Notes for Religious Studies 369:
Introduction to Judaism
Religious response to the Emancipation:
Reform Judaism proposed changes in the religion that would facilitate Jews' participation in the general society.
Note: In contrast to Eastern European Jews, the options in Western or Central Europe were:
- Reforming the religion
- Converting to Christianity.
Early Reform (c. 1790-1830)
The first phase of reform was a lay initiative. Emphasis on features that would impede the acceptance of Jews as individuals and as a group into European society.
Israel Jacobson (1768-1828)Example: Israel Jacobson (1768-1828) of Seescen Westaphalia : Wealthy financier who established private synagogues in Seesen (1810) and Hamburg (1818) according to modern standards.
- Esthetic changes in Jewish worship (often in imitation of practices in Christian churches)
- Shorter service: Removal of obsolete items (e.g., piyyut [liturgical poetry].
- Vernacular (usually German) sermons on theological themes
- Confirmation ceremonies (usually modeled after Christian catechisms)
- Decorum in synagogue
- Instrumental and choral music
- Redefinition of Rabbi's role: Theologian and Pastor
- Deletion of theologically problematic passages from prayers:
(--Motive: Ideological or political?)
- Return to Zion
- Restoration of sacrificial cult
- Removal of halakhic restrictions to participation in general
- Called for removal (or reinterpretation) of elements in religions (especially
liturgy) that were not in keeping with ideals of Emancipation.
- e.g.: negation of "exile."
Justifications for changing traditional practices:
- Distinction between goals (primarily theological) and means
(specific rituals, etc.).
- Conviction that their current situation was radically different from
Never before had Jews been treated as equals in an enlightened society.
- Countered by extreme positions of traditionalists: All change
- Involvement of government in internal Jewish conflict.
Reform finds Leaders, becomes a Movement
Characteristics of Second Generation:
- Involvement of scholars and rabbis.
- Important figures: Abraham Geiger, Samuel Holdheim
- Broad range of opinions, from traditionalist (e.g., A. Geiger) to radicals (e.g., S. Holdheim).
- Justified changes by means of:
- Evolutionary conception of Jewish religion
- Alliance with Wissenschaft des Judentums movement.
- E.g. Leopold Zunz's studies of history of Jewish preaching and names -- intended to justify introduction of sermons, adoption of European names.
- Issues discussed at Synods included:
- Formulation of Jewish creed.
- Dietary laws.
- Liturgical references to restoration of Temple and return to Israel.
- Use of Hebrew in prayers.
- Extra days of festivals.
Waves of Jewish Immigration
- 1654-1800: Sepharadic Jews: Traditional, but very assimilated to American norms.
- 1824-94: German Jews: Spurred by failure of liberalism in Germany (1848 uprisings) and quest for economic opportunities.
- 1880-1920: Immense wave of Eastern European Jews escaping Russian persecution. Strong ethnic Jewish identity.
- 1920-50: More traditional Jews escaping fascist anti-semitism and Holocaust; refugees.
Developments in American Reform
- Religious leadership of German immigrants reflected radical wing of European Reform movement.
- Isaac Meir Wise (1819-1900): Founded main institutions:
- Union of American Hebrew Congregations
- Hebrew Union College
- Central Conference of American Rabbis
- Pittsburgh Platform (1885)
Reflecting radical Reform views:
- Rejection of binding force of all religious law, including the Torah.
- Denied Jewish peoplehood and nationalism.
- Rejection of non-religious formulations of Judaism
- Columbus Platform (1937)
Reflects extreme about-face on several issues:
- Strong support for Jewish nationalism and Zionist movement.
- More positive attitude towards religious law and observance.
- More positive attitude towards cultural, non-religious expressions of Judaism.
- Emphasis on observance outside the synagogue, especially in the home and school.
- Advocates use of Hebrew (alongside vernacular).
The tendencies found in the Columbus Platform were given stronger expression in later platforms.