Reform Judaism: Beliefs & History

Instructor: Jade Mazarin

Jade is a board certified Christian counselor with an MA in Marriage and Family Therapy, and a certification in Natural Health. She is also a freelance writer on emotional health and spirituality.

In this lesson, we will define Reform Judaism. We will examine its similarities and differences compared to traditional Judaism, and how it came into existence in the early 19th century. We will also look at its foundational beliefs.

What is Reform Judaism?

Reform Judaism is a more liberal form of the Jewish religion. Those who follow it don't necessarily adhere to the rituals and laws that formed the basis of Judaism. While they continue to attend synagogues for more modern worship services, Reform Jews don't have any daily behaviors that set them apart from people of other faiths.

The History

It all began in the early 19th century in Germany. After years of isolation, the Jewish people had just emerged back into society. Until then, they had been discriminated against, sent to live in ghettos, and ruled by laws that prevented them from taking an active part in public life. However, after the Napoleonic wars, these obstacles that kept Jews separated were demolished. 

As they entered into society, Jews were confronted with many opportunities to learn, encounter modern information, and interact with other faiths. It was clear to the Jewish people that their religion did not work in conjunction with the running of society. For example, many could not eat meals at the homes of their gentile friends. As a result, some Jews converted to Christianity, some went back into isolation, some rejected Judaism all together, and others wondered how they could retain their faith while also fitting into the world.

Around this time, Rabbi Abraham Geiger, a scholar in both Jewish texts and German studies, investigated the creation and development of Judaism through the years. He discovered that the life of the Jewish people had always changed. In response, there were times when old laws were altered or new ones were brought in. He then began to speak about the importance of Judaism continuing to change in order for it to survive; for people to keep the faith and be drawn to it. That was the beginning of new synagogue services, the relinquishing of certain laws, and the spreading of Reform Judaism through Germany and Europe. In the mid 19th century, Reform Judaism came to the United States through Europeans who relocated.


The Foundational Beliefs of Judaism Remained Intact in Reform Judaism

It affirms the idea of one God, our relationship with Him, and our partnership with Him to help the world. It honors Israel as God's chosen land. It also continues to honor the sacred Scriptures (i.e., the Torah) as the central revelation of God to His people, and the guide for moral living.

Reform Judaism Doesn't Follow the Laws of Traditional Judaism

Reform Judaism rejects many of the laws that kept them different or separate from society. These include: Kosher diet laws, circumcision, the requirement to not work on Shabbat (the weekly day of rest), and certain conservative interpretations of Torah.

New Beliefs Were Also Brought Into Reform Judaism

1. An inclusion of other faiths. Those who are not Jewish are allowed to be involved with synagogue services and socialize in any context. There is also an acceptance of interfaith marriages.

2. The ordination of women into ministry. Women in the Reform Jewish faith are able to become synagogue leaders in addition to the Rabbis.

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