Can someone of Orthodox beliefs attend services at a Reform synagogue? If so, please tell some things to expect at a Reform Shul different from an Orthodox.

  • 1
    This seems like two very different questions: the first halachic (or do you mean it as a social-mores question?) and the second seeking "things to expect". I'd probably split it up into two. Moreover, in the second question, by "things", do you mean only "things different from an Orthodox synagogue", or do you mean all things? (cc @MonicaCellio)
    – msh210
    Commented Nov 2, 2014 at 21:21
  • One important factor (to my view) is whether anyone would be offended if you didn't go. Whilst going to a Reform service may not be ideal, it is nowhere near as bad as hurting someone's feelings.
    – Epicentre
    Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 4:55
  • 2
    @Epicentre, if someone offers me a ham sandwich and there's no way for me to decline it without offending him, I'm going to decline it anyway. (Ask your rabbi, though.) I've no idea whether the same applies to attending services at a Reform temple, but it does conceivably.
    – msh210
    Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 13:31
  • 4
    I was once staying in a place where the only shul I could walk to was a reform shul. I went on Friday night and frankly I couldn't have felt more out of place on Mars. I didn't recognize any of the prayers. Almost all had been modified, and many were skipped or truncated. They were done in a mixture of Hebrew and English and in a variety of methods (call and response, all together, alternating between the congregant and the rabbi, etc), all of which were very very strange to me. Commented Nov 3, 2014 at 18:46
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    @msh210 - I see a big big difference between a ham sandwich (forbidden by Torah - with no dispute) and going to a reform synagogue (not desirable perhaps, and perhaps forbidden by the Rabbis, but I don't see it as forbidden by Torah)
    – Epicentre
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 5:15

1 Answer 1


Quite aside from any issues of appearance (which I understand to be quite serious, among the Orthodox, with respect to non-Orthodox services), you will not be yotzei because they will not do the prayers fully and in the manner you expect.

Customs vary, but I've been going to Reform services for years and have visited a few different synagogues, and here's what that experience suggests:

All services:

  • Some prayer texts will be altered. For example, part of Aleinu is usually omitted, the imahot are added to the avot in the t'filah, and "m'chayei meitim" might instead be "m'chayei hakol".
  • A mix of Hebrew and English will be used. Not all English will be a faithful translation.
  • Sometimes statutory prayers will be replaced with "creative" readings (poetry, etc).
  • Reform congregations are egalitarian, so you may see men or woman in the various roles (sh'liach tzibur, ba'al koreh, aliyot, etc).
  • There will probably be more "orchestrated" reading than you're used to (everybody reads together, or call and response).
  • There may be a lot of singing, by both men and women.

Friday night:

  • Some "creative" English readings may be inserted at the beginning.
  • Candles will be lit and kiddush chanted, regardless of the hour. (Reform congregations rarely follow the sun; services are at fixed times throughout the year and, except for "tot shabbat" and such, are unlikely to start before 6.)
  • Kabbalat shabbat, specifically the psalms, will likely be truncated and some omitted.
  • Lecha Dodi will be sung, but maybe not all nine verses.
  • Shalom Aleichem will be sung.
  • In kriat sh'ma, the service will likely go from the v'ahavta paragraph straight to l'ma'an tizkaru. The first b'racha after the sh'ma is likely to be altered or absent.
  • In the t'filah you can expect avot, g'vurot, and atah kadosh to be as normal (except for variations noted above for "all services"), but after that some parts may be condensed or altered. Sometimes the congregation sits after atah kadosh.
  • There might be a torah service, though this is on the decline.

Saturday morning:

  • After la'asok b'divrei torah, the specific texts studied may be different from what you expect.
  • P'sukei d'zimrah will likely be condensed (some psalms omitted and parts of nishmat through the end will probably not be done).
  • In kriat sh'ma, some will say the tzitzit paragraph and some not.
  • Changes in the t'filah similar to those on Friday night.
  • The torah reading might not include the entire parsha.
  • Musaf is not done.
  • 5
    In case you're wondering why I, a Jew literate enough to recognize these differences and be bothered by many of them, belong to a Reform congregation anyway: I have a strong tie to my particular community. And I grit my teeth a lot, and sometimes go elsewhere. Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 2:10
  • I would like to understand the downvote on this answer. Does someone feel it is not accurate? Goes too far? Doesn't go far enough? Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 3:05
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio in reply to your "I would like to understand the downvote on this answer. Does someone feel it is not accurate? Goes too far? Doesn't go far enough?": I upvoted it, but arguably it doesn't go far enough in that it mentions but doesn't focus on "issues of appearance". The answer (or, better yet, a new one) would be improved by including an Orthodox ruling on the "appearance" issue and whether one can attend a service in a Reform synagogue even if e.g. he's already prayed.
    – msh210
    Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 17:19
  • 1
    @NoachMiFrankfurt I suspect, but do not know, that the former might have arisen from the heiche kedusha practice (with subsequent mutations). When I asked my rabbi about Friday-night torah reading he said historical reasons; in the early 20th century in the US when the choice was between keeping Shabbat and keeping your job, many Reform Jews chose the latter and so couldn't come on Shabbat morning. This is all speculative; you could ask either of those questions here if you like. (Questions about non-Orthodox movements sometimes don't get good receptions, though.) Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 21:47
  • 1
    (RE your parenthetical statement) I've noticed Commented Sep 1, 2016 at 22:28

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