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September 2, 2015 | 18th Elul 5775
Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism
Also: Judaism, Liberal; Judaism, Reform; Liberal Judaism; Progressive Judaism

REFORM JUDAISM, first of the modern interpretations of Judaism to emerge in response to the changed political and cultural conditions brought about by the Emancipation. It is also known as Liberal or Progressive Judaism. (The others were Neo-Orthodoxy and Conservative Judaism, which began in part as a "Counter-Reformation" in response to Reform Judaism.) True to its own inner dynamics, Reform Judaism's manifestations vary from place to place, and have undergone constant change in the course of time. They all share the assertion of the legitimacy of change in Judaism and the denial of eternal validity to any given formulation of Jewish belief or codification of Jewish law. Apart from that, there is little unanimity among Reform Jews either in matters of belief or in practical observance. Conservative and radical positions coexist and enjoy mutual respect. The history of Reform Judaism can be divided into three periods, with the characteristics of one period often incorporated into the succeeding one. It is thus possible to distinguish between the following stages:

(1) aesthetic;

(2) scholarly and ideological; and

(3) organizational.

Aesthetic Reforms
The first reformers were laymen, working without rabbinic leadership. Their primary concerns were the large-scale defections from Judaism in the age of Emancipation and the absence of Western standards of aesthetics and decorum in the traditional manner of Jewish worship. They set about reforming the service by abbreviating the liturgy, introducing the sermon in the vernacular, choral singing with organ accompaniment, and supplementing the standard Hebrew prayers with prayers in the vernacular. Of such a nature was the service conducted by Israel Jacobson in his school chapel in Seesen in 1810, and in his private home in Berlin from 1815 on. This style of worship was also adopted by the Hamburg Temple, which was opened in 1818, and was the first regular synagogue established on a Reform basis. Jacobson and his followers had no intention of breaking with tradition. On the contrary, they made every effort to demonstrate, by an appeal to the Talmud and the codes, that their reforms were compatible with traditional Jewish law, but their invocation of rabbinic sources failed to convince the traditionalists. Although the reformers desired neither a break with tradition nor the formation of a new Jewish sect, it is evident-and this is particularly true of the Hamburg Temple and its prayer book (published in 1819)-that the aesthetic improvement of worship was not the sole motivation. Already in the first stage of Reform Judaism some dogmatic considerations came to the fore. The German reformers no longer shared the traditional longing for a return to Zion and the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem and its sacrificial cult. Minor changes in the wording of the liturgy were made to reflect this changed attitude.

Ideological Developments
Although the first steps in the reform of Judaism were taken by laymen, over the next 30 years some outstanding rabbis and scholars rallied to the cause. A new generation of rabbis, with a university education in addition to traditional training, showed themselves sympathetic to the cause of Reform Judaism. Two events brought them to the fore. One was the second edition of the Hamburg Temple prayer book (1841) and the literary warfare to which it gave rise. The other was the invitation extended to Abraham Geiger in 1839 to assume the rabbinate of the Breslau community. This call was opposed by the Orthodox who were already familiar with Geiger's critical and scientific approach to the sources of Judaism. A two-volume work, Responsa on the Compatibility of Free Investigation with the Exercise of Rabbinical Functions (1842-43), provided the platform for the rabbinical friends of progress. Not all, however, ultimately espoused the cause of Reform.

In 1844, 1845, and 1846, rabbinical conferences were held in Brunswick, Frankfort, and Breslau to bring the modernist rabbis together. Since there was no unanimity among the participating rabbis, a discussion of theory was carefully avoided. The conferences were devoted to matters of practice. They provided justifications from traditional sources for liturgical reforms, particularly connected with the use of the vernacular in worship and with organ accompaniment of the service. They also sought to lighten some of the traditional severity of Sabbath observance and laws of marriage and divorce. When Zacharias Frankel left the 1845 conference in protest against a decision adverse to Hebrew, the specific Reform character of those gatherings became clearly evident. Nevertheless, the participating rabbis endeavored to remain within the mainstream of Judaism, refusing to regard Reform as a sect. They remained cool toward the Berlin Reformgemeinde, established on a radical basis in 1845. They also rejected the short-lived Frankfort "Society of the Friends of Reform" (1842), which believed in "unlimited development" and discouraged circumcision.

