Pittsburgh Platform

By Leah Greggo

October 2020

black and white photo of older man with beard and glasses
“Kaufmann Kohler,” WikiCommons. Kohler was the rabbi who called the Pittsburgh conference and wrote much of the Pittsburgh Platform.

The Pittsburgh Platform, which was written and signed in Pittsburgh in 1885, is a document that outlines eight principles of Reform Judaism that were agreed upon by rabbis at the Pittsburgh Conference. The Reform Movement is a liberal denomination of Judaism and has a rich history in the city of Pittsburgh. Reform Judaism has Germanic roots and the first Jews to settle in and around Pittsburgh were overwhelmingly immigrants from various parts of Germany. The Pittsburgh Conference was called together by Kaufmann Kohler, a rabbi at Temple Beth-El in New York City. The purpose of the conference and the Pittsburgh Platform was to establish Judaism as a religion concerned less with rituals from the past, and more focused on the moral laws of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) and solving social problems in the modern world.

Some of the principles written in this document were an assertion that Judaism is a progressive religion that recognizes reason and science, a rejection of some traditional rituals like kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), and perhaps most notably, a the declaration that Jews were no longer a nation, but a religious community. That last principle specifically is a rejection of Zionism, the nationalist movement to establish a Jewish state in the land of Palestine. The Pittsburgh Platform was a radical and controversial document that intensified the debate over Zionism in the American Jewish community. It was also one of the catalysts for some moderate Reform rabbis to splinter and create a new denomination of Judaism, the Conservative Movement.

sidewalk and street with small sign on the left
“Historical Marker” Mike Wintermantel. This marks the spot where the Pittsburgh Platform was signed at the original Concordia Club

The conference itself took place at the historic Concordia Club, at the club’s original address. Today there a historical marker on Stockton Avenue near where the Pittsburgh Platform was actually signed by all eighteen rabbis who attended the conference. The Concordia Club was a private social club for Pittsburgh’s Jewish population. The club eventually moved to O’Hara Street in Oakland in 1913. In 2009 the remaining members of the club sold the building to the University of Pittsburgh, which turned it into the O’Hara Student Center.

Although never officially ratified by any of the major Reform organizations, The Pittsburgh Platform remains an important historical document and heavily influenced the direction of the Reform Movement for the 50 years after it was written. Some of its ideas were revised in later platforms; for example, Reform Judaism no longer rejects Zionism. Still, the legacy of the Pittsburgh Platform can still be seen in the many Reform synagogues in Pittsburgh and felt in the current Reform Movement, which remains committed to moral causes.

Featured Image

“Concordia Club,” Rauh Jewish Archives. The Concordia Club at Stockton Avenue.

Further Reading

Jacob, Walter. The Changing World of Reform Judaism: the Pittsburgh Platform in Retrospect: Papers Presented on the Occasion of the 100th Anniversary of the Pittsburgh Platform, February, 1985 and the Proceedings of 1885 / Ed. by Walter Jacob. Rodef Shalom Congregation, 1985. 

Marylynne Pitz. “Reform Judaism Made its Mark Historical Marker Unveiled on North Side to Celebrate 1885 Pittsburgh Platform.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA. 1978), Pittsburgh Post – Gazette, 11 oct. 2007.

“Reform Judaism: The Pittsburgh Platform.” Jewish Virtual Library , www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-pittsburgh-platform. 

How to Cite

MLA: Greggo, Leah. “Pittsburgh Platform.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, 8 Jan. 2021, religyinz.pitt.edu/pittsburgh-platform/

APA: Greggo, L. (2021, January 8). Pittsburgh platform. ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/pittsburgh-platform/

Chicago: Greggo, Leah. “Pittsburgh Platform.” ReligYinz: Mapping Religious Pittsburgh. University of Pittsburgh, January 8, 2021. https://religyinz.pitt.edu/pittsburgh-platform/