Movement for Reform Judaism

Reform Judaism, formally the Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ) and known as Reform Synagogues of Great Britain until 2005, is one of the two World Union for Progressive Judaism–affiliated denominations in the United Kingdom. Reform is relatively traditional in comparison with its smaller counterpart, Liberal Judaism, though it does not regard Jewish law as binding. As of 2010, it was the second-largest Jewish religious group in the United Kingdom, with 19.4% of synagogue-member households. On 17 April 2023, Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism announced their intention to merge as one single unified progressive Jewish movement. The new movement, which may be called Progressive Judaism,[1] will represent about 30% of British Jewry who are affiliated to synagogues.[2][3]

Movement for Reform Judaism
TheologyReform Judaism
Chief ExecutiveRabbi Josh Levy
PresidentSir Trevor Chinn
Joint vice-chairs
  • Michael Harris
  • Paul Langsford
AssociationsWorld Union for Progressive Judaism
RegionUnited Kingdom
HeadquartersSternberg Centre, London
Origin4 January 1942
Midland Hotel, Manchester
Members16,125 households

Belief and practice


The denomination shares the basic tenets of Reform Judaism (alternatively known also as Progressive or Liberal) worldwide: a theistic, personal God; an ongoing revelation, under the influence of which all scripture was written – but not dictated by providence – that enables contemporary Jews to reach new religious insights without necessarily being committed to the conventions of the past; regarding the ethical and moral values of Judaism as its true essence, while ritual and practical observance are means to achieve spiritual elation and not an end to themselves – and therefore, rejecting the binding nature of Jewish law; a belief in the coming of a Messianic era rather than a personal Messiah, and in immortality of the soul only, instead of bodily resurrection. Prayers referring to such concepts were omitted from the liturgy, and traditional practices abolished or altered considerably.[4]

Although Reform Judaism in the UK does subscribe to these views, held also by Liberal Judaism and the American Union for Reform Judaism, several factors made it more moderate and less prone to modify old forms. Its constituency was socially conservative and it attempted to appeal to potential newcomers from the Centrist Orthodox majority in British Jewry; renewed traditionalism by all WUPJ members since the 1970s also motivated Reform Judaism in the UK to adopt once discarded elements. Though it does not consider itself halakhic, it has been sometimes compared to American Conservative Judaism – the sociological functions of which as an "intermediate" movement it indeed filled, especially since the "Assembly of Masorti Synagogues" was only established in 1985 and is very small – while Liberals are more reminiscent of US Reform.[5][6]

Reform liturgy had always contained a high proportion of Hebrew or Aramaic, while the Liberals and American Reform abridged theirs and introduced much English.[7] Since the 1970s, formerly excised blessings (like those on phylacteries) were returned. Reform Judaism in the UK observes dietary laws and the Sabbath to a considerable degree in the public sphere. It has a get-like divorce document issued by its rabbinic court, and conversion requires circumcision by males and ablution by both sexes.[5] Egalitarianism did not become prevalent in most synagogues until the 2000s, although the first female rabbi, Jackie Tabick, was ordained in 1975. Mixed seating was only accepted just before and during World War II.[8]

Recognition of Jews by patrilineal descent was affirmed in 2015.[9] Reform Judaism currently ordains female and LGBT clergy, conducts LGBT marriages and has egalitarian services, counting women for minyan and allowing them full participation. Girls have their bat mitzvah at 13, the same age as boys have their bar mitzvah. Reform Judaism is welcoming to non-Jewish spouses; while the Assembly maintains "clear opposition" to involvement in interfaith unions, since 2012 it allows rabbis to conduct celebratory events as long as the ceremony does not involve clergy or motifs from other religions, or conversely those of a Jewish wedding, like a ritual canopy.[10]

Organisational structure


As of 2023, Reform Judaism has 42 synagogues, of which 40 are located in England, and, among those, 12 in Greater London. There is one congregation in Cardiff and one in Glasgow.[11] As of 2010, Reform Judaism had 16,125 member households, accounting for 19.4% of synagogue-affiliated Jewish families in Britain and roughly 14% of the total Jewish population.[12]

All of the synagogues are autonomous, owned and financed by their members who also hire their own local rabbi independently. All clergy are members of the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors, which publishes Reform prayerbooks and determines policy in religious matters. The denomination is led by the Movement CEO, while the Chair of the Assembly represents and organises the rabbis. It maintains a rabbinical court (Beth Din), located at the Sternberg Centre in London. The Reform Bet Din's decisions are recognised worldwide by all WUPJ affiliates. Alongside the clergy, lay leadership is provided by a board of delegates, the chair of which represents Reform Judaism in the Board of Deputies.

Through its work for the welfare and development of young people, Reform Judaism is a member of the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services (NCVYS).[13] It trains its clergy at the Leo Baeck College, London, which is shared with Liberal Judaism. While British Reform Judaism and British Liberal Judaism are both WUPJ affiliates and cooperate in many fields, such as outreach to the religiously non-active and interfaith families, the two organisations have previously stressed that they "retain their autonomy and distinct identities".[14] However, on 17 April 2023, in announcing that Rabbi Josh Levy would take up the post of its chief executive from 1 May 2023,[15] the Movement for Reform Judaism said that Rabbi Levy would work in partnership with Rabbi Charley Baginsky, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, on the creation of a unified movement in the United Kingdom for Progressive Judaism.[16]

Prior to Levy taking office, MRJ's board was led by the joint Vice-Chairs, Michael Harris and Paul Langsford. Rabbis Kathleen Middleton and James Baaden co-chair the Assembly of Reform Rabbis and Cantors.[17] Rabbi Jackie Tabick was Convenor of the Reform Bet Din until 2023.[18] She was succeeded by Rabbi Jonathan Romain. Sir Trevor Chinn is President.[19]



In the 1820s and 1830s, a small intellectual current arose in English Jewry, influenced by the Anglican environment which laid great emphasis on the Bible alone and scorned the Jews for valuing the Talmud. Represented by such figures as Isaac D'Israeli, they were sometimes named "neo-Karaites", though their actual knowledge of Karaism was scant. This group rejected rabbinic authority and espoused a bibliocentric view.

Concurrently, wealthy members of the Sephardi Mocatta and Ashkenazi Goldsmid families, who were related by marriage, were complaining about lack of decorum and rigid regulations in the Bevis Marks and Great Synagogue of London, respectively. The Mocattas were forced to walk miles on the Sabbath as an old communal ordinance banned forming prayer groups in a radius of ten miles from Bevis; Isaac Goldsmid vied for more clout with the wardens, and repeatedly protested against the protracted blessings for family members during services. They were also inclined to worship together. Eventually, a group of Mocattas, Goldsmids, Montefiores and other supporters withdrew from their two congregations on 15 April 1840, declaring their intention to found a house of worship for neither Sephardi nor Ashkenazi, but "British Jews". They appointed David Woolf Marks to lead services in their new West London Synagogue, dedicated on 27 January 1842. A former reader in Liverpool, he was deeply influenced by the "neo-Karaite" tendency and refused to cantillate the Torah on the second day of festivals, grounded only in rabbinic tradition. His stance suited the secessionists mainly on the practical level; Most never cared much for the bibliocentric issue but were content to abolish the second day.

Although the term "Reform" was occasionally conferred on the congregation, Todd Endelman stressed that they were "unique and owed nothing" to the continental movement. Jakob Josef Petuchowski emphasised that Marks' philosophy was the polar opposite to that espoused by the German founding fathers of Reform Judaism. The latter regarded the Beatified Sages as geniuses and progressives who developed Rabbinic Law further. Marks granted the Written Torah alone divine status, refused to call himself rabbi but insisted on "reverend", and even translated the Kaddish into Hebrew, viewing Aramaic prayer as a later rabbinic corruption. In his new prayerbook and Passover Haggadah, he excised or reinstated various elements, always contrary to rabbinic tradition. Petitions for the Return to Zion under the Messiah and reinstitution of sacrifices, rejected by Continental Reform, did not concern the English at all.[20] West London was subject to a harsh denunciation and de facto ex-communication by Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell in 1842.

