Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism

Overview

More than any other person of his time, Isaac Leeser (1806-1868) envisioned the development of a major center of Jewish culture and religious activity in the United States. He single-handedly provided American Jews with many of the basic religious texts, institutions, and conceptual tools they needed to construct the cultural foundation of what would later emerge as the largest Jewish community in the history of the Jewish people. In the first biography of Isaac Leeser, Lance Sussman makes extensive use of ...
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Overview

More than any other person of his time, Isaac Leeser (1806-1868) envisioned the development of a major center of Jewish culture and religious activity in the United States. He single-handedly provided American Jews with many of the basic religious texts, institutions, and conceptual tools they needed to construct the cultural foundation of what would later emerge as the largest Jewish community in the history of the Jewish people. In the first biography of Isaac Leeser, Lance Sussman makes extensive use of archival and primary sources to provide a thorough study of a man who has been largely ignored by traditional histories. Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism also tells an important part of the story of Judaism's response to the challenge of political freedom and social acceptance in a new, modern society. Judaism itself was transformed as it came to terms with America, and the key figure in this process was Isaac Leeser.
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Editorial Reviews

Jewish Book World
This book offers a detailed and well-crafted portrait of one of the early leaders of American Jewry. Leeser arrived in the United States when the Jewish population was small and Jewish institutions provided limited religious and communal services. A fully observant, Orthodox Jew who, like other early American Jewish leaders, was educated but not an ordained rabbi, Leeser established the first Jewish newspaper and the Jewish Publication Society, headed Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia for many years, established the nation's first Jewish college (short-lived), and, along with Rebecca Gratz, the first Jewish Sunday School. These institutions served as an important model for organizations subsequently established throughout the nation as the size and diversity of the Jewish community increased.
Library Journal
Of German origins, Leeser immigrated to the United States in 1824. Despite a limited formal education, he had a profound influence on all aspects of Jewish communal life. He also produced the first English translation of the Bible and published The Occident, the first American-Jewish newspaper, which he edited from 1843 until his death. Using many original sources, Sussman (history, Univ. of Binghamton) relates fascinating details of the tumultuous relationship between Leeser and Mikveh Israel, where he served as rabbi for over 20 years. Sussman also describes the heated controversies and struggles that occurred as the Reform movement (which Leeser strongly opposed) developed. Sussman provides remarkable insight into the early development of organized Jewish life in the United States. This is a comprehensive, authoritative work about a long-neglected but central figure of 19th-century American Jewish life. Recommended for all readers.-Carol R. Glatt, VA Medical Ctr. Lib., Philadelphia
Booknews
Reform rabbi Sussman (State U. of New York-Binghamton) presents a biography of Leeser (1806-68) focusing on his pivotal role in creating an American Jewish identity and culture under the banner of modern Sephardic Orthodoxy before the Civil War. Among his achievements were professionalizing the rabbinate, introducing vernacular preaching, translating the entire Hebrew Bible into English for the first time, editing and publishing The Occident, speaking out for Jewish political rights, improving relations between Christians and Jews, and advocating modern Zionism. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814326718
  • Publisher: Wayne State University Press
  • Publication date: 10/28/1996
  • Series: American Jewish Civilization Series
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.93 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Meet the Author

Lance J. Sussman is an associate professor at Binghamton University-State University of New York and a rabbi at Temple Concord, a reform synagogue in Binghamton. A Ph.D. from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he is a coeditor of Reform Judaism: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (Greenwood Press, 1993).
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