realizing his goal of forming a clerical synod, Wise became “the leading
spirit” behind 45 years of conferences (Philipson
and Grossman 70). Through his
publications, he would call together rabbis, asking them to join him in
achieving an objective. When he had
received enough support, generally that of 25 congregations, a conference would
be scheduled. Of the many he
attempted to convene, though, only a few came to substance; of these, four stand
out as significant.
first of such conferences took place in Cleveland, Ohio in 1855.
Its purpose was “’to prepare the way for future synods’” (Philipson
and Grossman 71). During this
convention, Wise felt it necessary to put aside his reform motives for the
promotion of unity. Indeed, no
reforms were brought up or voted upon, but those present did “[feel]
obligated” to specify “points on which they unanimously agree as the leading
principles of the future synods” (72). These
included declarations that “the Bible…is of immediate divine origin and the
standard of our religion,…The Talmud…must be expounded and practiced
according to [its] comments,…[and] The resolutions of a synod in accordance
with the above principles are legally valid” (72).
Wise continually encountered
resistance to proposed conferences and struggled to amass support enough to
assemble one. It would be sixteen
years before another convention of worth took place under his leadership, this
time in his hometown. The debates at this Cincinnati event centered around both the
intended seminary and Union (Temkin 240).
Much progress was made that caused Wise to be more hopeful about the
fulfillment of these two of his life goals.
The next monumental gathering
occurred in Pittsburgh in 1887. This conference focused on Biblical interpretation, leaning
toward the liberal (Temkin 289-291).
Those in attendance “adopted a Declaration of Principles,”
“[stating] that Judaism is…evolutionary and progressive…[changing] in
every age according to the ‘postulates of reason’” (Philipson
and Grossman 75; Raphael 17).
The proceedings of this conference seemed to condone and embrace much
that was contrary to Wise’s lifetime positions.
For example, “the idea of a single theological framework for American
Judaism disappeared” (Temkin 294).
Wise’s realization of his goals, however, was soon to be ameliorated.
A conference held in Detroit, Michigan in July of 1889 “capped the structure” of the reform movement (Glazer 42; Philipson and Grossman 76). At this conference was established the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), a structured group of reformed clergy, that was indeed the culmination of the organization of the Jewish ministry (Philipson and Grossman 70). Wise described the essence of the group as “independent…self-governing Judaism in accordance with the freedom and the liberalism of this country” (79). Within the CCAR, “toleration of differences [became] indispensable” (78). In spite of, or possibly on account of, their diversity of thought, the organization did work together for positive means. They published the Union Prayer Book, which came closer than anything to becoming the book of common prayer for the Jews. Wise’s support of a national liturgy is manifest in that he willingly gave up his desire that his Minhag America become this customary prayer book (77). This Union Prayer Book “supplied a long-felt want for a national ritual,” and “with [its] publication…worship services became overwhelmingly standardized” (Philipson and Grossman; Raphael 37). In addition to producing this liturgical text, the CCAR defined Judaism as a religion rather than a nation and “rejected…the notion of a messianic return to Palestine” (Handlin 111). More than anything, though, “the Central Conference provided a useful annual meeting for a widely scattered rabbinate” (Temkin 304).
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