Although their attitude toward the Talmud and codes was often ambivalent, the German Reform rabbis continued to justify their reforms with references to rabbinic sources. They thus differed significantly from other contemporary manifestations of Reform Judaism, such as the quasi-Karaite position adopted in 1840 by the West London Synagogue of British Jews, which accepted the Bible as the word of God, but rejected the Talmud as a merely human document. It may be noted, however, that British Reform Judaism later adopted a more positive approach to tradition, and developed along rather conservative lines. Therefore, in 1901 a new movement appeared under the name of "Liberal Judaism" espousing a far more radical position, both in theology and in practice. In America, too, Reform Judaism passed through a stage in which the Bible was accepted and the Talmud rejected. This position yielded to the acceptance of the higher criticism of the Bible and to the belief in "Progressive Revelation."

With the exception of the Hamburg Temple and the Berlin Reformgemeinde, German Reform Judaism also differed from attempts in England, the United States, Hungary, and France. In these countries, Reform mostly took place outside of the Orthodox congregations, whereas in Germany the reform was "from within," manifesting itself within old-established communities. There was no continuation of the German rabbinical conferences of the 1840s, and even the "Israelite Synods," in 1869 and 1871, composed of rabbis and laymen, were sparsely attended. Yet the major Jewish communities of Germany, Berlin, Frankfort, Breslau, Munich, etc., adopted reformed liturgies, and organ accompaniment was widespread in German congregations. In contrast to U.S. Reform Judaism, German Reform Judaism always retained a pronounced traditionalist aspect, calling itself "Liberal" rather than "Reform." In Germany, the latter term was restricted to the extremist Berlin Reformgemeinde, the only congregation in Germany with an all-vernacular service, bareheaded worship, and the Sunday Sabbath.

The Theories Of Geiger
The participation of rabbis in the Reform movement from the 1840s on led to the crystallization of two different theoretical positions associated with the names of Abraham Geiger and Samuel Holdheim respectively. On the basis of his scientific research, Geiger had reached the conclusion that Judaism is a constantly evolving organism. Biblical Judaism was not identical with classical rabbinic Judaism. Similarly, the modern age calls for further evolution in consonance with the changed circumstances. The role played by tradition enabled Judaism to adapt itself constantly. Geiger, for whom tradition and change were synonymous, valued tradition highly, and saw in it the inherent justification of Reform. The modern rabbis are entitled to adapt medieval Judaism, as the early rabbis had the right to adapt biblical Judaism. Geiger was also one of the very few Jews of his day who studied the Bible from a critical point of view. He found traces of evolution within the Bible itself. Yet, for Geiger, change in Judaism had always been organic, never revolutionary. The modern changes must develop out of the past, and not represent a revolutionary break with it. Since Judaism as a whole is involved in the process of change, Reform Judaism must not give itself a sectarian appearance. Thus, while radical in his views, Geiger remained basically traditional in liturgy and in practice. For him, monotheism and the moral law are the constant elements of Judaism. Ceremonies have the function of expressing those ideas. Yet they are of value only as long as they fulfill that function. They are, therefore, Judaism's changing element. The nature of the Jewish people, too, is subject to change. Though once a nation, it was one no longer. The messianic hope is to be interpreted in universal terms rather than in terms of national restoration. Geiger's theory became basic to all future formulations of Reform doctrine, particularly of that aspect known as "Progressive Revelation." In the light of that doctrine, Reform Judaism was later able to affirm God's participation in the formation of the Talmud, and, accepting the findings of biblical criticism, it was willing to admit human participation in the production of the Bible.

The Theories Of Holdheim
In his recognition of the need for Reform, Holdheim was in agreement with Geiger; but he differed from him both in the theoretical justification and in the practical steps to be taken. For Holdheim, Reform is revolutionary, not evolutionary. The Bible, revealed by God, has a twofold content: the eternally valid religious elements and the temporally bound components of the constitution of the ancient Hebrew commonwealth. The latter came to an end when the Temple and the State were destroyed in 70 c.e. Thereafter, only the religious elements (monotheism and morality) had validity. Everything connected with the Temple and State is to be considered abolished. Holdheim put practically the whole "ceremonial law" into this category. He criticized rabbinic Judaism for operating on the assumption that the old "constitution" is still valid and ascribed, at best, a relative validity to rabbinic Judaism, stating "In the talmudic age, the Talmud was right. In my age, I am right." According to one opinion in the Talmud, "ceremonial law" will be abolished in the messianic age. Holdheim saw in the Emancipation of the Jews the dawn of the messianic era of universal brotherhood, calling for the abolition of ceremonial barriers to that brotherhood.

American Reform
In Europe, acceptance of Holdheim's radicalism was confined to the Berlin Reformgemeinde, which Holdheim served as rabbi, and to a shortlived radical group in Hungary. But in America, Holdheim's ideas fell on more fertile soil. Here, too, there was a division between moderate and radical Reform, the former championed by Isaac M. Wise, and the latter by David Einhorn. Yet, by 1885 the radical position had become dominant in American Reform Judaism. It was expressed in the "Pittsburgh Platform," which contained statements such as the following:

We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization .... We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state .... Their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation .... We recognize, in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching of the realization of Israel's great messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state .... We reassert the doctrine of Judaism that the soul is immortal, founding this belief on the divine nature of the human spirit, which forever finds bliss in righteousness and misery in wickedness. We reject as ideas not rooted in Judaism, the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and in Gehenna and Eden... as abodes for everlasting punishment and reward.

However, seeing changes and development in earlier stages of Judaism, Reform Judaism was not averse to change within its own ideological structure. When the easy optimism of the 19th century was upset by historical reality, and the American reformers realized that the role of traditional observance in Jewish survival had been considerably underestimated, the "Columbus Platform" of 1937 emerged. Retaining the stress on Judaism's compatibility with science, on the centrality of the moral law, and on the progressive nature of revelation, contained in the "Pittsburgh Platform," the "Columbus Platform" differed considerably in its emphasis. It stated:

The Torah, both written and oral, enshrines Israel's evergrowing consciousness of God and of the moral law. It preserves the historical precedents, sanctions and norms of Jewish life, and seeks to mould it in patterns of goodness and holiness. It defined Judaism as "the soul of which Israel is the body," and recognized "in the group-loyalty of the Jews who have become estranged from our religious tradition a bond which still unites them with us," and affirmed "the obligation of all Jewry to aid in [Palestine's] upbuilding as a Jewish homeland by endeavoring to make it not only a haven of refuge for the oppressed but also a center of Jewish culture and spiritual life." It stressed that "Judaism as a way of life requires, in addition to its moral and spiritual demands, the preservation of the Sabbath, festivals, and Holy Days, the retention and development of such customs, symbols, and ceremonies as possess inspirational value, the cultivation of distinctive forms of religious art and music and the use of Hebrew, together with the vernacular, in our worship and instruction.

Recent American Developments
Since the adoption of the "Columbus Platform," there has been a greater openness on the part of American Reform Jews to many traditional observances, and the study of Hebrew has returned to the curriculum of many schools. Anti-Zionism, at one time considered a mandate of "universalism," has given way to large-scale support of the State of Israel. But those changes, of a "practical" nature, are not in themselves evidence of a deeper theological rethinking. Such theological thought as has characterized Reform Judaism since the "Columbus Platform" has not yet had a marked bearing on actual Reform Jewish practice. First, the strong 19th-century religious liberalism, basically theistic in nature and stressing the "rational" character of Judaism, has made its peace with the hospitality accorded the "symbols and ceremonies" in the "Columbus Platform." A second school of thought, influenced by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig and by representatives of other trends in religious existentialism, as well as by considerations of kelal Yisrael ("the unity of Israel") is mainly confined to the younger theologians of the movement. They are engaged in the "rediscovery" of traditional theological concepts such as covenant, revelation, and law. Not rejecting the findings of scholarship, this group seeks to understand itself as standing within the unbroken chain of Jewish religious tradition. A third group, avowedly secularist and humanist, is turning away from traditional theism and calling for the recognition of Reform Judaism as a new religion founded in the 19th century. The Jews are primarily seen as a social grouping and tradition is considered of value only to the extent to which it furnishes insights into human relations.

Pulled simultaneously in opposite directions, Reform Judaism thus faces the problem which has remained without solution since the movement's beginning: the question of religious authority with the resulting difficulty of setting limits to a liberal religion. Another aspect of the same problem periodically appears when the demand for a guide to religious observance is met with the repeated reply that the publication of such a guide would turn Reform Judaism into another orthodoxy, and must therefore be avoided. Yet, such guides have already been issued by some congregations. It seems that any solution to the problem of authority will be on the local level. In the meantime, the leaders of Reform Judaism are concentrating on the strengthening of its organizational structures and institutions.

Organizational Developments
The world's Reform congregations are united in the World Union for Progressive Judaism founded in 1926, with constituents or representatives in 26 countries. Three rabbinical seminaries, in London, Paris, and the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (with campuses in Cincinnati, New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem), train the rabbis of the movement. A fourth, the Berlin Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums, founded in 1872, was a victim of the Holocaust. In general, the modern rabbinical seminaries of all Jewish schools of thought that apply scientific methods to the study of traditional sources are a result of the early Reform strivings for a synthesis of tradition and modern knowledge. Numerically the strongest constituent of Reform Judaism is the American branch, which because of its numerical and financial strength, has assumed the world leadership of the movement, even though outside the U.S. Reform Judaism tends to be far more traditionally observant than it is in the United States.

[Jakob J. Petuchowskil]

Review of Developments in Reform Judaism to the 1990s
From the 1930s, Reform Judaism underwent a far-reaching ideological transformation in its perception of Jewish Peoplehood and religious observance. This transformation was embodied in official declarations as well as by internal social changes and by the surge of history. The declarations were responses to the social and political forces, and also served to rally Reform Jews around a new vision. One of the declarations was the Colombus Platform of 1937 in which the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) acknowledged Jewish Peoplehood, called for the recognition of a Jewish "homeland," the restoration of traditional ritual and ceremonial practices, and the increased usage of Hebrew. This was soon followed by a similar pronouncement by the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC). In 1943, the CCAR declared that Zionism and Reform were not incompatible and called for the cessation of anti-Zionist activities by some of its members. By the 1950s, the principles of Reform were becoming reified and institutionalized along expanding fronts.

The Israel-Oriented Direction Of The Reform Movement
Most striking and most symbolic was the establishment of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem (1963) under the direction of its president, Nelson Glueck, and in the face of violent anti-Reform opposition, blunted by the decision of the Jerusalem municipality which ceded land to the college for a symbolic annual rental. Beginning as an archaeological center and a place of worship for its local adherents, the college has rapidly become the physical and spiritual focus of Reform in Israel and throughout the world. In 1987, under the leadership of President Alfred Gottschalk, and Board Chairman Richard Scheuer, the college completed an extensive expansion program. It now encompasses the headquarters of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, maintains a hostel for Reform youth from the Diaspora, conducts an intellectual and cultural program for the people of Jerusalem, and provides facilities for a religious action program. At its center, however, is its rabbinic training curriculum which has evolved from its inception. The program requires that candidates for the rabbinate spend the first year of their five-year training in Jerusalem. Later, the college opened a special department for preparing Israelis for the Israeli rabbinate. Semikhah (ordination), first granted in 1980, had by 1992 been conferred on 12 graduates of the College in Jerusalem.

Some Reform achievements in Israel preceded the college, establishing a beachhead for a steady advance by the movement. Individual congregations, notably Har-El in Jerusalem (1958), Kedem In Tel Aviv, and Or Chadash in Haifa (1964), persisted in the face of intense opposition. Each now has its own building and is served by a rabbi who has pioneered in behalf of Reform legitimacy in Israel. Today, additional Reform congregations are to be found in Ramat Gan, Ramat ha-Sharon, Ramat Aviv, Kiryat Ono, Netanyah, Nahariyyah, Holon, Rishon le-Zion, Upper Nazareth, Beersheva, and Ra'anannah. They are augmented by a national youth movement, by an assembly of progressive rabbis (Moetzet Rabbanim Mitkadmim), and by a national body representing the Israeli movement, Tnuah I'Yahadut Mitkademet (Telem). The movement has produced a siddur (prayer book) and mahzor (festival prayer book).

