Religious Traditions Depth Studies

Title Forty Five: Religious Traditions Depth Studies

Part Seven: Significant People and Ideas in Judaism

Liturgical Reform

<em>Jewish Worship</em> - By Chaim Goldberg

Jewish Worship - By Chaim Goldberg

Geiger embraced a number of important liturgical reforms. They were, the:

  1. introduction of a small number of prayers that were recited in German
  2. abolition of the traditional mode of singing prayers
  3. abolition of the prayer of mourning for the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem
  4. use of organ music to accompany singing
  5. delivery of the sermon in German.

Role in Reform Synods

Geiger was the driving force behind convening many synods of rabbis who supported reform. He was also one of the most active participants in the synods conducted in Frankfurt in 1845 and in Breslau the following year. The intention behind these synods was to institute a programme of reform which aimed at the elimination of those features of Judaism that set Jewish people apart from their gentile neighbours. An excerpt from the Frankfurt synod states:

This is the difference between strict Orthodoxy and Reform: Both approach Judaism from a religious standpoint: but while the former [Orthodox] aims at restoration of the old political order, the latter [Reform] aims at the closest possible union with the political and national union of our times.

- Rabbi Ken Spiro, The Reform Movement
Available at:


Synods under the influence of Geiger advocated for sweeping reforms. They

... recommended the abolition of the dietary laws; wearing the kippah, tallit, and tefillin. Prayer references to a 'Return to Zion,' a personal Messiah, and resurrection of the dead were removed. References to the sacrificial cult were excised. Geiger opposed all prayer in Hebrew, but he was not able to convince the synods of this.

- Abraham Geiger
Available at:

Towards the end of his life, Geiger also played an active role in rabbinical meetings and synods at Cassel (1868), Leipzig (1869) and Augsburg (1872).

- c.f. Abraham Geiger
Available at:


Geiger was a prolific writer. His publications include:

Geiger's greatest work is a publication titled, The Original Text and the Translation of the Bible: Their Dependence on the Inner Development of Judaism. His analysis concentrated on the role of the Sadducees and Pharisees in transmitting Judaism from one generation to the next. The Sadducees were highly conservative and rejected all forms of change to the Torah and the interpretation of Jewish law. By contrast, the Pharisees supported reform in order to preserve the relevance of the Torah and the mitzvot in a changing society. Geiger argued that Reform Judaism was an integral part of the Jewish tradition because it was a continuation of the reforms instituted centuries ago by the Pharisees. In doing so, he laid the theoretical foundation of the Reform movement.

Women's Advocate

<em>Painting</em> - By Charles Zacherie Landelle (1812-1908)

Painting - By Charles Zacherie Landelle (1812-1908)

Geiger's philosophy on the role of women was a combination of very conservative and radical Jewish ideas. While on the one hand, Geiger argued for male and female equality, he maintained that the wife was subservient to her husband. His ideas on the central role of the woman as wife, mother, homemaker and carer of children remain conservative by today's standard, but they were also somewhat challenging for the Jews of his time. Geiger firmly placed the authority for family life in the hands of the wife. He argued that spirituality in the home as well as family integrity needed the feminine perspective and belonged to the role of women.

Geiger objected to the separation of women and men in the synagogue and the exemption of women from performing the same mitzvot as their male counterparts.

Women had been 'released' from public worship and thereafter denied 'the most nourishing food of religious interiority'. They watched on the side as men worshipped 'in a foreign language'.

- Ken Koltun-Fromm, Abraham Geiger,

Geiger spoke about the role of women at rabbinical conferences held during the 1840s, deploring their exclusion from the public arena. His influence at these conferences would see important advances towards achieving male and female equality.

The rabbinical conference in Frankfurt in 1845 declared women to have the same obligations as men to participate in instruction of Judaism and in public services as well as count in the minyan. The Breslau conference of 1846 proclaimed the complete religious equality of the female sex. This did not mean, of course, that women were allowed to become rabbis or serve as the president of a congregation. After all, equality has its limits.

- Judith Frishman, Reconstructing a Usable Past
Available at:

Learning Activity

  1. In pairs, use the Peoplescape Strategy to summarise, in a visual representation, the life, career and activities of Geiger as a leader of reform.
  2. In groups of four, use the Cause And Effect Strategy to explain the contribution of Geiger to Judaism.