Liberal Judaism

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"ULPS" redirects here. For other uses, see ULP (disambiguation).
This article is about the form of Judaism in the United Kingdom. For Liberal Judaism internationally, see Progressive Judaism.

Liberal Judaism is a Jewish religious denomination in Britain, resembling American Reform Judaism. It is one of the WUPJ affiliates in the United Kingdom along with the local, more conservative British Reform current.[1]

Origins[edit]

The Liberal movement in the UK was founded in the early part of the 20th century by Lily Montagu, Claude Montefiore and others as the Jewish Religious Union (JRU).[2] It began on 18 October 1902 with a supplementary prayer meeting, an adjunct to the then Orthodox and Reform synagogues, with the intention of using more English in services, men and women sitting freely together, the use of organ music, and a more inclusive form of worship which would prove attractive to members of British Jewry who felt uninvolved or out of sympathy with existing traditionalist patterns of worship.[3] The movement began to steadily gain adherents after the founding in 1911 of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in St. Johns Wood, London, the first of more than 30 Liberal congregations in the UK.[4]

Key figures[edit]

Key figures in the history and development of Liberal Judaism include:

  • Claude Montefiore – Founder of Liberal Judaism[5]
  • Lily Montagu – Founder of National Organization of Girls Clubs (now Youth Clubs UK), the first woman to play a major role in Progressive Judaism by aiding in the establishment of the Jewish Religious Union[6]
  • Rabbi Israel Mattuck – The movement's first rabbi[7]
  • Rabbi John Rayner – Considered to be one of the foremost progressive rabbis in the United Kingdom and Europe[8][9]
  • Rabbi Sidney Brichto – The first executive director of the movement[10]

Organisations[edit]

The JRU did not originally intend to be a separate denomination, but rather wished to encourage synagogues affiliated with the JRU to develop a form of authentic Judaism that was responsive to changes going on in the modern world, without going down the path of classical German Reform.[11] Many of its members were inspired by Claude Montefiore's 1903 book Liberal Judaism – An Essay.[12] In 1909 the JRU changed its name to the Jewish Religious Union for the Advancement of Liberal Judaism.[13] In 1944 the name changed again to the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, more commonly known as the ULPS.[14] In 2002, it changed its name to Liberal Judaism, which has always been the main term used for the movement.[15] Some of its synagogues use the term "Progressive" in their name, while others use the word "Liberal".[16]

Leadership[edit]

Liberal Judaism is a national union of autonomous communities, currently chaired by Lucian J. Hudson, who has held the role since 2009.[17][18] Hudson was preceded by Nigel Cole, who had held the role since 2004.[19] Its chief executive is Rabbi Danny Rich, who has held the post since 2004.[20] Rabbi Rich was preceded in this role by Harriet Karsh, who had assumed the role from her predecessor Rabbi Dr. Charles Middleburgh.[21][22] The president of the movement is Rabbi Dr Andrew Goldstein, who was elected in July 2013 after his predecessor, Baroness Rabbi Julia Neuberger stepped down to take the pulpit at West London Synagogue.[23] The movement is steered and informed by three bodies – the Board of National Officers, the Rabbinic Conference and the Council.[24] The Board of National Officers handles issues of the movement's governance and strategy.[25] The Rabbinic Conference, composed of all the Rabbis serving Liberal synagogues in the UK, meets regularly to discuss and rule on rabbinic matters, determining courses of action or principles of faith.[26] The Council is made up of representatives from Liberal Judaism’s synagogues, allowing them to speak on matters within the organisation that may affect them.[27][28] Liberal Judaism is represented on the Jewish Leadership Council by Lucian J. Hudson and has a number of representatives on the Board of Deputies.[29][30] Liberal Judaism is also a constituent member of the World Union for Progressive Judaism.[31] Liberal rabbis receive training and are ordained in the UK by Leo Baeck College, which the movement funds together with the Movement for Reform Judaism.[32][33]

Beliefs and practices[edit]

The beliefs of Liberal Judaism are outlined in The Affirmations of Liberal Judaism. Originally written by Rabbi John D. Rayner, the Affirmations detail the movement's common ground with other forms of Judaism, as well as establishing the ideals that differentiate it.[34] Affirmation 23, which lays out the movement's progressive ideals, states "Judaism has never stood still. It has always moved forward, sometimes slowly, sometimes faster. Its history is a history of continuity and change. We affirm the dynamic, developing character of our Jewish religious tradition."[35] This view represents the idea that divine laws were not something that happened at one specific moment on Mt. Sinai, but rather as an evolving ideal representing Judaism's historic development through each succeeding generation.[36]

