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Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism

Sources

Origins. Reform Judaism emerged from the experience of European Jews and made its first major impact in the United States when German immigrants began to arrive in the mid 1840s. The tiny American Jewish population of the time identified with traditional Judaism, but it had little trained leadership and scant contact with European Jewry. Demands for reform accelerated as German Jewish immigrants began to form new synagogues all across the country. At the heart of the movement was an emphasis on rationality and the moral aspects of religion and a deemphasis on the supernatural and inherited ritual. Two major figures dominated the Reform movement, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise and Rabbi David Einhorn. Wise was the movements main organizer, while Einhorn was its radical theoretician. Wises agenda for reform focused on those dietary restrictions and ritual practices that visibly set Jews apart from their neighbors. Judaism, he wrote, did not center on victuals, but rather in fear of the Lord and the love of many in harmony with the dicta of reason. He argued that Judaism should be trimmed of layers of outdated law and ritual, leaving only such observances and practices which might and should become universal because they would be beneficial to all men. His prayer book, Minhag America (translated as American Ritual), published initially in 1857, abbreviated many of the prayers for the daily and Sabbath services and eliminated others entirely.

Radical Reform. Einhorn, who never felt at home in America, was largely responsible for formulating the distinctive central currents in Reform thought. Einhorn argued for a radical restructuring of Jewish life and thought. His goal, like that of many religious radicals at midcentury, was to locate and preserve the eternal essence of Judaism and to purge all that was temporary, by which he meant the traditional Jewish ritual obligations that had developed at particular times and places in the past. Einhorn also argued that Judaism was a religion, a pure and ethical faith in monotheism, and not an ethnic identity. Jews were not a distinct or chosen people; instead they were distinguished by their mission as the bearers of a newly clarified religious goal, to lead the nations to the true knowledge and worship of God. Einhorn was the moving spirit behind a document produced in 1869 by a group of rabbis meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, which produced the first explicit group statement of Reform ideas. By 1880 perhaps only a dozen of the two hundred of the largest American Jewish congregations had refused to adopt Reform ritual and doctrine.

NO JEWS ALLOWED

Anti-Semitism was deeply rooted in the attitudes of most European Christians, but the Jewish population of the United States was so small that overt anti-Semitism was far less common than antiCatholicism or antiblack sentiments. It did exist, however, and in many states Jews could not exereise full citizenship rights until the second half of the nineteenth century. Well into the century many New England states carried colonial-era laws on their statute books that forbade non-Christians from holding office or conducting public worship. These laws, however, were often not enforced. Between the 1840s and 1880s the small American Jewish community was largely composed of German immigrants, and there was a large overlap in social and cultural life between German Jews and Christians. Anti-Semitism never developed into the sort of passionate mass political and cultural movements that took energy from antiCatholicism. As the Jewish community began to grow and to become more visible in the 1880s, the easy acceptance of Jews by members of the American upper class, which had characterized most of the century, began to harden. Rabbi Gustav Gottheil of Temple Emanu-El in New York complained that in the 1880s private schools began to be closed to Jewish children. . . . Advertisements of summer hotels, refusing admittance to Jewish guests, commenced to appear in the newspapers. By the 1890s restrictions and quotas on Jewish participation were common in institutions that served the Protestant upper class. They were especially strong in the schools, colleges, and universities that served the children of the American elite. Among poorer Jewish immigrants anti-Semitism was more likely to be experienced as intense competition among immigrant groups and on the borders of ethnic neighborhoods.

Source: Nathan Glazer, American Judaism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972).

