I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see. T'was Grace that taught my heart to fear and Grace, my fears relieved. How precious did that Grace appear the hour I first believed...When we've been here ten thousand years bright shining as the sun. We've no less days to sing God's praise than when we've first begun.
- Amazing Grace, a famous Christian Gospel song
Part IV. A Brief Look at the Rebellion and Redemption of Reform Judaism
Like Christianity, Judaism is a multi-denominational religion with three major branches: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Judaism. For several different reasons, the practice of Conservative and Reform Judaism exists mainly in North America, most especially the United States. In Israel, South and Central America, and certain parts of Europe, the vast majority of Jews either practice, or belong to, Synagogues of Orthodox Judaism. The basic history of these denominations starts in Germany where the first official break with Orthodox Judaism began in the early to mid-19th century. To many traditional Jews, especially the devout Rabbis, this movement, known as Reform Judaism, was considered an outright rebellion and little more than a blatant effort to please and cater to the Protestant Gentiles who ruled both Germany and German society. This movement, which had been expected to spread out to the Jewish communities found in other nations, met with little to no success in England, France and throughout Eastern Europe.
With the sole exception of Jews living in Germany, the rest of the Jewish diaspora overwhelmingly rejected the Reform Jewish movement and continued to look to the Orthodox Jewish establishment for religious guidance. However, the growing population of Jews living in the United States, funded and sponsored by a certain number of very wealthy German-American Jews, found Reform Judaism to be a perfect way to blend into American society and to possibly find acceptance among the Gentiles after centuries of isolation and persecutions. Quite a bit of the success of Reform Judaism was due to the weakness and lack of influence the Orthodox Jewish authorities had in the United States.
As time went by, the underlying religious doctrines of the original Reform Jewish movement began to be seen as too non-traditional and militantly secular by a growing number of God-fearing American Jews. To counter some of the radical changes in religious beliefs sought by the leaders of Reform Judaism, the Conservative Jewish denomination was then formed and became quite successful throughout America. Thus, the three branches of Judaism can be seen as follows:
Orthodox Judaism: Practiced throughout the world, especially in Israel and the United States
Conservative Judaism: Only practiced in the United States of America
Reform Judaism: Only practiced in Germany and the United States
Some observers, including both Jews and Christians, have had mixed feelings about Reform Judaism. Even so, there seems to be a major lack of understanding about the tenets of Reform Judaism as practiced and understood in the 19th century compared to the official doctrines of 21st century Reform Judaism. In short, there has been an almost complete reversal in the basic religious beliefs of the Reform Jewish movement, especially here in the United States. As to be expected, Reform Judaism in today's Germany has basically gone extinct and is now being practiced by a dwindling number of German Jews, consisting of those who returned to Germany after the Nazis were defeated in World War II. Basically, the surviving elements of Reform Judaism have completely changed course on a great number of fundamental religious beliefs and practices. This can be seen in the following manner:
- The official Jewish doctrines of Divine Revelation, Divine Judgment, Divine Miracles, and Divine Redemption were officially denied by the Reform Jewish authorities in 1843 (Germany) and 1885 (USA). Then, in 1976 and 1997 these same age-old doctrines were re-affirmed in two different official statements of American Reform Judaism.
- Nearly all the religious beliefs, traditions, and practices of Orthodox Judaism were completely rejected and abolished by Reform Judaism in the late 19th century. This included complete denial of the ordained Rabbinical authority, the rules and laws of the Talmud, the binding, eternal nature of the Mosaic laws and commandments including kosher food restrictions and Sabbath day observance.Today, the Reform Jews of the United States are openly Zionist and are now strongly encouraging all Jews to practice as many of the traditional customs as possible.
Put bluntly, the official statements of 19th century Reform Judaism were little to no different from that of secular humanism, which is founded upon a total rejection of the Bible as the 'Word of God', claiming it has no meaning or value outside of its historical and literary value. Read carefully, the Reform Jewish movement appears to have had very little, to no, faith in the LORD God of Israel, who was considered to be a tribal myth created by their primitive ancestors who didn't know any better. Like many liberal Protestant Gentile intellectuals, both in Germany and America, Reform Judaism basically saw itself as a progressive force guiding humanity towards a universal and global spirituality that knew no particular religious faith other than reason alone. Their typical attitude towards religion, including Judaism, can be seen from the following quote:
Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut writes "there is no such thing as a Jewish theological principle, policy, or doctrine." This is because Reform Judaism affirms "the fundamental principle of Liberalism: that the individual will approach (Jewish law)...in the spirit of freedom and choice. Traditionally Israel started with...the commandment engraved upon the Tablets, which then became freedom. The Reform Jew starts with..the freedom to decide what will be...ngraved upon the personal Tablets of his life."
- Contemporary Reform Jewish Thought. Edited by Bernard Martin. Quadrangle Books (1968)
The truth of the matter, which remains little known to the vast majority of Biblical believers, including some Jews, is that the radical rejection of Judaism, as seen in their official 19th century statements, has basically been repudiated by today's Reform Jews. Their most recent public proclamations contain a far more appreciative, and traditional, view of Judaism as a unique, even supernatural, revelation of God's will. Ironically, the Reform Jewish documents of 1843 and 1885 seem to completely contradict the later statements made in 1937, 1976 and 1997. Indeed, the Reform Jews of yesteryear, who adamantly opposed and ignored the call to resettle the Holy Lands, have now become the American Zionists of today. Reform Judaism's initial rebellion against ancient Jewish religious practices and traditions have given way to an affectionate and encouraging attitude that seeks to have all Jews practice their religion on a daily basis and look to Israel for theological and spiritual guidance.
Indeed, the story of Reform Judaism seems a lot like the Christian parable about the Prodigal Son, who met with little success after ignoring his father's wishes and leaving his family behind. With no money left to his name, the Prodigal Son finally goes back home to find his father and family overcome with happiness and love upon his arrival. Thus, the Reform Jewish movement's slow, but steady return to traditional Judaism after having strayed away, must be seen as a great blessing for all believers in the Judeo-Christian tradition. What follows is a collection of passages taken from the official documents of Reform Judaism. They reveal a clear evolution from 19th century agnosticism, and even atheism, back to an authentically Judeo-Christian monotheism. All things considered, this Reform Jewish progress towards orthodoxy bodes well for the future of all Judaism and the Jewish people.
The Denials and Rejections of 19th Century Reform Judaism
(Frankfurt Society of Friends of Reform , Declaration of Principles, 1843)
(Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
The Affirmations and Acceptances of 21st Century Reform Judaism
(The Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism "The Columbus Platform" - 1937)
(Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective Adopted in San Francisco - 1976)
(Reform Judaism & Zionism: A Centenary Platform "The Miami Platform" - 1997)
The Official Denials of 19th Century Reform Judaism
Denial of Divine Revelation: 'We recognize in every religion an attempt to grasp the Infinite, and in every mode, source or book of revelation held sacred in any religious system the consciousness of the indwelling of God in man.' (Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
Denial of Divine Judgment: 'We reject as ideas not rooted in Judaism, the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and in Gehenna and Eden (Hell and Paradise) as abodes for everlasting punishment and reward.' (Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
Denial of Divine Miracles: 'Modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clothing its conception of divine Providence and Justice dealing with men in miraculous narratives.' (Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
Denial of Divine Redemption: 'A Messiah who is to lead back the Israelites to the land of Palestine is neither expected or desired by us; we know no fatherland except that which we belong by birth or by citizenship.' (Frankfurt Society of Friends of Reform , Declaration of Principles, 1843)
Denial of Eternal Law: 'We recognize in the Mosaic legislation...only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization.' (Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
Denial of Moral Standards: 'We hold that Judaism presents the highest conception of the God-idea...developed and spiritualized by the Jewish teachers, in accordance with the moral and philosophical progress of their respective ages.' (Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
The Official Rejections of 19th Century Reform Judaism
Rejection of Orthodox Judaism: 'We recognize the possibility of unlimited development in the Mosaic religion.' (Frankfurt Society of Friends of Reform , Declaration of Principles, 1843)
Rejection of Talmudic Authority: 'The collection of controversies, dissertations, and prescriptions commonly designated by the name Talmud possesses for us no authority, from either the dogmatic or practical standpoint.' (Frankfurt Society of Friends of Reform , Declaration of Principles, 1843)
Rejection of Kosher Diet: 'We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.' (Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
Rejection of Rabbinical Holiness: 'We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation.' (Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
Rejection of Zionism: 'We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state.' (Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
Rejection of Mt. Sinai Covenant: 'We recognize in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason...We acknowledge that the spirit of broad humanity of our age is our ally in the fulfillment of our mission, and therefore we extend the hand of fellowship to all who cooperate with us in the establishment of the reign of truth and righteousness among men.' (Declaration of Principles "The Pittsburgh Platform" - 1885)
The Official Affirmations of 21st Century Reform Judaism
Affirmation of Divine Revelation: We believe that the eternal covenant established at Sinai ordained a unique religious purpose for Am Yisrael. Medinat Yisrael , the Jewish State, is therefore unlike all other states. Its obligation is to strive towards the attainment of the Jewish people's highest moral ideals to be a mamlechet kohanim (a kingdom of priests), a goy kadosh (a holy people), and l'or goyim (a light unto the nations). (Reform Judaism & Zionism: A Centenary Platform "The Miami Platform" - 1997)
