The Tenets of Reform Judaism
Judaism is the most liberal of the major movements
within Judaism today.
It started in the 1800s in Germany during the emancipation and encouraged the examination
of religion with an eye toward rationality and egalitarianism.
Reform Judaism differs from the other major movements
in that it views both the Oral and Written laws as a product of human hands (specifically, it views
the Torah as divinely inspired, but written in the language
of the time in which it was given). The laws reflect
their times, but contain many timeless truths. The Reform
movement stresses retention of the key principles of
Judaism. As for practice, it strongly recommends individual
study of the traditional practices; however, the adherent
is free to follow only those practices that increase
the sanctity of their relationship to God.
Reform Judaism also stresses equality between the sexes.
Reform Judaism shares the universal Jewish emphasis
on learning, duty and obligation, rather than creed
as the primary expression of a religious life. Reform
stresses that ethical responsibilities, personal and
social, are enjoined by God. Reform also believes that
our ethical obligations are but a beginning; they extend
to many other aspects of Jewish living, including creating
a Jewish home centered on family devotion; lifelong
study; private prayer and public worship; daily religious
observance; keeping the Sabbath and the holy days; celebrating the major events of life;
involvement with the synagogue and community and other activities that promote the
survival of the Jewish people and enhance its existence.
Within each aspect of observance, Reform Judaism demands
that Jews confront the claims of Jewish tradition, however
differently perceived, and exercise their individual
autonomy based, as the Shema says, upon reason, heart and strength choosing
and creating their holiness as people and as community.
The requirement for commitment and knowledge is repeatedly
emphasized. A Reform Jew who determines their practice
based on convenience alone is not acting in accordance
with the recommended position of Reform Judaism. Reform
also rejects the faith tenets of other religions as
a matter of first principles.
- The Authority
of the Torah
- Belief in God
- Who is a Jew?
- Rosh Hashanah
- Views on Homosexuality
Reform Judaism was born at the time of the French Revolution,
a time when European Jews were (for the first time),
recognized as citizens of the countries in which they
lived. Ghettos were being abolished, special badges
were no more, people could settle where they pleased,
dress as they liked and follow the occupations that
Many Jews settled outside of Jewish districts and began
to live like their neighbors and speak the language
of the land. They went to public schools and universities,
and began to neglect Jewish studies and to disregard
In 1815, after Napoleon's defeat, Jews lost the rights
of citizenship in many countries. Many Jews became Christians
to retain those rights. Many thoughtful Jews were concerned
about this. They realized that many of these changes
took place not because of a dislike of Judaism,
but to obtain better treatment. Many rabbis believed
that the way to address this was to force Jews to keep
away from Christians and give up public schools and
universities. This didn't work.
Leopold Zunz proposed something else. He suggested
that Jews study their history and learn of the great
achievements of the past. While Zunz was implementing
his ideas, a movement began to make religious services
better understood, by incorporating music and the local
language. However, these changes led to battles with
the local rabbis,
who urged the government to close the test synagogue.
Shortly after the closing, Rabbi Abraham Geiger suggested
that observance might also be changed to appeal to modern
people. Geiger, a skilled scholar in both Tanach and
German studies, investigated Jewish history and discovered
that Jewish life had continually changed. Every now
and then, old practices were changed and new ones introduced,
resulting in a Jewish life that was quite different
from that lived 4,000 or even 2,000 years before. He
noticed that these changes often made it easier for
Jews to live in accordance with Judaism. Geiger concluded
that this process of change needed to continue to make
Judaism attractive to all Jews. He met with other Rabbis
in Germany, and changes were made.
The roots of Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism lie
where, between 1810 and 1820, congregations in Seesen,
Hamburg and Berlin instituted fundamental changes in traditional Jewish
practices and beliefs, such as mixed seating, the use
of German in services, single-day observance of festivals
and the use of a cantor/choir.
American Reform Judaism began as these German "reformers"
immigrated to America in the mid-1800s. Reform rapidly
became the dominant belief system of American Jews of
the time. It was a national phenomenon. The first "Reform"
group was formed by individuals who split from Congregation
Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina.
