Progressive Judaism

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Progressive Judaism (Hebrew: יהדות רפורמית‎), is an umbrella term used by strands of Judaism which affiliate to the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ). They embrace pluralism, modernity, equality and social justice as core values and believe that such values are consistent with a committed Jewish life.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7] The movement includes more than 1.7 million members spread across 42 countries.[8]

Progressive Judaism started its formal existence as a movement in 1926 when leading Liberal , Reform and Reconstructionist Jews in North America and Europe met in England to discuss common interests. At the urging of Lily Montagu, they decided to unite and form the WUPJ. Local movements retained their prior organizational structure and identity but now had a new umbrella organization which they used to support one another and coordinate efforts to support congregations in regions where Progressive Judaism was not yet well established. After World War II, the WUPJ also worked to rebuild the decimated progressive congregations of Europe.[9]

Zionists within the progressive movement are represented by Arzenu, a Brit Olamit (political party) within the World Zionist Organization.[10] A Zionist Youth movement, Netzer Olami has affiliations with both the WUPJ and Arzenu.[11]

Relationship to Liberal, Reform, and Reconstructionist Judaism[edit]

Progressive Judaism represents a set of beliefs, goals, and organizational structure shared by Jews that variously call themselves "Liberal", "Reform", "Reconstructionist" or "Progressive".

Continental Europe[edit]

In the first half of the 19th century, reform-minded Jews in Germany identified with the name "Reform". Early rabbinic reformers, such as Abraham Geiger, had no desire to start a separate movement. They identified with the term "reform" and periodically met in synods, but did not formally organize into an independent denomination or rabbinic association.

The laity was more impatient with the process of reform. When the German government authorized the establishment of officially recognized separatist congregations, radical lay people in Frankfurt and Berlin formed their own congregations. In 1842 a radical group of lay people in Frankfurt formed the ReformFreunde (Friends of Reform).[12] In the summer of 1845, a group of lay people in Berlin, led by Sigmund Stern formed the Association for Reform in Judaism and held High Holiday services using a liturgy designed by the association. In 1850 the association renamed itself the Jewish Reform Congregation of Berlin.[13] This attempt at congregational separatism, however, failed to flourish. No other official congregations were established[14] and prominent reformers, such as Abraham Geiger, refused to serve them.[15]

By the final quarter of the 19th century, the reform process slowed down to the point that younger members of the community accused their reform minded elders of being a "ham-eating orthodoxy".[16] The next generation of reformers coalesced around a new name: "liberal".[17] This time attempts at organization gathered momentum and gained rabbinic support. In 1898, German liberal rabbis organized into the Union of Liberal Rabbis in Germany. In 1908 the liberal laity organized into the Union for Liberal Judaism in Germany. Within a year had over 5000 lay and rabbinic members belonging to some 200 communities.[18] In the 20th century, the predominant terms in continental Europe are either "Liberal" or "Progressive".

United Kingdom[edit]

The term "Progressive" is used in two senses in the United Kingdom. Some synagogues affiliated to Liberal Judaism (formerly the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues) had "Progressive" rather than "Liberal" in their title. Today, however, the term "Progressive" is increasingly used as an umbrella term covering both Reform and Liberal Judaism.

North America[edit]

In North America laity, rabbis and congregations began organizing much earlier than in Europe. In 1825, lay members of Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina founded the Reformed Society of Israelites. Although reform minded Americans identified as "Reform" Jews, the name never made it into their major institutions. In 1873 Reform congregations organized as the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC). Shortly after, in 1875, the Hebrew Union College was established to improve the quality of rabbis in the US.

As in Europe, there were significant disagreements among the reformers over the role of tradition. In 1883, a banquet was planned to celebrate the first graduating class of rabbis from Hebrew Union College. According to a contemporary account, radical elements among the Reform leaders ordered shrimp for the dinner's menu which are forbidden according to the Jewish laws of kashrut, leading to guests walking out in disgust. The so-called Trefa Banquet has taken on mythic status as a source of the conflict between the radical and conservative reformers, though modern accounts pin the blame on a combination of eagerness and naivete and, as an account by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise stated, “the Cincinnati Banquet Committee allowed a few dishes to be served which are forbidden according to Jewish ritual law".[19][20] The conflict further intensified in 1885 when a fierce debate broke out between Kaufmann Kohler and Alexander Kohut over the very nature of reform.

