Soc.Culture.Jewish Newsgroups
Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 2.5:
What is Reform/Progressive Judaism?


Reform is the most liberal of the major movements within Judaism today. It started in the 1800s in Germany during the emancipation, and encouraged examination of religion with an eye towards rationality and egalitarianism. Viewed from the light of today's Reform practice, the original adherents went a little-too-far; often, this early form (which lasted until the 1960s, in some respects) is referred to as "Classic German Reform".

Reform Theology

Reform differs from the other major movements in that it views both the Oral and Written laws as a product of Man's hand (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 it sees them; for details, consult the Reform Reading List). 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 G-d. Reform also stresses equality between Men and Women. The current statement of principles of Reform may be found in the 1999 Statement of Principles (, and in the 1976 Centenary Perspective ( Reform is recently rededicating itself to Torah and education. This is emphasized in the installation speech of the current president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (the Reform congregational arm), Rabbi Eric Yoffie. The speech may be found at (<>)

Reform requires familiarity with the laws before choosing not to observe them. A non-observant Jew unfamiliar with the laws would not be a "serious" Reform Jew. Also, Reform rejects the faith tenets of other religions as a matter of first principles.

It should be noted that many of the paths taken by the Reform movement differ from those of traditional Judaism. These differences result in many of the discussions you will see on S.C.J.

Size of the Movement

In terms of size, the UAHC 1993-1994 annual report notes that there were a total of 853 UAHC-affiliated congregations, with a total reported congregational membership of 302,193 member units (families, singles, etc.). This can be contrasted with the 1983-1984 period, where there were 773 congregations with a total of 269,406 member units. Congregations range in size from a 2-member-unit congregation in Port Gibson, Mississippi, to "mega"-shuls such as Wilshire Blvd Temple in Los Angeles (2,123 member units), Anshe Chesed in Cleveland Ohio (2,151), Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto Ontario (2,043), Temple Israel in Minneapolis Minnesota (2,075), Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington DC (2,783), Congregation Emanu-El in New York City (2,650), Temple Israel in W. Bloomfield Michigan (2,659), Temple Emanu-El in Dallas Texas (2,526), and Cong. Beth Israel in Houston Texas (2,011).

Sources of More Information

This FAQ contains much additional detail on Reform, it's theology, it's origins, and how it has changes from its more "rejectionist" beginnings. This information may be found in the Reform/Progressive portion of this FAQ. For further reading, consult the Reform Reading List.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

[Got Questions?]Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to The FAQ maintainer will endeavor to direct your query to an appropriate individual that can answer it. If you would like to be part of the group to which the maintainer directs questions, please drop a note to the FAQ maintainer at

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <>