Skip To Content
JEWISH. INDEPENDENT. NONPROFIT.
Fast Forward

UK’s Liberal and Reform movements merge as Progressive Judaism

“‘What is the difference between Liberal and Reform Judaism’ has therefore become a question that our rabbis, cantors, lay leaders and even PR people struggle to answer,” the new alliance’s co-CEO’s wrote

(JTA) — In a major development for British Jewry, the United Kingdom’s Liberal and Reform Jewish movements are joining to create a unified Progressive Judaism movement after working separately for more than 120 years.

The historic project, a culmination of decades of discussions and rapprochement, is to be led by the Reform movement’s newly-appointed CEO, Rabbi Josh Levy — who is leaving his role as principal rabbi of Alyth (or the North Western Reform Synagogue) in London — and Liberal Judaism CEO Rabbi Charley Baginsky.

The union was made possible in part by the decision of the U.K. Reform movement in 2015 to accept patrilineal Jews — or Jews with a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother — as full members of communities. That American model is embraced by the Liberal movement, but most European Reform organizations require patrilineal Jews to convert to become full members of their communities.

Today, the two British movements share their “welcome of mixed faith families and fully egalitarian services,” Baginsky wrote in a statement on Tuesday. “We are as one on everything from campaigning for same-sex marriage to training rabbis and educators, to offering provision for students and young people.”

“’What is the difference between Liberal and Reform Judaism’ has therefore become a question that our rabbis, cantors, lay leaders and even PR people struggle to answer,” Baginsky and Levy wrote in an op-ed in the U.K. Jewish News on Tuesday.

Paul Langsford, co-chair of the Reform movement, assured members of both groups that “no one will be asked to change their synagogue name, their Reform identity, or change their prayerbook.” He added that input from members was welcome and would help shape future policies.

The London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research reported that, as of 2021, there were 271,327 self-identified Jews living in England and Wales, up from 265,073 in 2011 and 259,927 in 2001. They make up 0.46% of the total population of both countries.

According to today’s press statement, Progressive Jews will together make up around 30% of those who are affiliated with synagogues in the U.K. There are more than 80 Progressive communities reaching all parts of the country. Rabbis for both movements are trained at the London-based Leo Baeck College.

The Reform and Liberal movements held talks about unifying as far back as the 1970s and 1980s. They formed an alliance some ten years ago on such matters as student chaplaincy and social justice.

“Our lay leadership and clergy are clear that the future for Progressive Judaism is to have one shared movement to represent all of Britain’s Progressive Jews,” Langsford and Ruth Seager, chair of Liberal Judaism, said in a joint statement. “Our movements have made a huge impact on the development of the Jewish and wider world, but there is much more to do, and we believe this can be better achieved together.”

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.