Social Justice

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…

Read More

Jewish Roots of the Pulitzer Prize

Collage including black and white photograph of Joseph Pulitzer, two medals, and his autograph

Born in Makó, Hungary on April 10, 1847 to two Jewish parents, Joseph Pulitzer emigrated to the U.S. in 1864 to fight in the Civil War. After moving to St. Louis, Joseph became a naturalized citizen in 1867, passed the bar, served in the state legislature, and began reporting for the Westliche Post. He bought…

Read More

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…

Read More

REBECCA GRATZ (1781-1869)

Black and white photograph of Rebecca Gratz.

Let’s discuss the sensational life and legacy of American Jewish educator and philanthropist Rebecca Gratz. Gratz was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania where she lived with her eleven siblings and her parents Miriam and Michael. In 1801 she established the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances which helped families affected…

Read More

Emma Lazarus: Writings and Philanthropy

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Emma Lazarus (1849-1887) wrote these words memorialized on the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus was born to a Jewish family in New York, near Union Square, on July 22, 1849. She held a strong classical education along with fluency in German and French.…

Read More

Civil Rights Law: The Legacy of William Kunstler

Deemed simultaneously a “great American hero” and “the most hated lawyer in America,” William M. Kunstler did not pursue law planning to become an advocate for civil rights. Born in 1919 to a middle-class Jewish family in the Upper West Side of New York City, Kunstler attended Yale University (1941) before serving in the Army…

Read More