Isaac Mayer Wise


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Reform Rabbi, pioneer of Reform Judaism in America (1819–1900). 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 1846 Wise left for America, serving, at first, as Rabbi to an Orthodox synagogue in Albany in which he attempted to introduce certain reforms contrary to the wishes of the congregation. 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. In 1854 Wise became a Reform Rabbi in Cincinnati, which city, through his efforts and strong and stubborn personality, became the home of American Reform. It was the dream of Reform as suited to life in the New World that inspired Wise, unlike the Reformers in Germany whose aim it was to accommodate Judaism to Western life and civilization in general, rather than to a particular country. At one period in his career Wise became so convinced that a moderately reformed Judaism would prove attractive to all reasonable people that he forescast that in fifty years Judaism would overtake Christianity to become the religion of America as a whole—a nonesensical dream, of course, but indicative of Wise's reforming zeal and broad, though fanciful, vision.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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