Courtesy of Library of Congress

Isaac Mayer Wise 1819-1900

One of the most prominent Jewish leaders of the 19th century, Isaac Mayer Wise was instrumental in establishing the major ideas and institutions of Reform Judaism in America, including the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Hebrew Union College, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis. Born in Bohemia, Wise immigrated to America in 1846 to lead Congregation Beth El in Albany, New York. There, he introduced such significant reforms as choral singing, mixed seating, and confirmation, all of which created significant controversy and eventually lead to heated arguments and Wise's departure. Wise moved to Cincinnati in 1854 to become rabbi of B'nai Yeshurun, which he built into the largest and most prominent congregation of its time. A proponent of religious reform and community unity, Wise published a prayerbook entitled Minhag America in 1857 in an effort to synthesize Judaism with American culture. He presided over numerous attempts to create a union of American synagogues, most notably the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and in 1875 founded Hebrew Union College, the reform rabbinical seminary.