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Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell
young girl giving bouquet of roses

While Judaism does not have an equivalent to the secular Mother’s Day, Reform Judaism has been at the forefront of including women in religious life as equal partners. Sally Priesand was the first woman to be ordained a rabbi in 1972. In 1975, Barbara Ostfeld became the first ordained woman cantor. Both were ordained by the seminary of the Reform Movement, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. As early as 1994, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which publishes prayerbooks for Reform congregations, began using gender-inclusive language and adding the Matriarchs – Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, and Rachel to the liturgy. The Religious Action Center, the hub of Jewish social justice and legislative activity in Washington, D.C., has been at the forefront of advocating on women’s rights issues. In partnership with the Women of Reform Judaism, RAC has addressed issues of women’s economic empowerment, through the focused lens of paycheck fairness. Over two decades ago, the Reform Movement began lobbying on behalf of legislation supporting the enforcement of existing laws prohibiting all forms of violence against women. Since 1935, the Reform Movement has been advocating on behalf of reproductive rights and women’s health. What better way to honor our mothers than by working for their equal rights and treatment.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor S. Appell

Many have incorporated new rituals as part of the Passover  seder. Many seder plates include an orange, which is attributed to Susannah Heschel, professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College. Heschel included an orange in recognition of gay and lesbian Jews, and others who are marginalized in the Jewish community. In her ritual, each person takes a segment of the orange, and before eating it, says a blessing over the fruit. The seeds are spit out as a rejection of homophobia.

Urban legend, while including Heschel in the story, has radically altered it. The story that many have heard is that Heschel, while lecturing in Florida, was denounced by a man who said a woman belongs on the bimah as much as an orange belongs on the seder plate.

Not only had the ritual been attributed to a man, but the inclusion of gays and lesbians was erased from the story. While there are now many female rabbis, and Reform Judaism has made inclusion of the LGBTQ community a priority, this story reminds us that there is still much work to be done so that the stories of both women and gays and lesbians are told and heard. Indeed, an orange still belongs on a seder plate.

See also: 
Do We Still Need an Orange on the Seder Plate?
Yes, We Still Need an Orange on Our Seder Plate
7 Modern Additions to the Seder Plate

a wheelchair

Jewish tradition teaches us of our obligation to ensure equal access for all people and to help facilitate the full participation of individuals with disabilities in religious and public life. We are taught “Do not separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5); accordingly, we must prevent anyone from being separated from the community against their will. 

In Leviticus, chapter 19, verses 14, we are taught, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind.” Stumbling blocks come in many forms, from less-than-accessible buildings, Shabbat services, prayer books and web pages to health care that is harder to access or isn’t sufficient for people with disabilities. We are obligated to remove these stumbling blocks; this is why Judaism cares so deeply for the rights of people with disabilities. 

And in the first chapter of Genesis, we read that each of us is created in the image of God. These verses influence Reform Judaism’s commitment to disability rights and to creating Jewish communities that are welcoming and accessible to all. From our work on behalf of disability rights to groundbreaking work on involving people with disabilities and their families in Jewish life, Reform Judaism strives to make each congregation a “house of prayer for all people.” (Isaiah 56:5)

Here are additional Jewish texts to inspire inclusive practices.

Indeed, ensuring that people with disabilities are welcome and may participate fully in the Jewish and the broader secular communities has long been a priority of Reform Jewish advocacy. The Union for Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism have each passed numerous resolutions on the issue of disabilities. Every February, our Reform Jewish community joins Jews worldwide in observance of Jewish Disability Awareness, Acceptance, and Inclusion Month

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Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell
a single candle burning brightly in the darkness

It is considered a mitzvah to bury the dead with all proper respect. Jewish tradition defines this mitzvah as the burial of the body in the earth. Some Reform Jews have adopted the practice of cremation. While this method of handling the dead is generally contrary to Jewish tradition, there is no clear-cut prohibition of cremation in the halachic literature (literature of Jewish law). The Reform rabbinate seeks to encourage the traditional practice of burial in the earth whenever possible and, some Reform rabbis do not officiate at memorial services for those who have chosen cremation.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell

Yes, Jews have always observed civic and secular holidays. Some synagogues have a national flag on display and many synagogues participate in interfaith observances of holidays such as Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Mishkan T'filah, the prayerbook of the Reform Movement contains the national hymns of Israel, Canada, and the United States, and this site,, includes a number of prayers and blessings for the commemoration of secular holidays.

Answer By: 
Rabbi Victor Appell
Rainbow flag with Star of David on it

Reform Judaism has a long and proud history of working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning) people in Jewish life and for their full civil rights. As early as 1965, the Women of Reform Judaism called for the decriminalization of homosexuality. Resolutions by the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and NFTY – The Reform Youth Movement followed. Both NFTY and the URJ’s summer camps have taken steps to become more inclusive of transgender participants in their material, application forms, facilities, and programs. The social justice hub of the Reform Movement, the Religious Action Center (RAC), has been at the forefront of the fight for LGBTQ equality.

We are guided by the very basic belief that all human beings are created b’tzelem Elohim (in the Divine image), as it says in Genesis 1:27,

“And God created humans in God’s own image, in the image of God, God created them; male and female God created them.”

Rabbi David Saperstein, director emeritus of the RAC, has said,

“[R]egardless of context, discrimination against any person arising from apathy, insensitivity, ignorance, fear, or hatred is inconsistent with this fundamental belief. We oppose discrimination against all [LGBTQ individuals], for the stamp of the Divine is present in each and every one of us.”

In 2015, the Reform Jewish Movement led the religious community in affirming the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people. The Movement stated that it: 

"Affirms its commitment to the full equality, inclusion, and acceptance of people of all gender identities and gender expressions."

Today, in addition to several congregations whose primary outreach is to the LGBTQ community, LGBTQ Jews and their families are welcome in all Reform congregations and communities. LGBTQ Jews may be ordained as rabbis and cantors and they serve throughout the Reform movement. Most Reform rabbis and cantors gladly officiate at same-sex ceremonies.

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