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What is the difference in prayers between Reform and Conservative Judaism?


Rabbi Goldwasser

Rabbi Jeffrey Wolfson Goldwasser

Question: What is the difference in prayers between Reform and Conservative Judaism?

How does Reformed Judaism differ in prayers specifically from Conservative Judaism?

Answer: First, you should know that the Jewish movement that began in Germany in the 19th century and which has become the largest movement of Judaism in North America is named, Reform Judaism. Though it is common for people to refer to the movement as "reformed," the distinction between the noun and the adjective is more than semantic.

Reform Judaism holds that Judaism, from its earliest periods, has been reforming itself to adjust to the needs of Jews in their own time and situation. Rather than seeing itself as a movement that has "reformed" Judaism, the Reform Movement sees Judaism as being in a constant and ongoing process of reform. Reform Jews, therefore, see their movement as an authentic expression of Judaism in a form suited for the modern world.

One of the hallmarks of Reform Judaism is its commitment to autonomy. This is the idea that it is up to each Jewish individual to make informed choices about his or her Jewish practice. As such, there is no one definitive version of what a Reform worship service looks like. Different Reform congregations, and individuals, make their own choices about how to pray. This ideal is beautifully reflected in the Reform Movement's new siddur (prayerbook), Mishkan T'filah, which allows the individual worshipper to make her or his own choices about traditional, translated or interpretive prayer.

You ask about differences between Reform worship and worship in the Conservative Movement. One of the more significant differences between Reform and Conservative services for Shabbat and holidays is the different choices concerning the Musaf (additional) service.

This service represents the additional sacrifice offered at the Temple in ancient times on Shabbat and holidays. Traditionally, Musaf expresses the hope that the Temple in Jerusalem and its rites of ritual sacrificed will be renewed. The Conservative Movement, in general, continues the practice of reciting Musaf, but has redefined it as an act of reminiscence of the Temple, not a call for God to restore ritual sacrifice. As such, Conservative siddurim (prayerbooks) contain alternative forms of the Musaf service that make no reference to sacrifices.

Most Reform congregations do not recite Musaf at all. In general, Reform Jews reject the idea that animal sacrifices are the ideal form of Jewish worship. In addition, the Reform Movement generally favors changes in the traditional siddur that eliminate repetition.

Also, most Reform congregations change passages in the traditional liturgy that are offensive to our values of inclusion and tolerance. The Conservative Movement also does this -- for example, eliminating the traditional line in the Aleinu prayer that says the prayers of other nations are "vain and empty" -- but to a lesser extent than does the Reform Movement. The Reform Hagadah, for example, does not include the prayer that asks God to "pour out wrath" against Israel's enemies.

Rabbi Jeffrey W. Goldwasser

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