During the 1800s there were many voices urging changes in the old forms of Jewish worship.

The beginnings of a ‘Jewish Reformation’ were made in Germany between 1810 and 1818. In America, the first Reform Synagogue was started in South Carolina in 1824.

The first Progressive Jewish congregation in the UK was the West London (Reform) Synagogue for British Jews, dedicated in 1842.

Liberal Judaism in Britain was established in 1902, with its first congregation founded in 1911 at The Liberal Jewish Synagogue.

The origins of Liberal Judaism began in 1899, when an article by Lily Montagu titled ‘The Spiritual Possibilities of Judaism Today’ appeared in the Jewish Quarterly Review. In an age when all Jewish communal activity was run by older men, it was doubly remarkable that a 25 year old woman should be the initiator of a Jewish movement.

The joint editors of the Jewish Quarterly Review – Claude Montefiore and Israel Abrahams – each played a large part in the work, as did a number of other leaders of the Jewish community at the time.

Known as the Jewish Religious Union (JRU), the first service took place on Saturday October 18, 1902, in the Great Central Hotel (now the Landmark Hotel) in Marylebone Road, London. There were 300 people in attendance.
The Liberal Jewish Synagogue (LJS) was founded in 1911, by the Committee of the Jewish Religious Union, as the first Liberal congregation. It was initially based in Marylebone, before moving to St John’s Wood in 1925.
The search for a first Liberal minister took some time, before Rabbi Dr Israel Mattuck agreed to take up the position at The Liberal Jewish Synagogue.

Mattuck, a dynamic speaker who could converse with people of all walks of life, became a key figure in the development and success of Liberal Judaism.

Lily Montagu, Claude Montefiore and Rabbi Dr Israel Mattuck are known as ‘the three Ms’, and are credited with creating and shaping Liberal Judaism in the UK.
After the founding of The Liberal Jewish Synagogue in 1911, the next congregation was to be formed in North London. The first service of the North London Liberal Congregation took place on April 30, 1921.

Within a decade two more Liberal communities had been set up in London – West Central Liberal Jewish Congregation in 1928, and South London Liberal Synagogue in 1929.

The first Liberal community outside of London was the Liverpool Liberal Jewish Congregation, where an initial service was held in December 1928. Birmingham Liberal Jewish Synagogue (1934) and Brighton & Hove Liberal Synagogue (1936) followed.

Liberal Judaism was initially known as the Jewish Religious Union, before becoming the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues (ULPS) in 1944.

In 2002, on its 100th anniversary, the movement became known simply as Liberal Judaism.

Liberal Judaism: The First Hundred Years by Lawrence Rigal and Rosita Rosenberg is an excellent history of the movement and provided all the text in this Q&A.

It can be bought from the Liberal Judaism shop.

Special thanks to Lawrence Rigal and Rosita Rosenberg for researching and gathering Liberal Judaism’s history