Reform Judaism, a major branch of Jewish religion, is characterized by a commitment to adapt Jewish tradition and identity to the changing norms of modern life. Jewish law is not seen as an unchanging truth, as in Orthodox Judaism, but as a tradition to be used as an adaptable resource. Reform Judaism sees the modern world not as a threat, but as an opportunity to explore more innovative ways of expressing Jewish identity.
It has its origins in the 18th century, among European Jews who sought to modernize Judaism in keeping with changing times. For some Reform Jews, an unquestioning belief in God comes second to maintaining Judaism as a cultural identity. Some reform Jews might even describe themselves essentially as agnostic, or perhaps willing to reduce Judaism to a kind of ethical monotheism.
This radical tendency has proved resilient in the United States, although its breakaway movement of Conservative Judaism – seeking to reconcile elements of traditional Judaism with the realities of life in modern America – is the majority branch. Modernization has taken many forms, including a greater tendency to intermarry with non-Jews, who are welcome at synagogue alongside their partners, and an emphasis on gender equality and freedom of choice.
This includes a commitment to working with other faith groups, including Orthodox Jews and Muslims, and to interfaith dialogue as a way to advance human understanding and harmonious living. Reform Jews accord a more limited role than Orthodox Jews to religious ritual, a tendency that can be traced back to the movement’s desire to relinquish practices that emphasized the separateness of Jews as a social group.
Instead, Reform Judaism has viewed greater cultural integration as a positive means of achieving equal citizenship with the non-Jewish population. Thus, they strive to maintain an image by the principle of inclusion, rather than exclusion. Reform Jews consider their children to be Jewish if they are a child of a Jewish father or mother, so long as the child is raised Jewish.
Unlike in Orthodox Judaism, there is a commitment among Reform Jews to the full participation of gays and lesbians in synagogue life, as well within society at large.