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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.
Reform differs from the other major movements in that it views both the Oral and Written laws as a product of human hands (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 the sexes.
Reform Judaism shares the universal Jewish emphasis on learning, duty, and obligation rather than creed as the primary expression of a religious life. Reform stresses that ethical responsibilities, personal and social, are enjoined by G-d. Reform also believes that our ethical obligations are but a beginning; they extend to many other aspects of Jewish living, including: creating a Jewish home centered on family devotion; life-long study; private prayer and public worship; daily religious observance; keeping the Sabbath and the holy days; celebrating the major events of life; involvement with the synagogue and community; and other activities that promote the survival of the Jewish people and enhance its existence. Within each aspect of observance Reform Judaism demands Jews confront the claims of Jewish tradition, however differently perceived, and to exercise their individual autonomy--based, as the Sh'ma says, upon reason, heart, and strength--choosing and creating their holiness as people and as community. The requirement for commitment and knowledge is repeatedly emphasized. A Reform Jew who determines their practice based on convenience alone is not acting in accordance with the recommended position of Reform Judaism. Reform also 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.
Here are some references to some other statements about "What is Reform Judaism?":
"What is Reform Judaism": http://rj.org/rj.html. Statement on the UAHC Web Page
"A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism": http://ccarnet.org/platforms/principles.html. Statement adopted by the CCAR in 1999
"Why Be Reform?": http://uahc.org/yoffie/whyref.html. A statement by UAHC President Eric H. Yoffie
A New Era For Reform: http://rj.org/uahc/rjmag/397dr.html. A letter that appeared in Reform Judaism magazine
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).
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.
Hopefully, the FAQ will provide the answer to your questions. If it doesn't, please drop Email to email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Daniel P. Faigin <email@example.com>