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Reform Judaismbegan to take shape in the synagogues of urban Germany. Itsfirst impulse was simply to free itself from governmental ruleand revise synagogue worship. These revisions included
introducing thevernacularinto worship, hymns, and even sermons. David Einhorn (1809-79) was a leading figure in Reform Judaism in both Europe and the United States. He had been chief rabbi in Mecklenberg (Germany) and immigrated to the United States after the 1848 revolutions. At his inaugural sermon in Baltimore, he said:"Judaism has reached a turning-point when all . . . customs and usages as are lifeless must be abolished, partly with the object of retaining its own followers, partly to protect from moral degeneracy. . . . On the one hand, the most important ceremonial laws are violated daily, laws which are still considered incumbent upon the Israelite; on the other hand, religious wishes and hopes are expressed in prayer which do not awaken the least response in the heart, and stand in absolute contradiction to the true spirit of Sinaitic doctrine."Einhorn's words were prophetic, as within one generation, an entirely new branch of Judaism emerged. The first Reformsynagogue was established in Charleston, South Carolina,
where dissatisfied members, partly influenced by the spread of Unitarianism, created the breakaway "Reformed Society ofIsraelites." These first Reform synagogues were influenced by American-Protestant services and adopted many of their practices.The temptation for Jews to simply blend in and become American was very strong, but there were voices that called for both Americanization and a sense of Jewish identity. IsaacLeeser (1806-1868) was a German-born Jew who became ahazanat a Philadelphia synagogue and then took to the road for seven years of circuit riding. Leeser traveled from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, and claimed to have met Jews inalmost every town between Scranton and Chicago. He found 20 families in Detroit and smaller congregations in Marshall and Kalamazoo, but they all lacked spiritual leadership. Leeser then foundedThe Occident, a Jewish newspaper, and published books for Jewish children. He also established Maimonides College (1868) as the first Jewish institution of higher learning. Leeser settled down at Beth El Emeth synagogue in Philadelphia for his
final years, but his ideas provided the seeds for the development ofConservative Judaism.To most Americans of the last decades of the 19th century, Reform was the most visible form of Judaism in America. In some ways akin to Unitarianism, Reform set out to turn the Jewish faith into a cultural force more than a religious one.Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise(1819-1900) was the leader of Reform Judaism for more than six decades. Wise sought to develop an American-style service, with no mention of the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Wise led his crusade for reform from the Congregation B'nai Yeshurun in Cincinnati and summarized his goals in this one line: "American Judaism, free, progressive, enlightened, united, and respected." The story ofReform Judaism and Isaac M. Wise is illustrative of the