In 1810, Rabbi Israel Jacobson founded the first Reform Temple in Seesen, Germany, so called because Jacobson wanted to move away from Jerusalem-centric Judaism, proclaiming ‘This is our Temple’. This was the final product of what Judaism calls the Haskalah, or enlightenment, which began in the 1780's when Moses Mendelsohhn left the Ghettos and translated the Torah into German, thus helping many Jews learn German for the first time. The early Reform movement in Germany went on a mission to make Judaism more acceptable to the outside world, and began borrowing ideas liberally from Christianity. Notably, services began to be conducted in German, the Sabbath day was moved from Saturday to Sunday, and the laws of Kashrut were changed.
The ethos was very much one of ‘fitting in’. Jews were on the cusp of being socially acceptable by attempting to integrate into society, and the feeling was that the only thing holding Jews back was Judaism itself.
The British Reform movement, The Reform Synagogues of Great Britain evolved along different lines. Sephardic Jews in the 1830’s and 40’s felt that Judaism needed to change, and formed the first Reform Synagogue in Great Britain in Upper Berkeley Street West London.
Since its beginnings, the Reform movement has grown and changed. Today, the Reform movement has the principles that the Torah was not directly given by G-d, but that it was inspired by G-d, and that the Talmud and the other significant Jewish texts are a guide, and not binding. There is a focus on learning the traditional Jewish texts, and making an informed decision as to whether or not they are correct, in the tradition of Jewish argument, or Machloket. The movement has now made a significant move back towards traditional Judaism, emphasising change for the sake of the soul rather than assimilation.
Today the Reform movement is the largest denomination in America, and is the largest non-Orthodox movement in Britain.