Biographical Sketch

Series Description

Reel Listing

A Guide to the Microfilm Edition of the

Writings of Isaac Mayer Wise

AJA MFM #2827 - 2841

1852-1900. 15 reels MFM


Prior to the creation of this microfilm edition, the American Jewish Archives (AJA) and the Klau Library of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion held almost all extant papers and writings of Isaac Mayer Wise. No attempt had been made to organize, describe, and make widely accessible these materials as a unified collection for the benefit of scholars and others interested in Wise's life and work. Monographs and bound newspaper volumes were cataloged and stored in the Library's book stacks. Wise's correspondence and other manuscript items had accumulated for many years and were held in the AJA's collections. In addition, a number of other repositories held important letters that were unknown to many researchers.

In 1977, Mrs. Arthur Hays Sulzberger, grandaughter of Rabbi Wise, provided a generous bequest to the AJA to assemble and microfilm this entire collection. The microfilm edition of the Writings of Isaac Mayer Wise, produced by the American Jewish Archives and Bell & Howell, brings together a great variety of materials, reaching beyond the usual scope of a collection of personal papers to encompass both archival and library holdings.


 Isaac Mayer Wise was born in Steingrub, Bohemia in 1819.  After studying in various yeshivot in Prague, Czechoslovakia and Vienna, Austria he became a rabbi in Radnitz, Bohemia.  Because of the poor prospects in Europe at the time, Wise immigrated in 1846 to New York.   He shortly thereafter became the rabbi at Congregation Beth El in Albany. There he became an advocate for reforms such as confirmation, choral singing and mixed pews.
 Wise's reforms were not popular with his Albany congregation.  He broke off in the early 1850s to form Anshe Emeth Congregation in Albany.  Wise considered taking a pulpit in Charleston, South Carolina but in 1854 moved to Cincinnati, Ohio. He remained at Congregation B'nai  Jeshurun in that city for the remainder of his life.

 Wise remained actively involved in the creation of an "American Judaism."  Shortly after his arrival in Cincinnati, he created the weekly paper known as The Israelite and a German supplement entitled Die Deborah.  He also started the Zion College- a school for Hebrew and secular studies. It folded a short time later. In 1855, Wise was a leader at a conference in Cleveland, Ohio that drew fire from both Orthodox communities and the reform radicals. They were discussing a possible union of American Jewish congregations.

 Isaac Mayer Wise is known as the founder of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1875.  This was one part of his larger goal of establishing a union of congregations.   Wise  was president of HUC until his death- ordaining more than 60 rabbis and outgrowing their first campus. He was involved in the formation of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

 Wise died in 1900. He was married to Therese Bloch by whom he had 10 children. She died in 1874.  He then married Selma Bondi, by whom he had four children, among them Rabbi Jonah B. Wise.

Related AJA Collections
Isaac M. Wise Papers. MSS. Collection 436.

Cincinnati, Ohio - Congregation Bene Jeshurun. MSS Collection No. 62.

Hebrew Union College Records. MSS. Collection No. 5.

Union of American Hebrew Congregations Records. MSS.  Collection No. 72.

Central Conference of American Rabbis. MSS. Collection 34.

Wise, Isaac Mayer Wise. Nearprint File.


Fifteen rolls of microfilm represent the seven series into which Wise's writings have been divided:

SERIES I:    Correspondence, 1847-1900
SERIES II:   Hebrew Union College Reports, 1876-1900
SERIES III:  Manuscripts
SERIES IV:   Contributions to Monographs, 1879-1896
SERIES V:    Monographs, 1852-1901
SERIES VI:   Contributions to Serials, 1847-1899
SERIES VII:  Newspaper Editorials, 1854-1900

Individual series descriptions (below) provide information on the type of material included in each series, number of items, important themes and topics covered, arrangements of items, and so forth.

