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THE MISSION OF REFORM JUDAISM 



SAMUEL S. COHON 
Chicago, Illinois 



ABSTRACT 



Reform Judaism represents the latest phase in the evolution of Jewish religious 
thought. It grew out of the post-Mendelssohnian intellectual endeavor to adapt the 
historic faith of Judaism to the changed conditions in Jewish life, following the French 
Revolution. Its pioneers, Jacobson, etc., were called upon to fight apostasy on the 
one hand and rigid orthodoxy on the other. Originating in Germany, the Reform 
Movement spread to other West European countries, and found an especially congenial 
home in democratic America. Its theology, as formulated by Abraham Geiger and 
his followers, is based on reason and on the scientific study of the Bible, Talmud, and 
Jewish tradition. Through its renewed emphasis on the ethical side of life, Reform 
Judaism has added new vigor to the age-old religion of Israel. 



Jewish history since the close of the Bible has run in three 
main channels. The foremost tendency of Jewish life was that 
of unquestioned adherence to the various practices transmitted 
by former generations, a tendency which produced the law- 
books of the Bible, the Mishna, and the Shulchan Arukh. 
The Jewish spirit, however, was not confined within the channel 
of legalism. By the side of law, there was the stream of 
rationalism, which found expression in the philosophic works 
of Philo, Saadja, Gabriol, and notably of Maimonides. The 
emotional side of religion manifested itself in the mysticism 
of the Cabala. None of these is entirely devoid of at least a 
tinge of the other. It has been the pride of Judaism that it 
combines the appeal to reason and the longing of the heart 
with the daily Mitzwoth or duties. As a matter of fact these 
three tendencies have not often been at peace with one another. 
Legalism frequently waged war on mysticism and rationalism; 
the Cabala made little effort to conceal its impatience with 
law and with pure thought; and philosophy, also, looked upon 
Cabala as a filmy vapor which must dissolve before the sun of 
enlightenment, and upon legalism as a dry system which is 
lifeless without the stimulus of reason. The upper hand in 

27 



28 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Judaism belonged to the representatives of the law. Their 
attacks on the spirit of rationalism form the darkest pages 
in our history. They were no more successful in removing 
reason from religion than they would have been in trying to 
tear out the brain from the head of a living man. Despite the 
burning of the great work of Maimonides, the excommunica- 
tion of Spinoza, and the condemnation of Mendelssohn, the 
spirit of rationalism reasserted itself in the Reform Movement 
at the early part of the nineteenth century. 

The word "reform" summons varied lines of thought to 
the minds of different people. To conservatives, who are ever 
" cross at the agony of a new idea, " it appears as the death- 
knell of the order of religion, social life, or politics to which 
they are chained by force of habit. Other men and women, 
who are temperamentally chronic radicals, delight in reform 
because it bears the mark of novelty. Normal persons refuse 
to regard reform as either a toy or a dreadful specter, but as a 
policy, which occasionally comes as a compelling necessity, of 
changing the old appearance of things for a new and more 
attractive one, and of substituting a living for a dying social 
or religious order. No sane person will pull down a building 
just for the sheer delight of destruction; neither will any man, 
in his senses, refuse to repair or rebuild his house if its roof is 
torn, and its walls, doors, and windows broken. In social and 
religious life, too, people, though clinging with all their might 
to inherited institutions and customs sometimes find themselves 
compelled to renovate them in order to save them from decay. 

A condition of this nature presented itself to the Jewish 
people in Western Europe about a century ago, when the walls 
of the Ghetto began to crumble. It is well known that almost 
throughout the Middle Ages the Jews were forced to live in 
separate quarters, which came to be known later as Ghettos. 
While this was the case in Mohammedan Spain and Turkey, 
it is in Christian countries that the Ghetto became a unique 
institution. In Italy, Bohemia, Moravia, Austria, Hungary, 



THE MISSION OF REFORM JUDAISM 29 

Germany, and Poland, the Jews were, as a rule, quarantined 
like lepers in separate sections of each city. These Ghettos 
were organized at different times and under varied local condi- 
tions. They were maintained not only by the desire on the 
part of the Jews to live together, a desire which deserves the 
highest praise, but mainly by the intolerant and narrow church 
policy of treating all those out of her pale as inferior beings. 

