Movement for Reform Judaism

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This article is about the British denomination. For the worldwide movement, see Reform Judaism.
Movement for Reform Judaism
MRJ logo.svg
Theology Reform Judaism
Senior Rabbi Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner
Life President Sir Sigmund Sternberg
President Sir Trevor Chinn
Associations World Union for Progressive Judaism
Region United Kingdom
Headquarters Sternberg Centre, London
Origin 4 January 1942
Midland Hotel, Manchester
Congregations 42
Members 16,125 households
Official website www.reformjudaism.org.uk

The Movement for Reform Judaism (until 2005: Reform Synagogues of Great Britain)[1] is one of the two World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ)-affiliated denominations in Britain. Reform is relatively traditional in comparison with its smaller counterpart, Liberal Judaism, though it does not regard Jewish law as binding. As of 2010, it was the second largest Jewish religious group in the United Kingdom, with 19.4% of synagogue-member households.

Belief and practice[edit]

The denomination shares the basic tenets of Reform Judaism (alternatively known also as Progressive or Liberal) worldwide: a theistic, personal God; an ongoing revelation, under the influence of which all scripture was written – but not dictated by providence – that enables contemporary Jews to reach new religious insights without necessarily being committed to the conventions of the past; regarding the ethical and moral values of Judaism as its true essence, while ritual and practical observance are means to achieve spiritual elation and not an end to themselves – and therefore, rejecting the binding nature of Jewish law; a belief in the coming of a Messianic era rather than a personal Messiah, and in immortality of the soul only, instead of bodily resurrection. Prayers referring to such concepts were omitted from the liturgy, and traditional practices abolished or altered considerably.[2]

Although the MRJ does subscribe to these views, held also by Liberal Judaism and the American Union for Reform Judaism, several factors made it more moderate and less prone to modify old forms. Its constituency was socially conservative and it attempted to appeal to potential newcomers from the Centrist Orthodox majority in British Jewry; renewed traditionalism by all WUPJ members since the 1970s also motivated the MRJ to adopt once discarded elements. Though the movement does not consider itself halakhic, it has been sometimes compared to American Conservative Judaism – the sociological functions of which as an "intermediate" movement it indeed filled, especially since the "Assembly of Masorti Synagogues" was only established in 1985 and is very small – while Liberals are more reminiscent of US Reform.[3][4]

Reform liturgy had always contained a high proportion of Hebrew or Aramaic, while the Liberals and American Reform abridged theirs and introduced much English.[5] Since the 1970s, formerly excised blessings (like those on phylacteries) were returned. The MRJ observes dietary laws and the Sabbath to a considerable degree in the public sphere. It has a get-like divorce document issued by its rabbinic court, and conversion requires circumcision by males and ablution by both sexes.[3] Egalitarianism did not become prevalent in most synagogues until the 2000s, although the first female rabbi, Jackie Tabick, was ordained in 1975. Mixed seating was only accepted just before and during World War II.[6]

Recognition of Jews by patrilineal descent was affirmed in 2015.[7] The MRJ currently ordains female and LGBT clergy, conducts LGBT marriages and has egalitarian services, counting women for Minyan and allowing them full participation. Girls have their bat mitzvah at 13, the same age as boys have their bar mitzvah. The MRJ is welcoming to non-Jewish spouses; while the Assembly maintains "clear opposition" to involvement in interfaith unions, since 2012 it allows rabbis to conduct celebratory events as long as the ceremony does not involve clergy or motifs from other religions, or conversely those of a Jewish wedding, like ritual canopy.[8]

Organisational structure[edit]

The MRJ had 40 congregations and two semi-affiliated synagogues in 2016. Of these 42 communities, 40 are located in England and 15 in Greater London. There is one congregation in Cardiff and one in Glasgow.[9] As of 2010, the MRJ had 16,125 member households, accounting for 19.4% of synagogue-affiliated Jewish families in Britain and roughly 14% of the total Jewish population.[10]

All of the synagogues are autonomous, owned and financed by their members who also hire their own local rabbi independently. All clergy are members of the MRJ's Assembly of Rabbis, which publishes Reform prayerbooks and determines policy in religious matters. The denomination is led by the Senior Rabbi, while the Chair of the Assembly represents and organises the rabbis. It maintains a rabbinical court (Beth Din), located at the Sternberg Centre in London. The Reform Beth Din's decisions are recognised worldwide by all WUPJ affiliates. Alongside the clergy, lay leadership is provided by a board of delegates, the chair of which represents the movement in the Board of Deputies.