Affirmation of Divine Judgment: 'The people of Israel is unique because of its involvement with God and its resulting perception of the human condition. Throughout our long history our people has been inseparable from its religion with its messianic hope that humanity will be redeemed.' (Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective Adopted in San Francisco - 1976)
Affirmation of Divine Miracles: 'We ground our lives, personally and communally, on God's reality and remain open to new experiences and conceptions of the Divine. Amid the mystery we call life, we affirm that human beings, created in God's image, share in God's eternality despite the mystery we call death.' (Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective Adopted in San Francisco - 1976)
Affirmation of Divine Redemption: 'While that day of redemption remains but a distant yearning, we express the fervent hope that Medinat Yisrael, living in peace with its neighbors, will hasten the redemption of Am Yisrael, and the fulfillment of our messianic dream of universal peace under the sovereignty of God...When God restores the fortunes of Zion we shall be like dreamers. Our mouths will fill with laughter and our tongues with songs of joy. Then shall they say among the nations God has done great things for them. ' (Reform Judaism & Zionism: A Centenary Platform "The Miami Platform" - 1997)
Affirmation of Eternal Law: 'Torah results from the relationship between God and the Jewish people. The records of our earliest confrontations are uniquely important to us.' (Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective Adopted in San Francisco - 1976)
Affirmation of Moral Standards: 'In Judaism religion and morality blend into an indissoluble unity. Seeking God means to strive after holiness, righteousness and goodness. The love of God is incomplete without the love of one's fellowmen. Judaism emphasizes the kinship of the human race, the sanctity and worth of human life and personality and the right of the individual to freedom and to the pursuit of his chosen vocation. justice to all, irrespective of race, sect or class, is the inalienable right and the inescapable obligation of all. The state and organized government exist in order to further these ends.' (The Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism "The Columbus Platform" - 1937)
The Official Acceptances of 21st Century Reform Judaism
Acceptance of Orthodox Judaism: 'Jewish life is marked by consecration to these ideals of Judaism. It calls for faithful participation in the life of the Jewish community as it finds expression in home, synagogue and school and in all other agencies that enrich Jewish life and promote its welfare. The Home has been and must continue to be a stronghold of Jewish life, hallowed by the spirit of love and reverence, by moral discipline and religious observance and worship. The Synagogue is the oldest and most democratic institution in Jewish life. It is the prime communal agency by which Judaism is fostered and preserved. It links the Jews of each community and unites them with all Israel. The perpetuation of Judaism as a living force depends upon religious knowledge and upon the Education of each new generation in our rich cultural and spiritual heritage.' (The Guiding Principles of Reform Judaism "The Columbus Platform" - 1937)
Acceptance of Talmudic Authority: 'Rabbis and teachers, philosophers and mystics, gifted Jews in every age amplified the Torah tradition. For millennia, the creation of Torah has not ceased.' (Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective Adopted in San Francisco - 1976)
Acceptance of Kosher Diet: 'The past century has taught us that the claims made upon us may begin with our ethical obligations but they extend to many other aspects of Jewish living, including: creating a Jewish home centered on family devotion: lifelong study; private prayer and public worship; daily religious observance.' (Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective Adopted in San Francisco - 1976)
Acceptance of Rabbinical Holiness: 'Lawgivers and prophets, historians and poets gave us a heritage whose study is a religious imperative and whose practice is our chief means to holiness.' (Reform Judaism: A Centenary Perspective Adopted in San Francisco - 1976)
Acceptance of Zionism: 'The restoration of Am Yisrael to its ancestral homeland after nearly two thousand years of statelessness and powerlessness represents an historic triumph of the Jewish people, providing a physical refuge, the possibility of religious and cultural renewal on its own soil, and the realization of God's promise to Abraham: "to your offspring I assign this land" .,,To help promote the security of Medinat Yisrael and ensure the welfare of its citizens, we pledge continued political support and financial assistance...we resolve to implement educational programs and religious practices that reflect and reinforce the bond between Reform Judaism and Zionism.' (Reform Judaism & Zionism: A Centenary Platform "The Miami Platform" - 1997)
Acceptance of Mt. Sinai Covenant: 'We believe that the eternal covenant established at Sinai ordained a unique religious purpose for Am Yisrael. Medinat Yisrael , the Jewish State, is therefore unlike all other states. Its obligation is to strive towards the attainment of the Jewish people's highest moral ideals to be a mamlechet kohanim [a kingdom of priests], a goy kadosh [a holy people], and l'or goyim [a light unto the nations].' (Reform Judaism & Zionism: A Centenary Platform "The Miami Platform" - 1997)
May the LORD God bless you in the name of St. Moses.