For centuries the Ghetto constituted the "fatherland" of 
the Jew, offering him a friendly environment in the midst of a 
hostile world, a veritable oasis with laughing fountains and 
fruit-bearing trees in the midst of the barren wilderness. 
Every big city had such a little Jerusalem, where the Jew led his 
own, distinctly Jewish, life, which appeared all the more charm- 
ing because of the sickly atmosphere of the cramped surround- 
ings. The Jews were permitted to have courts of their own 
with full jurisdiction in almost all save criminal cases. They 
maintained elementary and high schools, where their sacred 
literature constituted the main subject of study. Living in 
seclusion, they developed their own dialects. In Teutonic 
countries, the German vernacular was tinged with Hebrew 
words and phrases and grew into Yiddish-Deutsch. This lan- 
guage — unjustly ridiculed by philistines as a contemptible 
jargon, as if most languages were not jargons — was lovingly 
preserved among the Ashkenazim or German Jews even when, 
after their expulsion from their country, they settled in Poland. 
To this day Yiddish forms the medium of expression of more 
than seven million Jews. 

The Ghetto was by no means wholly covered with somber 
clouds. Often the sun shone upon it in full brilliance. Light 
and shade mingled in its many-sided life. Despite great odds, 
entailing heavy sacrifices, the Jews cheerfully observed their 
religious regulations. Their souls were uplifted to their Maker 
on the Sabbaths and holidays. Young and old eagerly 
participated in the pleasures of the joyous seasons and occa- 
sions. There were indeed moments in the life of the Ghetto 



30 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Jew when, in the words of Heine, he was no longer bewitched 
into a dog, but stood erect as Prince Israel, God beloved. 
The morality of the people was very high. As the eyes of the 
whole community were upon each individual, the incentive to 
right living was strong. The author of the article on the 
"Ghetto" in the Jewish Encyclopedia writes that "the 
Bohemian chroniclers of the sixteenth century designate the 
Ghetto of Prague as a 'rose garden,' and add that when the 
gates of the Ghetto were closed at night there was not one 
woman inside whose reputation was in the least tarnished." 

In most respects the Ghetto formed a state within a state. 
Only it lacked the political defenses of a state. At any time 
bigots could make their way into the peaceful Jewish quarter, 
and destroy the fruit of Jewish labor, and even expel inhabi- 
tants from their "fatherland." No wonder that the Jews 
regarded themselves as living in Galuth, in exile, and prayed 
for a speedy return to their historic fatherland, where they 
would again enjoy the blessings of peace, and worship God in 
freedom. It was not a mere formula which the Jew recited at 
the conclusion of his morning prayers: "I believe with perfect 
faith in the coming of the Messiah, and, though he tarry, 
I will wait daily for his coming." Patiently the Jew waited 
for the hour upon which the Shofar of the Messiah would 
resound, proclaiming to him the good tidings of liberty from 
persecution and from the spirit of intolerance. The eyes of 
great numbers of our people grew dim, straining to look into 
the future, and often mistook a will-o-the-wisp for a shining 
star, in the deep darkness that enveloped them. Many a 
pretender to the messiahship found ardent followers among 
the masses and was hailed as the long-expected Redeemer of 
the scattered tribes of Israel. 

Toward the middle of the eighteenth century the trumpet 
did resound, but it was not the Shofar of the Messiah. It was 
the French Revolution, sounding the message of freedom, 
equality, and fraternity. To the Jew no less than to the other 



THE MISSION OF REFORM JUDAISM 31 

members of the human family this message brought new life 
and new hope. In Germany as well as in France the spirit of 
liberalism found strong champions. Among these a place of 
eminence belongs to the famous dramatic poet Lessing, who 
exalted the Jew before the world, through his delightful 
comedy Die Juden and his masterpiece Nathan der Weise. 
Herder, too, must be singled out in the vast chorus of singers 
who heralded the dawn of religious toleration, which exerted 
a tremendous effect upon the life of the Jewish people. 

