Jewish Denominations: Reform
Orthodox Judaism: One Torah, Many Paths
Reform 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 this body of mitzvot and minhagim in the
spirit of freedom and choice. Traditionally Israel started with
harut, the commandment engraved upon the Tablets, which then became
freedom. The Reform Jew starts with herut, the freedom to decide
what will be harut - engraved upon the personal Tablets of his
life." [Bernard Martin, Ed., Contemporary Reform Jewish Thought,
Quadrangle Books 1968.]
What do Reform Jews believe?
What do Reform Jews do?
If anyone were to attempt to answer these two questions
authoritatively for all Reform Jews, that person's answers would
have to be false. Why? Because one of the guiding principles of
Reform Judaism is the autonomy of the individual. A Reform Jew has
the right to decide whether to subscribe to this particular belief
or to that particular practice.
But there is a historic body of beliefs and practices that is
recognized as Jewish. We Jews have survived centuries of exile and
persecution as well as centuries of unparalleled spiritual and
intellectual creativity because we have always thought of ourselves
as a people created "in the image of God," dedicated to tikkun olam
-- the improvement of the world. And the particular beliefs and
practices that have traditionally identified us as Jews have enabled
us not only to survive creatively but to connect with the God "who
has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this
We Reform Jews are heirs to a vast body of beliefs and practices
embodied in TORAH and the other Jewish sacred writings. We differ
from more ritually observant Jews because we recognize that our
sacred heritage has evolved and adapted over the centuries and that
it must continue to do so. And we also recognize that if Judaism
were not capable of evolution, of REFORM, it could not survive.
Reform Judaism accepts and encourages pluralism. Judaism has never
demanded uniformity of belief or practice. But we must never forget
that whether we are Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, or
Orthodox, we are all an essential part of K'lal Yisrael -- the
worldwide community of Jewry.
All Jews have an obligation to study the traditions that have been
entrusted to us and to observe those mitzvot -- those sacred and
time-hallowed acts -- that have meaning for us today and that can
ennoble our lives, as well as those of our families and communities.
It is our mitzvot that put us in touch with Abraham and Sarah; with
Moses, Hillel, and the Jews of fifth-century Babylonia,
twelfth-century Spain, and eighteenth-century Poland; and with the
Jews of twentieth-century Auschwitz, Israel, the former Soviet
Union, and our neighboring town.
This statement was adapted from the pamphlet entitled "What We
Believe... What We Do..." prepared in 1993 by CCAR President Rabbi
Simeon J. Maslin.