This series consists of 470 pieces of correspondence that document and highlight the life and work of Isaac Mayer Wise. No correspondence was located for this project from the years before his arrival in the United States in 1846; thus, glimpses of Wise's early life are confined to a very few of his writings. However, this small collection of almost 500 letters provides a revealing composite of the man, his ideologies, his relationships with family, friends, colleagues, and opponents, and the accomplishments of a lifetime's work. Events, persons, and issues encompassed by the correspondence include the following, grouped into three time periods:

1847-1870—The emerging controversy over reform and the violent split in Wise's first congregation, Beth El of Albany, N.Y., and the founding of Congregation Anshe Emeth; the initially cordial relationship between Wise and Isaac Leeser concerning theological issues and Wise's writings, subjects which later drove the two apart; Wise's election as rabbi by Congregation Bene Yeshurun of Cincinnati and the negotiations involved in his acceptance; the beginning efforts of his newspapers The Israelite and Die Deborah to attract and influence American Jewish readers; early attempts toward the founding of a Jewish institution of higher learning; Wise's involvement in the controversy surrounding Grant's General Orders No. 11 during the Civil War; the continued development and growing assurance of his reform ideology through correspondence with Samuel Adier and Adolph Huebsch; and descriptions of his travels and domestic life as seen in letters to his wife Theresa Bloch Wise.

1870-1885—The realization of Wise's dream through the establishment of Hebrew Union College; his courtship of and marriage to his second wife Selma Bondi; the transaction of day-to-day business concerning the College and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations with officers Lipman Levy and Bernhard Bettman; the beginning of an extensive correspondence with Solomon H. Sonneschein of St. Louis, rabbi and assistant editor of Die Deborah; correspondence with H.U.C. professor Heinrich Zirndorf and students Joseph Stolz and Maximilian Heller on theological questions and Jewish ritual; Wise's involvement in relief work for European Jews through the Alliance Israelite Universelle; and exchanges with fellow rabbis Bernhard Felsenthal, Kaufmann Kohler, and Benjamin Szold.

—Wise's acknowledged position as leader of Reform Judaism as reflected in his continued role of advisor to colleagues and students and arbiter on questions of belief and tradition; his relations with his large family scattered throughout the Midwest; the growth and progress of the College; continued business correspondence with Levy and Sonneschein; his participation in the World's Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893; letters of recommendation for former students; and letters from admirers and petitioners for worthy causes.

Among the correspondents in this series are: Samuel Adier, Henry Berkowitz, Isaac W. Bernheim, Bernhard Bettman, Edward B.M. Browne, William Jennings Bryan, Edward N. Calisch, Josiah Cohen, Albert Cohn, Adolphe Cremieux, Gotthard Deutsch, Stephen A. Douglas, Jacob Ezekiel, Bernhard Felsenthal, Rahamim Franco, Gustav Gottheil, Horace Greeley, Moses J. Gries, Louis Grossmann, Maximilian H. Heller, Adolph Huebsch, Jenkin Lloyd Jones, Kaufmann Kohler, Alexander Kohut, Rebekah Kohut, Max Landsberg, Isaac Leeser, Henry M. Leipziger, Cliffton Harby Levy, Lipman Levy, Isidor Lewi, Joseph Lewi, Ludwig Lewysohn, Max Lilienthal, Isidore Loeb, Max L. Margolis, Max. B. May, Issac S. Moses, Morris Newfield, Adolph S. Ochs, David Philipson, Julia Richman, Michael L. Rodkinson, Solomon H. Sonneschein, Edwin M. Stanton, Joseph Stolz, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Adolph Sutro, Benjamin Szold, Simon Tuska, Stephen S. Wise, Simon Wolf, Louis Wolsey, and Heinrich Zirndorf.

Arrangement of the correspondence series is chronological by date of writing with dates by year following month/day/year and month/year designations. Undated letters may be found after the year 1900 and are arranged by the names of Wise's correspondents. A target card containing the author, recipient, and date of writing is filmed with each page of every letter. When necessary, the compiler has supplied dates between brackets. Individuals and repositories that provided copies of correspondence for this project are credited on the target cards.

The original correspondence has been filmed wherever possible. In a number of cases, notably the letters of Solomon H. Sonneschein, the condition of the originals necessitated the use of photocopies or typed transcriptions for microfilming. Correspondence between Wise and Congregation Bene Yeshurun of Cincinnati has been photocopied from congregational minute books. Envelopes have been filmed before the letters they accompany. The absence of enclosures described in letters has been noted on the target cards, as have notations added onto letters by the sender or recipient.

This series contains 270 items, authored by Wise, that document the history of Hebrew Union College during his twenty-five year tenure as President. These are primarily reports issued monthly and annually from June 1876 to February 1900 (one month before Wise's death). They detail the growth and activities of the College, its faculty and students; the development and month-by-month progress of academic programs; and events ranging from the mundane to milestones of the College's early history. This series also includes Wise's announcements to prospective students and speeches he delivered at special occasions, notably the opening of college sessions and several graduation and ordination ceremonies.

In format, these items are chiefly photocopies of the materials as they were originally published in the Union of American Hebrew Congregations Proceedings. Arrangement is chronological, with all types of reports, announcements, and speeches interfiled. For the period April 1896 to February 1900, the original manuscript reports are extant and have been filmed preceding the matching published reports. In comparing manuscript and printed versions, occasional deletions can be discovered, usually involving Wise's personal opinions of a faculty member or a controversial topic.

Considering the massive amount of writing Wise undertook for his newspapers, lectures, sermons, articles, and books, it is unusual that very little has remained extant in manuscript form. Thus, this series consists of only seven items. Two are short commentaries and one is a lecture, all prepared for publication in Wise's newspaper The American Israelite. Three others are long essays on theological topics, perhaps based upon sermons and intended as book chapters. The largest amount of manuscript material is a collection of miscellaneous theological notes in English and Hebrew.

All manuscripts have been filmed in their original format, and because most are undated, the pieces are arranged alphabetically by title. Works originally untitled have been given descriptive headings by the compiler.

This series consists of sixteen items, primarily sermons and lectures delivered by Wise during the last twenty-five years of his life and published as his contributions to a number of monographic collections. The majority of these pieces were included in three works: American Jewish Pulpit (1881), Judaism at the World's Parliament of Religions (1894), and Sermons by American Rabbis (1896). Other writings include a biography of Wise's close colleague Adolph Huebsch published in a memorial volume; Wise's address delivered at the installation of former student David Philipson as rabbi of Cincinnati's Bene Israel congregation; and a biting critique of noted Darwinian, Col. Robert Ingersoll.
Arrangement of the material is chronological by date of publication. When dates are the same, sub-arrangement is alphabetical by the titles of the pieces. All items were first photocopied from the original volumes to facilitate microfilming, and full bibliographic information is listed on the target card accompanying each writing.

This series includes thirty-five monographs written by Wise, ranging in length from a few leaves to more than 500 pages. A wide variety of material is represented: novels and plays first published in his newspapers and reprinted in volume form; individual and collected essays and speeches; lecture series; religious treatises and handbooks; prayerbooks; histories; and reminiscences.

Special mention should be made of Wise's prayerbook series published under the uniform title Minhag America but with distinguishing subtitles. The various editions and printings in English, German, and Hebrew have been carefully examined and compared with respect to title, date, and content. The volumes filmed are all distinct editions printed from different plates. The target card for each work lists other printings of that volume as well as the dates and languages of those printings (often called "editions" but with the same original copyright date and content).
Arrangement of this series is chronological by date of publication of the volume filmed. When dates are the same, sub-arrangement is alphabetical by title of the work. All items were filmed in their original bound-volume format.

This series contains 225 articles, primarily on theological subjects, written by Wise and printed in serial publications other than his own newspapers. The majority of these writings fall within the period 1847-1854, when Wise contributed numerous articles to Isaac Leeser's journal The Occident and held the position of editor of the Theological and Philosophical Department of Robert Lyon's weekly, The Asmonean. During this early period, a number of his writings also appeared in the important German-Jewish periodical Allgemeine Zeitung des Judenthums. From 1855 to 1900, when Wise's newspapers conveyed his theological, social, and political opinions, his contributions to other serials were sporadic, finding publication in The Menorah, Hamagid, Jeschurun, Hebrew Review, The H. U. C. Journal, The American Jews' Annual, and the Year Book of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Most items have been photocopied from the original sources to facilitate microfilming. The major exception concerns those articles published in The Asmonean for which print-out copies from microfilm have been produced, cut, and reassembled on S^/i" by 11" sheets of paper in a two-column format. All articles are arranged chronologically by date of publication, with dates by year following month/day/year and month/year designations. When dates are the same, sub-arrangement is alphabetical by title of the article. In a few cases, the compiler has supplied a descriptive title in brackets. Target cards filmed with the articles contain full bibliographic information.