The Leo Baeck School in Haifa (organized in 1939 as the Hillel Elementary School by Leo Elk) has become the Reform Movement's high school in Israel. Under the direction of Rabbi Robert Samuel, it has developed an expanding program which includes the absorption of American students for semesters of study, the imparting of Jewish values in a progressive idiom, the encouragement of worship in its Ohel Avraham, and more recently the development of a center program for a culturally and socially mixed constituency.

Israeli Reform has, from its inception, been committed to protecting its religious and legal rights. It was long involved in struggles to protect congregations from being evicted from temporary homes or from securing land on which to build. The movement is currently engaged in a legal struggle for the recognition of two of its rabbis, Moshe Zemer and Mordecai Rotem, as official marriage registrars in Israel. It has successfully defended the existing Law of Return from repeated efforts to amend it, and has enlisted the Conservative and other movements in this cause. It has fought in the courts for the legal protection of immigrants who were converted by non-Orthodox Rabbis. True to its Reform mandate, it has intervened in behalf of disadvantaged groups such as immigrants from Ethiopia whose Jewish status was questioned, and it has declared its concern about moral aspects of the Arab uprising. Israeli Reform's halakhic authority, Moshe Zemer, attempts to deal with many of those issues in the context of Jewish law. The movement has established its Religious Action Center which is committed to confronting social issues affecting Reform and the nation. The Religious Action Center has filed suit in the Supreme Court for approval of a Reform burial society (Menucha Nechona) that will provide burial services under Reform auspices.

In 1972 and 1973, members of the CCAR in America and in Israel met in Oranim and at the Leo Baeck School with leaders of kibbutz movements to discuss, in Hebrew, the areas of common spiritual and social concern in which each could be helpful to the other. Out of these meetings, lasting several days, emerged a united decision to strive for the creation of a Reform kibbutz.

Consequently, the Reform Movement has created two kibbutzim-Yahel (1977) and Lotan (1983) in the Negev. Both consist of native Israelis and immigrants who, in their economic and social lives and in their religious-cultural experiences, strive to integrate a liberal orientation with an assertive traditionalism. Together with Har he-Halutz, the movement's observation outpost (mizpeh) in Galilee (1985), these settlements represent an effort at synthesis of past and present.

Reform In North America
The Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 stressed universalism as paramount in its perception of Judaism. But "A Centenary Perspective" (1976) declared that while the ethics of universalism implicit in traditional Judaism must be an explicit part of our Jewish duty, yet the "survival of the Jewish People is of highest priority and . . . in carrying out our Jewish responsibilities we help move humanity toward its messianic fulfillment." While the Reform community continues to respond to the prophetic impulses in Judaism, it appears also to be moving steadily toward ever stronger manifestations of particularity. Both in religious and in ethnic-national terms, Reform is at this period stressing its Jewish uniqueness, if even as an aspect of humanity's "messianic fulfillment." This does not suggest abandonment of Reform's special social consciousness but rather a reordering of priorities in response to the demands of the times. Thus, the Reform stress on Israel, and the spiritual inward turning within Reform, do not invalidate social concern but rather appear to supplement it. Certainly, since 1967, Reform Jews, reacting to the isolation experienced by Jewry prior to the Six-Day War, began to concentrate on the crisis of Jewish existence and to define themselves more as Jews than as Reform Jews. It is no overstatement that Israel has possessed more of the emotional, moral, and religious space of Reform Jews. This is best articulated in the conclusion of a resolution passed by the CCAR during an emergency session in June 21, 1967: "We declare our solidarity with the State and the People of Israel. Their triumphs are our triumphs. Their ordeal is our ordeal. Their fate is our fate." One of the first, if not the first, American Rabbinic conventions was held by the CCAR in Israel on Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem, in June 1970. Others followed in March 1974, June 1981, and March 1988.

