Reform Judaism (United Kingdom)

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This article is about a specific variety of Progressive Judaism in the United Kingdom (UK). For an overview of all forms of Progressive Judaism in the UK, see Progressive Judaism (United Kingdom).

Reform Judaism is one of the two forms of Progressive Judaism found in the United Kingdom, the other being Liberal Judaism. British Reform Judaism dates from the 1840s, much earlier than Liberal Judaism, which started in the UK in 1902. British Reform Judaism is more traditionalist than British Liberal Judaism (which more closely resembles Reform Judaism in North America) in its approach to religious practice and superficially resembles the Conservative Judaism of the United States, though it does not claim to be a halachic movement.

British Reform Judaism today[edit]

The Movement for Reform Judaism, known until 2005 as Reform Synagogues of Great Britain,[1] had 42 congregations in England, Wales and Scotland in 2015[2] and 16,570 member households. All of the synagogues are autonomous, which means that they are owned and financed by their members, who also hire their own local rabbi. All rabbis for these congregations are members of the Assembly of Rabbis, which publishes Reform siddurim and maintains a Reform Beth Din, which is located at the Sternberg Centre in London. The Reform Beth Din's decisions are recognised worldwide by Reform and Liberal movements as valid.

Reform Jews in the UK have a wide variety of traditions and practices, although most synagogues share some basic similarities, including these:

  • The modern Hebrew pronunciation is generally used for the prayers and that is the pronunciation used in the Siddur
  • Men and women sit together in the synagogue, and a minyan can include both sexes
  • Girls can become bat mitzvah at 13 in the same way as boys become bar mitzvah and women can be not only ordained as rabbis but are encouraged to be congregational leaders in their own right
  • It generally takes a shorter time to convert to Reform Judaism than to Orthodox Judaism, although the willingness of Reform rabbis to accept converts varies
  • The Reform Movement tends to be more socially liberal than many Orthodox congregations, with a more relaxed attitude being taken towards homosexuality, as well as strongly encouraging interfaith dialogue
  • A supportive stance is generally taken towards Israel and Zionism, although not all Reform Jews agree with all of Israel's policies or actions
  • Shabbat is kept but some specific restrictions are not.

Use of the word Reform[edit]

The use of Reform in the UK is sometimes confusing in that the Reform movement in Britain did not directly evolve from the Reform Judaism that originated in Germany. However, British Reform and the German classical reform movement both arose from a period of reformation and reaction to traditional practices and are accepted as part of wider Progressive Judaism.


In 1836, several members of the Bevis Marks Synagogue in London requested the introduction of such alterations and modifications as were in the line of the changes introduced in the Reform synagogue in Hamburg and other places. The congregation conceded and took steps to insure greater decorum at the services. In 1839, they made a second request, advocating a diminution in the length and number of prayers, a more convenient hour of service on Sabbaths and holy days, sermons in English, a choir, and the abolition of the second days of the holy days. This request was ignored. The British reformers then requested permission to open a branch synagogue in the West End, near their homes. The leadership of Bevis Marks refused on the ground of an askama (rule) of the congregation, forbidding within a radius of six miles of the synagogue the erection of any house of prayer or the holding of any service not of a domestic nature. These reformers however went ahead with their plans, in which they were joined by some Ashkenazi Jews, and established an independent congregation, the West London Synagogue of British Jews, on 15 April 1840. The new synagogue's leadership then took steps to make the reforms in the ritual which were refused by the leadership of Bevis Marks. The West London Synagogue reformers are the ancestors of the modern British Reform movement, the Movement for Reform Judaism.

An Act of Parliament was passed in 1856, which empowered the minister of the West London Synagogue of British Jews to register marriage ceremonies. This act established the full autonomy of the congregation and ensured its equality before the law with the Orthodox congregations.

Notable Reform rabbis[edit]

In Britain, most Reform and Liberal Rabbis train and receive their Rabbinical ordination from Leo Baeck College in London, which is funded by both movements.[3]

Well-known British Reform rabbis include:




  • Anne J. Kershen and Jonathan A. Romain. Tradition and change: a history of Reform Judaism in Britain, 1840–1995. London; Portland, Oregon: Vallentine Mitchell, 1995. ISBN 0-85303-316-1; 085303298X.
  • Elaine De Lange. Women in Reform Judaism (Judaism in our time series). London: Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, 1975.
  • Joshua B. Stein. Claude Goldsmid Montefiore on the ancient Rabbis : the second generation of reform Judaism in Britain. Brown Judaic studies. 4, Missoula, Montana: Published by Scholars Press for Brown University, 1977. ISBN 0-89130-190-9.


  1. ^ Cohen, Justin (30 June 2005). "RSGB Opts For Name Change". Retrieved 10 July 2014. 
  2. ^ "Our communities". Movement for Reform Judaism. Retrieved 22 February 2015. 
  3. ^ Jonathan Romain (2006). "50 Years: An Overview". History. Leo Baeck College. Retrieved 4 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Rocker, Simon (1 November 2010). "Reform leader Bayfield to retire early". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  5. ^ Shire, Michael (12 February 2009). "Induction of Rabbi Barbara Borts". News. Movement for Reform Judaism. Retrieved 1 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Rocker, Simon (28 July 2011). "Laura Janner-Klausner: Why I'm not the Reform rival to the Chief Rabbi". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 1 November 2012. 
  7. ^,com_qcontacts/catid,10551/id,380/view,contact/
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Bournemouth welcomes Rabbi Maurice Michaels" (Press release). Movement for Reform Judaism. 21 October 2014. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  10. ^ Elgot, Jessica (29 December 2011). "London Olympics put the spotlight on local rabbis". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 30 March 2015. 
  11. ^ Rocker, Simon (8 July 2013). "Moving chairs as Reform changes leading posts". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 6 August 2013. 
  12. ^ Rocker, Simon (23 February 2012). "Tabick achieves another first at Reform Beit Din". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  13. ^ Wyman, Jessica. "West London Synagogue of British Jews". JCR-UK. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  14. ^ Epstein, M; revised by Black, Gerry (2006). "Marks, David Woolf (1811–1909)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 31 March 2013. 
  15. ^ "History". Leo Baeck College. Retrieved 3 April 2013. 

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