Reform Judaism in America benefitted from the lack
of a central religious authority. It also was molded
by Rabbi Isaac Mayer
Wise. Rabbi Wise came to the U.S. in 1846 from Bohemia,
spent eight years in Albany, NY, and then moved to Cincinnati
on the edge of the frontier. He then proceeded to:
- Write the first siddur edited for American worshipers, Minhag American (1857).
- Found the Union of American Hebrew Congregations
- Found Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1875.
- Found the Central Conference of American Rabbis
Early Reform Judaism, led
by Rabbis such as David Einhorn of Baltimore,
Samuel Holdheim, Bernard Felsenthal and Kaufmann
Kohler, took an increasingly radical stance.
Many rituals and customs were dropped, some
congregations held "Shabbat" on
Sunday. This early radicalism was mentioned
in the 1885 Pittsburgh
By 1880, more than 90% of American synagogues were
Reform. This was the time of the major Eastern European
immigration, which was heavily Orthodox and non-German,
as contrasted with the strongly German Reform movement.
Many Reform congregations of this time were difficult
to distinguish from neighboring Protestant churches,
with preachers in robes, pews with mixed seating, choirs,
organs and hymnals. Although early Reform dropped quite
a bit of traditional prayers and rituals, there was
still a "bottom line." In 1909, the CCAR formally
declared its opposition to intermarriage. And, although
decried as "archaic" and "barbarian,"
the practice of circumcision remained a central rite.
By 1935, Reform had started to return to a more traditional
approach to Judaism distinctly Jewish and distinctly
American, but also distinctively non-Christian.
Reform Judaism pioneered a number of Jewish organizations,
such as the Educational Alliance on the Lower East Side
of New York, the Young Men's Hebrew Association, the
American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League
of B'nai Brith.
Early Reform Judaism was also Anti-Zionist, believing
the Diaspora was necessary for Jews to be a "light
unto the nations." Nevertheless, a number of Reform
rabbis were pioneers in establishing Zionism in America, such as Gustav and Richard Gottheil, Rabbi
Steven S. Wise (founder of the American Jewish Congress)
and Justice Louis
Brandeis. Following the Balfour
Declaration, the Reform movement began to support
Jewish settlements in Palestine, as well as institutions
such as Hadassah Hospital and the Hebrew University.
In 1937, the Columbus
Platform affirmed "the obligation of all Jewry
to aid in building a Jewish homeland...."
Although Reform does not have a mandated laundry list
of "fundamental principles," concepts and
principles that characterize much of the Reform movement
- Belief in God as defined in the Shema.
- Belief that the Torah was written by human hands, in the language of its
time, with divine inspiration.
- Belief in the rationality of humanity.
- Belief that the process of reinterpretation of the
Torah to the language of today is ongoing, and that
every Jew has a stake and a role in that restatement
- Belief in egalitarianism (equal treatment of the
sexes) wherever possible.
- Belief in the strong moral and social action commitment
inherent in the Torah and embodied in the concept
of Tikkun Olam, rebuilding the world.
Authority of the Torah
The 1937 Columbus
Platform of Reform Jewry expressed the
position that the Torah results from the relationship between God and the Jewish people. The records of our
earliest confrontations are uniquely important
to us. Lawgivers and prophets, historians
and poets gave us a heritage whose study is
a religious imperative and whose practice
is our chief means to holiness. Rabbis and
teachers, philosophers and mystics, gifted
Jews in every age amplified the Torah tradition.
For millennia, the creation of the Torah has
not ceased and Jewish creativity in our time
is adding to the chain of tradition.
The platform went on to say that God is revealed not
only in the majesty, beauty and orderliness of nature,
but also in the vision and moral striving of the human
spirit. Revelation is a continuous process, confined
to no one group and to no one age. Yet, the people of
Israel, through its prophets and sages, achieved unique
insight in the realm of religious truth. The Torah,
both written and oral, enshrines Israel's ever-growing
consciousness of God and of the moral law. It preserves
the historical precedents, sanctions and norms of Jewish
life, and seeks to mold it in the patterns of goodness
and of holiness. Being products of historical processes,
certain of its laws have lost their binding force with
the passing of the conditions that called them forth.
