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Liberal Judaism is a term used by some communities for what is otherwise known as Reform Judaism or Progressive Judaism (particularly in the UK, but also elsewhere).
The Liberal movement (and the Liberal Jewish Synagogue) in the UK were founded in the early part of the 20th century by Lily Montagu, Claude Montefiore and others. It began initally in 1902 with a supplementary prayer meeting, an adjunct to the then Orthodox and Reform synagogues, with the intention that the use of more English in services, men and women sitting freely together, the use of organ music, and so forth might also prevent some on the margins of British jewry from assimilating completely and being totally lost. But the sense of sincerity and radicalism of the Liberal movement rapidly gained adherents and established a new identity, leading to the founding of the Liberal Jewish synagogue in 1911, the first of now more than thirty Liberal congregations in the UK.
To quote the LJS website, "Liberal Judaism values tradition, but truth even more. It combines respect for our Jewish heritage with positive acceptance of modern knowledge and due regard for the realities of the world in which we live". And it stresses "the full equality and participation of men and women in every sphere of religious life; an emphasis on ethical conduct above ritual observance; an affirmation of each individual's freedom to act responsibly in accordance with the dictates of the informed religious conscience; a pride in combining our Jewish heritage with full participation in the civic life of this country; and an awareness of our duty not only to the Jewish people and to the State of Israel, but also to the entire human family, each one of whom is created in the Divine image".
The confusion about the terms "Reform" or "Liberal" arose because at that time in the UK, 'Reform Judaism' meant the West London Synagogue, which was not connected with German or American Reform, and in modern terms strongly conservative. Since the 1930s, Reform Judaism in the UK has become much more like Reform in the United States; while Orthodoxy has grown steadily more and more rigid. Liberalism and Reform have therefore increasingly become twin halves of Progressive Judaism in the UK. Since 1964 both have together co-sponsored the training of rabbis at Leo Baeck College in London; and rabbis move freely from Reform to Liberal congregations and vice-versa. In recent years there has also been a move towards more tradition in Liberal services than a generation earlier - eg more use of Hebrew, more wearing of tallit and kippot, more enjoyment of Purim and other traditional minor festivals. But Liberal Judaism is still in some ways distinctly more 'liberal' than Reform, for example readily recognising as Jewish the child of Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, without conversion.
- Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St. John's Wood, London
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