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Reform Judaism:
The Tenets of Reform Judaism


Reform Judaism: Table of Contents | History & Overview | Tenets of Reform


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Reform 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.

- Stimulus to Reform
- Origins
- Fundamental Principles
- The Authority of the Torah
- Belief in God
- Who is a Jew?
- Conversion
- Intermarriage
- Divorce
- The Messiah
- Shabbat
- Kashrut
- Liturgy
- Rosh Hashanah
- Views on Homosexuality
- Abortion
- Organizational Structure

Stimulus to Reform

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 they wanted.

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 the Shulchan Aruch.

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.

Origins

The roots of Reform/Liberal/Progressive Judaism lie in Germany, 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 in 1873.
  • Found Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati in 1875.
  • Found the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1889.

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 Platform.

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...."

Fundamental Principles

Although Reform does not have a mandated laundry list of "fundamental principles," concepts and principles that characterize much of the Reform movement include:

  • 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 and extension.
  • 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.

The 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 Jewish communities.

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 medieval Europe.

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.

Belief in God

Reform Judaism believes in God. This belief has been demonstrated from the earliest days of the movement; specifically, the Pittsburgh 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."

Who 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 resolution:

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 be Jewish.

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."

Conversion

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 people.

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.

Intermarriage

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.

Divorce

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.

The Messiah

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.

Shabbat

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.

Kashrut

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 nonobservance.

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 of kashrut:

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 lives.

Liturgy

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 of angels).

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.

Rosh Hashanah

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.

Views on Homosexuality

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 this relationship.

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 inclusive language.

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 its provisions.

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 families.

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.

Abortion

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 an abortion.

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 demand."

Organizational Structure

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" Judaism.

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

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