ReformJudaism.org: When did interfaith relations first become a priority of Reform Judaism?
It was in Reform Judaism’s “DNA” from the very beginning. In 1801, Israel Jacobson established an innovative religious school in Sessen, Germany that included 40 Jewish and 20 Christian students. His “mixed” student policy reflected his hopes, at the dawn of the so-called “Age of Enlightenment,” of a radiant future between Jews and Christians.
Did Reform Jewish leaders who immigrated to the United States in the mid-19th century share Jacobson’s optimism?
Yes. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who would emerge as the acknowledged leader of Reform Judaism, published a series of public lectures in 1883 entitled “Judaism and Christianity: Their Agreements and Disagreements.” While forcefully defending the fundamental authenticity and eternal validity of Judaism, Wise never denigrated Christianity in any of its myriad forms of belief or practice; rather, he focused on the centrality of the biblical Sinai revelation that he believed linked the two religions in an inextricable theological and human bond.
Two years later, Wise participated in promulgating the Pittsburgh Platform, which would guide Reform Judaism for more than 50 years. Section six includes the words: “…Christianity and Islam, being daughter religions of Judaism, we appreciate their providential mission to aid in the spreading of monotheistic and moral truth.”
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