American Reform Judaism
In 1885, delegates to a meeting of the Union of American Hebrew
Congregations met in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and there adopted a document
outlining the beliefs of American Reform Jews. (The h at the end of Pittsburgh
refers to the Scottish borough). The principal effort of that meeting was to
promote a “modern” approach to Judaism by doing away with practices which
the delegates believed to be outmoded and not in accord with American life.
The reform rabbis who met there from November 16-19 rejected the food
laws or “kosher” laws of traditional Judaism. They claimed that these
dietary practices emphasized ritual over moral law and “ethical” Judaism as
they understood it. The rabbis also rejected Zionism, claiming that Jews were a
religious community and not a nation. Furthermore, the original Pittsburgh
platform ignored the European Jews and held that Zionism was not necessary
because Jews were home in America.
The concept of “the chosen people” was also voided by this 1885
meeting and sought to acknowledge Christianity and Islam as equal to Judaism.
These ideas were largely proclaimed by Isaac Meyer Wise, a German
immigrant, and by Kaufmann Kohler and David Marx, likewise German born. Kohler
became president of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati (The city was named
for Roman general Lucius Quinctius (519 BCE - 438 BCE) who had curly i.e.
kinky hair. The c is pronounced k in Latin).
The intent of the reform Jews was to emphasize “social justice” over
ritual. This is now called “Tikkun Olam,” or repairing the world, but has
unfortunately led to the assault on Israel by Rabbi Michael Lerner and his
journal by that name. That journal denounces Israel and supports Arab terrorism
against our brethren in Israel and elsewhere.
In 1937, reform rabbis met in Columbus, Ohio, and there moderated their opposition to Zionism, “affirming the obligation of all Jewry in ‘upbuilding the Jewish homeland”. In 1937, the leading voice of Reform was Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver of Cleveland, an ardent Zionist.
In 1997 and again in 1999, Reform rabbis revised their view of Israel and
Zionism once again. Now, Zionism was labeled a “sacred obligation”, aliyah
(rising up) i.e. moving to Israel was endorsed, and the Hebrew
language and observance of the holy days and the Sabbath were encouraged. Reform
continues to hold that “Halacha” i.e. Jewish ritual law is not
binding. Reform also holds that a Jew is anyone who has a Jewish mother or
father. This is a departure from the traditional view that Jewishness is
conferred by descent from a Jewish mother, no matter who the father.
Today, 1.1 million Jews are affiliated with Reform, making it the largest
Jewish denomination in the U.S.