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.
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.