Ira S. Halper and Amy Ruth Bolton
The Jewish community in the United States is diverse in a religious sense. Liberal or non-Orthodox Jews comprise the majority of this community and include members of the Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Humanist, and Renewal movements as well as a significant number of unaffiliated and secular Jews. The majority of the Jews who responded to the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey (United States) by saying they belonged to a synagogue, gave a Liberal affiliation.
The Liberal denominations of Judaism have their roots in the European Enlightenment of the 18th century. The Enlightenment was “a process of 'letting in the light' into the presumed darkness of the age that preceded it. The 'light' that was … to be let in was the light of reason. Reason, not received tradition or external authority, was to be the ultimate source of truth in all areas of human understanding” (Gillman, 1993, p. 7). The ideologies of present-day Liberal Jews can be traced back to Jewish religious reformers in 19th century Germany. The two major movements are Conservative Judaism and Reform Judaism. The Conservative and Reform movements share several basic principles but differ on others. Both believe that to deal effectively with modernity, Judaism must be studied in a scientific way. This means using the methodology of modern criticism in the study of the Hebrew Bible and the later rabbinic literature, comparing Jewish practices with those of other religions, and accepting as fact that throughout its development, Judaism was influenced by the conditions that existed outside of the Jewish community. Thus, neither the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible)