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Question 18.3.5:
Reform's Position On...The necessity of belief in G-d?


[Adapted from Rabbi Eugene Borowitz's Liberal Judaism]

Belief in G-d is not a problem to some people. They simply know that G-d exists and nothing shakes their faith. Most of us are not like that. We'd like to believe in G-d, and sometimes think that we do, only to find ourselves questioning again. It is clear that in Judaism, belief in G-d has not usually meant complete and unwavering certainty. This is demonstrated throughout Torah. In Judaism, faith in G-d is dynamic; it is not an all-or-nothing, static state of being.

So, does Reform require belief in G-d? There are no ideological tests administered; each person's belief is private. Yet in terms of the movement, Reform believes in G-d. This belief has been demonstrated from the earliest days of the movement; specifically, the Pittsburgh Platform ( in 1885 said "We hold that Judaism presents the highest concept of the G-d-idea as taught in our holy Scriptures." It was reaffirmed in 1937 in the Columbus Platform ( "The heard of Judaism and its chief contribution to religion is the doctrine of the One, living G-d, who rules the world through law and love.". It was reaffirmed yet again in 1976 ( "The affirmation of G-d has always been essential to our people's will to survive.".

The strength of this conviction at the level of the congregation was confirmed again recently. In 1990, a congregation in Cincinatti Ohio applied for membership in URJ. This congregation practices "Judaism with a humanistic perspective". It had been briefly involved with the Society for Humanistic Judaism, but had found them to be too atheistic. The congregation sees itself as a Jewish group, but its liturgy deletes any and all mention of G-d, either in the Hebrew or in English. This liturgy doesn't include Kiddish or Kaddish, Barechu, Shema, Ve'ahavta, Amidah, or Aleinu. Their philosophy doesn't admit of either Covenant or commandments (as demonstrated by their haggadah, which in Echad Mi Yode'a, replaces the traditional "Two tables of the Covenant" with "two people in the Garden of Eden". The responsa committee, in response to this application, denied (although not unanimously) that this congregation was a Reform congregation. Rabbi Gunther Plaut, chair of the committee at the time, wrote:

"Persons of varying shadings of belief or unbelief, practice or non-practice, may belong to URJ congregations as individuals, and we respect their rights. But it is different when they come as a congregation whose declared principles are at fundamental variance with the historic G-d-orientation of Reform Judaism. ... But should we not open the gates wide enough to admit even such concepts into our fold? Are not diversity and inclusiveness a hallmark fo Reform? To this we would reply: yesh gevul, there are limits. Reform Judaism cannot be everything, or it will be nothing. The argument that we ourselves are excluded by the Orthodox and therefore should not keep others out who wish to join us has an attractive sound to it. Taken to its inevitable conclusion, however, we would end up with a Reform Judaism in which "Reform" determines what "Judaism" is and not the other way around."

This position was reaffirmed at the URJ Board of Trustees meeting in 1994, which voted 115-13-4 to reject the application for membership. Note that in neither case was the rejection unanamous. Interested parties issued in the details of both sides of the argument should read the articles in the Winter 1994, Volume 23 Number 2, issue of "Reform Judaism" ( published by URJ.

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.

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© (c) 1993-2002 Daniel P. Faigin <>