Reform Judaism

An examination of the origins and early development of Reform Judaism in Germany and the United States.

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The European Reform movement was centered in Germany, but Reform congregations were also established in Vienna, Hungary, Holland and Denmark. In England, the Reform Congregation, the West London Synagogue of British Jews, was established as early as 1840. At the beginning of the twentieth century a more typical type of Reform was established in England under the influence of Claude Montefiore. This took the name Liberal Judaism. In Germany itself, however, the movement known as Liberal Judaism was more to the right than German Reform.

Reform Judaism in America

Reform spread to America where, at first, the guiding lights were German-born and German-speaking rabbis, prominent among whom was the real organizer of Reform in America, Isaac Mayer Wise (1819-1900). In 1875, thanks to Wise’s efforts, the Hebrew Union College was established in Cincinnati for the training of Reform rabbis. At the banquet held to celebrate the ordination of the Hebrew Union College’s first graduates, shellfish, forbidden by the dietary laws, was served. This “treyfah [non-kosher] banquet:” as it came to be dubbed, at the ordination of rabbis, no less, caused traditional rabbis and laymen to recoil in horror and led indirectly to the development of Conservative Judaism [in the United States] and the establishment of the Jewish Theological Seminary [in New York] for the training of Conservative rabbis.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.