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Medievals Weighed Jewish Ideas against Greek Thought

Regina Jonas , ordained in by later chairman of the Vereinigung der liberalen Rabbiner Max Dienemann, was the earliest known female rabbi to officially be granted the title. In , Sally Priesand was ordained by Hebrew Union College , which made her America's first female rabbi ordained by a rabbinical seminary, and the second formally ordained female rabbi in Jewish history, after Regina Jonas. Intercourse between consenting adults was declared as legitimate by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in , and openly gay clergy were admitted by the end of the s. Same-sex marriage were sanctioned by the end of the following decade.

In , the URJ adopted a Resolution on the Rights of Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People, urging clergy and synagogue attendants to actively promote tolerance and inclusion of such individuals. American Reform, especially, turned action for social and progressive causes into an important part of religious commitment.

From the second half of the 20th Century, it employed the old rabbinic notion of Tikkun Olam , "repairing the world", as a slogan under which constituents were encouraged to partake in various initiatives for the betterment of society. Tikkun Olam has become the central venue for active participation for many affiliates, even leading critics to negatively describe Reform as little more than a means employed by Jewish liberals to claim that commitment to their political convictions was also a religious activity and demonstrates fealty to Judaism.

Dana Evan Kaplan stated that "Tikkun Olam has incorporated only leftist, socialist-like elements. In truth, it is political, basically a mirror of the most radically leftist components of the Democratic Party platform, causing many to say that Reform Judaism is simply 'the Democratic Party with Jewish holidays'. Very often indistinguishable from the ACLU The fact of the matter is that it has, somewhere along the line, lost its religious moorings.

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While opposed to interfaith marriage in principle, officials of the major Reform rabbinical organisation, the Central Conference of American Rabbis CCAR , estimated in that about half of their rabbis partake in such ceremonies. Conversely, offspring of a Jewish mother only are not accepted if they do not demonstrate affinity to the faith.

A Jewish status is conferred unconditionally only on the children of two Jewish parents. This decision was taken by the British Liberal Judaism already in the s. The various strands also adopted a policy of embracing the intermarried and their spouses. British Liberals offer "blessing ceremonies" if the child is to be raised Jewish, and the MRJ allows its clergy to participate in celebration of civil marriage, though none allow a full Jewish ceremony with Chupah and the like. Outside North America and Britain, patrilineal descent was not accepted by most.

The term "Reform" was first applied institutionally — not generically, as in "for reform" — to the Berlin Reformgemeinde Reform Congregation , established in It was more prevalent as an appellation for the religiously apathetic majority among German Jews, and also to all rabbis who were not clearly Orthodox including the rival Positive-Historical School. The title "Reform" became much more common in the United States, where an independent denomination under this name was fully identified with the religious tendency.

In , Claude Montefiore termed the doctrine espoused by his new Jewish Religious Union as "Liberal Judaism", too, though it belonged to the more radical part of the spectrum in relation to the German one. In , British Liberals, American Reform and German Liberals consolidated their worldwide movement — united in affirming tenets such as progressive revelation, supremacy of ethics above ritual and so forth — at a meeting held in London.

Originally carrying the provisional title "International Conference of Liberal Jews", after deliberations between "Liberal", "Reform" and "Modern", it was named World Union for Progressive Judaism on 12 July, at the conclusion of a vote. Espousing another religious worldview, it became the only non-Reform member. Worldwide, the movement is mainly centered in North America. Cohen deduced there were , adult Jewish synagogue members — about a quarter of households had an unconverted spouse according to findings , adding some 90, non-Jews and making the total constituency roughly , — and further 1,, "Reform-identified non-members" in the United States.

There are also 30, in Canada. In , the Movement for Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism respectively had 16, and 7, member households in 45 and 39 communities, or Other member organizations are based in forty countries around the world. With the advent of Jewish emancipation and acculturation in Central Europe during the late 18th Century, and the breakdown of traditional patterns and norms, the response Judaism should offer to the changed circumstances became a heated concern.