But as a repository of permanent spiritual ideals, the
Torah remains the dynamic source of life of Israel.
Each age has the obligation to adapt the teachings of
the Torah to its basic needs in consonance with the
genius of Judaism.
Reform Judaism views the rabbinic past as a historical
development. The "Oral
Law" is not seen as divinely given at Sinai,
but rather as a reflection of Judaism's historic development
and encounter with God in each succeeding generation.
In this, Reform follows Zunz, Geiger, Frankel, Graetz,
and others in viewing God working through human agents.
Reform believes that each generation has produced capable
and religiously inspired teachers (this means that Reform
rejects the often expressed view that assigns greater
holiness to those who lived in the past). Some individuals
of our generation may equal or exceed those of the past.
Historical and sociological studies of the rabbinic
literature during the last two centuries have illuminated
it. Reform Judaism views this vast literature as the
product of the human reaction to varying needs motivated
by religious thought and the divine impulse. Reform
Judaism feels no necessity to justify each segment of
the literature in terms of every other portion as done
through hidushim and pilpul. Reform
sees the differences among Talmudic and later authorities as reflections of particular points
of view, different understandings of the divine mandate,
as well as the needs of specific groups within their
When Reform Judaism analyzes each period of history,
it discovers different strands in the halachah.
These appear both in the decisions and underlying philosophy.
Traditional Judaism has chosen a single path and rejected
the others, but we recall the existence of the other
paths and the fact that they were suggested and followed
by loyal Jews in the past. Reform Judaism feels that
diversity has always been the hallmark of our literature
and our people. Thus, when Reform finds itself facing
new situations, it turns both to the mainstream of rabbinic
thought as well as its divergent paths for halakhic guidance. In Reform's view, the halachah is
a vast repository whose old debates are often relevant
to new situations.
Sometimes the solutions of Reform Judaism may parallel
those of past generations. On other occasions, Reform
diverges from them. Through this effort, Reform Judaism
seeks solutions for generations living in lands distant
and distinct from those of the ancient Near East or
Reform Judaism recognizes that not every question can
be resolved by reviewing the rabbinic literature; in
some instances, totally new legislation is appropriate.
That may be buttressed by rabbinic precedent.
Reform Judaism believes
in God. This belief has been demonstrated
from the earliest days of the movement; specifically,
Platform in 1885, which said, "We
hold that Judaism presents the highest concept
of the God-idea as taught in our holy Scriptures."
It was reaffirmed in 1937 in the Columbus
Platform: "The heart of Judaism and
its chief contribution to religion is the
doctrine of the One, living God, who rules
the world through law and love." It was
reaffirmed yet again in 1976: "The affirmation
of God has always been essential to our people's
will to survive."
is a Jew?
Reform's position is that the same requirements must
be applied to establish the status of the child of a
mixed (interfaith) marriage, regardless of whether the
mother or the father is Jewish. Therefore, in 1983, the CCAR issued the following
The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares
that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption
of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status
of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established
through appropriate and timely public and formal acts
of identification with the Jewish faith and people.
The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both
parent and child, to Jewish life.
Mitzvot leading toward a positive and exclusive
Jewish identity will include entry into the covenant,
acquisition of a Hebrew name, Torah study, bar/bat
mitzvah, and Kabbalat Torah (Confirmation).
For those beyond childhood claiming Jewish identity,
other public acts or declarations may be added or substituted
after consultation with their rabbi.
Note that this decision is sometimes called the "Patrilineal
Descent" decision, although it does not say
that Patrilineal Descent, as opposed to the more traditional
Matrilineal Descent, is used. Rather, it says that a
child of an interfaith couple must be raised with a
continuing and positive association with Judaism to
If you examine the Report of the Committee on Patrilineal
Descent on the Status of Children of Mixed Marriages,
you will see that, for the child of an interfaith marriage,
merely having a Jewish parent is insufficient to make
the child Jewish. Rather, the decision states that having
only one Jewish parent gives the child a "presumption"
of Jewish descent. The Jewish status, however, must
be established through "appropriate and timely
public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish
faith and people."
