Classical Reform

American JudaismJudaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year ol... began moving toward reform around the time of the Civil War. The second generation of German Jews was just coming of age, and their ongoing acculturation into America would be accompanied by religious modification, each process supporting the other. By the mid-nineteenth century, an institutionalized movement of Reform JudaismReform Judaism is one of the major modern Jewish movements, originating in 19th century Europe and coming to flower in the United States. It emphasizes the legitimacy of change, the commanding importance of ethical monotheism, and the liberal Jewish commi... would be well established. During the same period, however, more traditionalist Jews initiated a number of countermeasures which ultimately gave rise to the denominational movements of OrthodoxIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion. and Conservative JudaismConservative Judaism is an American Jewish movement, reacting to early Jewish Reform movements by attempting to retain clearer links to Jewish law and tradition, while at the same time adapting to modern situations. Its scholarly center in the US is the J.... But the trend toward modernization was strong, and no form of Judaism would survive the American experience unchanged.

The first stage in the process of reform was the Americanization of the synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but .... During the 1860s and 70s, congregations around the country began to introduce mixed seating and family pews, replacing the older pattern of separate seating for men and women. According to Jonathan Sarna, author of The Debate over Mixed Seating in the American Synagogue, this trend first began by mistake when RabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... Isaac Meyer Wise moved his new congregation into a building that used to be a churchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church .... For financial reasons, the decision was made to keep the existing family pews instead of retrofitting the building with exclusively separate seating. Gradually choirs and organ music, English sermons and prayersPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. were introduced into the service. These changes stood in direct opposition to the norms of the traditional synagogue. In some cases they were advocated by a progressive rabbiRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion., in others instituted against the rabbi’sRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... wishes. Never intending to change the essentials of Jewish law, American Jews nevertheless felt free to adjust historic Jewish customs in order to attune the externals of Jewish practice to their new environment. As with many immigrant populations, their motives were to reduce the dissonance between Jewish and American ways of life so that they and their children might better be able to identify with Judaism and America at once.

During this period, a steady flow of German-born, university-trained modern rabbisRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... began to arrive in the United States. They brought with them an ideology of religious reform that would strike at the heart of traditional Judaism. In essence, the European Reform movement retained the ethical monotheism of propheticA prophet is one who communicates a divine message or vision, sometimes calling people to repentance or awakening, sometimes predicting future events. Jews, Christians, and Muslims all look to Hebrew prophets, including Abraham and Moses. Muslims believe ... Judaism while rejecting the ritual laws and cultural particularism of biblical and rabbinicRabbinic Judaism is the Judaism descended from the rabbis, the teachers, who compiled the Mishnah and the Talmud between the second and fifth centuries CE, and all the tradition and learning of Judaism that has issued from them. Judaism. At first, these rabbis’Rabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... progressive message was met with little appreciation from more traditional American congregants. But as the rabbisRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion. learned to convey their ideals in more familiar American terms, the platform of Reform Judaism became more widely accepted.

The major proponents of the new orthopraxy were rabbis Isaac Meyer Wise, DavidDavid was the King of Israel (c. 1000 BCE) credited with uniting the many tribes of Israel into a centralized kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital. David is said to have planned for the Temple in Jerusalem, which was subsequently built by his son Solomon... Einhorn, Kaufmann Kohler, and Emil G. Hirsch. In 1873 Wise created the Union of American HebrewHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written. Congregations, the first congregationalThe congregational form of Protestant Christianity has traditionally affirmed the autonomy and authority of the local congregation in calling and ordaining its ministers and organizing its affairs. In the 17th century, the English Puritans introduced cong... union in American Judaism and the founding institution of the Reform movement. Two years later he founded and assumed leadership of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, which became the intellectual heart of the new Reform Judaism and the first permanent institution to begin training American rabbis.

The highwater mark of classical Reform Judaism came in 1885 when, under the influence of Rabbi David Einhorn, a group of Reform rabbis met in Pittsburgh to clarify their position. The resulting document, known as the Pittsburgh Platform, contained the guiding principles of the American Reform movement. These included provisions which abrogate most of traditional, European “MosaicMoses was the great Biblical prophet who is credited with leading the people of Israel out of Egyptian bondage and teaching them the divine laws at Sinai. The story of Moses is told in the book of Exodus in the Bible and is also told in the Qur’an, wher... legislation” as well as many national aspects of Judaism. Since 1885, Reform Judaism has undergone much evolution, with leadership continuing to meet in Columbus in 1937 and in San Francisco in 1976 to amend the original platform. In both cases the movement responded to changes already in the air, finding the rationale to reintroduce more traditional practices and greater ethnic/national identification into Reform Jewish life. The history of Reform Judaism thus reveals a central theme in American religion: the response of religious leaders to the urgings of the people. Just as the Pittsburgh Platform was preceded by the self-reformation of the American synagogue, American Judaism tends on the whole to be the product of the people rather than the elite.


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