Reform Judaism (United Kingdom)

Reform Judaism (United Kingdom)

Reform Judaism in the United Kingdom in one of the two forms of Progressive Judaism found in the United Kingdom, the other being Liberal Judaism. Reform Judaism is both historically earlier and more traditionalist than Liberal Judaism.

British Reform Judaism today

The Movement for Reform Judaism is more traditional in its practices than the Reform Judaism of North America. Known until recently as "Reform Synagogues of Great Britain", in 2005/6 it had 43 congregations and 16,570 member households. All of their synagogues are autonomous, which means that they are owned and financed by their members, who also hire their own local rabbi. All Rabbis for these congregations are members of the "Assembly of Rabbis", which publishes Reform siddurs and maintains a "Reform Beth Din", which is located at the Sternberg Centre in London. The Reform Beth Din's decisions are recognised worldwide by Reform and Liberal movements as valid.

Reform Jews in the UK have a wide variety of traditions and practices, although most synagogues share some basic similarities, including these:

*As described above, Reform Jews do not officially celebrate holy days two days in a row, although some families may choose to do so out of their own traditions.
*To pronounce the prayers, the Sephardic pronunciation is generally used, and that is the pronunciation used in the Siddur.
*Simchat Torah is celebrated on a different day than when the Orthodox observe it.
*Men and women sit together in the synagogue, and a minyan includes women and men.
*It generally takes a shorter time to convert to Reform Judaism than to Orthodox Judaism, although the willingness of reform rabbis to accept converts varies.
*The Reform movement has a tendency to be more socially liberal than many Orthodox congregations, with a more relaxed attitude being taken towards homosexuality and other controversial issues, as well as strongly encouraging interfaith dialogue.
*A supportive stance is generally taken towards Israel and Zionism, although many individuals may disagree with some of Israel's policies.

British Reform is often said to correspond to American Conservative Judaism in beliefs and practices. Strictly speaking, however, the British equivalent of Conservatism is the Masorti movement (though that in turn is slightly more traditional than the American version). Unlike the Conservative/Masorti approach, which affirms the authority of Halakha (Jewish law) but interprets it liberally, British Reform affirms the primacy of individual autonomy, consistent with other denominations within Progressive Judaism, and gives the tradition "a vote but not a veto".

Use of the word "Reform"

The use of "Reform" in the UK is sometimes confusing in that the reform movement in Britain did not directly evolve from that described above originating in Germany by the classical reformers. However, both UK Reform and the German classical reform movement both came forth from a period of reformation and reaction to traditional practices and are accepted as part of wider Progressive Judaism.


In 1836, several members of the Synagogue of Bevis Marks in London requested the introduction of "such alterations and modifications as were in the line of the changes introduced in the Reform synagogue in Hamburg and other places". The congregation conceded and took steps to insure greater decorum at the services. In 1839, they made a second request, advocating a diminution in the length and number of prayers, a more convenient hour of service on Sabbaths and holy days, sermons in English, a choir, and the abolition of the second days of the holy days. This request was ignored. The British reformers then requested permission to open a branch Synagogue in the West End, near their homes. The leadership of Bevis Marks refused on the ground of an "askama" (rule) of the congregation, forbidding within a radius of four miles of the synagogue the erection of any house of prayer or the holding of any service not of a domestic nature. These reformers however went ahead with their plans, in which they were joined by some Ashkenazi Jews, and established an independent congregation, the West London Synagogue of British Jews, on 15 April 1840. The new Synagogue's leadership then took steps to make the reforms in the ritual which were refused by the leadership of Bevis Marks. The West London Synagogue reformers are the ancestors of the modern British reform movement, the Movement for Reform Judaism.

An Act of Parliament was passed in 1856, which empowered the minister of the West London Synagogue of British Jews to register marriage ceremonies. This act established the full autonomy of the congregation and ensured its equality before the law with the Orthodox congregations.

Notable Reform Rabbis

In Britain, most Reform and Liberal Rabbis train and receive their Rabbinical ordination from Leo Baeck College in London, which is funded by both movements.

Well-known British Reform Rabbis include:
*Rabbi Lionel Blue (b. 1930)
*Rabbi Hugo Gryn (1928-1996)
*Rabbi Jonathan Magonet (b. 1942)
*Rabbi Dr. Tony Bayfield (b. 1946)
*Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Romain, MBE


* Anne J. Kershen and Jonathan A. Romain. "Tradition and change : a history of Reform Judaism in Britain, 1840-1995". London ; Portland, Or.: Vallentine Mitchell, 1995. ISBN 0853033161; 085303298X.
* Elaine De Lange. "Women in Reform Judaism. Judaism in our time". London: Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, 1975.
* Joshua B. Stein. "Claude Goldsmid Montefiore on the ancient Rabbis : the second generation of reform Judaism in Britain". Brown Judaic studies. 4, Missoula, Mont.: Published by Scholars Press for Brown University, 1977. ISBN 0891301909.

External links

* [ Movement for Reform Judaism]
** [ Synagogues]
** [ News]

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