Reform Judaism welcomes all sincere converts without regard to racial or national origin or to their
former religious faith. In Reform Judaism, it is sufficient
for the prospective convert (ger) to declare,
orally and in writing, in the presence of a rabbi and
no less than two lay leaders of the congregation and
community, acceptance of the Jewish faith and the intention
to live in accordance with its mitzvot. This
declaration takes place after a preparatory period of
study. The length of the period of preparation is determined
by the rabbi, taking into consideration the time needed
by the candidate for conversion to obtain the necessary
understanding and appreciation of Judaism to make a
free-will decision with respect to their acceptance
of the Jewish faith and identification with the Jewish
Reform recommends that the period of study be reinforced
by requiring and assisting the prospective convert's
active participation in the various celebrations, observances,
and worship services of Judaism and the Jewish people.
It recommends that regular attendance at synagogue worship,
as well as evidence of concern for Jewish values and
causes in the home and community, should be required.
The intent of this is to enable the rabbi and their
associates to satisfy themselves not only that the candidate
has a sufficient knowledge of Judaism, but, of even
greater importance, that the candidate is a person of
sincere and responsible character, who is genuinely
desirous of making a wholehearted commitment to synagogue
affiliation and to the Jewish faith and people.
Reform does not require male converts to undergo b'rit
milah (circumcision) or hatafat dam b'rit (the drawing of blood); nor does it require converts
to have tevilah (ritual immersion). However,
it recognizes that there are social, psychological,
and religious values associated with these rituals,
and it recommends that the rabbi acquaint prospective gerim with the halakhic background and rationale for b'rit milah, hatafat dam b'rit, and tevilah, and offer
them the opportunity, if they so desire, to observe
these additional rites.
The biggest difference between Reform and Orthodox
conversion is implicit. Both conversions require acceptance
of the yoke of the mitzvot. However, the interpretation
of that phrase differs substantially from Orthodoxy
(where it implies acceptance of the authority of Rabbinic
law as well as all 613
commandments as written) to Reform (where it is
autonomy and choice based on study). Other than that,
Reform has different requirements for witnesses. Reform
in the United States does not require ritual immersion,
and does not mandate b'rit mila for males (although
it is strongly recommended); Reform in Canada and Israel
require both milah/hatafah and tevilah.
In 1909 the CCAR held that intermarriage (interfaith
marriage) is "contrary to the traditions of the
Jewish religion." The same position was restated
in 1947, and amplified in 1973, when a substantial majority
at the CCAR Convention in Atlanta declared its opposition
to participation by its members "in any ceremony
which solemnizes a mixed marriage."
Most rabbis justify their refusal to officiate at interfaith
weddings by arguing that the Jewish conception of marriage
is that of a covenant between two Jews. However, in
the United States, there are a number of Reform rabbis
who perform such ceremonies, under the belief that it
is better to not create an atmosphere of rejection,
which can only serve to turn away and alienate the Jewish
partner. If the Judaism of the Jewish partner is strong,
the non-Jewish partner is often turned toward Judaism
and the children are raised Jewish.
Reform Judaism has made provisions for families of
mixed marriages and their children. Such families are
welcomed in Reform congregations, and Reform Judaism
continues to urge them to convert to Judaism. The conference
resolution of 1973 succinctly summarizes the position
of Reform Judaism:
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, recalling
its stand adopted in 1909 that "mixed marriage
is contrary to the Jewish tradition and should be discouraged,"
now declares its opposition to participation by its
members in any ceremony which solemnizes a mixed marriage.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis makes no
provision for a religious divorce,
and civil divorce is recognized as dissolving a marriage
by most Reform Rabbis. Note that even if Reform were
to introduce its own get, it would likely not
be recognized by traditional Judaism as valid. However,
many Reform Rabbis, if asked, would advise the couple
regarding obtaining a get, and would likely
direct them to the appropriate community organizations
that could help them.