A more palatable course was the reform of worship in synagogues, making it more attractive to a Jewish public whose aesthetic and moral taste became attuned to that of Christian surroundings. In , emulating the local Sephardic custom, it omitted the " Father of Mercy " prayer, beseeching God to take revenge upon the gentiles.

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The short-lived Adath Jessurun employed fully traditional argumentation to legitimize its actions, but is often regarded a harbinger by historians. A relatively thoroughgoing program was adopted by Israel Jacobson , a philanthropist from the Kingdom of Westphalia. Faith and dogma were eroded for decades both by Enlightenment criticism and apathy, but Jacobson himself did not bother with those. He was interested in decorum, believing its lack in services was driving the young away. Many of the aesthetic reforms he pioneered, like a regular vernacular sermon on moralistic themes, would be later adopted by the modernist Orthodox.

While Jacobson was far from full-fledged Reform Judaism, this day was adopted by the movement worldwide as its foundation date. The Seesen temple — a designation quite common for prayerhouses at the time; "temple" would later become, somewhat misleadingly and not exclusively , identified with Reform institutions via association with the elimination of prayers for the Jerusalem Temple — [42] closed in Jacobson moved to Berlin and established a similar one, which became a hub for like-minded individuals.

Though the prayerbook used in Berlin did introduce several deviations from the received text, it did so without an organizing principle. Here, changes in the rite were eclectic no more and had severe dogmatic implications: prayers for the restoration of sacrifices by the Messiah and Return to Zion were quite systematically omitted. The Hamburg edition is considered the first comprehensive Reform with a capital R liturgy. While Orthodox protests to Jacobson's initiatives were scant, dozens of rabbis throughout Europe united to ban the Hamburg Temple.

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Its leaders attempted to justify themselves based on canonical sources, being still attached to old modes of thought. They had the grudging support of one rabbi, Aaron Chorin of Arad and even he never acceded to the abrogation of the Messianic doctrine. The massive Orthodox reaction halted the advance of the new trend, confining it to the port city for the next twenty years. Although many synagogues introduced mild aesthetic modifications as the process of acculturation spread throughout Central Europe, synchronized with the breakdown of traditional society and growing religious laxity, those were carefully crafted in order to assuage conservative elements — albeit the latter often opposed them anyhow; vernacular sermons or secular education for rabbis were much resisted — and lacked a serious ideological undertone.

One of the first to adopt such was Hamburg's own Orthodox community under the newly appointed Rabbi Isaac Bernays. The less strict but still traditional Isaac Noah Mannheimer of the Vienna Stadttempel and Michael Sachs in Prague , who both significantly altered custom but wholly avoided dogmatic issues or overt injury to Jewish Law, set the pace for most of Europe.

An isolated, yet much more radical step in the same direction as Hamburg's was taken across the ocean in The younger congregants in the Charleston synagogue " Beth Elohim " were disgruntled by present conditions and demanded change. Apart from strictly aesthetic matters, like having sermons and synagogue affairs delivered in English, rather than Middle Spanish as was customary among Western Sephardim , they had almost their entire liturgy solely in the vernacular, in a far greater proportion compared to the Hamburg rite.

And chiefly, they felt little attachment to the traditional Messianic doctrine and possessed a clearly heterodox religious understanding. Who tortured the plainest precepts of the Law into monstrous and unexpected inferences". The Society was short-lived, and they merged back into Beth Elohim in As in Germany, the reformers were laymen, operating in a country with little rabbinic presence. In the s and s, philosophers like Solomon Steinheim imported German idealism into the Jewish religious discourse, attempting to draw from the means it employed to reconcile Christian faith and modern sensibilities.

But it was the new scholarly, critical Science of Judaism Wissenschaft des Judentums that became the focus of controversy. Its proponents vacillated whether and to that degree it should be applied against the contemporary plight. Opinions ranged from the strictly Orthodox Azriel Hildesheimer , who subjugated research to the predetermined sanctity of the texts and refused to allow it practical implication over received methods; via the Positive-Historical Zecharias Frankel , who did not deny Wissenschaft a role, but only in deference to tradition, and opposed analysis of the Pentateuch ; and up to Abraham Geiger , who rejected any limitations on objective research or its application.