The full significance of the spirit of liberalism and the direc- 
tions into which it was tending may be seen in the life-story 
of Moses Mendelssohn (1729-86). Born under dark skies, 
this favorite of God went to Berlin in pursuit of knowledge. 
There he won the friendship of Lessing and of other men of 
note, and gained universal recognition as a profound writer 
on aesthetics and philosophy. As a master of German style 
and as a devout Jew, he felt the need of translating the Tor ah 
(the Pentateuch) into pure German. The effect of this seem- 
ingly small service upon the cultural and religious life of the 
Jews assumed far-reaching proportions. On the one hand it 
promoted the study of Hebrew grammar, a subject hitherto 
neglected; and on the other it opened the door of German 
literature to those that were confined to the Ghetto walls 
and to talmudic learning. While some Orthodox leaders 
favored Mendelssohn's translation, the majority of rabbis 
opposed it as a revolutionary act which would strike the heart 
of Jewry. They felt more keenly than their opponents that 
with the substitution of pure German for Yiddish-Deutsch the 
whole institution of the Ghetto was endangered. Having no 
hope of erecting a palace, they naturally defended their hovel. 
They placed Mendelssohn's translation under the ban, but their 
opposition proved futile. The friends and followers of Men- 
delssohn devoted themselves to the task of remodeling the 
Jewish school system and of enlightening the masses. Regard- 
ing all the troubles from which the Jews suffered, as the result 



32 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

of ignorance, they looked upon enlightenment as the chief 
remedy. They established modern schools in Berlin and in 
Breslau, in Seesen, in Frankfort-on-the-Main, and in Wolfen- 
biitel, in Brody, and in Tarnopol, in Riga, in Odessa, and in 
Warsaw. They published periodicals for the dissemination of 
the new ideas, and extended the frontiers of the Haskalah, or 
enlightenment movement, as far as Russia-Poland. 

Everywhere enlightenment spelled political emancipation 
to the enthusiastic followers of Mendelssohn. With joy they 
hailed the Patent of Toleration of the humane Emperor 
Joseph II for the Jews of Lower Austria, which, in part, 
established the civic equality of his Jewish subjects. In 
France, the home of the Revolution, Count Mirabeau, Count 
Clermont Tannere, and the Abbe Gregoire championed the 
Jewish cause. The first-born child of the French Revolution, 
the republican government of the United States of America, 
made the doctrines of equality of all men before the law 
without distinction of race or creed, the foundation of its con- 
stitution, thus guaranteeing also the rights of the Jews. When 
on September 27, 1791, the National Assembly enfranchised 
all the Jews of France, an Alsatian deputy significantly wrote 
to his constituents that Judaism in France thus became 
" nothing more than the name of a distinct religion." In other 
words, the political emancipation of Jewry demolished the 
whole institution of the Ghetto as far as France was concerned. 
The Jews no longer formed a state within the state but became 
the equals of their Christian neighbors in citizenship. 

The example of France stimulated the Jews of other lands 
in their struggle for equality. There were some men like the 
rabbis of Pressburg who considered the desire for political 
equality on the part of Jews as sinful and inconsistent with 
Israel's messianic hopes. For the Jewish people to have followed 
such teaching would have necessitated turning backward the 
wheels of the chariot of time. The spirit of the age demanded 
that the Jews range themselves on the side of progress. 



THE MISSION OF REFORM JUDAISM 33 

The aspiration for political equality on the part of the Jews 
in Germany involved: (1) a change of attitude toward the 
Galuth; for as full German citizens, they could no longer con- 
sider themselves to be strangers, expecting to be delivered 
from bondage by a Messiah; (2) the removal of the Ghetto; 
for as German citizens they could no longer continue to form 
a special Jewish state within the larger German Empire; and 
(3) the abandonment of Yiddish; for the children, drawn into 
the cultural and political currents of Germany, neither could 
nor would maintain a dialect of their own, particularly in view 
of its close resemblance to the language of the country. 