The MRJ trains its clergy at the Leo Baeck College, London, which is shared with the Liberals and the Masorti Assembly. While the MRJ and British Liberal Judaism are both WUPJ affiliates and cooperate in many fields, such as outreach to the religiously non-active and interfaith families, the two stress that they "retain their autonomy and distinct identities".[11] Through its work for the welfare and development of young people, the Movement for Reform Judaism is a member of the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS).[12]

As of 2016, Senior Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner heads the movement,[13] which is chaired by Geoffrey Marx.[14] Rabbi Paul Friedman is chair of the movement's Assembly of Reform Rabbis and the Convenor of the Beth Din is Rabbi Jackie Tabick.[15] Sir Trevor Chinn is MRJ's president[16] and Sir Sigmund Sternberg is life president.

History[edit]

In the 1820s and 1830s, a small intellectual current arose in English Jewry, influenced by the Bibliocentric Anglican environment which laid great emphasis on the Bible alone, and scorned the Jews for valuing the Talmud. They were sometimes named "neo-Karaites", though their actual knowledge of Karaism was scant. Concurrently, wealthy members of the Sephardi Mocatta and Ashkenazi Goldsmid families, who were related by marriage, were complaining about lack of decorum and rigid regulations in the Bevis Marks and Great Synagogue of London, respectively. The Mocattas were forced to walk miles on the Sabbath as an old communal ordinance banned erecting prayer groups in a radius of ten miles from Bevis; Isaac Goldsmid vied for more clout with the wardens, and repeatedly protested against the protracted blessings for family members during services. They were also inclined to worship together. Eventually, a group of Mocattas, Goldsmids, Montefiores and other supporters withdrew from their two congregations on 15 April 1840, declaring their intention to found a house of worship for neither Sephardi nor Ashkenazi, but "British Jews". They appointed David Woolf Marks to lead services in their new West London Synagogue, dedicated on 27 January 1842. A former reader in Liverpool, he was deeply influenced by the "neo-Karaite" tendency and refused to cantillate the Torah on the second day of festivals, grounded only in rabbinic tradition. His stance suited the secessionists mainly on the practical level; Most never cared much for the bibliocentric issue, but were content to abolish the second day.

Although the term "Reform" was occasionally conferred on the congregation, Todd Endelman stressed that they were "unique and owed nothing" to the continental movement. Jakob Josef Petuchowski emphasised that Marks' philosophy was the polar opposite to that espoused by the German founding fathers of Reform Judaism. The latter regarded the Beatified Sages as geniuses and progressives who developed Rabbinic Law further. Marks granted the Written Torah alone divine status, refused to call himself rabbi but insisted on "reverend", and even translated the Kaddish into Hebrew, viewing Aramaic prayer as a later rabbinic corruption. In his new prayerbook and Passover Haggadah, he excised or reinstated various elements contrary to rabbinic tradition. Petitions for the Return to Zion under the Messiah and reinstitution of sacrifices, rejected by Continental Reform, did not concern the English at all.[17] West London was subject to a harsh denunciation and de-facto excommunication by Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell in 1842.

In 1856, tensions in Manchester were increasing, as many in the community sought greater autonomy from the authoritarian new Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler and regarded local Rabbi Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy with disfavour. On 25 March 1858 the dissident "Manchester Congregation of British Jews" was dedicated. They adopted Marks' prayerbook, but retained the second day of festivals. Their motives were far more political than principally religious. In 1872, a third English synagogue withdrew from Adler's jurisdiction, the Bradford Jewish Association. Unlike the rest, Bradford was clearly influenced by continental developments: the founders were mostly German Jews, as was their first rabbi, Joseph Strauss. The three breakaway congregations were neither organised together nor had a consistent religious philosophy. Marks' "neo-Karaism", which was never very important to ordinary constituents in West London, virtually died with him. His successor, Rabbi Morris Joseph, was dismissed by the Orthodox in 1890 for evincing doubt about the prayers concerning the sacrifices, but was of little conviction. His moderate style brought a rapprochement with the United Synagogue.

At the turn of the century, Claude Montefiore emerged as the most important religious philosopher among Anglo-Jewry. Montefiore, whose mother attended West London, studied at the Berlin Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums and was a disciple of the teachings of German Reformers Abraham Geiger and Samuel Holdheim. His Jewish Religious Union (JRU), antecedent of British Liberal Judaism, was as purist and radical as American Reform Judaism, if not exceeding it. He too emphasised the ethical aspects as the essence of religion, instituted drastic ritual reforms – over half of the Liberal liturgy was in English, men were bareheaded and sat together with women, practical observance was not only ignored by the public (as was the case in the United Synagogue, too) but officially discarded. While the three nonconformist synagogues did not emulate the JRU, it did influence them toward greater modifications, albeit yet inconsistent. In 1919, the St. George synagogue, appealing for unaffiliated East End Jews, was opened by Basil Henriques. It was alternatively sponsored by both West London and the Liberals.