He is considered the founding father of Reform Judaism. Geiger wrote that at seventeen already, he discerned that the late Tannaim and the Amoraim imposed a subjective interpretation on the Oral Torah , attempting to diffuse its revolutionary potential by linking it to the Biblical text. Believing that Judaism became stale and had to be radically transformed if it were to survive modernity, he found little use in the legal procedures of Halakha , arguing that hardline rabbis often demonstrated they will not accept major innovations anyway. His venture into higher criticism led him to regard the Pentateuch as reflecting power struggles between the Pharisees on one hand, and the Saducees who had their own pre- Mishnaic Halakha.

Having concluded the belief in an unbroken tradition back to Sinai or a divinely dictated Torah could not be maintained, he began to articulate a theology of progressive revelation, presenting the Pharisees as reformers who revolutionized the Saducee-dominated religion. His other model were the Prophets, whose morals and ethics were to him the only true, permanent core of Judaism. He was not alone: Solomon Formstecher argued that Revelation was God's influence on human psyche, rather than encapsulated in law; Aaron Bernstein was apparently the first to deny inherent sanctity to any text when he wrote in that, "The Pentateuch is not a chronicle of God's revelation, it is a testimony to the inspiration His consciousness had on our forebears.

In , Geiger hosted a conference of like-minded young rabbis in Wiesbaden. He told the assembled that the " Talmud must go". In , the Hamburg Temple issued a second edition of its prayerbook, the first Reform liturgy since its predecessor of Orthodox response was weak and quickly defeated. Most rabbinic posts in Germany were now manned by university graduates susceptible to rationalistic ideas, which also permeated liberal Protestantism led by such figures as Leberecht Uhlich. They formed the backbone of the nascent Reform rabbinate. Geiger intervened in the Second Hamburg Temple controversy not just to defend the prayerbook against the Orthodox, but also to denounce it, stating the time of mainly aesthetic and unsystematic reforms has passed.

In , the power of progressive forces was revealed again: when Geiger's superior Rabbi Solomon Tiktin attempted to dismiss him from the post of preacher in Breslau , 15 of 17 rabbis consulted by the board stated his unorthodox views were congruous with his post. He himself differentiated between his principled stance and quotidian conduct. Believing it could be implemented only carefully, he was moderate in practice and remained personally observant.

Second only to Geiger, Rabbi Samuel Holdheim distinguished himself as a radical proponent of change. While the former stressed continuity with the past, and described Judaism as an entity that gradually adopted and discarded elements along time, Holdheim accorded present conditions the highest status, sharply dividing the universalist core from all other aspects that could be unremittingly disposed of.

Declaring that old laws lost their hold on Jews as it were and the rabbi could only act as a guide for voluntary observance, his principal was that the concept of " the Law of the Land is the Law " was total. He declared mixed marriage permissible — almost the only Reform rabbi to do so in history; his contemporaries and later generations opposed this — for the Talmudic ban on conducting them on Sabbath, unlike offering sacrifice and other acts, was to him sufficient demonstration that they belonged not to the category of sanctified obligations issurim but to the civil ones memonot , where the Law of the Land applied.

Another measure he offered, rejected almost unanimously by his colleagues in , was the institution of a "Second Sabbath" on Sunday, modeled on Second Passover , as most people desecrated the day of rest. In , a group of radical laymen determined to achieve full acceptance into society was founded in Frankfurt, the "Friends of Reform". They abolished circumcision and declared that the Talmud was no longer binding.

In response to pleas from Frankfurt, virtually all rabbis in Germany, even Holdheim, declared circumcision obligatory. Similar groups sprang in Breslau and Berlin. These developments, and the need to bring uniformity to practical reforms implemented piecemeal in the various communities, motivated Geiger and his like-minded supporters into action. Between and , they convened three rabbinical assemblies, in Braunschweig , Frankfurt am Main and Breslau respectively. Those were intended to implement the proposals of Aaron Chorin and others for a new Sanhedrin , made already in , that could assess and eliminate various ancient decrees and prohibitions.

