Creating American Reform Judaism

BookCreating American Reform Judaism

Creating American Reform Judaism

The Life and Times of Isaac Mayer Wise

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


September 1st, 1998

Access Token


Other Formats



Isaac Mayer Wise (1819–1900), founder of the major institutions of Reform Judaism in America, was a man of his time—a pioneer in a pioneer’s world. When he came to America from his childhood Bohemia in 1846, he found fewer than 50,000 Jews and only two ordained rabbis. With his sense of mission and tireless energy, he set himself to tailoring the vehicle of Reform Judaism to meet the needs of the growing Jewish community. Wise strove for unity among American Jews, and for a college to train rabbis to serve them. The establishment of Hebrew Union College (1875) was the crowning achievement of his life. His quest for unity also led him to draw up an American Jewish prayer-book, Minhag America, to found the Central Conference of American Rabbis, and to edit two weeklies; their editorials, breathing fire and energy, were no less important in his quest for leadership. Here as elsewhere, it was his persistence that won him the war where his impetuosity lost him many battles. Professor Temkin’s writing captures the vigour of Wise’s personality and the politics and concerns of contemporary Jewish life and leadership in America. Based primarily on material in the American Jewish Archives of the Hebrew Union College, this biography is a lively portrait of a rabbi whose singular efforts in many fields made him a pivotal figure in the naturalization of the Jew and Judaism in the New World. The book was first published in hardback in 1992 under the title Isaac Mayer Wise: Shaping American Judaism.

'Sefton Temkin has provided us with a much-needed critical and balanced portrayal of Wise ... The best scholarly work on Wise to date. It presents an admiring yet critical picture of Wise's achievements and personality ... Temkin's nuanced portrayal is a welcome contribution to our understanding of the man and his times.'
George L. Berlin, AJS Review

'Thorough and extremely competent ... Temkin contributes a great deal through his careful use of materials ... The book will be of interest to general readers ... who wish not only to understand Isaac Mayer Wise but, moreover, to comprehend the attitudes and events that led to the formation of a truly American form of Judaism.'
- A. J. Avery-Peck, Choice

'This new study, which becomes the authoritative work on Wise, is the product of decades of research.'
- Geoffrey Wigoder, Jerusalem Post

'Sefton Temkin has outdone himself in this excellent critical biography ... Dr Temkin has performed a great service with this highly readable and insightful book.'
- Allen Howard Podet, Manna

Author Information

Sefton D. Temkin was Emeritus Professor of Jewish History at the State University of New York at Albany. He died in 1996.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Half Title2
Title Page4
Prefatory Note6
List of Plates10
Note on Transliteration12
1. Bohemia (1819–1849)14
1. Metternich's Europe18
2. Jewish Life in an Age of Reaction18
3. Early Years31
4. Departure38
2. New Beginning (1846–1854)44
1. Young America44
2. Jewish Life49
3. Rabbi in Albany57
4. Organizing American Jewry64
5. Early Writings70
6. Sortie in Charleston: Backlash in Albany75
7. Anshe Emeth88
8. Formulating His Beliefs92
9. The Asmonean99
10. A Bible History103
11. Heading West108
3. Cincinnati (1854–1900)117
1. Queen City of the West 117
2. Congregation B'nai Jeshurun121
3. The Israelite125
4. Zion College138
5. Conference―Union―Synod144
6. David Einhorn148
7. Cleveland Platform: Quick Victory—Lengthy War149
8. Minhag America162
9. The Essence of Judaism169
10. Fighting for Jewish Rights175
11. Political Diversions184
12. The Civil War186
13. At North College Hill208
14. First Fruits in Cincinnati211
15. Wider Ambitions217
16. Among the Gentiles (1867–1878)232
17. Years of Sorrow and Strife (1869–1874)234
18. Flirting with the Orthodox243
19. Reformers in Conflict: East versus West (1869)251
20. Establishing the Union (1871–1873)267
21. Call to New York (1873)274
22. 'We must have "Union in Israel'"279
23. President of Hebrew Union College290
Appendix: The Principal Changes Introduced in Minhag America295
4. Fulfilment: Years of Harvest299
1. Duties Old and New 299
2. Remarriage (1876)300
3. Sustaining the College (1875–1883)302
4. Reform Moves On: The Pittsburgh Platform307
5. A New American Jewish World315
6. Seventieth Birthday: Central Conference of American Rabbis318
7. Sunset322
8. The Legacy325
Bibliographical Note328