The Ins and Outs of Reform Judaism

Offering one of the most open-minded forms of expression within the modern Judaic religion, Reform Judaism is linked to the Union for Reform Judaism (formerly known as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations), which aims to ‘create and sustain vibrant Jewish congregations wherever Reform Jews live.’ Established in about 900 synagogues across the world, there is an estimated 1.5 million Jews who are part of the Union for Reform Judaism.

The history of Reform Judaism is traced back to Germany during the early 1800s, as an increasing number of people opened their eyes to a more lenient political climate in the country. At the time, Orthodox Judaism was viewed as too rigid. During the 19th century, supporters of Reform Judaism were interested in placing less emphasis on the concept that Jews were a ‘united people.’ They also wished to cease prayers for a return to Palestine and encourage more prayer and sermons to take place in Hebrew (not German). Other changes involved the use of organ music during synagogue services and Jewish dietary laws.

Reform rabbis would continue to make adjustments to religious beliefs, as some supported the abolition of circumcision. In Berlin, the Sabbath was observed on Sundays in some congregations , like the Christians. Reform rabbis also preferred the ethical teachings of the Prophets instead of rely on the Talmud.

Despite all of the changes, modern Reform Judaism does not completely abandon earlier aspects of the religion. For example, the modern movement has actually restored some of the concepts that previous religious leaders from the 19th century placed less emphasis on, including the practice of religious rituals. Other differences seen in Reform Judaism that does not appear in other variations of worship include:

·    Women can take on the position of a rabbi, cantor, or president of a synagogue.
·    Families with members practicing a different faith are accepted
·    Gays and lesbians are encouraged to fully participate in synagogue life

Reform Judaism Facts

·    Founded in Cincinnati by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (known as the catalyst for American Reform Judaism), the Hebrew Union College is born in 1875.

·    Reform Rabbi Stephen S. Wise creates the Jewish Institute of Religion in New York in 1922. In 1950, the Institute merges with the Hebrew Union College. By 1954, a third center emerges in Los Angeles with a fourth established in Jerusalem (1963).

·    Reform Judaism is also referred to as a ‘Progressive Movement.’

·    Organizations associated with Reform Judaism include the West London Synagogue, Temple Emanu-El of Dallas, Union for Reform Judaism, World Union for Progressive Judaism, and Central Conference of American Rabbis.

·    Located in New York, Temple Emanu-El is known as the first Reform Jewish congregation in New York City. Situated on Fifth Avenue, the temple serves as a recognizable landmark because of its Romanesque Revival architecture. Many view the synagogue as one of the most beautiful in the world. Admired for its size and prominence, the building has also served as a flagship congregation in the Reform branch of Judaism since it was founded in 1845.