Page 72 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 30

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THE L I T E R A R Y C O N T R I B U T I O N S
OF THE UNI ON OF A M E R I C A N
H E B R EW C O N G R E G A T I O N S
By
L
eon
F
ram
F
or the Jews of Reform congregations in the United States and
Canada, the year 1973 marks the celebration of the hundredth
anniversary of the founding of their national organization, the
Union of American Hebrew Congregations. This centennial,
however, has significance for all American Jewry and indeed for
world Jewry.
In 1873, the Jewish community of America was, relative to the
Jewish people as a whole, an obscure backwoods colony. A ll the
great institutions of Jewish life were to be found in Europe.
American Jewry had virtually no institutions of its own; for its
spiritual needs it was completely dependent on Europe. All of
its rabbis, teachers and other religious professionals were imported
from Europe. All its books and ritual objects were also imported
from abroad. This was a community with no life or character
of its own.
When Rabbi Isaac M. Wise proceeded to organize the Union
of American Hebrew Congregations, his goal was not only to
consolidate the forces of Reform Judaism. What this genius
had in mind primarily was American Jewry’s Declaration of
Independence from its subservience to Europe. The initial project
of the newly created Union was the establishment of the first
rabbinical seminary in America—the Hebrew Union College, in
Cincinnati in the year 1875. It is the first Jewish school of higher
learning to be established in America. The third basic institution
of Reform Judaism, the Central Conference of American Rabbis,
came into being in 1889. All other elements of American Jewry
caught the meaning of the signal flashed from Cincinnati.
Before many years had passed, the Orthodox and the Conser­
vative groups rallied to the cause of the maturing of American
Jewry, and built their own rabbinical seminaries, their own rab­
binical associations, and their own unions of congregations. The
year 1973 is historically, therefore, the centennial of a new era
in Jewish history—the rise of American Jewry to historic signi-
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