Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism came into being around 1800 in Germany. Its present iteration retains Jewish symbols but emphasizes political liberalism and personal autonomy.

Jewish Virtual Library Summary

“Traditional Judaism had focused on the observance of the mitzvot, the commandments given by God and incumbent on every adult Jew. The Reformers argued that if the Sages developed specific laws as a response to historical conditions, then halakha could be changed or even abrogated. The Reform movement thus viewed halakha, Jewish law, as no longer obligatory.”

“The rejection of halakha as a legal system meant that every individual practice had to be justified on its own merits, which produced widespread inconsistencies and contradictions. For example, the halakha requires all Jews to fast not only on Yom Kippur, but also on Tisha be-Av, a fast day commemorating the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other catastrophic events, and four additional minor fast days. But if halakha no longer bound Reform Jews, then they no longer had to abstain from eating even on the holiest fast day of the year. Most pulpit rabbis seem to have chosen to ignore the glaring problem of ritual inconsistency, particularly in the private sphere. While Reform synagogues developed a standard liturgy and a formalized ritual, no corresponding code detailed how Reform Jews should live their lives outside the synagogue; each person had to decide what rituals, if any, remained meaningful. Perhaps the rabbis preferred not to interfere with the private habits of their congregants. Some theologians, however tried to provide an ethical justification for specific observance. In recent years, many Reform Jews have come to a new appreciation of the importance of ritual in religious life, which some Orthodox observers misinterpret as a return to halakhic observance. Rather, these Reformists find that specific traditional practices provide spiritual meaning for the individual. And that is, at heart, what the Reform movement stands for.”

Reform Judaism History and Overview

Reform Judaism Core Values