The Pittsburgh Platform Historical Marker
Erected on 2007 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, the Pittsburgh Platform is a symbolic dedication to the signing of the Pittsburgh Platform on November 1885. The marker is located between the intersection of Stockton Avenue and Anderson Street in Allegheny County of Pittsburgh. Signed by 18 rabbis, the Pittsburgh Platform was an agreement that marked a significant turning point of the American Reform Movement in Judaism. The platform was based around eight principles that expressed the Jewish faith.
Backstory and Context
Reform Judaism is a denomination of Judaism that focuses more on human morality and ethics rather than celebratory customs and traditions inscribed in the Jewish Bible, the Torah. The main purpose of the Reform is to illustrate how Judaism needs to progress with the evolution of society. Followers of the Reform utilize scientific methods ("Wissenschaft des Yubentums") to analyze and challenge the supernatural claims and the traditional values of the Jewish Faith. For example, followers of the Reform debate and dispute about the theophany that occurred on Mount Sinai where Moses heard God's voice telling him about the Ten Commandments. People of the Reform believe that Moses heard thunder rather than God's voice.
Reform Judaism began approximately the early-1800s in Berlin, Germany when German-Jews who have found Enlightenment began to distant themselves from traditional Judaism and started to advocate for new and revised practices of the Jewish faith. Followers of the Reform held small conferences and meetings to discuss, alter, and update some Jewish practices, such as Jewish men not having to wear kippahs (dome-like hats) in public, playing organ music during services, holding shorter services, eliminating excerpts of Jerusalem from their prayer books (Jerusalem is consider the central home for all Jews where they must travel on pilgrimage, however, Reform Jews do not believe Jerusalem is their home; Germany is the only home they knew.), permitting Jewish to shave their beards, and allowing Jews to eat with non-Jews. The main goal of Reform Judaism during the time was to create equal rights for all Jews and for Judaism to be seen as an evolving human product rather than a set-in-stone religion. Later in the late-1800s, German-Jews began to immigrant the United States where they continued to spread the word of Reform Judaism, which was when the American Reform Movement of Judaism was born and the Pittsburgh Platform was created.
On November 1885, eighteen rabbis lead by Kaufmann Kohler convened at Concordia Hall adjacent to this historical marker for the Pittsburgh Conference. The conference was led by Issac M. Wise, one of the founding fathers of the American Reform Movement of Judaism. This movement was part of an effort to reconsider some traditions and rituals withing the Jewish faith. For example, the dietary restrictions (ex. strict kosher diet and Jews not being being allowed to dine with non-Jews) in relation to Judaism were among those traditions that were discussed.
During the meeting, led by Kohler, the rabbis discussed ways how some traditions and rituals associated with Judaism might need to better reflect modern life. Supporters of the reform movement wished to consider certain aspects of traditional Mosaic and Rabbinic practices. After several days, the rabbis outlined and proposed eight central principles that best represented the ideals of the Reform and how the Jewish faith was evolving in their view. These eight principles were intended to symbolize the commonalities between the Eastern U.S. and Germanic wings of the Reform and separate the Reform Movement from Orthodox and Conservative Judaism.
For half a century, The Pittsburgh Platform served as the basic outline of the Reform Movement. The document expressed religious optimism and acceptance of other religious practices. In addition, the document details an updated perspective on Judaism and rejects traditional views on dietary restrictions, purity, and dress. In 1937, the Pittsburgh Platform was revised at the Central Conference for American Rabbis with the ratification of the Columbus Platform.
Knobel, Peter S. What Did God Say at Mount Sinai?, ReformJudaism.org. January 29th 2005. Accessed September 20th 2019. https://reformjudaism.org/what-did-god-say-mount-sinai.
Reform Judaism, Encyclopedia.org. n.d. Accessed September 8th 2019. https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/united-states-and-canada/us-history/reform-judaism#2587516561.
Reform Judaism: The Pittsburgh Platform, Jewish Virtual Library. n.d. Accessed September 8th 2019. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-pittsburgh-platform.
Sussman, Lance J. Rabbi Joseph Krauskopf, Reform Triumphalism, and the1885 Pittsburgh Platform, Reform Judaism. n.d. Accessed September 8th 2019. https://reformjudaism.org/practice/what-reform-judaism/rabbi-joseph-krauskopf-reform-triumphalism-and-1885-pittsburgh-platform.