The more unyielding the older generation was to these 
changes the stronger the feeling grew among the younger people 
that an inseparable barrier separated Judaism from European 
culture. Furthermore, as the profession of the Jewish faith 
disqualified men from public office in many sections of Western 
Europe, Judaism became a burden and a misfortune to men 
who set their career above their honor. Without the strength 
of conviction that impelled the Jews of former ages to martyr- 
dom for their faith, these men readily consented to be sprinkled 
with the waters of the baptismal font to gain admittance into 
society or political life. Under these conditions a veritable 
conversionist epidemic broke out among the German Jews. 

Far-seeing leaders beheld the danger signal. They recog- 
nized that in order to save Judaism, the young generation had 
to be impressed with the truth that to be a German in culture 
and in politics was not inconsistent with being a loyal Jew, 
that Judaism as a living faith must be distinguished from the 
forms in which it is expressed, and that the spirit of Judaism 
was still young and vigorous, capable of producing noble souls. 
Their own Moses Mendelssohn served them as the best illus- 
tration of the possibility of uniting the best in European culture 
with Judaism. Mendelssohn also served them as an object- 
lesson. While in his strength of character and deep Jewish 
devotion, he could observe all the details of the old law, his 



34 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

children failed to reach his high standard and fell away from 
Judaism altogether. What alienated them from their father's 
religion was not its beautiful spirit, striving after truth and 
holiness, but rather certain unattractive, and, in some in- 
stances, outlandish forms. It, therefore, became evident to 
these men of vision that the only power that could stem the 
evil of apostasy was, as Dr. Kaufmann Kohler expressed it, 
"the inner reform of Judaism which would again imbue the 
Jew with self-respect while disclosing to him his historical 
mission in the world." 

With this aim in view, Israel Jacobson (i 768-1 828) estab- 
lished the first Reform service in connection with his school 
at Seesen and later at Cassel. Impressed with the success of 
his attempt, he built, at his own expense, the first Reform 
Temple at Seesen and dedicated it on July 17, 1810. He 
supplied his temple with an organ, introduced prayers in 
German, in addition to those recited in Hebrew, also German 
hymns, sung by the boys. In 181 1 he confirmed the first class 
of Jewish boys. Political conditions compelled him to remove 
to Berlin in 1815. There he opened his home for weekly 
religious services, the chief feature of which was the sermon, 
preached in German. Among the preachers were Zunz, Kley, 
and Auerbach. The Orthodox elements denounced these 
services to the government and succeeded in stopping all Re- 
form activities in Berlin for some time. In the meanwhile 
Kley went to Hamburg, to supervise the Jewish Free School, 
where he organized a Reform society and erected the famous 
Hamburg Temple (1818). A special prayer book was prepared 
for use in the temple which strove "to re-establish the external 
conditions of devotion without clashing too much with the 
current views on prayer, and to remove such passages as were 
in conflict with the civil position of the Jew." The Orthodox 
Jews of Hamburg tried to repeat the work of their brethren in 
Berlin, but this time they failed. The temple remained open 
and steadily grew in influence under the leadership of Kley 



THE MISSION OF REFORM JUDAISM 35 

and his associate preacher Gotthold Solomon. In 1829 the 
Hamburg Temple established a branch at Leipsic, where 
services were held during the busy annual fairs, with Auerbach 
as preacher. The merchants from all parts of the world that 
visited these fairs became acquainted with the temple services 
and carried its spirit to their home cities. Soon Reform con- 
gregations sprang up in different parts of Germany, Austria 
and Hungary, France, Denmark, and England. 

Though originating in Germany, it is in America, where 
the congregations were new and, therefore, freer from anti- 
quated usages, that Reform took deep root and soon grew into 
a greater power than in the old European communities. 
Under the influence of its liberal spirit, the German Jewish 
settlers led by men like Isaac M. Wise, Max Lilienthal, Samuel 
Adler, Samuel Hirsch, David Einhorn, B. Felsenthal, S. K. 
Guttheim, K. Kohler, and others laid the foundations of a 
noble type of Judaism in this land of freedom. Stately 
synagogues were dedicated to the worship of God. Schools 
and charitable institutions were established. The Union of 
American Hebrew Congregations was launched to unite the 
congregations throughout the land for concerted religious 
effort. The Hebrew Union College was established in Cincin- 
nati under the auspices of the Union, under the leadership of 
Dr. Isaac M. Wise, to train rabbis for American Jewish 
pulpits. Further to unite American Israel, the rabbis of the 
country organized themselves into a Central Conference of 
American Rabbis, that the counsel of all may be brought to 
bear upon the vexing questions that arise from year to year. 
The Central Conference has had as its object the removal of 
the tendency toward individualism in religious life, which 
came by way of reaction toward the severe suppression of all 
private judgment under Orthodoxy. This has, in a great 
measure, been achieved through the publication of the two 
volumes of the Union Prayerbook which have helped to stand- 
ardize the Sabbath and holiday worship in the synagogues 



36 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

throughout the land. The Central Conference of American 
Rabbis together with the Union of American Hebrew Congre- 
gations have not only fostered Judaism in the hearts of our 
people but have endeavored to present it in the right light 
before the non- Jewish world and thereby to form the right 
basis for mutual respect and co-operation. 

In the temple at Vienna the famous cantor Solomon Sulzer 
regenerated the old music of the synagogue. Out of the sighs 
and groans of long ages of martyrdom and out of the heart- 
throbs of countless generations, he constructed the soul- 
stirring songs of triumph of the new synagogue. He was 
followed by Naumbourg at Paris, by Lewandowski at Berlin, 
and by Kaiser, Stark, Schlessinger, and by hosts of others on 
both sides of the Atlantic, who enriched the Jewish ritual with 
their glorious song. In the words of Gustav Karpeles, this 
"band of gifted men disengaged the old harps from the willows, 
and once more lured the ancient melodies from their quivering 
strings." 

The early Reformers limited their constructive work to the 
external side of Judaism. They firmly believed that it could 
be regenerated through the removal of the old abuses from the 
synagogues and through the modernization of its mode of wor- 
ship. It was left to their successors to see that the whole struc- 
ture of Judaism needed thorough renovation. Many petty 
regulations such as the prohibition of shaving, the requirement 
that women wear Scheitels (wigs) the institution of the Mikvah 
(ritual bath) as an adjunct of the synagogue, and customs 
like Tashlikh (propitiatory rite based on the literal interpreta- 
tion of Micah 7 : 19 b) and Kapparoth Schlagen (substitution of a 
fowl for a human being as a means of atonement) lost all 
religious meaning and appeared ludicrous. Many laws regulat- 
ing family life, particularly in regard to marriage and divorce, 
grew increasingly burdensome. Zangwill's Children of the 
Ghetto and Judah Leon Gordon's Hebrew poems (Kozo Sbel 
Yod and Shomeres Yovom) present some of the tragic conse- 



THE MISSION OF REFORM JUDAISM 37 

quences of the outworn marriage and divorce laws. The 
regulations of Sabbath and holiday observance, too, often 
became irksome, turning at least for some people feasts into 
fasts, and days of joy into days of mourning. In Russia- 
Poland and in Galicia no less than in Germany a revision of 
the laws governing Jewish life was strenuously urged, but the 
leaders of Orthodoxy turned a deaf ear to all such demands. 
Their adamantine rigor further alienated the progressive 
element from Judaism. It therefore became the task of the 
leaders of Reform to grapple seriously with the whole problem 
not alone by removing the abuses from Jewish life but by 
finding justification for their action in Jewish tradition. 
Their task was a double one: to redefine Judaism and to 
defend it from the attacks of skeptics and agnostics as well as 
to ward off the assaults of their Orthodox opponents. 

Extraordinary caution was needed in their work. At first 
the early Reformers, like Aaron Chorin, tried to justify them- 
selves on the ground of rabbinic law, often using talmudic 
authority for cutting down talmudic regulations. Soon they 
found this method wholly inadequate. The more they were 
attacked on the basis of the Talmud the stronger grew the 
belief among some of them that Judaism to be truly revived, 
must be purged of Rabbinism and of the Talmud and re- 
established on the foundations of the Bible. A dangerous line 
of cleavage was thus drawn between so-called "Mosaism" and 
"Rabbinism." In this spirit the Frankfort Society of Friends 
of Reform issued the following declaration of principles (1843) : 
"(1) We recognize the possibility of unlimited development 
in the Mosaic religion. (2) The collection of controversies, 
dissertations, and prescriptions commonly designated by the 
name Talmud possesses for us no authority, from either the 
dogmatic or the practical standpoint. (3) A Messiah who is 
to lead back the Israelites to the land of Palestine is neither 
expected nor desired by us; we know no fatherland except that 
to which we belong by birth or citizenship." 



38 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

Reform Judaism entered upon a more fertile phase of its 
development with the labors of the great systematic thinker 
Abraham Geiger, whose motto was: "Aus der Vergangenheit 
schoepfen, in der Gegenwart leben, fuer die Zukunft arbeiten." 
Drawing his inspiration from the past, he saw no reason for 
discarding the Talmud and the whole body of Rabbinic 
thought. He belonged to the group of distinguished Jewish 
scholars who set themselves to the task of rehabilitating 
Judaism in the eyes of the learned world by applying the 
scientific methods, acquired in the universities, to its history 
and literature. 

The results of their labors led to an almost revolutionary con- 
ception of Judaism. It showed that the law of evolution which 
Goethe and Darwin discovered in the organic and inorganic 
world is operative also in the domain of religion, that instead of 
being the product of supernatural revelation, it is the outgrowth 
of man's eternal quest for God. Judaism, as a careful study of 
its history shows, is not a religion that was established at any 
one time in the past, either by Moses or by any other man or 
group of men, but a body of truth, a growing tree of life. 
Moses took the kernel of the belief in one God, which came 
down to him from Abraham and planted it in the hearts of 
the newly liberated Israelites. The prophets, priests, and 
sages fostered its growth. From the first commandment, 
declaring the unity of God, they developed the whole moral, 
civic, and ritual law. Their words, embodied in the Bible, 
were further amplified by the rabbis in the Talmud and in 
the Codes of Law. Naturally not everything that was evolved 
in the course of the ages, whether in the biblical or in the 
talmudic periods, was progressive. Some things were indeed 
retrogressive. But at no time was there any complete break 
between what some called "Mosaism" and "Rabbinism." 
The same spirit that created the Bible also created the Talmud 
and the Schulchan Arukh. Throughout our history the spirit 
of Judaism related itself to the conditions of our people's life, 



THE MISSION OF REFORM JUDAISM 39 

to their needs and hopes. Like the rose it drank in not only 
the sunshine, but also the moisture of the soil in which it grew. 
That accounts for the varied forms which it assumed in the 
course of different ages and in different lands. This law also 
explains the rise of the Reform Movement, the latest link in 
the long chain of development of historic Judaism. 

Judaism, being an ever-growing body of truth, aiming in 
each age to help man find his place in life, not merely gives us 
the right but imposes upon us the duty to adapt its religious 
truths to the changed conditions of the present day. The 
flower that blossomed last year was fresh and fragrant, but 
today it is faded and withered. In our love for the flower, it 
is not enough to press it between the pages of a book or to turn 
it into perfume; it is necessary to plant its seeds anew that the 
old flower may blossom again in the new one. If Judaism is 
dear to us — and dear it must be to thinking men and women, 
because it is one of the noblest faiths of modern times and one 
of the finest products of the spirit — we must transplant its 
noble truths into the hearts of modern men and women. 

