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Reforming Europe Facts on the Ground for Europe’s Progressive Judaism

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The non-Orthodox movements in Europe go by several names — among them, progressive, Conservative, Liberal, and, of course, Reform. In terms of nomenclature, the United Kingdom is a special case, however. There, the denomination officially known as Reform Judaism resembles a blend of American-style Conservative and Reform streams. The British movement called Liberal Judaism is similar to American Reform, and recognizes patrilineal descent and gay marriage. On the European continent, however, nearly all progressive congregations follow the matrilineal model.

By whatever name, the aggregation of progressive beliefs and practices that is distinguished by its modernistic and outward-looking philosophy first emerged as a distinct religious movement in Germany in the 19th century. It then migrated to, among other places, the United Kingdom, where it continues to flourish today.

In continental Europe, many progressive congregations are small, have part-time rabbis and hold services in rented quarters.

The primary progressive institutions of rabbinical study in Europe are the Leo Baeck College and the Abraham Geiger College.

Leo Baeck was founded in 1956 in London, its current home. It is named after one of progressive Judaism’s chief German proponents, who survived the Terezin concentration camp and then moved to England.

The Abraham Geiger College is located in Potsdam, Germany. The first rabbinical seminary formed in continental Europe following the Holocaust, Geiger College was founded in 1999.

In addition, the London-based European Region Beit Din, which operates under the auspices of the World Union for Progressive Judaism, approved the conversion of 68 people in 2005 and 80 in 2004, nearly half of whom were from Germany; 12 were from Italy.

Although the vast majority of Jews in Europe are unaffiliated, the ranks of progressive Judaism have been growing incrementally, following a period of several decades during which the movement was moribund, except in the United Kingdom.

Below, find a country-by-country compendium of progressive Jewish congregations outside the former Soviet Union. In countries that have only one such congregation, we’ve named the institution and included a few other relevant details about it.

Note: The estimated number of total Jews in each country includes both affiliated and unaffiliated individuals. In contrast, the estimated count of progressive Jews in each country is based strictly on congregational membership. Sources: Community estimates, the Jewish Virtual Library and the American Jewish Yearbook, 2005 edition.

Austria: 9,000 to 10,000 Jews total

Or Chadasch, Vienna

Founded: 1995

Members: 100

Belgium: 32,000 to 42,000 Jews total

Two progressive congregations — one founded in 1967, the other in 2003.

Members: 1,294

Czech Republic: 5,000 to 10,000 Jews total

Two progressive congregations — one founded in 1980, the other in 2000.

Members: 250

Denmark: 6,400 to 7,000 Jews total

Shir Hatzafon, Copenhagen

Founded: 2001

Members: 300

France: 600,000 to 700,000 Jews total

11 progressive congregations in Grenoble, Marseilles, Montepelier, Paris, Strassbourg, Tolouse and Lyon serving 4,000 to 6,000 members.

Germany: 200,000 Jews total

The birthplace of the Reform movement, Germany has the largest Reform presence on the Continent, with 20 congregations claiming 4,000 members.

Hungary: 100,000 to 130,000 Jews total

Two progressive congregations — one founded in 1987, the other in 2006.

Members: 221

Italy: 30,000 to 35,000 Jews total

Three progressive congregations — each founded in the last five years.

Members: 386

Luxembourg: 500 to 600 total Jews

Or Chadash, Luxembourg City

Founded: 2000

Members: 60

Netherlands: 30,000 to 33,000 Jews total

Nine progressive congregations under the aegis of The Union of Liberal Synagogues, founded in 1931.

Members: 3,000

Poland: 7,000 to 15,000 Jews total

Beit Warszawa, Warsaw

Founded: 2000

Members: 150

Spain: 40,000 Jews total

The Atid Jewish Community of Catalunya, Barcelona

Founded: 1997

Members: 200

Switzerland: 15,000 to 17,900 Jews total

Two progressive congregations — one founded in 1971, the other in 1978.

Members: 1,503

Sweden: 15,000 to 20,000 Jews total

Progressive Judaism

Founded: 2004

Members: 40

United Kingdom: 270,000 to 297,000 Jews total

Chief umbrella groups:

The Movement for Reform Judaism

Founded: 1942

Members: 25,000 in 45 congregations

Liberal Judaism

Founded: 1902

Members: 10,000 in 35 congregations

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