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Pittsburgh Platform

The Pittsburgh Platform was a formulation of principles agreed upon by the Reform movement in 1885 at the Pittsburgh Conference. The conference was called together by Kaufmann *Kohler of New York and was chaired by Isaac M. *Wise of Cincinnati, the foremost figure in *Reform Judaism. The Pittsburgh Platform symbolized the merger of the Eastern U.S. and Germanic-oriented wings of Reform Judaism. The Eastern wing had previously been led by David *Einhorn, Kohler's father-in-law; Wise led the Germanic-oriented wing, which was stronger in the western U.S.

The following points were agreed upon and became known as the Pittsburgh Platform:

First – We recognize in every religion an attempt to grasp the Infinite, and in every mode, source, or book or revelation held sacred in any religious system, the consciousness of the indwelling of God in man. We hold that Judaism presents the highest conception of the God idea as taught in our holy Scriptures and developed and spiritualized by the Jewish teachers, in accordance with the moral and philosophical progress of their respective ages. We maintain that Judaism preserved and defended, midst continual struggles and trials and under enforced isolation, this God idea as the central religious truth for the human race.

Second – We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as priest of the one God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domains of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clothing its conception of Divine Providence and justice, dealing with man in miraculous narratives.

Third – We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only the moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.

Fourth – We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress, originated in ages and under the influence of ideas altogether foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.

Fifth – We recognize, in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching of the realization of Israel's great messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.

Sixth – We recognize in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason. We are convinced of the utmost necessity of preserving the historical identity with our great past. Christianity and Islam being daughter religions of Judaism, we appreciate their providential mission to aid in the spreading of monotheistic and moral truth. We acknowledge that the spirit of broad humanity of our age is our ally in the fulfillment of our mission, and therefore, we extend the hand of fellowship to all who operate with us in the establishment of the reign of truth and righteousness among men.

Seventh – We reassert the doctrine of Judaism, that the soul of man is immortal, grounding this belief on the divine nature of the human spirit, which forever finds bliss in righteousness and misery in wickedness. We reject as ideas not rooted in Judaism the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and in Gehenna and Eden (Hell and Paradise) as abodes for everlasting punishment or reward.

Eighth – In full accordance with the spirit of Mosaic legislation, which strives to regulate the relation between rich and poor, we deem it our duty to participate in the great task of modern times, to solve on the basis of justice and righteousness, the problems presented by the contrasts and evils of the present organization of society.

At its founding in 1889, the *Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Reform rabbinical organization, adopted the platform in toto, and it remained the major statement of the basic tenets of Reform Judaism until its extensive revision by the CCAR in Columbus, Ohio, in 1937.

An examination of the platform indicates its religious optimism. It is prepared to accept the legitimacy of other religious perspectives; all religions have some truth, but Judaism has the highest truth. It places its emphasis on the Bible – in contrast to the Talmud – but the Bible is described not as divine revelation but as the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission. The third element of the platform affirms the moral codes of Jewish tradition but discards the obligations of non-moral, ritual dimensions of the tradition. It treats laws as utilitarian; modernity becomes the key to the acceptance of laws. The fourth principle rejects halakhic restrictions on diet, priestly purity, and dress. Again, modern sensibility becomes the standard. The fifth principle embraces modernity as the realization of Israel's dream of a messianic age, rejecting the return to Zion and the restoration of sacrifice. "We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community." These words reject Jewish peoplehood, the essence of the Zionist vision. Principle six regards Judaism as being in accord with reason and rejects the non-rational in religious life. The seventh principle rejects bodily resurrection and a belief in heaven and hell as alien imports into Judaism. And the final element of the platform asserts the agenda of religious liberalism, working for justice and righteousness.

These principles defined Reform Judaism for almost half a century and distinguished it from Orthodox Judaism and Conservative Judaism as well as from Zionism. The Pittsburgh Platform is often referred to as Classical Reform Judaism. Reform rabbis, even leaders of the movement, did not necessarily adhere to these principles. Many were more Zionist in their orientation. Some were more observant, but it gave an ethos to the movement, one that was significantly rejected in 1937 with the Columbus Platform and by generations thereafter.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.