The Reform Beth Din: The formation and development of the rabbinical court of the reform synagogues of Great Britain, 1935-1965.
thesisposted on 19.11.2015, 09:14 by Jonathan A. Romain
A Beth Din - a Rabbinical Court - has been the traditional vehicle for dealing with matters of Jewish status such as conversion, divorce and adoption according to Jewish Law. In Britain, where the Jewish community had belonged mainly to Orthodox synagogues, all Rabbinical Courts were under the Orthodox authorities. In 1948 the Reform Beth Din was founded. It was the first time that a non-Orthodox Rabbinical Court had been established in Britain. The Reform Beth Din represented a turning point in the religious life of Anglo-Jewry, for although it was intended purely to serve members of Reform synagogues it came to be used by many in the wider community as an alternative to the Orthodox courts. It reflected a changing pattern of religious allegiance due to a variety of factors: the increasingly reactionary nature of the previously tolerant Orthodox rabbinate; the estrangement between them and the laity within Orthodox synagogues; the disruption to communal life caused by the Second World War; and growing assimilation amongst Anglo-Jewry. The Reform Beth Din fulfilled a need for a Rabbinical Court whose liberal approach corresponded to the attitude of many British Jews. Initially the Orthodox authorities ignored the Reform Beth Din but their fierce condemnation of it subsequently indicated their awareness of the important role it had attained for the whole of Anglo-Jewry. The Reform Beth Din also had a great impact on the Reform movement in Britain. The movement had come into existence only six years earlier and although it linked together the Reform synagogues they were jealous of their individual autonomy. The creation of the Reform Beth Din necessitated them agreeing on a common policy and subordinating their local authority to a central institution. The Reform Beth Din acted as an important catalyst in the development of the character and structure of the Reform movement, and was partly responsible for its emergence as a significant force within Anglo-Jewry.