The Liberal movement in the UK was founded in the early part of the 20th century, based on the theology propounded by Claude Montefiore, as the Jewish Religious Union (JRU). Lily Montagu was the chief organizer and administrator. 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. 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.
Key figures in the history and development of Liberal Judaism include:
- Claude Montefiore – Founder of Liberal Judaism
- 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
- Rabbi Israel Mattuck – The movement's first rabbi
- Rabbi John Rayner – Considered to be one of the foremost progressive rabbis in the United Kingdom and Europe
- Rabbi Sidney Brichto – The first executive director of the movement
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. Many of its members were inspired by Claude Montefiore's 1903 book Liberal Judaism – An Essay. In 1909 the JRU changed its name to the Jewish Religious Union for the Advancement of Liberal Judaism. In 1944 the name changed again to the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, more commonly known as the ULPS. In 2002, it changed its name to Liberal Judaism, which has always been the main term used for the movement. Some of its synagogues use the term "Progressive" in their name, while others use the word "Liberal".
Liberal Judaism is a national union of autonomous communities, currently chaired by Lucian J. Hudson, who has held the role since 2009. Hudson was preceded by Nigel Cole, who had held the role since 2004. Its chief executive is Rabbi Danny Rich, who has held the post since 2004. Rabbi Rich was preceded in this role by Harriet Karsh, who had assumed the role from her predecessor Rabbi Dr. Charles Middleburgh. 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. The movement is steered and informed by three bodies – the Board of National Officers, the Rabbinic Conference and the Council. The Board of National Officers handles issues of the movement's governance and strategy. 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. 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. Liberal Judaism is represented on the Jewish Leadership Council by Lucian J. Hudson and has a number of representatives on the Board of Deputies. Liberal Judaism is also a constituent member of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. 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.
Beliefs and practices
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. 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." 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.
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.
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.
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. Hudson is positioning Liberal Judaism as radical mainstream Judaism.
In 2014, the movement announced an alliance with the Movement for Reform Judaism. While offering assurances that the movements were not merging and would remain separate, the alliance was announced by spokespersons for the movements as an opportunity to speak as a single voice for Progressive Judaism in the UK.
Liberal Judaism is distinctly more radical than Reform, 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.
Liberal Judaism recognises patrilineal as well as matrilineal Jewish descent. It is also the first synagogue body in the UK to recognise mixed faith partnerships and perform mixed-faith blessings. 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. 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. The movement was also the first stream of Judaism to allow non-Jews to be buried alongside their Jewish spouses in Liberal Jewish cemeteries.
In 2005, Liberal Judaism became the first mainstream religious movement in the UK to publish an official liturgy for same-sex commitment ceremonies. The Brit Ahava (Covenant of Love) ceremony was made available well before civil partnerships for same-sex unions were made available in the UK. 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.” 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." The movement also welcomes openly gay and lesbian rabbis.
Liberal Judaism's stance on Israel is one of territorial compromise, with the goal of a peaceful two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. 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." 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.
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, led 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."
- 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.
- Machzor Ruach Chadashah (2003) – The movement's volume of services (machzor) for the Days of Awe (Hebrew: ימים נוראים), or High Holy Days.
- Haggadah b'chol dor va-dor (2010) – A guide (haggadah) for conducting a Pesach seder.
These superseded the movement's previous prayerbooks,
- Service of the Heart: Weekday Sabbath and Festival Services and Prayers for Home and Synagogue (1967).
- Gate of Repentance: Services for the High Holydays (1973).
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. 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.
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