The first of the three breakaway synagogues to adopt full-fledged Reform Judaism was West London. After the retirement of Rabbi Joseph in 1929, it hired Harold F Reinhart, a Hebrew Union College graduate who served as rabbi in several congregations of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Within a year, Reinhart brought the synagogue into the recently established World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), albeit retaining a relatively conservative ritual, consistent with the congregation's sensibilities. Though both were WUPJ affiliates, cooperation and competition alike characterised relations with the Liberal ULPS as a growing interest in non-Orthodox forms emerged among the wider public. A Glasgow printer named Samuel Ginsberg was impressed with what he saw in West London and opened the Glasgow Progressive Synagogue in 1932. In 1933, Reinhart sponsored the establishment of the North Western Reform Synagogue at Golders Green. In 1935, a group at Edgware seceded from the United Synagogue and formed the Edgware & District Reform Synagogue, again under West London's guidance.

A movement only arose with the arrival of some 40,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. While the worldwide Reform originated there, the nature of German communities limited what was known as "Liberal Judaism" to the status of a tendency within unified congregations which had to accommodate traditionalist members. German Liberals were relatively conservative (for example, maintaining mainly-Hebrew liturgy, head coverings for men and separate seating), and found the Liberal synagogues far too radical. The moderation of the independent nonconformist ones suited them better, and immigrants overwhelmed West London and the others. They also brought along a cadre of 35 Hochschule-trained rabbis, most prominently Ignaz Maybaum and Werner van der Zyl who were aided by Reinhart in finding new posts at Britain. Harmonising ritual and religious approach to a great measure, they made their loosely related communities quite uniform. One that remained independent and strongly clung to German Liberal worship was Belsize Square Synagogue.

On 4 January 1942, representatives from the West London, North Western, St. George Settlement, Glasgow, Manchester and Bradford synagogues met at the Midland Hotel, Manchester and founded the Associated British Synagogues, later renamed Associated Synagogues of Great Britain. The ASGB joined the WUPJ as a whole in 1945. In 1956, it cooperated with the ULPS to establish the Leo Baeck College for training rabbis.[18] In 1958, it adopted the name Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, which would last until 2005.

Notable Reform rabbis[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cohen, Justin (30 June 2005). "RSGB Opts For Name Change". TotallyJewish.com. Retrieved 6 July 2016. 
  2. ^ Romain, Jonathan (2004). Reform Judaism and Modernity: A Reader, SCM Press. Respectively, for each sentence: pp. 145; 128; xviii, 222; 195; 9. See also: Romain, Jonathan, Reform Judaism, Religions, BBC website, 13 August 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  3. ^ a b Parsons, Gerald (ed.) (1993) The Growth of Religious Diversity: Britain from 1945 – Volume I: Traditions: Traditions Vol 1, Psychology Press. pp. 110–113. ISBN 978-0415083263; Romain, Jonathan, 150 Years of Progressive Judaism in Britain: 1840–1990, London Museum of Jewish Life, 1990. pp. 39–45.
  4. ^ Romain, Reform Judaism and Modernity, p. 285.
  5. ^ Meyer, Michael A. (2001) Judaism Within Modernity: Essays on Jewish History and Religion, Wayne State University Press, p. 317.
  6. ^ Romain, 150 Years, p. 44.
  7. ^ Lewis, Jerry (17 July 2015). "UK Reform rabbis accept patrilineal descent". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 19 July 2015. 
  8. ^ Rocker, Simon (26 July 2012). "Interfaith couples could marry in shul". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 6 December 2015. 
  9. ^ "Our communities". Movement for Reform Judaism. Retrieved 16 February 2016. 
  10. ^ Graham, David; Vulkan, Daniel (2010). Synagogue Membership in the United Kingdom in 2010, Board of Deputies of British Jews.
  11. ^ "Liberal and Reform together launch alliance for Progressive Judaism" (Press release). Movement for Reform Judaism. 17 September 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2016. 
  12. ^ "Members". National Council for Voluntary Youth Services. Retrieved 3 January 2016. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ "Geoffrey Marx elected as Reform Judaism Chair" (Press release). Movement for Reform Judaism. 27 June 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  15. ^ Rocker, Simon (23 February 2012). "Tabick achieves another first at Reform Beit Din". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2 November 2012. 
  16. ^ "Sir Trevor Chinn succeeds Rabbi Professor Tony Bayfield as Reform Judaism President" (Press release). Movement for Reform Judaism. 27 June 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2016. 
  17. ^ Endelman, Todd M., The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000, University of California Press, 2002. pp. 108-115; Petuchowski, J. J. Karaite Tendencies in an Early Reform Haggadah, HUC Annual, 1960.
  18. ^ Romain, Jonathan (2006). "50 Years: An Overview". History. Leo Baeck College. Retrieved 4 April 2013. 
  19. ^ Rocker, Simon (8 July 2013). "Moving chairs as Reform changes leading posts". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 6 December 2015. 

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]