To quote the movement's website, "Liberal Judaism reverences Jewish tradition, and seeks to preserve the values of the Judaism of the past while giving them contemporary force. It aspires to a Judaism that is always an active force for good in the lives of Jewish individuals, families and communities today, and equally makes its contribution to the betterment of society."[37] And it stresses "the full equality and participation of men and women in every sphere of religious life; an emphasis on ethical conduct above ritual observance; an affirmation of each individual's freedom to act responsibly in accordance with the dictates of the informed religious conscience; a pride in combining our Jewish heritage with full participation in the civic life of this country; and an awareness of our duty not only to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel, but also to the entire human family, each one of whom is created in the Divine image".[38]

The movement's chairman, Lucian Hudson announced in 2013 that Liberal Judaism is currently producing a strategic plan for the next decade. The new document will be brief, only including key information on Liberal Judaism’s main objectives, priorities, roles and responsibilities.[39] Hudson is positioning Liberal Judaism as radical mainstream Judaism.[40]

Key issues[edit]

Liberal Judaism is distinctly more radical than Reform,[7] aspiring to equality in line with modern values and thinking, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. It seeks to treat children with only one Jewish parent the same, regardless of the parent's gender, and celebrates same sex relationships and marriages equally with those of mixed sex couples.

Mixed faith relationships[edit]

Liberal Judaism recognises patrilineal as well as matrilineal Jewish descent.[41] It is also the first synagogue body in the UK to recognise mixed faith partnerships and perform mixed-faith blessings.[42] While the liturgy and rituals are not the same as a Jewish wedding, the couple must also participate in a civil ceremony and should be committed to building a Jewish household; rabbis are allowed to participate in blessing mixed faith marriages.[43] The movement's official stance is that the non-Jewish partner is being encouraged to "marry in" rather than the Jewish partner "marrying out" of the faith.[44][45] The movement was also the first stream of Judaism to allow non-Jews to be buried alongside their Jewish spouses in Liberal Jewish cemeteries.[46][47]

Same-sex marriages[edit]

In 2005, Liberal Judaism became the first mainstream religious movement in the UK to publish an official liturgy for same-sex commitment ceremonies.[48] The Brit Ahava (Covenant of Love) ceremony was made available well before civil partnerships for same-sex unions were made available in the UK.[49] In February 2013, Rabbi Danny Rich presented evidence to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee looking into the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, reiterating Liberal Judaism’s stance on the issue, stating, "although Liberal Judaism respects the right of other religious movements to decline to conduct marriages which go against their teachings, and to have this right protected in law, it also seeks, in the name of freedom of religion, the right to conduct marriages which it sees as legitimate, and as an important pastoral service to its members.”[50] In response to the June 2013 House of Lords equal marriage vote, Liberal Judaism’s Rabbi Aaron Goldstein issued a statement, reading in part, "We are now looking forward to celebrating the first fully legal and fully Jewish same sex marriage under a Liberal chuppah.”[51] The movement also welcomes openly gay and lesbian rabbis.[52]

Position on the JFS case[edit]

In 2009, the case known as R(E) v Governing Body of JFS was brought before the High Court where a 12-year-old boy, known as M, was refused entry to the Jewish Free School (JFS) because, while his father was born a Jew and both his father and mother actively practised the Jewish faith, the mother had converted to Judaism in a non-Orthodox synagogue, which failed to meet the school's criteria for the child being Jewish.[53] Liberal Judaism was actively vocal in supporting M's case, specifically that JFS, as a state-funded school, had an obligation to be open to all forms of Judaism.[54] The school was found to be in violation of the Race Relations Act, and now selects its students on the basis of Jewish faith, rather than by the maternal blood line.[55] Following the court's decision, Lucian Hudson and Danny Rich issued a statement in The Jewish Chronicle in support of the ruling, stating that JFS had made "a politically-motivated decision" that was "inappropriate for a state-funded school which ought be serving the whole Jewish community without discrimination."[56]

Israel[edit]

Liberal Judaism's stance on Israel is one of territorial compromise, with the goal of a peaceful two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.[57] Rabbi Danny Rich has been outspoken against Israeli actions in Lebanon, as well as on the views of former Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Lieberman, stating that, "Some of his reported views could threaten the stability of an Israel in which the Arab minority can thrive."[58][59] While Liberal Judaism's support for Israel has also been more evident in recent years, with Lucian Hudson publishing a booklet, on behalf of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, in defence of Zionism, more recent statements by Hudson reaffirm the movement's commitment to a two-state solution, in opposition to all boycotts.[60][61]

