Isaac Mayer Wise
Congregational Union
 

 

 

 

 

 

 As much as Wise was convinced about the necessity of reform, he was even more determined to bring about the union of the American congregations.  The union of which he spoke consisted of the “[establishment of] a national authority for American Judaism, a governing body for the Jews of the United States” (Blau 103).  He states, “’never forget that we must have “Union in Israel,” in order to do our duty before God and man, to us and to our children, to our country and to the human family’” (Temkin 261).  In fact, he believed that if union was attained, reform would soon follow (141). This union, he found out, was not to be easily achieved, for until that point, Wise’s ideas had received “notice but not acceptance” (Jick 128).  Furthermore, at the time of the proposed union, each synagogue was under its own control, and in most congregations, a spirit for unity was lacking (Blau 31; Jick 128).  There came some hope, however, during the Cincinnati Conference in June, 1871.  It was decided at this event that the “establishment of a union” would come “when the adherence of twenty congregations had been obtained” (246). 

 

By July of 1873 the quota had been met, and the first planning convention took place in Cincinnati.  At this commencement meeting, delegates set up committees to draft a constitution and gave the group its official name—The Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) (Temkin 251).  Its goals were quickly defined:  to serve the “educational and organizational needs of individual congregations, the organization of new congregations, and the establishment and maintenance of higher education in Jewish knowledge” (Reines 40).  These educationally slanted goals would eventually lead to the establishment of the Hebrew Union College.  In addition, the UAHC would encourage its members to hire only moderate reform rabbis (Raphael 18).  Wise pushed “that every one must be a member of a congregation, and every congregation a member of the Union” (Temkin 260).  Possibly under his promotion, worshipping bodies increasingly joined this organization.  By 1880 even the “old and conservative congregations” had integrated (Glazer 38).  Despite the fact that the UAHC brought Jews together under common goals, Wise made sure that it did not abolish congregational autonomy.  In fact, this principle led the group “to declare in its constitution that each Congregation was free within its own scope,”  however bound to the organization at large (Philipson and Grossman 78).

 

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