In response to debate, Kohler called a conference of reform-minded rabbis in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Wise, the rabbinical head of Hebrew Union College, presided over the conference. The conference produced the Pittsburgh Platform. This platform was highly controversial and an organizational split between those more and less conservative.[21] In 1887 a separate rabbinical school, the Jewish Theological Seminary was founded. In 1889, the more liberal rabbis organized under the banner of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In 1901, conservative rabbis organized as the Rabbinical Assembly. Ten years later, in 1913, conservative congregations banded together under the banner of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

In the 1930s, a third stream of non-orthodox Judaism began to develop in the USA - Reconstructionist Judaism. Initially reconstructionist congregations belonged either to the Reform or Conservative movement - Mordacai Kaplan was deeply opposed to the formation of yet another American Jewish denomination. In 1955 the Reconstructionist Fellowship of Congregations was formed. This organization allowed reconstructionist congregations to share common concerns but required members to be dual affiliated with either the US Reform or Conservative movement. In 1961 the dual affiliation requirement was dropped and Reconstructionist Judaism became a full fledged third denomination on the American scene.[22]

Thus, in the USA as in the UK, the reformers gathered under multiple denominational banners, today known as Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Judaism. Despite the organizational split, US Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative Jews have a common appreciation for democratic pluralism and the on-going historic process of change.[23] In a US context, the term "Liberal" refers to this common vision, as contrasted with orthodoxy.[23][24] Common concerns and grassroots connections are also evidenced by interdenominational mailing lists such as Mail. Liberal-Judaism.[25]

A common progressive identity[edit]

Prior to World War I, the US Reform, UK liberals, and their counterparts in continental Europe planned a meeting to discuss common goals. The meeting finally occurred after the war in 1926. The attendees debated the relative merits of "liberal" and "reform". Satisfied with neither, they settled on "progressive" rather than "reform" or "liberal". They also formed an organization using this common name, the World Union for Progressive Judaism.[26]

The more conservative half of the UK reform movement, UK Reform did not participate in these initial meetings. However, it later joined the WUPJ in 1930.[27] In the USA, both Reform and Reconstructionist[28] Judaism belong to the WUPJ. The US Conservative movement, has never participated in or joined the WUPJ.[29]

Communities developed after 1926[edit]

Countries whose progressive community developed post 1926, generally identify with the name "Progressive". This includes all of Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, etc.), South America, the Former Soviet Union and Israel. Many of the European communities rebuilt after World War II with the help of the WUPJ also consider "Progressive", rather than "Liberal" or "Reform" their primary identity.

Beliefs and practices[edit]

Because the progressive movement believes in the continuous integration of Jewish tradition and non-Jewish insights, the specific beliefs and practices of Progressive Judaism have changed over time.[30] The commitment to personal and congregational autonomy also means that standards of belief and practice can vary widely from region to region, from congregation to congregation, and even from individual to individual.[citation needed] Given this diversity, historian Michael Meyer prefers to characterize progressive Judaism by certain dynamic tensions. They include, but are not limited to: continuity versus reform, authority versus autonomy and universalism versus particularism.[31]

Intellectual history[edit]

The intellectual roots of the reform, liberal, reconstructionist, and progressive Judaism lie in what is commonly called the Reform movement in Judaism.

Communal life[edit]

Rabbis, cantors and communal leaders[edit]

See Category:Progressive Jewish higher education Rabbis, cantors and communal leaders for the worldwide progressive movement are trained in one of three rabbinic institutions: Leo Baeck College,[32][33] Abraham Geiger College[34] and Hebrew Union College.[35] While all three train rabbis for the worldwide progressive movement, each has a different regional focus: The Abraham Geiger College focuses on providing leadership for communities in Germany, Central and Eastern Europe.[34] Leo Baeck College, located in the UK, focuses on leadership for the UK Reform and UK Liberal.[32] Hebrew Union College, with campuses in the USA and Israel, trains rabbis and communal service leaders for work in North American Reform and Israeli Progressive congregations. It also provides a year in Israel program for students at the Leo Baeck College and Abraham Geiger Institute.[36]

International cooperation[edit]

Regional organizations[edit]

Progressive congregations identify themselves by joining one of the many regional organizations. The regional organizations set common goals and work together on joint projects through the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ).

