Reform Judaism (United Kingdom)
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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
The Movement for Reform Judaism, known until 2005 as Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, had 42 congregations in England, Wales and Scotland in 2015 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
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
Well-known British Reform rabbis include:
- Rabbi Neil Amswych (born 1974), prominent environmentalist
- Rabbi Dr. Tony Bayfield CBE (born 1946), President of the Movement for Reform Judaism
- Rabbi Lionel Blue (born 1930), broadcaster and former European Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism
- Rabbi Barbara Borts (born 1953), one of UK Reform Judaism's first women rabbis
- Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner (born 1963), the Movement for Reform Judaism's first Senior Rabbi
- Rabbi Jonathan Magonet (born 1942)
- Rabbi Maurice Michaels (born 1943), Van Der Zyl Head of Vocational Studies and Chair of Rabbinic Inservice Training at Leo Baeck College, Vice President of the Movement for Reform Judaism, Rabbi at Alyth and Bournemouth Reform Synagogues, Jewish chaplain to the London 2012 Olympic Games
- Rabbi Nancy Morris (born 1961), the first female rabbi to be appointed to a synagogue in Scotland
- Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Baroness Neuberger (born 1950), Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue
- Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain MBE (born 1954), writer, broadcaster and minister of Maidenhead Synagogue
- Rabbi Sylvia Rothschild
- Rabbi Sybil Sheridan (born 1953), Chair of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis UK (2013–15); Rabbi at West London Synagogue
- Rabbi Jackie Tabick (born 1948), first female rabbi in the United Kingdom; convenor of the Reform Movement's Beit Din
- Rabbi Mark Winer MBE (born 1942), Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue from 1998 to 2010
- Rev Prof David Woolf Marks (1811–1909), the first rabbi of West London Synagogue (from 1840 to 1895)
- Rabbi Hugo Gryn (1928–1996), who was Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue
- Rabbi Werner van der Zyl (1902–1984), who was the founder and first director of Leo Baeck College
- 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.
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