Reform Judaism: Declaration of Principles: 1869 Philadelphia Conference

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Reform Judaism: Declaration of Principles: 1869 Philadelphia Conference

Reform Judaism sought to distance itself from the concept of a "Jewish Nation" or "Jewish People" as well as from traditional practices of orthodox Judaism. Early Reform Judaism asserted energetically in each country that its congregants were members of the nationality of that country and not of a Jewish people. In the USA, the Reform Temple of Charleston had stated in 1824: “This country is our Palestine, this city our Jerusalem, this House of G-d our Temple.”

The same attitude was evinced by the conference of German reform Jews in Frankfort in 1845, which eliminated the prayers for the restoration of the Jewish state,  and in the Philadelphia conference resolutions of 1869. These stated:

1) The Messianic aim of Israel is not the restoration of the old Jewish state under a descendant of David, involving a second separation from the nations of the earth, but the union of all the children of G-d in the confession of the unity of G-d, so as to realize the unity of all rational creatures and their call to moral sanctification.

 

2) We look upon the destruction of the second Jewish commonwealth not as a punishment for the sinfulness of Israel, but as a result of the divine purpose revealed to Abraham, which, as has become ever clearer in the course of the world's history, consists in the dispersion of the Jews to all parts of the earth, for the realization of their high-priestly mission, to lead the nations to the true knowledge and worship of G-d.

....

7. Urgently as the cultivation of the Hebrew language, in which the treasures of divine revelation were given and the immortal remains of a literature that influences all civilized nations are preserved, must be always desired by us in fulfillment of a sacred duty, yet it has become unintelligible to the vast majority of our coreligionists; therefore, as is advisable under existing circumstances, it must give way in prayer to intelligible language, which prayer, if not understood, is a soulless form.

The last resolution is inexplicable, since it since to be an admission of hypocrisy within a declaration of principles. If Hebrew is to be abandoned, the surely its cultivation cannot be urgent, and if its cultivation is urgent, it is hard to understand why it should be abandoned.

Ami Isseroff

See also

The Pittsburgh platform of Reform Jews - 1885 *

The Columbus Platform of Reform Jews - 1937 *

 Zionism and its Impact History of Zionism and the Creation of Israel

General Resources on the History of Israel, Zionism and the Jews

This document is part of the historical documents collection at the Zionism and Israel Information Center


Copyright

This introduction is copyright © 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism-Israel Information Center.


The Philadelphia Conference (Nov. 3-6, 1869)

There were present:

S. Adler of New York; J. Chronik of Chicago; D. Einhorn of New York; B. Felsenthal of Chicago; J. K. Gutheim of New York; S. Hirsch of Philadelphia; K. Kohler of Detroit; L. Mayer of Selma, Ala.; M. Mielziner of New York; S. H. Sonnenschein of St. Louis; M. Schlesinger of Albany, N. Y.; I. M. Wise of Cincinnati.

The following statement of principles was adopted:

1. The Messianic aim of Israel is not the restoration of the old Jewish state under a descendant of David, involving a second separation from the nations of the earth, but the union of all the children of God in the confession of the unity of God, so as to realize the unity of all rational creatures and their call to moral sanctification.


2. We look upon the destruction of the second Jewish commonwealth not as a punishment for the sinfulness of Israel, but as a result of the divine purpose revealed to Abraham, which, as has become ever clearer in the course of the world's history, consists in the dispersion of the Jews to all parts of the earth, for the realization of their high-priestly mission, to lead the nations to the true knowledge and worship of God.


3. The Aaronic priesthood and the Mosaic sacrificial cult were preparatory steps to the real priesthood of the whole people, which began with the dispersion of the Jews, and to the sacrifices of sincere devotion and moral sanctification, which alone are pleasing and acceptable to the Most Holy. These institutions, preparatory to higher religiosity, were consigned to thepast, once for all, with the destruction of the Second Temple, and only in this sense—as educational influences in the past—are they to be mentioned in our prayers.


4. Every distinction between Aaronides and non-Aaronides, as far as religious rites and duties are concerned, is consequently inadmissible, both in the religious cult and in social life.


5. The selection of Israel as the people of religion, as the bearer of the highest idea of humanity, is still, as ever, to be strongly emphasized, and for this very reason, whenever this is mentioned, it shall be done with full emphasis laid on the worldembracing mission of Israel and the love of God for all His children.


6. The belief in the bodily resurrection has no religious foundation, and the doctrine of immortality refers to the after-existence of the soul only.


7. Urgently as the cultivation of the Hebrew language, in which the treasures of divine revelation were given and the immortal remains of a literature that influences all civilized nations are preserved, must be always desired by us in fulfilment of a sacred duty, yet it has become unintelligible to the vast majority of our coreligionists; therefore, as is advisable under existing circumstances, it must give way in prayer to intelligible language, which prayer, if not understood, is a soulless form.

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