Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.
The architect of American Reform Judaism
Isaac Mayer Wise [was a] Reform rabbi and pioneer of Reform Judaism in America.
Although Wise received, in his native Bohemia, a good grounding in the traditional Jewish sources, he was largely self-educated in the more modern Jewish thought and the general culture of his day.
In America, Wise Soon Flew Solo
In 1846, Wise left for America, serving, at first, as rabbi to an Orthodox synagogue in Albany [New York] in which he attempted to introduce certain reforms contrary to the wishes of the congregation [including a mixed choir, confirmation, and German and English hymns]. Such was the opposition to Wise’s reforms that the president of the congregation came to blows with him on Yom Kippur.
Wise left his post to found a synagogue on his own. [This synagogue, Anshe Emeth, featured, under Wise’s leadership, the first family pew. Mixed seating spread quickly in American Reform Judaism but did not catch on until much later in the European Reform movement.]
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