Religion

The Pittsburgh Platform – Defining American Reform Judaism (1885)

Declaration of Principles “The Pittsburgh Platform” – 1885 1. We recognize in every religion an attempt to grasp the Infinite, and in every mode, source or book of revelation held sacred in any religious system the consciousness of the indwelling of God in man. We hold that Judaism presents the highest conception of the God-idea as taught in our Holy Scriptures and developed and spiritualized by the Jewish teachers, in accordance with the moral and philosophical progress of their respective ages. We maintain that Judaism preserved and defended midst continual struggles and trials and under enforced isolation, this God-idea as the central religious truth for the human race. 2. We recognize in the Bible the record of the consecration of the Jewish people to its mission as the priest of the one God, and value it as the most potent instrument of religious and moral instruction. We hold that the modern discoveries of scientific researches in the domain of nature and history are not antagonistic to the doctrines of Judaism, the Bible reflecting the primitive ideas of its own age, and at times clothing its conception of divine Providence and Justice dealing with men in miraculous narratives. 3. We recognize in the Mosaic legislation a system of training the Jewish people for its mission during its national life in Palestine, and today we accept as binding only its moral laws, and maintain only such ceremonies as elevate and sanctify our lives, but reject all such as are not adapted to the views and habits of modern civilization. 4. We hold that all such Mosaic and rabbinical laws as regulate diet, priestly purity, and dress originated in ages and under the influence of ideas entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state. They fail to impress the modern Jew with a spirit of priestly holiness; their observance in our days is apt rather to obstruct than to further modern spiritual elevation. 5. We recognize, in the modern era of universal culture of heart and intellect, the approaching of the realization of Israel’s great Messianic hope for the establishment of the kingdom of truth, justice, and peace among all men. We consider ourselves no longer a nation, but a religious community, and therefore expect neither a return to Palestine, nor a sacrificial worship under the sons of Aaron, nor the restoration of any of the laws concerning the Jewish state. 6. We recognize in Judaism a progressive religion, ever striving to be in accord with the postulates of reason. We are convinced of the utmost necessity of preserving the historical identity with our great past. Christianity and Islam, being daughter religions of Judaism, we appreciate their providential mission, to aid in the spreading of monotheistic and moral truth. We acknowledge that the spirit of broad humanity of our age is our ally in the fulfillment of our mission, and therefore we extend the hand of fellowship to all who cooperate with us in the establishment of the reign of truth and righteousness among men. 7. We reassert the doctrine of Judaism that the soul is immortal, grounding the belief on the divine nature of human spirit, which forever finds bliss in righteousness and misery in wickedness. We reject as ideas not rooted in Judaism, the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and in Gehenna and Eden (Hell and Paradise) as abodes for everlasting punishment and reward. 8. In full accordance with the spirit of the Mosaic legislation, which strives to regulate the relations between rich and poor, we deem it our duty to participate in the great task of modern times, to solve, because of justice and righteousness, the problems presented by the contrasts and evils of the present organization of society.

On November 16-19, 1885, a meeting of the convened at the call of Kaufmann Kohler. The meeting produces the “Pittsburgh Platform” – a document which set forth American Reform positions on such topics as the idea of God, the Jewish mission, and the need for Jews to be actively involved in social justice causes for…

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Mikveh Israel’s burial ground – Philadelphia, 1740

Image of the inside of Mikveh Israel, including central bima, ark, and separated, gender-based seating on different levels.

Although Mikveh Israel, Philadelphia’s first synagogue, was not founded until 1782, the land for its cemetery has an earlier history. A burial plot was first bought by Nathan Levy in 1738 when he suddenly needed a burial place for one of his children, and land was made available to him by Thomas Penn, the son…

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Jacob Rader Marcus (1896-1995): the “Dean” of American Jewish historians

Photo collage of Jacob Rader Marcus.

Jacob Rader Marcus, the founder of the American Jewish Archives (AJA), was born in Connelsville, PA on March 5, 1896. Known as the “Dean” of American Jewish historians, Dr. Marcus was the first American born, scientifically trained historian to earn an academic Ph.D. to examine the American Jewish experience. In 1947—with the great centers of…

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The Life, Work and Lasting Impact of R. Isaac Mayer Wise (Bio & Video)

Photograph of Rabbi Isaac M. Wise retrieved from a scrapbook compiled of his life and death. The image is attached the the paper and covered with dried leaves and flowers.

Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of the Hebrew Union College and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), was born in Steingrub, Bohemia on March 20, 1819. Isaac Mayer Wise received a traditional Jewish education. He came to America in 1846 and soon began serving as rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Albany, New…

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Two 19th-century ketubot

Two 19th-century ketubot. The first is from 1857 and is for the marriage of Solomon Joseph and Rebecca Abraham, both of Charleston, S.C. The other is from 1873 and is for the marriage of David Nieto and Esther Belasco—residents of Kingston, Jamaica.

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The First LGBTQ+ Synagogue in the U.S.

Collage of BCC including an image of Rabbi Erwin Herman, Herman's biography, and an advertisement for a "Synagogue formed for homosexuals in L.A."

Beth Chayim Chadashim’s (BCC) first service was held on June 9, 1972 in Los Angeles, California. BCC is the first primarily LGBT synagogue in the United States. BCC, which at the time was known as the Metropolitan Community Temple, began with fifteen members and held services in the local community center. BCC grew and prospered…

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JULIAN MORGENSTERN (1881-1976)

Black and white photograph of Julian Morgenstern.

After his ordination at HUC in 1902, Julian Morgenstern studied in Europe and received his doctorate from the University of Heidelberg. He served several small congregations in the Midwest, and then returned to HUC in 1907, the first American-born scholar to be appointed to the HUC faculty.  On January 29, 1921, a minority of the…

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ALFRED GOTTCHALK (1930-2009)

Black and white photograph of Alfred Gottchalk.

Alfred Gottschalk was born in Oberwesel, Germany on March 7, 1930.  His father fled to New York in 1938 after narrowly escaping arrest by the Gestapo. Alfred and his mother joined him in 1939. After graduating from Brooklyn College, Gottschalk attended HUC-JIR (first in New York and then in Cincinnati), where he received his rabbinical…

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AMERICA’S OLDEST STANDING SYNAGOGUE

Black and white image of the Touro Synagogue, undated.

December 2nd, 1763, Members of the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island witnessed the dedication of the Touro Synagogue, the oldest standing synagogue building in the United States. It is the only synagogue to survive from the colonial era. The synagogue was designed by Newport citizen Peter Harrison. At the onset of the American Revolution,…

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