On the American scene, the Reform Movement has gone through a period of spiritual creativity unmatched in its previous history. The CCAR has produced anew siddur, Shaarei Tefillah (1975), anew mahzor, Shaarei Tshuvah (1978), in expanded traditional yet also new form, with greatly increased use of Hebrew (as well as some Yiddish), with stress on Israel and the Holocaust. It has also published a new manual for rabbis, Maaglei Zedek (by David Polish and Gunther Plaut) which reflects many of the changes taking place within Jewish life, such as sexual equality and the spiritual pervasiveness of Israel. The UAHC has produced a modern commentary on the Pentateuch (by Gunther Plaut and Bernard Bamberger), a new Haqqadah (by Herbert Bronstein and Leonard Baskin), and other works.

Preceding these events, the steady alteration of Reform took place from what was primarily a theological, profoundly ideological system, into an extended regimen of doing Jewish deeds, of performing mitzvot at home and in the synagogue. This was in keeping with a trend which in part triggered and increasingly responded to the Columbus Platform. In 1957, A Guide for Reform Jews (by Doppelt and Polish), stressing the phrase, "it is a mitzvah to," and identifying mitzvot with formative moments in Jewish history, was created by individuals for the specific purpose of prompting official Reform responses which came in the form of Gates of Mitzvah (1979). The CCAR has also produced Reform Responsa, a two-volume collection of hundreds of rabbinic decisions (Walter Jacob, editor, 1983, 1987) and Gates of the Seasons (1983). The growing awakening within Reform to what has become a mitzvah system, has resulted in widespread observances within congregations where Selihot services, the second day of Rosh Ha-Shanah, the widespread employment of cantors, the universal practice of Bar and Bat Mitzvah services prevail. In addition, the increased response to the mitzvah of talmud Torah is resulting in the proliferation of camping programs, Reform day schools, summer pilgrimages to Israel, and extended periods of study in Israel. The Reform Movement is also increasingly stressing the importance of personal and home observance in respect to the Sabbath, festivals, life cycle events, and prayer. Of special significance is a recent effort by the Reform rabbinates of New York and Los Angeles to train corps of mohalim and mohalot (circumcisers) for Reform communities. The purposes are to encourage the observance of brit milah (circumcision) and to counteract the refusal by some Orthodox mohalim to officiate for families whose infants may be considered to be halakhically non-Jewish.

All this represents a significant turn toward collective and individual spirituality but it does not necessarily suggest that Reform Judaism is becoming halakhic. As has been noted, the movement has been steadily producing a mitzvah system and an accompanying body of literature, and collective consensus. Nevertheless, it would be a fallacy to suggest that this is necessarily leading toward acceptance of halakhah as a determinative code for Reform. What can be said is that a substantial, although unmeasured, sector of Reform is taking halakhah far more seriously than it may have in the past, although even this must be qualified by many instances of early halakhic discussions over such issues as the circumcision of male converts. Today, however, the number of halakhic inquiries and authoritative responses by Solomon Freehof who published hundreds of responsa, and by his successor, Walter Jacob, who has written and compiled many responsa, attest to the unprecedented interest of Reform Jews in learning what the tradition has to say on a multitude of issues

At the initiative of Alexander Schindler, president of the UAHC, an intensive program was launched to confront the growing challenge of intermarriage. A special department was established along a national front to reach out to intermarried families and prospectively intermarried couples. This involves classes, conferences, retreats, films and literature, all aimed at stimulating and deepening interest and involvement in Judaism. Also, the CCAR in 1983, passed its Patrilinear resolution, declaring the children of intermarried couples (with either parent Jewish) to be Jewish, subject to the parents' wishes and to the fulfillment of basic mitzvot by the children.