The Pittsburgh Platform. The liberal theological platform of Reform Judaism was refined in 1885 at a meeting of fifteen rabbis in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Platform, which Wise called The Jewish Declaration of Independence, advocated for the rejection of a sweeping array of elements of Mosaic law and ritual judged not in keeping with the views and habits of modern civilization. Organized by Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler of New York, who drafted the manifesto, the meeting culminated several decades of disputation about how to modernize traditional Judaism. The platforms ideology reflected the intellectual leadership of Kohlers late father-in-law, Einhorn. It asserted that Judaism was a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with a the postulates of reason. The central purpose of the re-ligion, the rabbis argued, was spiritual elevationa process that they stated was no longer served by adherence to such Mosaic and Rabbinic laws as regulated diet, i priestly purity, and dress. These outmoded customs f should be eliminated, the platform stressed, because i they fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of e priestly holiness. One particularly momentous change t was the platforms decisive assertion that Judaism is a s religion and not an expression of national character, s Judaism, the platform asserted, was no longer a nation, s but a religious community, and therefore expects nei-.¾ I ther a return to Palestine, nor sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state. The document was the most radical produced by the Reform movement. In Pittsburgh discussion about adaptation to American life ran so far as to weigh the advisability of moving the Sabbath to Sunday to conform to the larger societys patterns. In 1889 the Pittsburgh Platform served as the founding document of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the denominational organization that still gives institutional shape to Reform Judaism in America.

Shrimp Cocktail. The first significant attempt to reverse the tide of Reform Judaism came in 1883, after a banquet held to honor the first graduates of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. The school was intended to train religious leaders for the entire Jewish community, which at that point seemed to be converging unanimously toward Reform. Guests from across the nation attended the banquet, including many who observed traditional Mosaic dietary laws. The seminary had hired a Jewish caterer, but when the first course was served, waiters brought shrimp cocktail to the tables. As shellfish, shrimp is considered ritually unclean, or terefa. Several guests raced from the room, and the terefa banquet became the center of a long controversy in the Jewish press. The publication of the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 underlined the break of the Reform movement with Mosaic law even more clearly. Conservatives gathered around Rabbi Sabato Moráis of Philadelphia, who founded the Jewish Theological Seminary Association in 1885 to represent Jews faithful to Mosaic Law and ancestral tradition. The seminary, and the Conservative movement that would grow up around it, did not, however, flourish immediately. It was only the emigration of hundreds of thousands of observant Jews from eastern Europe, which began at full force in the late 1880s, that led to strong institutional responses to Reform Judaism and facilitated the spread of conservative theology. In 1896 the first major Orthodox yeshiva, or school for rabbinical studies, the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, opened in New York. In 1898 the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations was formed and began to organize the rapidly growing Orthodox synagogue movement.

Sources

Joseph L. Blau, Judaism in America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976);

Nathan Glazer, American Judaism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972);

Howard M. Sachar, A History of the Jews in America (New York: Knopf, 1992);

Jonathan D. Sarna, ed., The American Jewish Experience (New York: Holmes & Meier, 1986).

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Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism. A modern post-Enlightenment interpretation of Judaism. Initially there was an attempt to make Judaism more relevant by abbreviating the traditional liturgy and introducing choral singing and prayers in the vernacular (see JACOBSON, I.). As a result of various rabbinical conferences in the middle years of the 19th cent., many aspects of the liturgy were reformed, but these changes were justified by reference to the Talmud and the Codes (see CODIFICATIONS OF LAW). In Great Britain, the Reform movement initially distinguished between the Bible and the Talmud, regarding only the former as authoritative. Subsequently it became more traditional, and a more radical movement, entitled ‘Liberal Judaism’, was founded in 1901. In Germany, reform liturgies became widespread, but the congregations generally remained theologically conservative. In the USA, the reform platform was established at Pittsburgh in 1885.

This position was modified in Columbus in 1937, and the Reform movement has since abandoned its anti-Zionist stance. Reform congregations are united in the World Union for Progressive Judaism, and rabbis are trained at the Hebrew Union College in the USA and the Leo Baeck College in the UK. Reform Judaism has no official status in Israel (though it has a few congregations and kibbutzim), because only Orthodox rabbis are recognized; and the Orthodox repudiate such Reform innovations as the ordination (semikhah) of women as rabbis. See also CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM; RECONSTRUCTIONISM.

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"Reform Judaism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved May 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/reform-judaism

Liberal Judaism

Liberal Judaism: see REFORM JUDAISM.

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"Liberal Judaism." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved May 26, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/liberal-judaism