Pronaos to Holy Writ, Isaac M. Wise, Cincinnati 1891 (49838)

Only Edition

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Listing Details

Lot Number: 49838
Title (English): Pronaos to Holy Writ
Note: Only edition
Author: Isaac M. Wise
City: Cincinnati
Publisher: Robert Clarke & Co.
Publication Date: 1891
Estimated Price: $200.00 USD - $500.00 USD
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Description

Physical Description

Only edition and only volume published. xxiv, 560 pp., quarto, 216:140 mm., light age staining, several stamps in book. A good copy bound in new cloth over boards.
 

Detail Description

Title: Pronaos to Holy Writ : establishing on documentary evidence, the authorship, date, form, and contents of each of its books, and the authenticity of the Pentateuch...

Isaac Mayer Wise (1819–1900), U.S. rabbi and pioneer of Reform Judaism. Wise was born in Steingrub, Bohemia. His father, a poor teacher, died during his childhood. Wise lived in Prague and Vienna, and studied at various yeshivot. His later writings suggest that the ideas of the French Enlightenment must have influenced him in his younger days. In 1843 he became the rabbinical officiant (Religionsweiser) at Radnitz in Bohemia. The Hapsburg Empire offered bleak prospects for Wise personally and for the removal of disabilities suffered by Jews. He resolved to emigrate - whether with a view to pursuing the rabbinic calling is uncertain - and arrived in New York in 1846.

The free atmosphere of America seemed to liberate in Wise capacities of which he had given no indication in Europe. He became rabbi of Congregation Beth El in Albany, N.Y., introducing reforms such as mixed pews, choral singing, and confirmation, designed to improve public worship. In 1847 he joined a bet din in New York, presided over by his lifelong friend Max Lilienthal, and conceived the idea of its authorizing a single ritual for the American Jewish community. The attempt proved abortive, but in 1848 he issued a call for a meeting the following year to establish a union of congregations. Again the attempt failed, but Wise persisted in his championship of the idea. By this time he had begun to project himself as a writer, contributing regularly to Isaac Leeser’s Occident and the New York Jewish weekly Asmonean. In 1850 Wise accepted the rabbinate of Beth Elohim congregation, Charleston, South Carolina, which held an avowedly Reform position. On returning home he changed his mind about assuming this office, but evidently there was suspicion in Albany over the Reform positions he was taking. He refused to accept a purported ouster, and a brawl broke out in the synagogue on the New Year. Wise and his followers thereupon formed a new congregation, Anshe Emeth. In 1854 Wise went to Cincinnati as rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, remaining there for the rest of his life. Within a few months of his arrival he began to publish a weekly, The Israelite, later known as The American Israelite, and a German supplement Die Deborah. By the end of the year he established the short-lived Zion College, combining Hebrew and secular studies. In 1855 he issued a call for a synod which would be the guiding authority of American Judaism, and succeeded in organizing a rabbinical conference which met in Cleveland. The conference agreed to call a synod and adopted a platform which recognized the Bible as divine and declared that it "must be expounded and practiced according to the comments of the Talmud." The Orthodox, as represented by Isaac Leeser, were at first satisfied, but soon grew suspicious of Wise's intentions. Worse, the Cleveland Platform was violently attacked as treachery to the cause of Reform by David Einhorn, the German radical who had just become a rabbi in Baltimore. Wise replied with equal ferocity. The plan for a synod was stillborn, and thereafter Wise, who put "peace and union" first, was involved in antagonism not only with the Orthodox but with the Reformers who, following Einhorn, gave precedence to ideological purity.

Wise went ahead with some of the projects discussed at Cleveland. In 1856 he published Minhag America, a curtailment with modifications of the traditional Hebrew ritual. Despite repeated setbacks, Wise always returned to his advocacy of a union of congregations, a common prayer book, and a college to train American rabbis. He expounded his ideas not only in his writing but in repeated visits to the scattered Jewish communities of America. The recriminations over the Cleveland Conference and then the Civil War deferred practical action. The establishment of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859) and Maimonides College (1867) in the East by the traditionalist forces aroused his sarcastic hostility.

After the Civil War, Wise renewed his agitation for a union of congregations. He attended the 1869 rabbinical conference in Philadelphia (see Reform Judaism), but played a subordinate role. Though assenting to the resolutions adopted there, Wise veered away from them on returning home, probably having realized that identification with a standpoint too radical would put an end to the dream of a comprehensive union of American synagogues under his leadership. The next few years were punctuated by fierce exchanges between Wise and the more Germanic and radical Reform Eastern rabbis. He called rabbinic conferences in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and New York, which they boycotted, and reissued Minhag America, which they regarded with disdain. Eventually, the lay leaders of the Cincinnati temples issued a call for a union of congregations in the South and West, guaranteeing that it would have no power to legislate for its constituents. Wise accepted this proposal, though when the Union of American Hebrew Congregations was established in Cincinnati in 1873, his name did not figure prominently in the discussions. His interest was focused on one particular aspect of the Union's tasks—the establishment of a rabbinical college. He was appointed president of Hebrew Union College, which opened in 1875.

For the remainder of his life Wise labored in the interests of the college. He ordained more than 60 rabbis, and by the time of his death had become the "founding father" of the Reform movement in America. Intellectually, however, the movement outpaced him. The Pittsburg Platform (1885, see Reform Judaism) was the work of Kaufmann Kohler, and, though Wise became president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (1889 until his death), the Union Prayer Book which it adopted was based on Einhorn's Tamid rather than Wise's Minhag America. Moreover, the arrival of a large community of East European Jews upset his expectation that Orthodoxy would not survive on American soil. Wise's achievements rested on his stamina and his versatile adaptability to the needs of a pioneer society. Essentially self-taught, he read widely though not profoundly, and his voluminous writing reveals these same characteristics. Intellectually, he remained rooted in the Mendelssohn era. He was ready to mix with people and was devoted to his pupils, earning their affection in return.

Wise was married to Therese Bloch (1844), by whom he had ten children. She died in 1874. He then married Selma Bondi (1876), by whom he had four children, among them Rabbi Jonah B. Wise. Wise's Reminiscences (1901, 19452) cover the first decade of his life in America. "The World of My Books" (AJA, 6 (1954), 107–48) is also autobiographical. Selected Writings appeared in 1900.

 

Hebrew Description

 

Reference

Singerman #4296