Although Reform does not believe in the concept of
a personal messiah,
it does believe in the concept of a messianic age. There
are individual Reform Jews who believe in resurrection
"m'chayey meytim;" however, the Reform
movement does not have any creed which would require
such a belief. By changing m'chayey meytim to the more generic m'chayey ha-kol, the Amidah
becomes equivocal. This allows the believer in resurrection
to understand the prayer as resurrection while allowing
those with the more conventional Reform belief to relate
to the prayer with intellectual integrity.
Gates of the Seasons, the American Reform
Movement's guide to the Jewish year, views Shabbat as a unique Jewish contribution to civilization, and
a central activity to surviving the forces of assimilation
and corruption. As such, it calls out the following mitzvot for Reform Jews:
The mitzvah of Shabbat observance. It is a mitzvah for every Jew, single or married, young
or old, to observe Shabbat. The unique status of Shabbat
is demonstrated by its being the only one of the holy
days to be mentioned in the Ten
Commandments.... Shabbat observance involves both
positive and negative mitzvot, i.e., doing
and refraining from doing.
The mitzvah of joy. It is a mitzvah to take delight in Shabbat observance, as Isaiah said,
"You shall call Shabbat a delight." Oneg implies celebration and relaxation, sharing time with
loved ones, enjoying the beauty of nature, eating a
leisurely meal made special with conviviality and song,
visiting with friends and relatives, taking a leisurely
stroll, reading and listening to music.
The mitzvah of sanctification. It is a mitzvah to hallow Shabbat by setting it apart from the other
days of the week.... Shabbat must be distinguished from
the other days of the week so that those who observe
it may be transformed by its holiness.
The mitzvah of rest. It is a mitzvah to rest on Shabbat. However, Shabbat rest (menuchah)
implies much more than refraining from work. The concept
of Shabbat rest includes both physical relaxation and
tranquility of mind and spirit. On Shabbat, one deliberately
turns away from weekday pressures and activities.
The mitzvah of refraining from work. It is
a mitzvah to refrain from work on Shabbat...Abstinence
from work is a major expression of Shabbat observance;
however, it is no simple matter to define work today.
Certain activities that some do to earn a living, others
do for relaxation or to express their creativity. Clearly,
though, one should avoid one's normal occupation or
profession on Shabbat whenever possible and engage only
in those types of activities that enhance the joy, rest
and holiness of the day.
Gates of Mitzvah, a guide to mitzvot in a Reform context, states regarding kashrut:
Many Reform Jews observe certain traditional disciplines
as part of their attempt to establish a Jewish home
and lifestyle. For some, traditional kashrut will enhance the sanctity of the home and be observed
as a mitzvah; for some, a degree of kashrut (e.g., the avoidance of pork products and/or shellfish)
may be meaningful; and still others may find nothing
of value in kashrut. However, the fact that kashrut was an essential feature of Jewish
life for so many centuries should motivate the Jewish
family to study it and to consider whether or not it
may enhance the sanctity of their home.
The basic Reform philosophy is that it is a Reform
Jew's responsibility to study and consider kashrut so as to develop a valid personal position. For although
"classic" Reform Judaism did reject kashrut (as noted in the Pittsburgh
Platform of 1885), it did not prevent Reform Jews
and Reform congregations from adopting and observing
the dietary laws.
In attempting to evolve a position on kashrut,
a Reform Jew has several options, for example, abstention
from pork/shellfish products, not mixing meat and milk,
etc. They might observe the laws at home, but not when
eating out, or they might observe them all the time.
They might eat only kosher meat, or might become vegetarians
in consonance with the principle of tzaar baalei
chayim--prevention of pain or cruelty to animals.
The range of options is from full observance to total
The Torah commands Jews to observe the dietary laws
as a means of making it kadosh--holy. Holiness
has the dual sense of inner hallowing and outer separateness.
There are many reasons that Reform Jews adopt some form
1. Identification and solidarity with worldwide Judaism.
2. The ethical discipline of avoiding certain foods
or limiting one's appetite because of the growing scarcity
of food in parts of the world.
3. The avoidance of certain foods traditionally obnoxious
to Jews, providing a sense of identification with past
generations and their struggle to remain Jews.
4. The authority of ancient biblical and rabbinic injunctions.
5. The desire to have a home in which any Jew can eat.
One or more of these reasons (or perhaps another reason)
might lead a Reform Jew to adopt some form of kashrut.
