The Birth of Reform Judaism in Germany - Rabbi Abraham Geiger, a prominent German Jewish scholar, advocates for changes in Jewish practice that would make it easier for Jews to live Jewish lives in a modern society. This included: 1) using German instead of Hebrew in prayer; 2) Instituting mixed gender seating in the synagogue; 3) Observing one day, instead of the traditional two days of holidays and festivals; and 4) introducing music during worship services with a cantor and/or choir, and organ.
Throughout the 1820's, Reform congregations are established in several German towns.
Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise, a Reform Jewish advocate from Bohemia, brings Reform Judaism to America and becomes the Founder of American Reform Judaism. As the rabbi of Congregation Beth-El in New York, he implements several reforms including: 1) Counting women in a minyan (the traditional 10 people required to praying in community); 2) Allowing men and women to sit together; 3) Eliminating the Bar Mitzvah ceremony; 4) Replacing the Bar Mitzvah ritual with a Confirmation, celebrating graduation from religious school.
Rabbi Wise writes Minhag America, the first prayer book, written primarily in English, designed and edited specifically for a modern American Jewish population.
Rabbi David Einhorn publishes his prayer book Olat Tamid: Book of Prayers for Jewish Congregations. It soon became viewed as the standard Reform liturgy in America. It was written primarily in English, which made is accessible to the increasing number of American Jews who could not read or translate Hebrew.
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) established under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise. The purpose of the UAHC was to establish a Jewish seminary, promote and provide for the creation of religious schools for children, and encourage the support of other Jewish institutions that addressed the common welfare and interests of the American Jewish community.
Hebrew Union College (HUC), the Reform Jewish seminary, is founded under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise. HUC became the first permanent Jewish institution of higher learning in America.
The Pittsburgh Platform is adopted Reform Rabbis. Written by Kaufmann Kohler (1843-1926), this document defines the basic tenets of American Reform Judaism. It calls for Jews to embrace a modern approach to Jewish practice, including: 1) “… modern discoveries of science (i.e., the theory of evolution) …” are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism…”; 2) “…we accept as binding only its (Torah’s) moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives…”; 3) “it is our duty to participate in the great task of modern times, to solve, on the basis of justice and righteousness, the problems… of society...”.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the professional arm of the Reform rabbinate, is established under the leadership of Rabbi Isaac Meyer Wise.
The Union Prayer Book (UPB) is published by the CCAR. It is based primarily on Rabbi David Einhorn’s, Olat Tamid. It was the first Reform Jewish prayer embraced by the Reform Movement. It was written primarily in English and emphasizes and the universal ethics of our tradition.
The Columbus Platform is adopted by the CCAR. This statement emphasizes the importance of working for social justice as a core Reform Jewish value and imperative. This document also marks the beginning of a push in the Reform Movement back to more traditional observances of the Sabbath, festivals, and holidays.
The Reform Movement establishes the Religious Action Center (RAC), to lead American Reform Jewish efforts in the fight for equality and justice for all.
HUC-JIR ordains Rabbi Sally Priesand, as America's first female rabbi ordained by a rabbinical seminary, and the second formally ordained female rabbi in Jewish history, after Regina Jonas.
The Gates of Prayer (GOP) is published, replacing the 80-year-old Union Prayer Book, as the official prayer book of the Reform Movement. It updated the English passages, added more traditional Hebrew liturgy, and offered several options for different styles of services. This was the first Reform prayer book to include several options for styles of services. This was an acknowledgement that there was no longer one style of worship service that reflected the wide range of needs and spiritual beliefs of Reform Jews.
The CCAR adopts the doctrine of Patrilineal descent, which states that a child born to a Jewish father and a mother from a different or non-religious background, and raised as a Jew, would be accepted and welcomed as a Reform Jew. This was the first major step towards accepting and welcoming interfaith families into Reform congregations.
HUC-JIR begins admitting openly gay and lesbian individuals into the rabbinic program.
