When Was Reform Judaism Founded

Reform Judaism is one of the most progressive forms of Jewish practice, and is widely considered to be the most liberal version of the religion. But when was Reform Judaism founded? The roots of Reform Judaism can be traced back to the 19th century, when a series of European “enlightenment” movements spurred a reassessment of traditional Jewish beliefs and practices, and led to the emergence of an organized reform of Judaism. The actual founding of the movement arose out of synagogues in Germany in the early 19th century, which was a direct result of the influence of Napoleon’s campaigns and the French Revolution that had preceded it. The newfound freedoms brought about by this period of revolution and emancipation allowed for new interpretations and reformations of the existing customs. These religious reforms were adopted and organized by Rabbi Abraham Geiger in 1813 with the publication of his seminal book, ‘Urschrift und Uebersetzungen der Bibel’ (‘The Origin and Translation of the Bible’).Geiger’s scholarly work was compiled from an analysis of ancient Hebrew texts, and its main thesis was that biblical commandments were open to modern interpretation. Geiger argued that Judaism should reflect the times in which its practitioners lived, and he championed for an acceptance of progress and changes in the life of religious Jews. This period heralded the beginnings of a new form of Judaism, and termed it ‘Reform Judaism’.

Geiger’s work was met with strong opposition from some traditionalists, who claimed that his ideas represented a dangerous deviation from traditional beliefs and customs. But despite the skepticism, there was also a growing acceptance of Geiger’s reforms in some quarters, and the movement began to gain traction among a more moderate population. In 1810, the Hamburg Temple was established, becoming the first synagogue to officially adopt Reform Judaism. The seminal leader of Reform Judaism in Germany during this period was Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. Hirsch took Geiger’s loftier ideas and distilled them into more practical, achievable goals. These goals included a new methodology of Torah study that was more rational and open to modern interpretations; the introduction of music into synagogue services; and the return of Hebrew as the main language of prayer, among other smaller reforms. Hirsch and his disciples went on to spread his message of reform throughout Germany and beyond, popularizing the movement and eventually leading to the formation of the Central Association of German Rabbis in 1854.

However, it was a few decades later that Reform Judaism as we know it today began to emerge. The turning point came at the first World Conference of Progressives Jews convened in 1893 in Minden, Germany. This event brought together the most influential minds of the time in reform Judaism, including Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. Wise was a prominent figure in the development of Reform Judaism in the United States, and he went on to form the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union of Reform Judaism) and the Hebrew Union College, both of which were integral in producing and disseminating the writings of Reform scholars. A few years later, in 1897, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations issued the Pittsburgh Platform, which became the ideological foundation of contemporary Reform Judaism. The Pittsburgh Platform introduced core elements of Reform Judaism, such as the disavowal of traditional rituals and a focus on ethical monotheism, which have become the cornerstones of Reform practice.

Influence of Reform Judaism Worldwide

Reform Judaism quickly became the predominant form of Judaism in North America. In the decades since, it has continued to expand worldwide, with over one million adherents in the US alone. From North America, Reform Judaism has spread throughout the world, particularly Europe, Australia and Israel. The World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ) has grown to become an international organization, connecting Reform Jews from around the globe. The WUPJ also serves as an umbrella organization for other organizations, such as Mercaz, the Association of Reform Zionists of America, and the Reform Jewish Vacation Network.

Reform Judaism has had a major influence on the trajectory of the Jewish people, not only in the realm of practice, but also in terms of political engagement. Reform Judaism has been at the forefront of the struggle for social and civil justice, fighting for the cause of African Americans during the US civil rights movement, for example. It has also been a leader in interfaith dialogue and advocacy for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, issues of immigration and refugee rights, and many other causes of justice. Its emphasis on ethical behavior, human rights and social justice have made it a model of religious engagement in contemporary society.


One of the key elements of Reform Judaism is inclusivity – the core idea that Jews should be free to practice their faith in accordance with contemporary values and beliefs, while respecting the traditional precepts at the same time. Reform Jews reject literal interpretations of certain laws, rituals, and practices and instead interpret them in the light of their own experiences and the moral imperatives of their times. This open-mindedness has been key to the implementation of modern progressive reforms, such as the acceptance of Jewish women in religious roles and the ordination of lesbian and gay rabbis.

In recent years, Reform Judaism has become increasingly pluralistic, recognizing the diversity of Jews and welcoming converts from other faiths into the fold. This has allowed for the acceptance of traditional practices alongside progressive interpretations, founded on the idea of inclusivity and embracing the mosaic of Jewish life world-wide.

Contemporary Reform Judaism

Today, Reform Judaism is the largest and most dynamic of the major branches of Judaism. It is a movement of inclusivity and freedom, allowing for an ever-evolving interpretation of traditional beliefs and practices, while remaining faithful to the core ideals of the faith. But while its practices and beliefs may have evolved over time, its founding principles remain the same. Reform Judaism is an ever-evolving movement, but its cornerstone beliefs are the same as when it was first founded: that the traditions of Judaism must keep with the spirit of the times and be adapted to modern society.


Reform Judaism has contributed numerous leaders to the wider religious and political communities. Notable Reform Judaism leaders include political activist Emma Goldman, theologian Mordecai Kaplan, and US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Each of these people embodied the spirit of Reform Judaism: to, in the words of Emma Goldman, ‘at all times upset the sanctified conventions which despotically rule society’.

Reform Judaism’s global influence can be seen not only in the ever-growing number of Reform synagogues and communities, but also in the impact it has had on contemporary political and religious thought. Geiger and Wise’s legacy is alive and well, and the striving for inclusivity and freedom continues to be central to the Reform mission.

State of the Movement

The Reform movement continues to be a central voice in the Jewish world, and it continues to grow, both in terms of membership and influence. Notably, the Reform movement is firmly committed to progressive, ethical values in the Jewish tradition, and it is recognized as one of the most important vehicles for promoting social justice and inclusion. The Reform movement is a powerful example of the power of new and diverse perspectives in the world of religion.


Reform Judaism encourages individuals to pursue their own individual forms of practice, but there are some common features that form a broad definition of Reform Judaism. These include an increased emphasis on ethical monotheism; a willingness to adapt traditional rituals to reflect contemporary values; a focus on egalitarianism and inclusivity; and a commitment to social justice. These principles guide the practices of Reform Jews around the world and inform their approach to Jewish life.

Reform Jews seek to form meaningful connections with their faith and its practices while at the same time adapting to the times they live in. Reform Jews recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to Jewish life, and there is an emphasis on adaptation and openness to diversity of opinion and practice. The Reform movement speaks to the desire of many Jews to remain connected to their tradition in an ever-changing world.


Reform Judaism was founded in the early 19th century by Rabbi Abraham Geiger, and has since grown to become the predominant form of Judaism in North America. It is a movement of inclusivity and freedom, and is guided by core principles of ethical monotheism, a willingness to adapt traditional rituals to reflect contemporary values, commitment to egalitarianism and social justice, and an emphasis on diversity of opinion and practice. Reform Judaism has had a major influence on the trajectory of the Jewish people, not only in the realm of practice but in terms of political engagement and social justice. The movement continues to be an important voice in the world of religion, striving for progressive, ethical values and inclusivity in the Jewish tradition.

Josephine Beck is a passionate seeker of religious knowledge. She loves to explore the depths of faith and understanding, often asking questions that challenge traditional beliefs. Her goal is to learn more about the different interpretations of religion, as well as how they intersect with one another.

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