As issues broaden and begin to affect the entire Reform community and its own self-definition, the halakhic dilemma becomes far more complex. It is here that we observe sharp divisions between anti-halakhists, non-halakhists, halakhists, and quasi-halakhists. This configuration can best be observed in such issues as medical ethics, intermarriage, women in the rabbinate, and patrilinear descent. Anti-halakhists would argue that a modern, liberal Reform may make its determination without reference to a halakhic system which is not equipped to deal with eventualities unanticipated by the halakhah. . . Halakhists, perhaps the smallest component in the Reform rabbinate, would support halakhic ingenuity in finding solutions for our times. Quasi-halakhists would perceive halakhah as an authoritative guide, usually when revealing less restrictive options, but not necessarily determinative. Thus, in 1922, Hebrew Union College Professor Jacob Lauterbach issued a halakhic responsum rejecting the ordination of women, yet the CCAR opposed him, and in 1971 the college ordained the first woman. Despite the clear tendency of the halakhah against patrilineality, the CCAR, having searched the halakhah, nevertheless took its unequivocal position. In 1973, the CCAR confronted the issue of intermarriage. Following a year of study, a special committee produced and the CCAR adopted a document reaffirming and strengthening an earlier statement of opposition to rabbinic participation at intermarriages, and in that context also reaffirmed the principle of rabbinic autonomy. The latter as applied especially to such an issue is hardly halakhic. The contradiction has been noted. Personal autonomy is unique to the Reform rabbinate. It is perceived by many as a moral force and by others as a stumbling bloc. A definitive Reform view on halakhah, if such a view is possible, has not emerged.

The growth of Reform particularism notwithstanding, the commitment to social activism continues to animate Reform in North America. During the 1960s and 1970s, numbers of Reform rabbis and congregations were involved in the civil rights struggle and in opposition to the Vietnam War. Rabbis and lay people participated in civil rights demonstrations in the North and the South. In a few cases, rabbis' homes and temples in the South were threatened and attacked. Reform activists demonstrated and spoke out against the war, both in their communities and from their pulpits.

Under the auspices of the UAHC, the Religious Action Center in Washington presides over a broad agenda of general and Jewish issues, and for many Reform Jews, social involvement is a primary justification for their Jewish commitment. Under the direction of Rabbi David Saperstein, the center seeks to apply the ethical-social commitments of Judaism to contemporary social and political issues within Jewish, American, and international contexts. Through education, lobbying, activism, involvement of youth and adults on local levels, and collaboration with other Jewish and non-Jewish agencies, it has become a prominent and influential intervening medium on the American and Jewish scenes.

Kelal Israel ("Jewish Community As A Whole")
The creation of the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA, 1977) resulted both in the emergence of a worldwide Reform Zionist body (Artzenu) and for the first time a Zionist organization based on Reform religious Jewish principles. Since its inception, ARZA-Artzenu has been a major factor in the support of the Reform kibbutzim and moshav; it has brought the Religious Action Center in Jerusalem into being; it has had a growing representation in Zionist Congresses since 1978. From 1988 to 1992 it was represented in Zionist councils by Richard Hirsch, as chairman of the Zionist General Council (1987-92), and by Henry Skirball as head of the World Zionist Organization's department of education in the Diaspora (1987-92). With the rest of the movement, it has successfully resisted efforts to amend the Law of Return and at the 1987 Zionist Congress led the successful fight calling for equal treatment for all religious Jewish bodies within Israel (the pluralism resolution). In 1988, it adopted a declaration embodying a comprehensive position on its religious-Zionist philosophy. The Declaration affirms Reform Judaism as committed to the dual traditional stress on piety and justice; it affirms democracy and pluralism in Jewish life which also includes secularism; it affirms the Diaspora and aliyah (immigration), and warns the Diaspora to "understand the historical risks entailed by... success." It calls upon the government of Israel to "repudiate religious repression and political violence." It rejects religious extremism, calls for safeguarding the rights of Arabs in the administered territories, and urges a peaceful settlement based on mutual guarantees and concessions.

As a forerunner to ARZA's total involvement in the world Jewish community, the CCAR in 1972 became a member of the World Jewish Congress, and the UAHC joined soon thereafter.

The transformation of Reform Judaism, beginning in the 1930s, advancing in the 1940s, and becoming more extensively institutionalized and internationalized from the 1950s, represents a new phenomenon in Judaism and in Jewish life. It has had its effect not only on its adherents but upon the Jewish world. To be sure, there are contradictions and problematics, but with full consideration of their severity, the tide seems to be moving in a positive and creative direction. The movement which began with hostility towards a Jewish national home is not only securely imbedded in that home but is helping shape its destiny.

[David Polish]

This article appears in Encyclopedia Judaica and is reprinted with permission from Keter Publishing House Ltd., Jerusalem, Israel.


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