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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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< Q18.2.3 TOC Q18.3.1 >

Question 18.2.4:
History: What is Reform Judaism today?


[Adapted from Rabbi Eugene Borowitz's Liberal Judaism...]

As described elsewhere in this FAQ, Reform Jews believe that human beings are responsible for both the Written and the Oral Torah. The sacred texts and contemprorary sages have much to teach us, but do not legislate for us. Reform Jews insist on the freedom to determine for themselves the aspects of faith they will continue to observe, and what in their belief requires the creation of new forms.

This freedom can be broken into two periods. The first period, sometimes called "Classic Reform", runs from the start of Reform Judaism until around the 1960s. It can be characterized by the notion of what Rabbi Borowitz calls "negative freedom". In other words, Reform Jews of this time defined themselves by their right *not to do* what traditional Jews considered mandatory.

Beginning in the 1960s (although there were elements as far back as 1920) and continuing to the present day is the period of what is called Modern Reform, and Rabbi Borowitz characterizes as "positive freedom". In other words, today's Reform Jews use religious self-determination to add to their religious observance. Previously rejected or neglected traditions are readopted, and new ones are created to express growing Jewish sensibilities. This is reflected in the 1999 Statement of Principles (

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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