The pioneers of Reform labored in the belief that Judaism 
is not a thing of the past, confined to the Ghetto, but a living 
spirit for today and tomorrow, equally as needed in and equally 
as applicable to the new conditions in lands of freedom. As 
the fires of the French Revolution devoured the structure and 
foundation of decayed European politics and religion, these 
men with Maccabean zeal rescued the sacred oil of the syna- 
gogue to feed the flames of the Menorah. Largely due to then- 
labors the light of Judaism has been kept alive in Germany, 
France, England, and America. Isaac D 'Israeli, the distin- 
guished English author and father of the even more distinguished 
statesman, Benjamin DTsraeli, is reported to have said to one 
of the founders of the Reform synagogue in London: "Had 
these changes been introduced at an earlier period, neither I 
nor my family would have seceded from the Jewish com- 
munity." To this the Rev. Isidore Harris adds that "it is 



40 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

undoubtedly true that English Reform has been the means of 
keeping within the fold many who otherwise must have been 
lost to us, as happened in the case of some of the chief families 
of the Bevis Marks Synagogue." What is true of England is 
true of all other lands, where the walls of the Ghetto fell and 
where the Jew was drawn into the general social, cultural, and 
political life around him. There Reform appeared as a beacon 
light to the perplexed, guiding them in the faith and in the 
idealism of our fathers. Many congregations that at one time 
repudiated Reform ideas in principle have been compelled by 
circumstances to adopt them in practice. Prayers and sermons 
in the vernacular, mixed choirs, instrumental music, family 
pews, confirmation of girls as well as of boys have become part 
of conservative congregational life. In fact New-Orthodoxy or 
conservative Judaism follows tardily and timidly where Reform 
has bravely led the way. In their "Orthodoxy," its leaders 
are more "Reform" then the avowed Reformers of a couple of 
generations ago. Reform has bridged the gap between Judaism 
and the new political, social, and cultural life of our people in 
Western Europe and in America, and has developed under the 
loving care of rabbis and laymen into a magnificent body of 
religious truth that cheers the heart, delights the mind, and 
crowns Israel with new glory. 

Reform Judaism does not claim to be a new religion. It is 
in every respect a mere link in the chain of Israel's historical 
continuity. It does not separate itself from the body of Israel. 
Despite differences of religious interpretation of life, we, of the 
Reform wing, lay strong emphasis upon the ideal of Jewish 
spiritual — as distinguished from political or geographical — 
unity. The Children of Israel constitute a religious brother- 
hood. Reform Judaism as the outgrowth of long ages of 
religious development is bound to Jewish tradition. We 
celebrate the holidays that have come down to us from the 
past. It is only in accommodation to the new conditions, 
under which the Jews are now living in lands of freedom, that 



THE MISSION OF REFORM JUDAISM 41 

some congregations instituted a Sunday service, but none have 
substituted Sunday for the historical day of rest. The Second 
Days of the Festivals (see the Jewish Encyclopedia for their 
origin) were abrogated not only because our people found it 
extremely difficult to observe them, but also because they have 
no scriptural basis. With the exception of Rosh Hashana, 
they are not observed even by the strictest Orthodox Jews of 
Palestine. Of the old ceremonials we try to keep all those 
that are vital to the life of the Jew. We look with deep rever- 
ence upon our religious literature. But we do not regard it 
as the sole source of authority in our religion. The Bible is 
the foundation but not the whole structure of Judaism. The 
Bible did not create Judaism; but Judaism created the Bible. 
For our religious knowledge we do not depend exclusively 
upon tradition, the Bible, the Talmud, or the philosophic 
writings of earlier days. With the great teachers of the 
past, we believe that in a limited way our reason and our 
conscience can help us fathom some of the mysteries of God's 
existence. If with all our minds and with all our hearts we 
truly seek Him, we shall truly find Him. Our sacred literature 
and traditions must guide us on our way; but we ourselves 
must search after God. Modern science which has disclosed the 
wonders of earth and sky has revealed to us in a new light the 
majesty of our God, of that "Mekor Chayim "—source of all 
existence, whose life throbs in star and flower and heart of man, 
through whom we live and move and have our being. He is 
not a mere blind force that vitalizes matter, but a self-conscious, 
reasoning Being, who knows the needs of the world, of nations, 
and of individual men. To Him we can turn in prayer and be 
strengthened in our weakness, comforted in our sorrow, and 
restored from the selfishness and filth of sin to a holy and 
pure life. Humanly speaking, we can find no more sacred 
word by which to stammer forth His great name than that of 
"Father." In His hands we intrust our spirit, in life and in 
death. 