Others might still choose to not observe kashrut.
But given the central nature of kashrut to
traditional practice, Reform Jews are encouraged to
study it and consider carefully whether it would add kedushah, sanctity, to their home and their
The Reform Movement has repeatedly revised the traditional liturgy to shorten the service by dispensing with some of the
repetitions (for example, there is only one Reader's Kaddish),
and to bring the doctrinal content of the liturgy into
accord with Reform thought by omitting or recasting
passages expressive of beliefs that are not part of
Reform (e.g., a personal Messiah as distinct from a messianic age, resurrection of the
dead, restoration of the sacrificial cult and the existence
As an example of this, consider the Shema and Tefillah.
Traditionally, the Shema consists of three Scriptural passages: Deut.
6.4-9, Deut. 11.13-21,
and Num. 15:37-41.
In Reform siddurs, the second paragraph is
often omitted because of the doctrine of retribution,
and the third because of the commandment regarding fringes.
Reform does include Num.
15.40f. With respect to the Tefillah,
there are more significant changes. The Tefillah traditionally consists of 18 benedictions, to which,
perhaps in the 2nd or 3rd century CE, a 19th was added.
It can be broken into three parts: the first three benedictions,
an intermediate thirteen benedictions and a final three
benedictions. These are traditionally said three times
daily, and appear (in a modified form) in the weekday
service in the Reform siddur (although most
Reform congregations do not hold weekday services, there
are congregations and study groups that do, and hence,
a service is provided for them). On Shabbat and on festivals,
only the first three and the last three are said; the
intermediate benedictions are replaced by ones peculiar
to the appropriate day.
In North America, some Reform congregations do observe
two days of Rosh
Hashana; however, the general trend is to only observe
one. Two days was the custom in the diaspora, where
it was difficult to determine with accuracy the first
day. Given current time determination techniques, most
congregations today observe only one day. In Israel,
the Progressive Movement observes two days, based on
the fact that the holiday is referred to as yamim
nora'im, the Days of Awe.
The following is a resolution from the Central Conference
of American Rabbis with respect to homosexual marriage:
Judaism places great emphasis on family, children,
and the future, which is assured by a family. However
we may understand homosexuality--whether as an illness,
as a genetically based dysfunction or as a sexual preference
and lifestyle--we cannot accommodate the relationship
of two homosexuals as a "marriage" within
the context of Judaism,
for none of the elements of kiddushin (sanctification)
normally associated with marriage can be invoked for
However, the Reform movement in general is supportive
of homosexuals (the individuals), even though it may
not encourage the lifestyle. This is demonstrated in
the following statements from the UAHC in 1977:
... resolved that homosexual persons are entitled to
equal protection under the law. We oppose discrimination
against homosexuals in areas of opportunity, including
employment and housing. We call upon our society to
see that such protection is provided in actuality.
... resolved that we affirm our belief that private
sexual act between consenting adults are not the proper
province of government and law enforcement agencies.
... resolved that we urge congregations to conduct
appropriate educational programming for youth and adults
so as to provide greater understanding of relation of
Jewish values to the range of human sexuality.
In 1987, the UAHC resolved that it would urge its congregations
and affiliates to:
1. Encourage lesbian and gay Jews to share and participate
in worship, leadership and general congregational life
of all synagogues.
2. Continue to develop educational programs in the
synagogue and community which promote understanding
and respect for lesbians and gays.
3. Employ people without regard to sexual orientation.
4. Urge the Commission on Social Action to bring its
recommendations to the next General Assembly after considering
the report of the CCAR committee and any action of the
CCAR pursuant to it.
5. Urge the Committee on Liturgy to formulate liturgically
Then, in 1989, UAHC resolved to:
1. Reaffirm its 1987 resolution and call upon all departments
of the UAHC and our member congregations to fully implement
2. Embark upon a movement-wide program of heightened
awareness and education to achieve the fuller acceptance
of gay and lesbian Jews in our midst.