A total of forty-two people attended the three meetings, including moderates and conservatives, all quite young, usually in their thirties.


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The conferences made few concrete far-reaching steps, albeit they generally stated that the old mechanisms of religious interpretation were obsolete. The first, held on 12—19 June , abolished Kol Nidrei and the humiliating Jewish oath , still administered by rabbis, and established a committee to determine "to which degree the Messianic ideal should be mentioned in prayer". Repeating the response of the Paris Grand Sanhedrin to Napoleon , it declared intermarriage permissible as long as children could be raised Jewish; this measure effectively banned such unions without offending Christians, as no state in Germany allowed mixed-faith couples to have non-Christians education for offspring.

It enraged critics anyhow. A small group of traditionalists also attended, losing all votes. On the opposite wing were sympathizers of Holdheim, who declared on 17 June that "science already demonstrated that the Talmud has no authority either from the dogmatic or practical perspective The men of the Great Assembly had jurisdiction only for their time. We possess the same power, when we express the spirit of ours. The harsh response from the strictly Orthodox came as no surprise.

Moshe Schick declared "they have blasphemed against the Divinity of the Law, they are no Israelites and equal to Gentiles". Yet they also managed to antagonize more moderate progressives. Both S. Rapoport and Zecharias Frankel strongly condemned Braunschweig. Another discontented party were Christian missionaries , who feared Reform on two accounts: it could stem the massive tide of conversions, and loosen Jewish piety in favor of liberal, semi-secularized religion that they opposed among Christians as well, reducing the possibility they would ever accept new dogma fully.

Frankel was convinced to attend the next conference, held in Frankfurt on 15—28 July , after many pleas. But he walked out after it passed a resolution that there were subjective, but no objective, arguments for retaining Hebrew in the liturgy. While this was quite a trivial statement, well grounded in canonical sources, Frankel regarded it as a deliberate breach with tradition and irreverence toward the collective Jewish sentiment. The s, commented Meyer, saw the crystallization of Reform, narrowing from reformers in the generic sense who wished to modernize Judaism to some degree or other including both Frankel and the Neo-Orthodox Samson Raphael Hirsch a broad stream that embraced all opponents of the premodern status quo Rabbi David Einhorn elucidated a further notion, that of the Mission to bring ethical monotheism to all people, commenting that, "Exile was once perceived as a disaster, but it was progress.

Israel approached its true destiny, with sanctity replacing blood sacrifice. It was to spread the Word of the Lord to the four corners of the earth. The last meeting, convened in Breslau 13—24 July , was the most innocuous. The Sabbath, widely desecrated by the majority of German Jews, was discussed.

Participants argued whether leniencies for civil servants should be enacted, but could not agree and released a general statement about its sanctity. Holdheim shocked the assembled when he proposed his "Second Sabbath" scheme, astonishing even the radical wing, and his motion was rejected offhand.

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They did vote to eliminate the Second Day of Festivals , noting it was both an irrelevant rabbinic ordinance and scarcely observed anyway. While eliciting protest from the Orthodox, Frankfurt and Breslau also incensed the radical laity, which regarded them as too acquiescent. In March , a small group formed a semi-independent congregation in Berlin, the Reformgemeinde. They invited Holdheim to serve as their rabbi, though he was often at odds with board led by Sigismund Stern. They instituted a drastically abridged prayerbook in German and allowed the abolition of most ritual aspects.

Practice and liturgy were modified in numerous German congregations. Until the conferences, the only Reform prayerbooks ever printed in Europe were the two Hamburg editions. In the s and s, dozens of new prayerbooks which omitted or rephrased the cardinal theological segments of temple sacrifice, ingathering of exiles, Messiah, resurrection and angels — rather than merely abbreviating the service; excising non-essential parts, especially piyyutim , was common among moderate Orthodox and conservatives too — [51] were authored in Germany for mass usage, demonstrating the prevalence of the new religious ideology.

