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Judaism / Orientations /
Reform Judaism

Israel Jacobson.
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Israel Jacobson.

Abraham Geiger.
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Abraham Geiger.

Orientation in Judaism, growing mainly out of Ashkenazi environments in eastern and central Europe in the second half of the 18th century. The reform line involved adjustments of the religion to modern times, a secular lifestyle and more individual freedom.
It was with the return to the normal society, with the leaving of the ghettos, that Jews started to challenge old values. Many restrictions seemed both unnecessary and difficult for Jews living in a secular society. Also, there were many who feared that Judaism would lose its members if the religion was to hard to live by.
With Israel Jacobson's services from the beginning of the 19th century, there was no longer references to a liberating Messiah that would reintroduce the state of Israel. Worshippers were no longer required to cover their heads, and there also came an end to daily public worship. Work was allowed on the Sabbath, and the dietary laws were abandoned.
Abraham Geiger concluded that Judaism is the belief that there is one god for all humans, the adherence of certain ethical principles and the obligation of spreading this to all the world.
Samuel Holdheim stated that specific marriage and divorce laws were no longer necessary for the Jews. These matters, he claimed, should be in the hands of the secular authorities.
Today, Reform Jews reject many of the regulations of Jewish law, the Halacha, they use the vernacular language in the ceremonies, and the rituals are far less elaborate and takes less time than what is common among other Jewish orientations.

1783: Moses Mendelsohn publishes the book Jerusalem, in which he defines a new attitude towards Judaism, where a secular life is allowed.
1789: With the French Revolution, the ideas of Reform Judaism become more popular.
1809: The Jewish layman Israel Jacobson holds the first Reform services in Seesen (modern Germany). Women and men are allowed to sit together, and the liturgy is in German, not Hebrew which was the rule until this date.
1815: Jacobson holds the first Reform services in Berlin (modern Germany), whereupon the movement spread to Denmark, Hamburg, Leipzig, Vienna and Prague.
1841: Reform Judaism arrives in USA.
1937: Reform Judaism takes back some of the traditional customs and ceremonies, and reintroduces Hebrew as the liturgical language.
Early 20th century: Zionism becomes a strong movement among Jews, but Reform Jews are negative to the work for establishing a state of Israel.

By Tore Kjeilen