Liberal Judaism: A Judaism for the Twenty-First Century

Rabbi Pete Tobias - Rabbi of The Liberal Synagogue Elstree, Broadcaster and Author

This book was published by Liberal Judaism in May 2007.  It can be ordered by contacting Selina O’Dwyer at or by telephoning 020 7580 1663. The price is £9.99.

The following is taken from the back cover of the book; the introduction can be read below.

Liberal Judaism was founded at the beginning of the twentieth century, offering a modern, dynamic and relevant approach to the ancient faith of Judaism. At the start of the twenty-first century, there are new challenges to be met in a world that has changed dramatically over the last hundred years and unrecognisably since the earliest days of Judaism.

'Liberal Judaism: A Judaism for the Twenty-First Century' explores how Judaism has continually sought to address the fundamental questions that have faced humankind over the millennia: the origins and purpose of human life, the existence of God, the need for rituals and practices to encourage respect for the world and justice for those who dwell in it. In this book, Rabbi Pete Tobias reaffirms the relevance of the vision that has inspired and sustained this dynamic faith for almost four thousand years and describes how that vision can be re-stated and implemented in our age.

Reviews for Liberal Judaism: A Judaism for the Twenty-First Century

‘This book is liberal in the best sense of that word: free-flowing, humane and written with an open mind. For those starting out on a Jewish journey, or already deep into it, Rabbi Pete Tobias has produced a generous guide.’

Jonathan Freedland, author of 'Jacob's Gift.'

‘A reader-friendly and clearly written account of the Liberal Jewish view of Judaism’s past and future. Recommended for all persuasions and denominations of non-Jew and Jew alike. I wish I had been given this book for my bar-mitzvah.’

Rabbi Lionel Blue

‘Rabbi Pete Tobias has produced a thoughtful, eloquent and engaging account of Liberal Judaism today. ‘Liberal Judaism: a Judaism for the Twenty-First Century’ is an essential read for anyone interested in the role of Judaism in our ever-changing and increasingly challenging society. I highly recommend this book.’

Dr Edward Kessler
Founding Director, Woolf Institute of Abrahamic Faiths


This book seeks to set out the principles of Liberal Judaism and apply those principles to contemporary society and culture, the world of today in which Liberal Judaism and its adherents must find their moral bearings.

Reconciling their beliefs with an ever-changing world is not a new experience for Jews. One of this book’s fundamental assertions is that Judaism has constantly adapted itself to meet the challenges posed to it by the need to survive in evolving societies – had it not done so, this ancient religion would long since have been written out of history. As we enter a third millennium (according to one particular method of counting time), the need for religion to live up to its potential as a positive force in human development has never seemed more urgent. In its purest form, religion encapsulates humankind’s most noble aspirations in the search for life’s meaning and purpose. In practice, sadly, it often seems that, amid claims of divine preference, religion has lost its way in a maze of particularistic ritual that does no justice to the human spirit or its Creator.

‘Liberal Judaism: A Judaism for the Twenty-First Century’ is a grandchild. Its parent is ‘Judaism for Today’, written in 1978 by Rabbi John D. Rayner and Rabbi Bernard Hooker. Its grandparent is ‘The Essentials of Liberal Judaism’, by Rabbi Israel Mattuck in 1947. The family in which it proudly and humbly takes its place (proudly since it is an honour to make a contribution to that family, humbly because of the greatness of its predecessors) is Liberal Judaism, the movement that began life as the Jewish Religious Union in 1902.

Since its inception, over a century ago, Liberal Judaism has sought to emphasise the universalistic concerns and the messianic purpose of Judaism, both enshrined in the visions of Israel’s ancient Prophets. In this regard, its emphasis is often at odds with what might be called mainstream Judaism. Although Liberal Judaism shares its heritage with Jews all over the world, it quite specifically places sincerity and integrity above ritual and tradition. Therefore it emphasises the demand for justice implicit in the establishment of biblical laws over adherence to laws and customs that have been derived from them. Much of present-day Judaism, it would seem, is more concerned with these laws and customs, rituals and traditions than with the ethical and moral imperatives that inspired them and that underpin them.

Liberal Judaism is the only branch of Judaism in the United Kingdom that seeks to rediscover and emphasise the underlying principles that have been at the heart of this ancient faith since its inception more than three thousand years ago. It is this emphasis, placing the prophetic demands for justice ahead of acknowledging Judaism’s age-old traditions, that makes Liberal Judaism unique. This stance is reflected in another, central document, ‘Affirmations of Liberal Judaism’, written by Rabbi John D. Rayner in 1992. Re-edited in 2006, it lists forty-two propositions about Liberal Judaism. The first twenty-two map out the common ground shared with other branches of Judaism. The second twenty list those aspects that give Liberal Judaism its distinctive approach. Each of the forty-two affirmations inspires a chapter of this
book. Building on Rabbi Rayner’s 1992 work, the complete text offers an overview of Judaism from this Liberal perspective. It is written both in the expectation that much of its content will, in due course, be superseded and in the hope that this will be the case. A Judaism that does not develop is not Judaism.

What follows, then, is a picture of where Liberal Judaism stands at the beginning of the twenty-first century. To quote from its predecessor, it is ‘an ancient faith with a modern message’. That message, and this work, tells how Liberal Judaism is at the cutting edge of a religion constantly evolving. As readers will discover, Liberal Judaism challenges the assumptions that modern-day Judaism makes about itself, insists that its adherents confront today’s major issues with the honesty and integrity our age demands, and brings to that confrontation the ethical and spiritual awareness that inspired the earliest creators of Judaism and the founders of Liberal Judaism itself.

This is Liberal Judaism: a Judaism for the twenty-first century.

Rabbi Pete Tobias
Elstree, April 2007