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The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the rabbinical arm of the Reform movement, issued a new Statement of Principles during its 1999 Pittsburgh conference. Known as the “new” Pittsburgh Platform, the 1999 document was issued 114 years after the original Pittsburgh Platform (1885), a seminal document that defined the then nascent American Reform movement. The new set of principles was hotly debated among leaders of the movement in the months before the conference. Two camps emerged: 1.traditionalists who represent a new wave of rabbis and laypeople seeking greater adherence to Jewish ritual and 2. classicists who reject attempts to inject more ritual into daily practice.
Rabbi Richard Levy, a leader of the traditionalist wing, drafted a platform that advocated the observance of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) and mikveh (use of the Jewish ritual bath). However, the final version of the platform was substantially altered from Levy’s draft in an attempt to placate both traditionalists and classicists. The new Pittsburgh Platform encourages Reform Jews to study Hebrew and Torah, observe Shabbat, and recognize the importance of mitzvot (sacred obligations). For traditionalists, the platform confirms that Reform is moving toward more tradition; for classicists, the platform affirms the importance of unity within the movement.
A Statement of Principles for Reform Judaism
Adopted at the 1999 Pittsburgh Convention
Central Conference of American Rabbis
May 1999 ‑ Sivan 5759
On three occasions during the last century and a half, the Reform rabbinate has adopted comprehensive statements to help guide the thought and practice of our movement. In 1885, fifteen rabbis issued the Pittsburgh Platform, a set of guidelines that defined Reform Judaism for the next fifty years. A revised statement of principles, the Columbus Platform, was adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1937. A third set of rabbinic guidelines, the Centenary Perspective appeared in 1976 on the occasion of the centenary of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Hebrew Union College‑Jewish Institute of Religion. Today, when so many individuals are striving for religious meaning, moral purpose and a sense of community, we believe it is our obligation as rabbis once again to state a set of principles that define Reform Judaism in our own time.
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