The establishment of the Reform Beth Din in 1948 – a barometer of religious trends in Anglo-Jewry

A Jewish community cannot function fully without a Beth Din — a Rabbinic Court dealing with status issues such as conversion, adoption and divorce. It is surprising, therefore, that whereas the first Reform synagogue, the West London Synagogue, was founded in 1840, the Reform Beth Din was not established until 1948. Why was it so late? Why did it take 108 years? What did Reform synagogues do without it? What were the factors that led to its coming into existence? And, once formed, what effect did it have on wider Anglo-Jewry?

It seems that at first the West London Synagogue managed reasonably well without a Beth Din. Requests for conversion were rare, and any applicants were sent abroad to Paris or to Amsterdam. The Orthodox authorities did exactly the same, as it was not considered desirable to offend English sensibilities by doing anything that might appear akin to missionary activity.

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