3. Urge our member congregations to welcome gay and
lesbian Jews to membership, as singles, couples and
4. Commend the CCAR for its sensitive and thorough
efforts to raise the consciousness of the rabbinate
regarding homosexuality. We urge the CCAR to pursue
its own mandate with vigor and complete its tasks as
soon as possible in order to respond to the communal
and spiritual aspirations of gay and lesbian Jews.
The Reform Movement has had a long history of liberalism
on many social and family matters. Reform feels that
the pattern of tradition, until the most recent generation,
has demonstrated a liberal approach to abortion and
has definitely permitted it in case of any danger to
the life of the mother. That danger may be physical
or psychological. When this occurs at any time during
the pregnancy, Reform Judaism would not hesitate to
permit an abortion.
This would also include cases of incest and rape if
the mother wishes to have an abortion.
Twentieth century medicine has brought a greater understanding
of the fetus, and it is now possible to discover major
problems in the fetus quite early in the pregnancy.
Some genetic defects can be discovered shortly after
conception and more research will make such techniques
widely available. It is, of course, equally true that
modern medicine has presented ways of keeping babies
with very serious problems alive, frequently in a vegetative
state, which brings great misery to the family involved.
Such problems, as those caused by Tay Sachs and other
degenerative or permanent conditions which seriously
endanger the life of the child and potentially the mental
health of the mother, are indications for permitting
Reform Judaism agrees with the traditional authorities
that abortions should be approached cautiously throughout
the life of the fetus. Most authorities would be least
hesitant during the first forty days of the fetus' life
(Yeb. 69b; Nid. 30b; M. Ker. 1.1; Shulhan Arukah Hoshen Mishpat 210.2; Solomon
Skola, Bet Shelomo, Hoshen Mishpat 132; Joseph Trani, Responsa Maharit 1.99, Noam 9 pp 213ff, etc.). Even the strict Rabbi Unterman permits
non-Jews to perform abortions within the forty day periods
(Rabbi Unterman, op. cit., pp 8ff).
From forty days until twenty-seven weeks, the fetus
possesses some status, but its future remains doubtful
(goses biydei adam; San. 78a; Nid 44b and commentaries) as we are not sure of this viability.
Reform Judaism must, therefore, be more certain of the
grounds for abortion, but would still permit it.
It is clear from all of this that the traditional authorities
would be most lenient with abortions within the first
forty days. After that time, there is a difference of
opinion. Those who are within the broadest range of
permissibility permit abortion at any time before birth,
if there is serious danger to the health of the mother
or child. Reform Judaism does not encourage abortion,
nor favor it for trivial reasons, or sanction it "on
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) was
founded in 1873 by Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, and serves
as the umbrella organization for Reform Synagogues throughout
North America. It is part of the World Union for Progressive
Judaism, which encompasses Liberal/Progressive/Reform
congregations on every continent.
The UAHC funds a seminary system for Reform Judaism:
the Hebrew Union College--Jewish Institute for Religion.
HUC was founded in 1875, and it now has campuses in
Cincinnati, Ohio; New York City, New York; Los Angeles,
California and Jerusalem.
UAHC works with a number of professional organizations:
The CCAR or Central Conference of American Rabbis (founded
in 1889). Its members are the body of rabbis who consider
themselves, and are considered to be, the organized
rabbinate of Reform Judaism. Its members consist of
Reform rabbis ordained at the Hebrew Union College (HUC),
as well as Reform rabbis ordained at liberal seminaries
in Europe, and some rabbis who joined the Reform movement
subsequent to ordination (most of these were ordained
either at Conservative Judaism's Jewish Theological
Seminary, the University of Judaism or at the Reconstructionist
Rabbinical College). Note that not all HUC graduates
are CCAR members; some leave for ideological reasons
or because they have joined a different movement.
The world organization for Reform Judaism is the World
Union for Progressive Judaism, which is headquartered
in Jerusalem. Outside of North America, Reform is also
known as "Progressive" or "Liberal"
Progressive Jewish congregations are to be found throughout
the Jewish world, from Europe to Asia, from South America
to India and from Africa to Australasia. In Israel,
in addition to urban congregations, there are also two
Progressive kibbutzim and a Progressive village settlement.
Sources: Adapted from Shamash