Page 31 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 34

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As early as 1846, Isaac Mayer Wise began to plan a prayerbook
for American congregations. Of the first generation of Reform
rabbis, he was the most Americanized, and was initially more
interested in establishing an American Judaism than in fostering
Reform Judaism. His concept of a Judaism which would capture
the allegiance of the total Jewish community was a moderate,
practical reform: the retention of traditional forms, but their
“Americanization” through a process of modernization, a “puri­
fication” of thought and ritual in conformity with the refine­
ments of the age.
Some two months after his arrival in America in 1846, Wise
participated in a rabbinic meeting in New York, where col­
leagues undertook specific tasks, Wise’s being to prepare a
Minhag America,
a liturgy appropriate to America.
A report to the
(Vol. 5, p. 109) states:
Rabbi Wise then proposed a Minhag America for Divine
Service . . . the strength of the Israelites is divided, because
the emigrant brings his own Minhag from his home . . .
Such a cause for dissention would be obviated by a Minhag
America . . .
Apparently Wise had done considerable work by 1847, for
in that year Leeser criticizes the proposed Wise prayerbook in
(Vol. 5, p. 158 ff.), “because it will exclude the
petitions for the rebuilding of the temple, and the re-establish­
ment of the sacrifices . . .” Other matters claimed Wise’s atten­
tion and the proposed
Minhag America
was put aside.
In 1855, the traditionalists, represented by Leeser, and the
moderate reformers, led by Wise, met in conference in Cleveland.
The only lasting result which came out of the conference, which
broke up with recrimination and criticism, was a revival of the
Minhag America
project. A committee of four was appointed
for the task, with Wise as chairman joined by Rabbis W. Rotten-
heim, I. Kalisch, and L. Merzbacher. The last named died, and
the three set to work in the winter of 1856-57. They adopted as
guiding principles:
1. No one man is authorized to make a prayerbook for
the congregations;
2. The ancient form of the service is to be preserved;