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Reform Judaism

The Reform Movement started in the 19th Century when people had greater access to education and the institutions of political power. It was at this time that many Jews decided they wanted to Reform their Jewish Religion. This was particularly true in the European states that later became Germany.

Key individuals, especially Rabbis took the lead. As justifications they looked at their modern times but also referred to the visions of the prophets and innovations of the early Rabbis.

The changes were large, affecting nearly all aspects of Jewish thought and Practice. The texts were altered, removing references to Temple and sacrifice. Synagogue worship was shortened and repetitions were removed. Composed hymns were sung. Local languages were used. More emphasis was placed on the Hebrew Bible, less on Rabbinic literature. Some synagogues – including ours- installed organs.

This created a “gap” between those who wanted change and those who didn’t. At this time the term “orthodox” was adopted. Indeed, they opposed all changes, despite the Jewish world had been able to find ways to accommodate the Ashkenazic-Sephardic division.

During the nineteenth century, The United States became the “heartland” of Progressive Judaism, with a seminary and a standardised prayer book. Reform synagogues became became the “local churches” of millions of American Jews

In the UK, The “West London synagogue of British Jews” with a shorter simplified liturgy had been founded in 1840 to unite Ashkenazim and Sephardim.

In the beginning of the 20th Century, Liberal Judaism emerged. However in the 1930s, several notable German Rabbis who were refugees from Nazism, found that liturgy too liberal, and they played a role in new synagogue communities where men women are equal and sit together, which became one of the bases of British Reform Judaism.

Thanks to Rabbi Josh Levy, Rabbi Debbir Young-Summers, and Reform Judaism.

Converting to Judaism

Judaism is not a proselytising religion. However, we do accept converts and run conversion courses for those wishing to become Jewish. Broadly, there are three reasons for people to want to convert: having some Jewish heritage that has been lost and that the convert wants to reconnect with; Marrying or partnering with someone who is Jewish; and people who have chosen to be Jewish as they have decided that it is the right religion for them.

When people approach us about conversion, we ask them to start attending synagogue, and normally they will attend for at least six months before conversion is discussed in more detail. This is because because the heart of Judaism and Jewish worship is community, and this gives the prospective convert a solid opportunity to experience communal synagogue worship, and for them and the community to get to know one another a bit.

A meeting with a Rabbi then takes place, and if approved to go forward, the proselyte can begin classes. These cover Jewish, customs, practises, beliefs, texts, and history. Usually a convert will attend classes for about two years, before attending the Beit Din, a court of three Rabbis, in London to be interviewed and admitted into Judaism.

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