Do Reform Jews Believe in the Messiah?

Answered by
Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler

In the Jewish prayer book, the siddur, there are references to an “end of days”: the Temple in Jerusalem will be rebuilt, the dead who were righteous will be resurrected, and a figure known as the Messiah, or in Hebrew the Moshiach, will restore Israel to new-found glory. The word “Moshiach” means “anointed one,” and it refers to someone who is descended from King David who was anointed with oil as king.

Reform Judaism teaches that, in partnership with God, it is up to us to make the world into a place of peace and justice, and that we cannot wait for nor do we expect a personal Messiah. The Principles of Reform Judaism (1999) state: "We continue to have faith that, in spite of the unspeakable evils committed against our people and the sufferings endured by others, the partnership of God and humanity will ultimately prevail…. We bring Torah into the world when we strive to fulfill the highest ethical mandates in our relationships with others and with all of God's creation."

Partners with God in tikkun olam (repairing the world), we are called to help bring the messianic age nearer. We seek dialogue and joint action with people of other faiths in the hope that together we can bring peace, freedom, and justice to our world. We are obligated to pursue tzedek (justice and righteousness), narrow the gap between the affluent and the poor, act against discrimination and oppression, pursue peace, welcome the stranger, protect the earth's biodiversity and natural resources, and redeem those in physical, economic, or spiritual bondage. In so doing, we reaffirm social action and social justice as a central prophetic focus of traditional Reform Jewish belief and practice.

In the 19th century, the earliest Reform Rabbis rejected all end of days beliefs as superstitious and anti-intellectual. They made a radical change: instead of praying for a Messiah, we now pray for a Messianic Age. In Hebrew, in the prayer for our ancestors, instead of praying for a go’el or “redeemer,” the Reform siddur refers to ge’ula or “redemption.” These changes have been maintained from the earliest Reform innovations and continue today.