42 THE JOURNAL OF RELIGION 

In former ages our people made much of the resurrection 
of the body and of the bliss of the soul in the hereafter. Men 
like Maimonides long ago came to look upon the Gan Eden and 
Gehenna as mere desires on the part of man but not names of 
actualities. And the saintly man, whom the late Professor 
Schechter quotes in one of his essays, even exclaimed in prayer 
unto God: "I have no wish for thy Paradise, nor any desire 
for the bliss in the world to come. I want thee and thee alone." 
Death can have no terror for us. When we are estranged from 
God our very life is death; but with God even death is life to 
us. The righteous live even after death. Their work remains 
behind them; their noble spirits, their hopes, their prayers 
and — what is greatest of all — their examples live on as bles- 
sings. It, therefore, follows that our whole life depends upon 
the way we spend our energies while moving in the midst of 
the duties, of the heat and the struggle of the day, upon the 
patience with which we endure our trials and the fortitude 
with which we bear our burdens. We consider it insufficient 
to say: "God's in his heaven; all's right with the world." 
Our ideal should rather be this: "Because God's in his heaven, 
we must see that all's right with the world." We, as men and 
as Jews, must promote the cause of justice on earth, defend 
the weak, and relieve the oppressed. To teach and, through 
our lives, to exemplify these truths, and thus to bring mankind 
nearer to the spirit of God, we consider to be the holy vocation 
or mission of our people. 

The ideals of Reform Judaism are expressed clearest in its 
liturgy. The following paragraphs are typical of the Union 
Prayerbook: 

Almighty and merciful God, Thou hast called Israel to Thy service 
and found him worthy to be Thy witness unto the peoples of the earth. 
Give us grace to fulfil this mission with zeal tempered by wisdom and 
guided by regard for other men's faith. May our lives prove the 
strength of our own belief in the truths we proclaim. May our bearing 
toward our neighbors, our faithfulness in every sphere of duty, our 



THE MISSION OF REFORM JUDAISM 43 

compassion for the suffering and our patience under trial show that 
He whose law we obey is indeed the God of all goodness, the Father of 
all men, that to serve Him is perfect freedom and to worship Him the 
soul's purest happiness. 

O Lord, open our eyes that we may see and welcome all truth, 
whether shining from the annals of ancient revelations or reaching us 
through the seers of our own time; for Thou hidest not Thy light from 
any generation of Thy children that feel after Thee and seek Thy guid- 
ance. 

We pray for the masters and teachers in Israel that they may dispense 
Thy truth with earnestness and zeal, yet not wanting in charity. May 
the law of love be found on their lips, and may they by precept and 
example lead many in the ways of righteousness. 

Bless, O God, all endeavors, wherever made, to lift up the fallen, 
to redeem the sinful, to bring back those who wander from the right 
path and restore them to a worthy life. Truly, God, we long to adore 
Thee in the temple of holiness, at the altar of truth and with the offerings 
of our love. O satisfy us early with Thy mercy, that we may rejoice 
and be glad all our days. 

The eternal hope of Israel is expressed in the Prayer of 
Adoration from which we quote the second part: 

May the time not be distant, O God, when Thy name shall be wor- 
shipped in all the earth, when unbelief shall disappear and error be 
no more. We fervently pray that the day may come when all men 
shall invoke Thy name, when corruption and evil shall give way to purity 
and goodness, when superstition shall no longer enslave the mind, nor 
idolatry blind the eye, when all inhabitants of the earth shall know that 
to Thee alone every knee must bend and every tongue give homage. 
O may all, created in Thine image, recognize that they are brethren, so 
that, one in spirit and one in fellowship, they may be forever united 
before Thee. Then shall Thy kingdom be established on earth and the 
word of Thine ancient seer be fulfilled: The Lord will reign forever and 
ever. 

On that day the Lord shall be One and His name shall be One.