Since Judaism foundation, there have existed very important figures, like rabbis, cantors, among others, in charge to teach and explain the philosophy of this religion. These important roles have taken what the sacred texts promotes, letting other Jews to live under the commandments of them. Although Judaism is one, there are different branches inside it, with different approaches, but without losing the Jewish values. One of this denominations is the Reform Judaism, which has been for many years a very important part of Judaism. To write this article, we asked Yosef Meystel to give us more details. Meystel is a dedicated philanthropist with a deep commitment to the Illinois Jewish community, affiliated with a number of organizations in and around Chicago.
The Reform Judaism
But what is exactly Reform Judaism? Basically, it could be defined as a significant Jewish denomination focused in the natural evolving of Judaism. In other words, is a branch that emphasizes in the individual autonomy for understanding and interpreting the religious precepts established by the Judaism. Currently, the Reform Judaism is the oldest division in this religion, having its origins in the 19th century in Germany, and being founded by the Rabbi Abraham Geiger.
In resume, we can explain the Reform Judaism as the branch within Judaism that is focused on the implementation of the Jewish values, beyond what the Torah says. Put differently, it seeks that every Jew has its own interpretation of what the sacred texts say.
Rabbi Abraham Geiger
He is considered by many as “the father of Reform Judaism”. The Rabbi Geiger was born in Germany in 1810 and during almost his entire life, he defended the principles of this branch, arguing that every Jew should interpret under its own precepts what Judaism says. Through this ideas, Rabbi Geiger promoted the natural evolution of Judaism, leaving aside the strict interpretation of this religion through its sacred text, and receiving all the Jewish values in a more ordinary way.
As we mentioned, Rabbi Geiger is considered the father of Reform Judaism, but he was supported by other important Jewish that shared his ideals. Some of them were Samuel Holdheim, Israel Jacobson, and Leopold Zunz. With them, Geiger takes his philosophy for redesign the precepts and principles of Judaism into some more compliant with modern times.
The Principles of Reform Judaism
Having a clear context about what Reform Judaism is and who was its founder, it is important to know its principles, which rule this important branch and are a vital part for those Jews that are part of it.
- The existence, the uniqueness and the unity of God.
- The eternity and the spiritual nature of God.
- The Torah was inspired and is progressively revealed by God.
- The propagation of Ethical Monotheism.
- Science should be part of the guide for a systematic reformism, which approaches humanity as the first objective.
- The affirmation of the three pillars of Judaism: God, the Torah, and Israel.
- The adaptation and response of Judaism to the challenges of today, as it has always done to survive. Judaism is to be purified and the undergrowth trimmed.
- The arrival of the Messianic Age is the responsibility of all; Jews and non-Jews.
Those mentioned principles are an essential part of every Reformist Jew, and their actions should be ruled by them. In other words, the adoption of these ideologies will make that every Reform Jew develop its creed in a more natural way.
The Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion
Understanding what the Reform Judaism is and its principles, then we can talk about the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the oldest Jewish Seminary in America, where is the biggest Reform Judaism community in the world, and principal educational center for those Jewish making part of the Reform Judaism.
This institution was founded in 1875, and through its history, it has been the cradle of multiple important Jewish figures, promoting the main principles of the Reform Judaism. The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion has its principal campus in Cincinnati, but it also has presence in Ohio, New York City, Los Angeles and Jerusalem
Currently, this amazing institute supports the education not only of Rabbis and Cantors but also for those Jews interested in non-profit organizations, education, social work, among other areas that are perfect for the expansion of the Jewish spirit and the implementation of the mentioned Reform Judaism principles.
The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is not only the largest and oldest institution in the world for the formation of Reform Jews but also has one of the biggest Jewish literature collection in the planet, having more than two million of volumes.
Some of the most important students in this great institution have been Rabbi Abraham Cronbach, a well-recognized pacifist and one of the founders of the Peace Heroes Memorial Society. Sally Priesand, which was the first American Woman Rabbi and the second woman Rabbi in the history of Judaism. Jacqueline Mates-Muchin, which is the first Chinese-American Rabbi in the world, among other figures that have shared the principles not only of Reform Judaism but the Judaism as a unique religion.