In 1856, tensions in Manchester were increasing, as many in the community sought greater autonomy from the authoritarian new Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler and regarded local Rabbi Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy with disfavour. On 25 March 1858 the dissident "Manchester Congregation of British Jews" was dedicated. They adopted Marks' prayerbook but retained the second day of festivals. Their motives were far more political than principally religious. In 1872, a third English synagogue withdrew from Adler's jurisdiction, the Bradford Jewish Association. Unlike the rest, Bradford was clearly influenced by developments in Continental Europe: the founders were mostly German Jews, as was their first rabbi, Joseph Strauss. The three breakaway congregations were neither organised together nor had a consistent religious philosophy. Marks' "neo-Karaism", which was never very important to ordinary constituents in West London, virtually died with him. His successor, Rabbi Morris Joseph, was dismissed by the Orthodox in 1890 for evincing doubt about the prayers concerning the sacrifices but was of little conviction. His moderate style brought a rapprochement with the United Synagogue.

At the turn of the century, Claude Montefiore emerged as the most important religious philosopher among Anglo-Jewry. Montefiore, whose mother attended West London Synagogue, studied at the Berlin Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums and was a disciple of the teachings of German Reformers Abraham Geiger and Samuel Holdheim. His Jewish Religious Union (JRU), the antecedent of British Liberal Judaism, was as purist and radical as American Reform Judaism, if not exceeding it. He too emphasised the ethical aspects as the essence of religion, instituted drastic ritual reforms – over half of the Liberal liturgy was in English, men were bareheaded and sat together with women, the practical observance was not only ignored by the public (as was the case in the United Synagogue, too) but officially discarded. While the three nonconformist synagogues did not emulate the JRU, it did influence them toward greater modifications, albeit yet inconsistent. In 1919, the St. George synagogue, appealing for unaffiliated East End Jews, was opened by Basil Henriques. It was alternatively sponsored by both West London and the Liberals.

The first of the three breakaway synagogues to adopt full-fledged Reform Judaism was West London. After the retirement of Rabbi Joseph in 1929, it hired Harold F Reinhart, a Hebrew Union College graduate who served as a rabbi in several congregations of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Within a year, Reinhart brought the synagogue into the recently established World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), albeit retaining a relatively conservative ritual, consistent with the congregation's sensibilities. Though both were WUPJ affiliates, cooperation and competition alike characterised relations with the Liberal ULPS as a growing interest in non-Orthodox forms emerged among the wider public. A Glasgow printer named Samuel Ginsberg was impressed with what he saw in West London and opened the Glasgow Progressive Synagogue in 1932. In 1933, Reinhart sponsored the establishment of the North Western Reform Synagogue at Golders Green. In 1935, a group at Edgware seceded from the United Synagogue and formed the Edgware & District Reform Synagogue, again under West London's guidance.

A movement only arose with the arrival of some 40,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. While worldwide Reform Judaism originated there, the nature of German communities limited what was known as "Liberal Judaism" to the status of a tendency within unified congregations which had to accommodate traditionalist members. German Liberals were relatively conservative (for example, maintaining mainly-Hebrew liturgy, head coverings for men, and separate seating for men and for women), and found the British Liberal synagogues far too radical. The moderation of the independent nonconformist ones suited them better, and immigrants overwhelmed West London and the others. They also brought along a cadre of 35 Hochschule-trained rabbis, most prominently Ignaz Maybaum and Werner van der Zyl who were aided by Reinhart in finding new posts at Britain. Harmonising ritual and religious approach to a great measure, they made their loosely related communities quite uniform. One that remained independent and strongly clung to German Liberal worship was Belsize Square Synagogue.

On 4 January 1942, representatives from the West London, North Western, St. George Settlement, Glasgow, Manchester and Bradford synagogues met at the Midland Hotel, Manchester and founded the Associated British Synagogues, later renamed Associated Synagogues of Great Britain. The ASGB joined the WUPJ as a whole in 1945. In 1956, it cooperated with the ULPS to establish the Leo Baeck College for training rabbis.[21] In 1958, it adopted the name Reform Synagogues of Great Britain, which would last until 2005.

On 17 April 2023, Reform Judaism and the Liberal movement announced their intention to merge and form a single progressive Jewish movement.[2][3]

Notable Reform rabbis


Living people


Historical figures

  • Rabbi Lionel Blue (1930–2016), broadcaster and former European Director of the World Union for Progressive Judaism
  • Rabbi Hugo Gryn (1928–1996), broadcaster and Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue
  • Rabbi Werner van der Zyl (1902–1984), Senior Rabbi at West London Synagogue, a founder and President of Leo Baeck College, London; President of the Reform Synagogues of Great Britain and Life Vice President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism


  1. ^ OPINION: Together, Liberal and Reform Judaism stands on the edge of the promised land Jewish News, 18 April 2023
  2. ^ a b Sherwood, Harriet (17 April 2023). "UK progressive Judaism bodies merge to give movement more reach and voice". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 April 2023.
  3. ^ a b Reform and Liberal UK synagogue movements announce merger plan The Jewish Chronicle, 17 April 2023
  4. ^ Romain, Jonathan (2004). Reform Judaism and Modernity: A Reader, SCM Press. Respectively, for each sentence: pp. 145; 128; xviii, 222; 195; 9. See also: Romain, Jonathan, Reform Judaism, Religions, BBC website, 13 August 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  5. ^ a b Parsons, Gerald (ed.) (1993) The Growth of Religious Diversity: Britain from 1945 – Volume I: Traditions: Traditions Vol 1, Psychology Press. pp. 110–113. ISBN 978-0415083263; Romain, Jonathan, 150 Years of Progressive Judaism in Britain: 1840–1990, London Museum of Jewish Life, 1990. pp. 39–45.
  6. ^ Romain, Reform Judaism and Modernity, p. 285.
  7. ^ Meyer, Michael A. (2001) Judaism Within Modernity: Essays on Jewish History and Religion, Wayne State University Press, p. 317.
  8. ^ Romain, 150 Years, p. 44.
  9. ^ Lewis, Jerry (17 July 2015). "UK Reform rabbis accept patrilineal descent". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  10. ^ Rocker, Simon (26 July 2012). "Interfaith couples could marry in shul". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  11. ^ "About Us". Movement for Reform Judaism. Retrieved 21 April 2023.
  12. ^ Graham, David; Vulkan, Daniel (2010). Synagogue Membership in the United Kingdom in 2010, Board of Deputies of British Jews. Retrieved 13 April 2021.
  13. ^ "Members". National Council for Voluntary Youth Services. Retrieved 3 January 2016.
  14. ^ "Liberal and Reform together launch alliance for Progressive Judaism" (Press release). Movement for Reform Judaism. 17 September 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  15. ^ a b "Statement on Progressive Judaism" (Press release). Movement for Reform Judaism. 17 April 2023. Retrieved 4 November 2023.
  16. ^ Rosenberg, Michelle (17 April 2023). "Liberal and Reform merge to create single progressive UK Jewish movement". Jewish News. Retrieved 17 April 2023.
  17. ^ "Two New Chairs elected to Reform Assembly of Rabbis and Cantors". Movement for Reform Judaism. 12 May 2021. Retrieved 14 May 2021.
  18. ^ a b Rocker, Simon (23 February 2012). "Tabick achieves another first at Reform Beit Din". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 1 November 2020.
  19. ^ a b "Sir Trevor Chinn succeeds Rabbi Professor Tony Bayfield as Reform Judaism President" (Press release). Movement for Reform Judaism. 27 June 2016. Retrieved 28 June 2016.
  20. ^ Endelman, Todd M., The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000, University of California Press, 2002. pp. 108–115; Petuchowski, J. J. Karaite Tendencies in an Early Reform Haggadah, HUC Annual, 1960.
  21. ^ Romain, Jonathan (2006). "50 Years: An Overview". History. Leo Baeck College. Archived from the original on 29 December 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  22. ^ a b Rocker, Simon (1 November 2010). "Reform leader Bayfield to retire early". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  23. ^ "Rabbi Mark Goldsmith named as new senior rabbi of Edgware and Hendon Reform Synagogue". The Jewish Chronicle. 19 November 2018. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  24. ^ Movement for Reform Judaism. "Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism". Movement for Reform Judaism. Archived from the original on 17 December 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2014.
  25. ^ Mendel, Jack (7 July 2020). "Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner to leave role". Jewish News. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  26. ^ Toberman, Barry (8 February 2022). "Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner announces return to the pulpit". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 22 February 2023.
  27. ^ "History". Leo Baeck College. Archived from the original on 29 December 2012. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  28. ^ Romain, Jonathan (2006). "50 Years: An Overview". History. Leo Baeck College. Archived from the original on 29 December 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  29. ^ "Julia Neuberger". Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 16 February 2023.
  30. ^ Rocker, Simon (8 July 2013). "Moving chairs as Reform changes leading posts". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 6 December 2015.