I. Group Profile

2. Year Founded - 1790's - Germany
3. Founder - Rabbi Samuel Holdheim
A. Date of Birth & Death - 1806-1860
B. Place of Founder's Birth
4. Sacred Texts
5. Size of Group
II. History

The Reform movement, which as I have described in an earlier course, was the first movement to emerge from pre-modern traditional Judaism. The Reformers, lay and rabbinic, were responding to the Jewish Question, the issue of the suitability of the Jews to receive full rights in Europe, by making liturgical adjustments. Thus, they added a sense of decorum which included shortening the service, wearing of clerical robes, translating parts of the service, including choirs and even instrumental accompaniment, and adding a sermon in the vernacular. They removed aspects of the service that seemed unpatriotic and unscientific such as expressions of hope for removal to Palestine, reestablishment of the sacrificial cult, the coming of the messiah, and revival of the dead, and they added patriotic hymns and prayers (By the way, contrary to conventional wisdom, the Reform movement in Europe did little to change to role or even to eliminate the separate seating of women, a feature that continues in German Reform synagogues to this day).

The movement started in the 1790's in Germany. They follow the ethical laws of Judaism, but leave up to the individual the decision whether to follow or ignore the dietary and other traditional laws. They use modern forms of worship. There are many female rabbis in reform congregations.

* These are the largest forms of Judaism 

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.


III. Beliefs of Group

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.


IV. Organization
Official Website - http://www.rj.org/







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