The CCAR approves an updated Statement of Principles. It re-affirms the importance of social action, now referred to as Tikkun Olam (Repair of the World) as a core value and imperative for Reform Jews. It also re-emphasizes its call for greater observance of the Sabbath, the Holy Day and festival, and the importance of studying Hebrew and Torah. New to this statement is a call to support the state of Israel and the United States in efforts to establish equality, freedom, and justice for everyone within our respective borders.
The Union Prayer Book (UPB), Sinai Edition, edited by Rabbi Howard A. Berman and Rabbi Michael P. Sternfield, is published by Chicago Sinai Congregation. This Temple used the 1949 version of the UPB until 1999. The 2000 update added extensive transliterations of the Hebrew, gender inclusive and contemporary language, new readings, and a section for home use.
Mishkan T’filah is published, replacing the 1975 Gates of Prayer. This prayer book adds more traditional Hebrew prayers, includes gender inclusive language, contemporary poetry, new options for readings, study text, and commentary.
The Society for Classical Reform Judaism (SCRJ) is founded by Rabbi Howard A. Berman, with the mission to “…promote the progressive spiritual values and traditions of our American Reform Jewish heritage as the vibrant inspiration for contemporary Jewish life, liturgy, and worship.”
During its first 10 years, the SCRJ focused on: 1) advocating for the addition of UPB Sabbath services as an option for members of congregations that services use a more Hebrew centric liturgy used in most Reform congregations; 2) establishing relationships with all of the major Reform organizations to advocate for a more in depth teaching of the history of the core values the early Reformers.
The Union Prayer Book, Sinai Edition, Revised, is published by Chicago Sinai Congregation. These updates include 1) Removing all anthropomorphic references to God; 2) Changing references from “Your Torah” (God’s), to “our Torah” to reflect Reform Judaism’s belief that the Torah was written by inspired humans, not by God; 3) Readings are modified to place a greater emphasis on the moral and ethical values of the Torah and our heritage.
Publication of a Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews “… indicates 61% all current marriages involving a Jewish adult are intermarriages. This is a significant increase from the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS), that indicated 46%-48 % of marriages involved a Jewish adult are interfaith marriages. A growing number of interfaith families are becoming members of Reform congregations.
This survey also concluded that: “Only 13% of Jews in America understand Hebrew, so the majority of them may be unintentionally excluded during worship services (that include a large amount of Hebrew). Non-Jewish significant others who attend worship services are also unintentionally excluded from worship.”
The Reform Movement publishes Mishkan HaNefesh, a new High Holy Day prayer book that includes many different theological and spiritual perspectives to reflect the great diversity of belief and practice within Reform Judaism.
The Society for Classical Reform Judaism sponsored a survey on The Effect of Hebrew on Worship Satisfaction & Congregational Membership. Of the respondents, 80% were members of Reform congregations in the United States. 31% identified themselves as a member of an interfaith couple. The results indicated that 71% of congregants reported having a poor reading knowledge of Hebrew. 89% reported having a poor understanding of Hebrew. In sum, only 11% could read and understand Hebrew.
Two key findings: 1) Both members of congregations and prospective members said they are more likely to attend services and become engaged in the congregation if the worship services include more English and less Hebrew; and 2) Interfaith families indicated they are more likely to join a congregation when they feel unconditionally welcomed, when worship services are accessible language, and when the congregation’s policies support the full participation of interfaith families in the life of the congregation.
The Society for Classical Reform Judaism changes its name to Roots of Reform Judaism (RRJ), signaling the evolution of the organization into a new phase and mission. Under the leadership of Rabbi Ken Kanter, the RRJ focuses on providing educational, musical, and liturgical resources to help meet the growing and diverse beliefs and practices of Reform Jews, interfaith families, the disenfranchised unaffiliated, and under-served Jewish populations looking for accessible and inspiring materials for personal and/or congregational use.