Special mention should be made of those items published in the CCAR Year Books. Wise's yearly presidential addresses and a number of his reports were printed one to two years after they were delivered in conference. Thus, these pieces are arranged by date categories that reflect their time of publication, not the time of their presentation.

Between 1854 and 1900, Isaac Mayer Wise edited two weekly newspapers. The American Israelite (called The Israelite from July 1854 to June 1874) and the German-language Die Deborah. While he was always denoted editor on the masthead of the former publication. Wise's frequent travels throughout the country and the increasing organizational responsibilities he undertook during his later years required the delegation of some editorial authority to his son and frequent publisher, Leo Wise. In addition. Wise was aided during several early periods by associate, assistant, or junior editors, among them Max Lilienthal and H. M. Moos.

With The American Israelite his chief exponent, Wise spent less time and personal attention on Die Deborah, a paper smaller in both size and scope. Thus there were a number of volumes of this paper under the full editorship of Wise's colleagues Max Lilienthal and Solomon H. Sonneschein, although Wise continued to write articles and undoubtedly retained control of editorial content and direction.

Because the entire files of these two newspapers are already available on microfilm through the American Jewish Periodical Center of Hebrew Union College, this edition of the Isaac Mayer Wise Papers includes only the editorial page or pages from each issue. These give a broad view of the development of Wise's philosophies and concerns, for he increasingly devoted his greatest energies to the editorial segments of his newspapers while relying upon outside contributions, advertisements, and "fillers" for the remainder of each issue. Editorial writings were usually located on the fourth page of The Israelite/The American Israelite and on the second page of Die Deborah. This series therefore consists of those pages and any other containing editorial matter, filmed in chronological order with accompanying target cards. Because Wise signed very few of his editorials and because his associates also contributed pieces, usually signed, to those pages, the researcher should be aware that not every page filmed was solely under Wise's authorship. However, it is reasonable to assume that the editorial pages do reflect his general opinions on the subject discussed.

Special mention should be made of the first four volumes of Die Deborah (1855-1859) where there are no discernable editorial pages. For each issue in these volumes, every attempt has been made to identify and film at least one major piece written by Wise. When this has not proved possible, particularly in issues dominated by the writings of Wise's colleagues, a target card indicating "NO IMW ARTICLES" has been filmed by itself. Whenever feasible, the original newspapers have been filmed from bound volumes, with occasional photocopies supplied for missing pages. Volume 8 of Die Deborah is represented by negative print-out copies from microfilm, reassembled into the original pages, and then refilmed for this edition. Volumes 3 and 4 of the same publication were filmed from bound, photocopied issues.


Roll 1  (AJA MFM#2827)	Correspondence, 1847-1900 
Roll 2  (AJA MFM#2828)	Hebrew Union College Reports, 1876-1900; Manuscripts; Contributions to Monographs, 1879-1896
Roll 3  (AJA MFM#2829)	Monographs, 1852-1864
Roll 4  (AJA MFM#2830)	Monographs, 1866-1869 
Roll 5  (AJA MFM#2831)	Monographs, 1872-1883 
Roll 6  (AJA MFM#2832)	Monographs, 1884-1901 
Roll 7  (AJA MFM#2833)	Contributions to Serials, 1847-1899 
Roll 8  (AJA MFM#2834)	Newspaper Editorials: The Israelite, 1854-1864 
Roll 9  (AJA MFM#2835)	Newspaper Editorials: The (American) Israelite, 1865-1875 
Roll 10 (AJA MFM#2836)	Newspaper Editorials: The American Israelite, 1876-1884 
Roll 11 (AJA MFM#2837)	Newspaper Editorials: The American Israelite, 1885-1900 
Roll 12 (AJA MFM#2838)	Newspaper Editorials: Die Deborah, 1855-1864 
Roll 13 (AJA MFM#2839)	Newspaper Editorials: Die Deborah, 1865-1875 
Roll 14 (AJA MFM#2840)	Newspaper Editorials: Die Deborah, 1876-1887 
Roll 15 (AJA MFM#2841)	Newspaper Editorials: Die Deborah, 1888-1900

Copyright © 2001 Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives