Attempt to modernize Jewish religion in keeping with the needs of modern society ("the spirit of the age").
First phase (c. 1790-1830):
Lay initiative. Emphasis on features that would impede the acceptance of Jews
as individuals and as a group into European society.
German Reform Judaism: The Next Generation (c. 1840-1880):
Characteristics of Second Generation:
- Involvement of scholars and rabbis.
- Important figures: Abraham Geiger, Samuel Holdheim
- Broad range of opinions, from traditionalist to radicals.
- Wiesbaden 1837; Brunswick 1844; Frankfurt 1845.
- Attempts at ideological and theological formulations of policies:
- Distinction between eternally valid ideas of Judaism, and historically
contingent elements that must be adapted to the changing circumstances.
- "Mosaism"--Acceptance of the authority of the Torah only with respect to the
principles of monotheism and revelation (?).
- Rabbinic literature is not binding (though could be used as a source of
guidance). The Reformers themselves also had the right to introduce changes.
- Use of academic study of Jewish history and literature (Wissenschaft des
Judentums) in support of Reform positions:
- E.g., A. Geiger on liberalism of Pharisees and evolutionary nature of Judaism; L. Zunz on Jewish names and homiletics.
- Ideological Issues in Prayer Book:
- Messianism and national restoration
- Messianism should be retained, but not the nationalist elements.
- Physical Resurrection
- Use of Hebrew (whether required / desirable).
- Kol Nidre ceremony
- "...Who did not create me a woman."
- Status of ritual:
- E.g., dietary laws, circumcision, shofar, lulav
- Should they issue an official "creed"?
- Legitimacy of Intermarriage (had been permitted by the Napoleonic Sanhedrin)
- Esthetics of synagogue:
- Instrumental music
- "Triennial cycle" of reading Torah, with vernacular translation.
- Mourning rituals (tearing garments, not shaving, etc.).
All such activity as is part and parcel of the daily business or
professional vocation is forbidden, while any activity that makes for recreation or spiritual elevation, particularly if it tends to arouse a religious mood, not only does not harm the Sabbath observance, but furthers it.
- Emphasis on spiritual quality of Sabbath rather than ritual prohibitions.
- Justified riding to synagogue, organ music, etc.
- Not ready to permit working on Saturday (except for government!)
- Equality for women:
- Equal obligation in all religious precepts (including time-defined ones), counted in prayer quorum (minyan).
- Equality in education.
- Changes in marriage laws (Agunah), levirate marriage?
- Age or majority: 12 or 13?
Reform Judaism in America
The movement has undergone some far-reaching changes. Thus, the 1886 "Pittsburg Platform" typifies the most radical positions of German Reform, rejecting most rituals and defining Jews as a purely religious community, without any national or ethnic component.
On the other hand, the "Columbus Platform" of 1937 expresses a most positive attitude towards observance in all its venues, Zionism, Jewish national solidarity.
Recent Developments in Reform Judaism:
- "Covenant Theology":
- Return to faith in personal God.
- Increased reverence for "Torah"
(though without belief in literal revelation).
- Efforts to develop Reform religious law (Halakhah) and responsa.
- Negative stance on intermarriage (1973 CCAR resolution confirming 1909 position).
- "Patrilineal descent" decision (1983).
- Stronger involvement in Israel, adoption of Zionist ideals.
- Increased involvement of women, especially rabbis.
- Broader range of communal and cultural activities.
- Day schools.
- Havurot (small prayer groups).
Click here to read texts of:
- The Pittsburg Platform (1885)
- The Columbus Platform (1937)
- The Centenary Perspective (San Francisco 1976)
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