And yet, Geiger and most of the conferences' participants were far more moderate than Holdheim. While he administered in a homogeneous group, they had to serve in unified communities, in which traditionalists held separate services but still had to be respected. Changes were decidedly restrained. Liturgists were often careful when introducing their changes into the Hebrew text of prayers, less than with the German translation, and some level of traditional observance was maintained in public.

Except Berlin, where the term "Reform" was first used as an adjective, the rest referred to themselves as "Liberal". Two further rabbinical conferences much later, in and at Leipzig and Augsburg respectively, were marked with a cautious tone. While common, noted Michael Meyer, the designation "Liberal Jew" was more associated with political persuasion than religious conviction. The general Jewish public in Germany demonstrated little interest, especially after the law under which communal affiliation and paying parish taxes were no longer mandatory.

Outside Germany, Reform had little to no influence in the rest of the continent. Radical lay societies sprang in Hungary during the Revolution but soon dispersed. Only in Germany, commented Steven M. Lowenstein, did the extinction of old Jewish community life lead to the creation of a new, positive religious ideology that advocated principled change.

Secular education for clergy became mandated by mid-century, and yeshivas all closed due to lack of applicants, replaced by modern seminaries; the new academically-trained rabbinate, whether affirming basically traditional doctrines or liberal and influenced by Wissenschaft , was scarcely prone to anything beyond aesthetic modifications and de facto tolerance of the laity's apathy. Further to the east, among the unemancipated and unacculturated Jewish masses in Poland, Romania and Russia, the stimulants that gave rise either to Reform or modernist Orthodoxy were scarce.

Regarded as boldly innovative in their environs, these were long since considered trivial even by the most Orthodox in Germany, Bohemia or Moravia. In the east, the belated breakdown of old mores led not to the remodification of religion, but to the formulation of secular conceptions of Jewishness , especially nationalistic ones. While the title "Reform" was occasionally applied to them, their approach was described as "neo- Karaite ", and was utterly opposite to continental developments.

Judaism , monotheistic religion developed among the ancient Hebrews. Judaism is characterized by a belief in one transcendent God who revealed himself to Abraham , Moses , and the Hebrew prophets and by a religious life in accordance with Scriptures and rabbinic traditions. Judaism is the complex phenomenon of a total way of life for the Jewish people, comprising theology , law, and innumerable cultural traditions.

The first section of this article treats the history of Judaism in the broadest and most complete sense, from the early ancestral beginnings of the Jewish people to contemporary times. In the second section the beliefs, practices, and culture of Judaism are discussed. It is history that provides the key to an understanding of Judaism, for its primal affirmations appear in early historical narratives. Thus, the Bible reports contemporary events and activities for essentially religious reasons.

The biblical authors believed that the divine presence is encountered primarily within history. Although other ancient communities also perceived a divine presence in history, the understanding of the ancient Israelites proved to be the most lasting and influential. The people of Israel believed that their response to the divine presence in history was central not only for themselves but for all humankind. Furthermore, God—as person—had revealed in a particular encounter the pattern and structure of communal and individual life to this people. Claiming sovereignty over the people because of his continuing action in history on their behalf, he had established a covenant berit with them and required from them obedience to his teaching, or law Torah.

This obedience was a further means by which the divine presence was made manifest—expressed in concrete human existence. Even the chosen community failed in its obligation and had to be summoned back, time and again, to its responsibility by the prophets—the divinely called spokespersons who warned of retribution within history and argued and reargued the case for affirmative human response. In nearly 4, years of historical development, the Jewish people and their religion have displayed a remarkable adaptability and continuity.

In their encounter with the great civilizations, from ancient Babylonia and Egypt to Western Christendom and modern secular culture, they have assimilated foreign elements and integrated them into their own social and religious systems, thus maintaining an unbroken religious and cultural tradition. Furthermore, each period of Jewish history has left behind it a specific element of a Judaic heritage that continued to influence subsequent developments, so that the total Jewish heritage at any given time is a combination of all these successive elements along with whatever adjustments and accretions have occurred in each new age.

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