The Rise of Reform Judaism A Sourcebook of Its European Origins

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  • Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut (author)
  • Rabbi Howard A. Berman (foreword)
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About the Book

Foreword by Solomon B. Freehof
New introduction by Howard A. Berman

This fiftieth anniversary edition of W. Gunther Plaut’s classic volume on the beginnings of the Jewish Reform Movement is updated with a new introduction by Howard A. Berman. The Rise of Reform Judaism covers the first one hundred years of the movement, from the time of the eighteenth-century Jewish Enlightenment leader Moses Mendelssohn to the conclusion of the Augsburg synod in 1871. View second volume, The Growth of Reform Judaism.

In these pages the founders who established Liberal Judaism, which originated in eastern Europe, speak for themselves through their journals and pamphlets, books and sermons, petitions and resolutions, and public arguments and disputations. Each selection includes Plaut’s brief introduction and sketch of the reformer. Important topics within Judaism are addressed in these writings: philosophy and theology, religious practice, synagogue services, and personal life, as well as controversies on the permissibility of organ music, the introduction of the sermon, the nature of circumcision, the observance of the Sabbath, the rights of women, and the authenticity of the Bible.

View other JPS Anthologies of Jewish Thought.


The characteristic diversity within Reform Judaism is underscored on virtually every page of Plaut’s volumes.
—Rabbi Howard A. Berman, executive director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism

The work of Rabbi Plaut is not only crucial for an understanding of Reform Judaism; it is also indispensable for grasping the development and history of Judaism in the modern world.

—Rabbi David Ellenson, chancellor and past president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

This valuable collection of source materials is designed to acquaint the reader with the primary forces in the development of Reform Judaism in Europe. From a wide range of essays, articles, speeches, and other writings, Dr. Plaut judiciously selects those that best represent the thinking of the leaders as well as of the lesser, more obscure figures of the Reform movement.

Commentary magazine

Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut

Rabbi W. Gunther Plaut (1912–2012) was a longtime rabbi of Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. The author of more than twenty books on Jewish theology, history, and culture, he is best known for The Torah: A Modern Commentary.

Rabbi Howard A. Berman

Rabbi Howard A. Berman is the executive director of the Society for Classical Reform Judaism. He lectures throughout the country on behalf of the Society and teaches regularly at Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem. He is Rabbi Emeritus of Chicago Sinai Congregation and Founding Rabbi of Central Reform Temple, Boston. Rabbi Berman is the co-editor of  The Union Prayer Book-Sinai Edition, revised, and the editor of The New Union Hagaddah, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Book Reviews

  • “Rabbi Plaut, who died in 2012 at the age of 99, was onto something when he wrote that Reform Judaism ‘is a phenomenon of man’s restless spirit.’ Substitute a gender-neutral term and he’s still right….the debate and challenges Rabbi Plaut so cherished continue.” Read Canadian Jewish News Review.

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