Search the FAQ Archives

3 - A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M
N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z - Internet FAQ Archives

soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Reform Judaism (10/12)
Section - Question 18.2.1: History: How did Reform Judaism start?

( Single Page )
[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index | Neighborhoods ]

Top Document: soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Reform Judaism (10/12)
Previous Document: Question 18.1.6: How big is Reform Judaism?
Next Document: Question 18.2.2: History: Why did Reform Judaism start?
See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
   The roots of Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism lie in Germany, where,
   between 1810 and 1820, congregations in Seesen, Hamburg, and Berlin
   instituted fundamental changes in traditional Jewish practices and
   beliefs, such as mixed seating, the use of German in services,
   single-day observance of festivals, and use of a cantor/choir.
   American Reform Judaism began as these German "reformers" immigrated
   to American in the mid-1800s. Reform rapidly became the dominant
   belief systems of American Jews of the time. It was a national
   phenomenon. The first "Reform" group was formed by a number of
   individuals that split from Cong. Beth Elohim in Charleston SC.
   According to an article in the Spring 1994 [5]CCAR Journal, the
   following are early American Jewish congregations, and the dates they
   became Reform congregations:
   Congregation                    City            Date Became Reform
   Beth Elohim                     Charleston SC           1825
   Har Sinai                       Baltimore MD            1842
   Emanu-El                        New York NY             1845
   Beth El/Anshe Emeth             Albany NY               1850
   Bene Yeshurun (I.M. Wise)       Cincinnati OH           1854
   Adath Israel (The Temple)       Louisville KY           1855
   Bene Israel (Rockdale)          Cincinnati OH           1855
   Keneseth Israel                 Philadelphia PA         1856
   Sinai                           Chicago IL              1858

   Reform in American benefitted from the lack of a central religious
   authority. It also was molded by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. Rabbi I.M.
   Wise came to the US in 1846 from Bohemia, spent eight years in Albany
   NY, and then moved to Cincinnati on the edge of the frontier. He then
   proceeded to...
    1. Write the first siddur edited for American worshippers, Minhag
       American (1857)
    2. Found the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in 1873
    3. Found [6]Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1875
    4. Found the [7]Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1889
   Early Reform, led by Rabbis such as David Einhorn of Baltimore, Samuel
   Holdheim, Bernard Felsenthal, and Kaufmann Kohler, took an
   increasingly radical stance. Many rituals and customs were dropped,
   some congregations held "Shabbat" on Sunday. This early radicalism was
   mentioned in the [8]1855 Pittsburgh Platform
   By 1880, over 90% of American Synagogues were Reform. This was the
   time of the major Eastern European immigration, which was heavily
   Orthodox and non-German, as contrasted with the strongly German Reform
   movement. Many Reform congregations of this time were difficult to
   distinguish from neighboring Protestant churches, with preachers in
   robes, pews with mixed seating, choirs, organs, and hymnals. Yet by
   1935, Reform had started on the path of return to a more traditional
   approach to Judaism--distinctly Jewish and distinctly American, but
   also distinctively non-Christian.
   Reform pioneered a number of Jewish organizations, such as the
   Educational Alliance on the Lower East Side of New York, the Young
   Men's Hebrew Association, the American Jewish Committee, and the ADL
   of B'nai Brith.
   Although early Reform dropped quite a bit of traditional prayers and
   rituals, there was still a "bottom line". In 1909, the CCAR formally
   declared its opposition to intermarriage. And, although decried as
   "archaic" and "barbarian", the practice of circumcision remained a
   central rite.
   Early Reform was also anti-Zionist, believing the Diaspora was
   necessary for Jews to be "light unto the nations". Yet with this, a
   number of Reform Rabbis were pioneers in establishing Zionism in
   American, such as Gustav and Richard Gottheil, Rabbi Steven S Wise
   (founder of the American Jewish Congress), and Justice Louis Brandeis.
   Following the Balfour Declaration, Reform began to support Jewish
   settlements in Palestine, as well as institutions such as Hadassah
   Hospital, and the Hebrew University. In 1937, the [10]Columbus
   Platform ([11] affirmed
   "the obligation of all Jewry to aid in building a Jewish homeland...".
   Since 1937, Reform has remained active on the social action front. It
   has also been moving back to tradition. This is described in more
   detail elsewhere in the FAQ.
   Reform has become a large force in America. Did it succeed in Germany,
   where it started? The short answer is that Reform in Germany succeeded
   to the extent that it legitimized the tinkering around the edges of
   religious tradition. For example, a mixed choir and the introduction
   of "modern" music in worship by way of the organ were some of the
   early reforms that were introduced in the first decades of the 19th
   century. By the 1830s and 40's some rabbis were beginning to test the
   limits of these changes in several conferences--Breslau being very
   important. But the European system was that the "official" leadership
   of a religious community was sanctioned and controlled by the secular
   government. And the secular governments, in order to maintain the
   status quo, recognized the conventional Jewish rabbinic leadership and
   these were, as they had always been, the Orthodox. Appointments to
   head up individual synagogues were at the discretion of the
   community-heads almost always Orthodox. That is why fertile ground for
   real change could not occur until German Reform came to America with a
   strong tradition of the "seperation of church and state." In the
   Jewish community, very few rabbis would even come to the America until
   after the 1840s. Here, then, each congregation was autonomous and led
   by lay leaders. When more liberal-minded rabbis did begin to come,
   they were free to innovate and change. They were free both from the
   hidebound system of Europe and the power was vested, not in a closed
   rabbinate, but in freer thinking lay leaders. So to answer the
   question, Reform in Germany succeeded in opening up the possibilities
   of change, but real change required the more fertile ground of America
   in which to take root and to grow.
   In Australia, Reform began here in 1929, and now has congregations in
   all the major cities in Australia, New Zealand and even in Southeast
   Asia and China. In Australia, about one third of the Jews describe
   themselves as "Progressive" (international-speak for Reform), one
   third " Orthodox" and one third would be secular.
   [Much of this adapted from "The Jewish Almanac", Richard Siegel and
   Carl Rheins]

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:


Top Document: soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Reform Judaism (10/12)
Previous Document: Question 18.1.6: How big is Reform Judaism?
Next Document: Question 18.2.2: History: Why did Reform Judaism start?

Single Page

[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index ]

Send corrections/additions to the FAQ Maintainer:
SCJ FAQ Maintainer <>

Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM