejection. While only representing a minority of the movement, this group has has influenced the new Reform statement of principles, which states that "We are committed to the ongoing study of the whole array of mitzvot and to the fulfillment of those that address us as individuals and as a community."

Currently, then, some Reform rabbis promote following elements of halakha, and belief in many parts of classical Jewish theology, while others actively discourage adopting most Jewish practices or beliefs, because they feel that this is not in the tradition of the Reform movement. Both encouraging or discouraging Jewish practices are considered acceptable positions within Reform.

The Role of Women in Reform Judaism is discussed at this website:

Jewish identity

Despite a 1973 CCAR resolution recommending otherwise, CCAR allows its rabbis to officiate at intermarriages. Recent surveys by the Rabbinic Center for Research and Counseling show that 40% of CCAR Reform rabbis now perform intermarriages.

American Reform Judaism accepts patrilineal descent if the parents raise the child as a Jew by Reform standards. Gentiles may serve on Temple committees, and may count as full members of the movement. "In many congregations...non-Jewish choristers and soloists have occupied positions which seemed to make them into shelichei tsibbur [cantor, leader of prayer services]." Various Reform teshuvot (e.g. "Gentile Participation in Synagogue Ritual 5754.5") offer non-binding guidance limiting the role of gentiles in Reform prayer service, but local lay and rabbinic leadership have no obligation to accept this reccomendation. Thus, 88% of Reform Temples allow Christians and other gentiles to count as Reform Jews by being synagogue members if they are married to Reform Jews; 87 percent of Reform Temples allow gentiles to serve on synagogue committees, 22% of Reform Temples allow gentiles to have an aliyah to the Torah. [survery conducted by the Commission on Reform Jewish Outreach, see Wertheimer 1993].

In contrast, most Reform/Progressive Judaism outside the United States rejects patrilineal descent and intermarriage, and does not allow gentiles to lead prayers in Jewish prayer services, have an aliyah, or count as synagogue members.

external links

Official website of Reform Judaism