Considered engagement[edit]

In 2011, Liberal Judaism adopted a policy it calls "Considered Engagement".[62] Under this policy, the chief executive, chairman and other national officers review invitations to participate in events based on their goals, even if the hosting organisation is not in accord with the policies of Liberal Judaism.[63] This has led to some criticism, such as when the movement partnered with Oxfam on Grow: Tazmiach, despite Oxfam having been outspoken against actions of the Israeli Government.[64]

The confirmation of Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis[edit]

When Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis was named Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth in December 2012, Rabbi Danny Rich issued a statement welcoming the appointment of Mirvis, stressing the need for plurality among the British community, and advising that the hardest part of the job for Mirvis would be recognizing that the position "no longer represents a large section of the community."[65]

Criticisms of Ralph Miliband in The Daily Mail[edit]

On September 27, 2013 The Daily Mail published an article about sociologist Ralph Miliband (whose sons became senior members of the British Labour Party), criticizing his Marxist ideals and calling him "the man who hated Britain."[66] Rabbi Danny Rich was quoted by The Observer, Evening Standard, Jewish Chronicle and Sky News in response, stating that the newspaper was “playing with fire," and that the article "gives legitimacy to those that seek to cast all refugees and immigrants as ‘outsiders’ and question their loyalty."[67][68][69][70]

Call for a merger between the JLC and Board of Deputies of British Jews[edit]

In October 2013, Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Jeremy Newmark announced that he was stepping down for health reasons.[71] Following this announcement, Hudson urged the Jewish Leadership Council to take advantage of a "strategic opportunity" to build a single professional body that would merge the JLC with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, arguing that this would be "a way for the leadership of UK Jewry to be more efficient and effective."[72]

Expanded religious education in the UK school system[edit]

In October 2013, the Religious Education Council of England and Wales published A Curriculum Framework for Religious Education in England, which stated that, "All children need to acquire core knowledge and understanding of the beliefs and practices of the religions and worldviews which not only shape their history and culture but which guide their own development."[73] Rich wrote an opinion column in Haaretz in support of the framework, stating that "religious education has never been more important", and calling for comprehensive religious education in both single-faith and secular schools.[74]

The "pickling" of Judaism by the Charedi[edit]

In November 2013, the Board of Deputies of British Jews issued the 2012 statistics report for Britain’s Jewish Community, which noted a "natural increase" in Britain's Jewish population, with specific emphasis on Britain's Charedi (Orthodox) community, who were responsible for four out of every ten Jewish births and more than three in ten weddings.[75] In response to these numbers, Rich issued remarks that have generated some controversy, stating that the Orthodox community didn't preserve the Jewish religion, but rather "pickled" it, by refusing to engage with the outside world.[76][77]

The response to Israel's consultation of its diaspora[edit]

In February 2014, the movement issued a policy contribution in response to Israel's consultation of its diaspora on the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. In the response, lead by Hudson, Liberal Judaism stated that the Israel which it supports must “play a positive role in the world, sharing the prophetic vision and reflecting Liberal Jewish values," and reaffirmed their support of a two-state solution with a Palestinian state, as well as proposing a “permissive approach to Jewish and non-Jewish immigration.”[78] They also argued that Israel must be more open toward voices of dissent and promoting minority rights, while diaspora communities should provide greater financial investments for Israel’s non-Jewish communities.[79]

Religious texts[edit]

  • Siddur Lev Chadash (1995) – The official prayerbook (siddur) of Liberal Judaism, as well as the first official Jewish prayerbook in the UK to use gender-neutral language to describe God.[80][81]
  • Machzor Ruach Chadashah (2003) – The movement’s volume of services (machzor) for the Days of Awe (Hebrew: ימים נוראים), or High Holy Days.[82]
  • Haggadah b’chol dor va-dor (2010) – A guide (haggadah) for conducting a Pesach seder.[83]

These superseded the movement's previous prayerbooks,

  • Service of the Heart: Weekday Sabbath and Festival Services and Prayers for Home and Synagogue (1967).[84]
  • Gate of Repentance: Services for the High Holydays (1973).[85]

Youth movement[edit]

LJY-Netzer (ljy-נצ"ר – Liberal Jewish Youth-Netzer) is the youth movement of Liberal Judaism, a progressive Zionist youth movement, and a branch (or snif) of Netzer Olami.[86] Founded in 1947 as FLPJYG (Federation of Liberal and Progressive Jewish Youth Groups), it was renamed in 2004 to be in line with the name of Liberal Judaism.[87]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]