Progressive Judaism

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Progressive Judaism is an umbrella term used by the strands of Liberal, Reform and Reconstructionist Judaism which are affiliated with 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] The movement includes more than 1.7 million members spread across 42 countries.[2] The WUPJ was formed in 1926 when leading Liberal and Reform members 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 worldwide. After World War II, the WUPJ also worked to rebuild its decimated congregations of Europe.[3]:336-345 Zionists within the progressive movement are represented by Arzenu, a party within the World Zionist Organization.[4] A Zionist Youth movement, Netzer Olami has affiliations with both the WUPJ and Arzenu.[5] The WUPJ represents a wide set of beliefs, goals, and organizational structures shared by Jews that variously call themselves "Liberal", "Reform", "Reconstructionist" or "Progressive".


The way Progressive Judaism in Israel is practiced is in some ways more traditional than practice in the Diaspora. Hebrew is used exclusively in worship services. Classical Jewish texts and Rabbinic literature play a more prominent role in Reform education and synagogue life. A Progressive Beit Din (religious court) regulates procedures of conversion and offers guidance in other ritual matters. This traditional leaning embodies one of the original, classic principles of the movement: that Progressive Judaism draws upon powerful influences in the larger social context in which it lives and grows.[6]

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 intellectual roots of the Reform and Liberal lie in that period.

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).[3]:122 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.[3]:128-131 This attempt at congregational separatism, however, failed to flourish. No other official congregations were established[7]:257 and prominent reformers, such as Abraham Geiger, refused to serve them.[7]:268

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".[7]:386 The next generation of reformers coalesced around a new name: "liberal".[7]:387 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.[3]:210 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".[8][9][10] 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.[3]:268 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 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.[11]

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.[3]:336

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.[3]:339 In the USA, both Reform and Reconstructionist[12] Judaism belong to the WUPJ.[13]

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.

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,[14][15] Abraham Geiger College[16] and Hebrew Union College.<[17] 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.[16] Leo Baeck College, located in the UK, focuses on leadership for the UK Reform and UK Liberal.[14] 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.[17]

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:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Resources List
  2. ^ WUPJ (Accessed Nov 1, 2007)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Meyer, Michael (1988) Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism, (New York, USA: Oxford University Press) ISBN 978-0-19505-167-4
  4. ^ Arzenu
  5. ^ WUPJ (Accessed November 1, 2007).
  6. ^ Progressive Judaism Israel
  7. ^ a b c d David Philipson (1967) The Reform Movement in Judaism (USA:KTAV) OCLC 257825044 (originally published in 1907, reprinted in 1931)(link is to 1907 edition)
  8. ^ Sussman, Lance J. (2005). "The Myth of the Trefa Banquet: American Culinary Culture and the Radicalization of Food Policy in American Reform Judaism". American Jewish Archives Journal 57 (1–2). 
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Lance J. Sussman
  11. ^ JRF Growth
  12. ^ - affiliation with WUPJ listed at bottom of page under "Other JRF Affiliations"
  13. ^ Eugene B. Borowitz (1984) Liberal Judaism, pp. 341–349, Union of American Hebrew Congregations, New York ISBN 978-0-80740-264-1
  14. ^ a b Leo Baeck College (Accessed Nov 1, 2007)
  15. ^ The Directory UK (Accessed Nov 1, 2007)[dead link]
  16. ^ a b Abraham Geiger College (accessed Mar 2, 2015)
  17. ^ a b Hebrew Union College (Accessed Nov 1, 2007)[not specific enough to verify]
  18. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Netzer Olami
  19. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Australia, Asia and New Zealand
  20. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Europe
  21. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Former Soviet Union
  22. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Israel
  23. ^ - number obtained by counting the congregations listed for each region in the combo box on this page
  24. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | South Africa
  25. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | Latin America and The Caribbean
  26. ^ The World Union for Progressive Judaism | Worldwide Congregations | North America