Regional organizations that are members of the World Union for Progressive Judaism include:

Orthodox criticism[edit]

Since its origins in the 19th century, many of the beliefs and practices of Progressive Judaism have been criticized by Orthodox Judaism.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Resources List
  2. ^ Union for Progressive Judaism (Australia, New Zealand, and Asia)
  3. ^ Our Philosophy (South Africa)
  4. ^ Minhag South Africa
  5. ^ Affirmations of Liberal Judaism (UK)
  6. ^ The Movement for Reform Judaism (UK)
  7. ^ A statement of Principles for Reform Judaism (USA)
  8. ^ (Accessed November 1, 2007)
  9. ^ Meyer, Michael. Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (New York, USA: Oxford University Press, 1988), 336-345.
  10. ^ Arzenu | Home
  11. ^ (Accessed November 1, 2007).
  12. ^ Meyer, Response to Modernity, 122
  13. ^ Meyer, Response to Modernity, 128-131
  14. ^ David Philipson, The Reform Movement in Judaism (USA:KTAV, 1967 (originally released in 1930), 257.
  15. ^ Philipson, The Reform Movement in Judaism, 268
  16. ^ Philipson, The Reform Movement in Judaism, p. 386
  17. ^ Philipson, The Reform Movement in Judaism, p. 387
  18. ^ Meyer, Response to Modernity, 210
  19. ^ Sussman, L.J. The Myth of the Trefa Banquet: American Culinary Culture and the Radicalization of Food Policy in American Reform Judaism, American Jewish Archives
  20. ^ The "Trefa Banquet" and the End of a Dream in Michael Feldberg (ed.), Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History, The American Jewish Historical Society / KTAV, 2002. ISBN 0-88125-756-7. Chapter 5.7 (or #52 online). Accessed November 2, 2007
  21. ^ Meyer, Response to Modernity, 268
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b Eugene B. Borowitz. Liberal Judaism (New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1984) 341 - 349.
  24. ^ Tabory, Ephraim. "Influence of Liberal Judaism on Israeli Religious Life" in Israel Studies - Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 2000, pp. 183-203. The article discusses the efforts of non-orthodox American denominations to increase the role of non-orthodox Judaism in Israeli society.
  25. ^ Mail.Liberal-Judaism FAQ Although views from all denominations are welcome, The primary goal of the list is to provide a forum for discussions concerning issues of relevance to the more liberal movements (Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative).
  26. ^ Meyer, Response to Modernity, 336
  27. ^ Meyer, Response to Modernity, 339
  28. ^ - affiliation with WUPJ listed at bottom of page under "Other JRF Affiliations"
  29. ^ Eugene B. Borowitz. Liberal Judaism, 341 - 349.
  30. ^ Meyer, Michael (1988). Response to Modernity. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. ix. "It is not possible to isolate a doctrinal essence of the Reform movement. While certain teachings, such as the historical nature of Judaism, progressive revelation, and universalized messianism, take firm hold once they appear, only the last is present from the start. Some tenets prominent at an early stage lose their significance or are even rejected in the course of time." 
  31. ^ Meyer, Response to Modernity, ix-x
  32. ^ a b (Accessed November 1, 2007)
  33. ^ (Accessed November 1, 2007)
  34. ^ a b (accessed November 1, 2007)
  35. ^ HUC-JIR - The Chronicle - 1999
  36. ^ (Accessed November 1, 2007)[not specific enough to verify]
  37. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Netzer Olami
  38. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Australia, Asia and New Zealand
  39. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Europe
  40. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Former Soviet Union
  41. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Israel
  42. ^ - number obtained by counting the congregations listed for each region in the combo box on this page
  43. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | South Africa
  44. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Latin America and The Caribbean
  45. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | North America