Reform Judaism

Michael A. Meyer

in Jewish Studies

ISBN: 9780199840731
Published online August 2012 | | DOI:
Reform Judaism


Reform Judaism is one of the three major Jewish religious denominations. Also known as Liberal or Progressive Judaism, it arose in the first decades of the 19th century, mainly in Germany, but it has flourished especially in the United States, where about 750,000 Jews are affiliated with it. Today it is larger in America than Orthodox and Conservative Judaism. Beginning as a movement for religious reform that was intended to encompass all Jews, the Reform movement coalesced into a particular outlook on Jewish belief and practice that stressed ethical monotheism, drew especially upon the biblical prophetic literature, and made ritual practice subservient to subjective theological and ethical meaning. It retained the concept of Jewish chosenness but directed it outward toward the mission of bringing its redemptive message to humanity as a whole. It set as its goal not the return to Zion, the rebuilding of the ancient temple, and the reinstitution of sacrificial service, but rather the messianic vision of a peaceful, united world. Unlike Jewish Orthodoxy, it has generally not regarded the Torah (the Five Books of Moses) as representing a literal revelation, but rather as an illumination of the spirit that is subject to correction and development in the course of history. It has seen the Talmud and rabbinic literature as possessing only a limited authority that can be overridden by considerations of conscience. Over the course of some two hundred years, the Reform movement has undergone significant changes. Initially opposed to a national expression of Judaism, it became increasingly Zionist in the course of the 20th century. Whereas during its classical period (c. 1880–1930), it eschewed most ritual practice and chose the vernacular over Hebrew in its liturgy, recent decades have witnessed the reincorporation of traditional passages in its prayer books. Reform Judaism has pioneered full religious equality for women and GLBT persons and has recognized as Jewish committed individuals who have only a father who is Jewish. Its Religious Action Center in Washington, DC, and an equivalent in Israel engage in lobbying for legislation regarded as having social justice impact. Today, Reform congregations in North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and Israel are united internationally under the aegis of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.

Article.  8491 words. 

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies

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