When people think of Judaism in Pittsburgh, they typically think about the fairly strong conservative and orthodox communities in and around Squirrel Hill. What they often don’t realize is that one of the most important and influential documents in the history of modern Judaism, the Pittsburgh Platform, was also signed in Pittsburghon the North Side in 1885.
The Pittsburgh’s Reform Judaism
In the late 1800s, the German Jewish Community organized the Concordia Club as a social venue for the large population that had settled within the city. At around this time, pressure from within the Jewish communities for a modernization (and pressure from other parts to conform) was reaching a head, and the inevitable division in Judaism was on the horizon. Seeking to establish a branch of Judaism with a greater allocation to personal choice and preference, eighteen rabbis gathered at the club in November of 1885. This was not the first such conference, since Reform Judaism had been growing as a movement for some time, but this conference was important for its mission to articulate a set of beliefs for the movement.
Reform Judaism as a movement embraces a modern, assimilation-based approach to religion. While it affirms a belief in the same creator as the rest of Judaism, it permits members to make their own decisions with respect to rabbinical law and living within a modern society. Dietary laws are typically abandoned, or adhered to weakly as a tradition instead of a requirement. Interfaith marriages are not prohibited.
The Pittsburgh Platform
The Pittsburgh Platform, and the platforms to come afterwards, stated explicitly that rituals incompatible with living a life assimilated in a modern society would be rejected. It called for an evolution of the religion towards the moral foundations, away from the ritual sections. Controversially, it also rejected the idea of a return to Zion. That view has been updated numerous times, and continues to be the subject of debate.
The Pittsburgh Platform’s Legacy
Today, just outside of the community pool on Stockton Street, there is a historical marker commemorating the Pittsburgh Platform signing. Today, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Reform Judaism which was formalized here is the single largest Jewish community in the United States at more than 1.5 million members.
Today, when we think of Judaism in Pittsburgh, while we can celebrate the communities still active throughout the city, it is also significant to remember the huge impact Pittsburgh had on the history of Judaism. Pittsburgh was at the heart of a debate that continues to this day about the religious identity, nationhood, and practices of Jews throughout the country and around the world.
PittsburghPost-Gazette: Reform Judaism Made Its Mark Here by Marylynne Pitz
Jewish Virtual Library: Pittsburgh Platform