Judaism in America

1654 CE The First Jewish Settlers in North America

In early September of 1654, twenty‑three Sephardic Jewish refugees from Brazil landed in the port of New Amsterdam (New York) and joined with the few Jews who had preceded them to form the first Jewish settlement in North America. Despite opposition from Governor Peter Stuyvesant, they won the right to reside in the Dutch colony by 1656. Though they were not permitted to build a synagogue, they did receive permission to establish a Jewish cemetery, the first institution of many a Jewish community.

1677 CE The Jewish Community in Rhode Island

The first Jewish settlers in New England arrived in the port of Newport, Rhode Island about 1658. The community began to take shape with the acquisition of a cemetery.

1695 CE Early Religious Leadership

Saul Pardo (d. 1702/3) was the first hazzan (literally, a cantor; an unordained religious functionary) of the founding synagogue of North America, Shearith Israel of New York City. Pardo became the religious leader of Shearith Israel by 1695, the year in which Reverend John Miller marked “The Jews Synagogue” on his map of New York and mentioned its “minister,” Saul Brown.

1730 CE Shearith Israel Synagogue

In 1730, Shearith Israel purchased land for a new cemetery, bought property to build its first synagogue building, and revised its rules of government. The synagogue it built on Mill Street in New York was completed in the following year, and a community building was added soon thereafter.

1733 CE The Jewish Community in Georgia

In 1733, forty‑two impoverished Jews from London were settled in the paupers’ colony of Savannah, Georgia. Although a congregation was immediately formed, the fractious group consisted of both Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, and a stable community did not cohere until decades later. A permanent congregation, Mickve Israel, was established in 1790 and the first synagogue was built in 1820.

1743 CE An Early Case of Intermarriage

In her letter to her son overseas, Abigail Franks of New York objected to the marriage of her daughter Phila to a Christian, Oliver Delancey. Such intermarriage became the norm in a free society with few marriageable Jews to choose from. To those concerned, such as Abigail Franks, the trend seemed to pose a threat to Jewish survival; many Jews believe it still does.

1748 CE A Non‑Jew Visits the Synagogue

In 1748, a Swedish traveler described his visit to the Jewish community of New York: “I was in their synagogue last evening for the first time, and this day at noon I visited it again, and each time I was put in a particular seat which was set apart for strangers or Christians. A young Rabbi read the divine service, which was partly in Hebrew, and partly in the Rabinical dialect [probably Portugese]. Both men and women were dressed entirely in the English fashion; the former had all of their hats on, and did not once take them off during service. . . . Many of the men had Hebrew books, in which they sang and read alternately. The Rabbi stood in the middle of the synagogue, and read with his face turned towards the east; he spoke, however, so fast as to make it almost impossible for anyone to understand what he said.” With the synagogue open to outside scrutiny, and with Jews rapidly acculturating as Americans, it was only a matter of time before the service would be changed for “anyone to understand.” 

1756 CE The Jewish Community in South Carolina

The first Jews had settled in Charleston, South Carolina by 1697; a congregation was organized around 1749 and governing regulations were adopted in 1756. Congregation Beth Elohim was formally incorporated in 1791‑‑one year after a new state constitution enfranchised Jews‑‑and construction of a new synagogue was begun, to be dedicated in 1794.

1760-1 CE Judaism in Colonial New York

In October 1760, Joseph Jesurun Pinto, the hazzan of Shearith Israel, arranged a thanksgiving service and composed a special Hebrew prayer to commemorate the British acquisition of Canada from the French. When published, it was the first printed prayer service in North America. A year and a half later he delivered a sermon during a special service for the French and Indian War, the first sermon recorded to have been preached in an American synagogue. Also in 1761, another member of the congregation, Isaac Pinto, published an English version of the Mahzor, the prayerbook for the high holidays and five years later published an expanded edition entitled, Prayers for Shabbath, Rosh‑Hashanah, and Kippur.

1763 CE Touro Synagogue of Newport

During the 1750s, the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island commissioned the architect Peter Harrison to design a new synagogue. Dedicated in 1763, the structure later came to be known as the Touro Synagogue, named in honor of one of the congregation’s most prominent families. It stands today as a national landmark, the oldest surviving synagogue in the United States.

1768 CE The First American Jewish Clergy

In a bold departure from precedent, Shearith Israel hired Gershom Mendes Seixas (1745‑1816) as the first American‑born hazzan of the congregation. On July 4, 1768, the twenty‑three year old Seixas, born and bred within the Jewish community of New York, was “Unanimously, and without one Negative, voted. . . to the said office of Hazzan.”

1772‑3 CE A Rabbinic Emissary from Palestine

On the eve of the Revolution, Rabbi Haim Isaac Carigal (1733‑77) passed through Philadelphia, New York, and Newport and preached at their synagogues. Such itinerant emissaries from Palestine travelled throughout the West to raise funds for the holy land. Befriended and celebrated by Jewish merchants and Protestant clerics alike, Carigal left behind the first published Jewish sermon in America. Though he only stayed a short time, he might legitimately be cited as the first rabbi in American Jewish history.

1776 CE Seixas Leads His Flock To Safety

In the summer of 1776, when it looked as if New York City would fall into the hands of the British, Gershom Seixas took the lead in urging that the synagogue be closed and its members find freedom elsewhere. Packing up the Torah scrolls and other congregational belongings, he and several other Shearith Israel families moved to Stratford, Connecticut, where they remained for four years.

1780-84 Seixas in Revolutionary Philadelphia

In 1780 Seixas accepted the invitation to move to Philadelphia, where a Jewish community was first organized during the 1760s. His four year term as hazzan in Philadelphia was highlighted by the building of a new synagogue in 1782. Officiating at both the cornerstone laying and the public dedication‑services, he acquitted himself and the Jewish community well as he invoked blessings on “His Excellency the President, & Honorable Delegates of the United States of America in Congress Assembled.” In the following year, Seixas participated in a petition to amend the state constitution to abolish the Christian oath required for government service and to thus allow Jewish citizens to be elected and serve in the Assembly. It was about this time that synagogue regulations first came to be called constitutions and their lay leaders presidents.

1786 CE The Democratization of Judaism 

Presaging a later trend, a growing majority of Ashkenazic Jews in America began to demand equal representation with the Sephardic establishment. Sometime before 1786, the Ashkenazim of Charleston attempted the first congregational offshoot from the Sephardic synagogue‑community. The second occurred in Philadelphia in 1801, when the Hebrew German Society Rodeph Shalom purchased ground for a cemetery.

1788 CE Early American Ecumenism

At the Constitutional parade in Philadelphia, the hazzan (most likely Jacob Raphael Cohen) of the Jewish community marched arm in arm with Christian clergymen. At the communal banquet, a special table was set with kosher food for the Jewish celebrants.

1790 CE George Washington and the Jews

Responding to their letter of congratulations, President Washington borrowed its phrasing as he assured the Jewish congregation of Newport that “the government of the United States . . . gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” In 1789, Gershom Seixas had been one of thirteen clergy to participate in Washington’s inauguration. 

1800 CE A Commencement Address in Hebrew

In 1800, young Sampson Simson (d. 1857) graduated from Columbia College and was asked to deliver the commencement address. Written for him by Gershom Seixas in Hebrew, it was a survey of American Jewish history to that date.

1819 CE First Women’s Society

In 1819, Rebecca Gratz (1781‑1869) helped establish the first women’s Jewish social welfare organization in the United States, the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society of Philadelphia. In 1838, together with Isaac Leeser, Gratz also founded the first permanent Jewish Sunday School.

1824 CE A Year Of Firsts 

In 1824, the first intimation of Reform Judaism appeared in Charleston, South Carolina with the formation of the Reformed Society of Israelites under the leadership of Isaac Harby, a noted playwright. In the same year, a future foe of Reform named Isaac Leeser arrived in America. The first American Jewish periodical, The Jew (Being A Defence of Judaism Against All Adversaries, and Particularly Against the Insidious Attacks of ‘Israel’s Advocate’) was published in New York by Solomon Henry Jackson. Perhaps most significantly, the first congregation west of the Allegheny mountains was founded in Cincinnati. 

1825 CE First Schism

The first schism in the Jewish community of New York, as viewed by the Sephardic­-dominated Shearith Israel synagogue, occurred with the formation of Hevrah Hinuch Nearim (literally, Society for the Education of Youth), a dissident group of younger members. It soon developed into an independent Ashkenazic congregation named B’nai Jeshurun. Following the first secession from Shearith Israel in 1825, B’nai Jeshurun yielded new offshoots of its own in 1828 (Anshe Chesed), 1835 (Ohavey Zedek), 1839 (Shaarey Zedek), and 1845 (Shaarey Tefilah).

1829 CE Isaac Leeser in Philadelphia 

Just five years after his arrival, Ashkenazic immigrant Isaac Leeser (1806­-68) was invited to become the hazzan of the Sephardic congregation of Philadelphia, Mikveh Israel. While championing traditional Judaism, the twenty‑three year old minister soon began to introduce innovations such as preaching in English at Sabbath services.

1835‑50 CE German Jewish Settlement in America

Unlike their Sephardic predecessors, the largely German Ashkenazic immigrants of the mid‑nineteenth century spread throughout the country. Jewish communities were founded during this period in St. Louis (1835), Louisville (1838), Cleveland (1839), New Haven (1840), Mobile (1841), Boston (1842), Pittsburgh (1844), Chicago (1845), Ann Arbor (1845), Little Rock (1845), Memphis (1847), Milwaukee (1847), Fort Wayne (1848), San Francisco (1849), Detroit (1850) and Houston (1850). By 1850, there were nearly eighty congregations in the United States serving approximately 50,000 Jews, a population which would triple in the next decade, and then increase to 250,000 by 1880.

1840 CE The First Rabbi in America

Bavarian‑born Abraham Joseph Rice (1802‑62) became the first ordained rabbi to emigrate from Europe to America, arriving in Baltimore in 1840. Speaking no English and angered by the lack of religious observance among his congregants, the traditionalist soon became disillusioned with the new land. After nine years of frustration, he left his congregation and opened a dry goods store. 

1841 CE America as Promised Land

At the dedication of Charleston’s new synagogue in 1841, Hazzan Gustav Poznanski declared, “This synagogue is our temple, this city our Jerusalem, this happy land our Palestine, and as our fathers defended with their lives that temple, that city, and that land, so will their sons defend this temple, this city, and this land.”

1843 CE The First Jewish Fraternal Order

In 1843, a group of young German Jews in New York formed a Jewish fraternal lodge, calling it B’nai B’rith, literally “Sons of the Covenant.” As a surrogate for religious community, a secular synagogue, B’nai B’rith rapidly grew into the largest Jewish membership organization in America. 

1843-67 CE The Achievements of Isaac Leeser 

In 1843, Isaac Leeser began publishing The Occident and Jewish Advocate and in its pages advocated an American Jewish Publication Society (1845), the first American Jewish defense organization (Board of Delegates of American Israelites, founded 1859), and the first American Jewish theological seminary (Maimonides College, established 1867). Leeser singlehandedly translated into English the entire Hebrew Bible (1853), Sephardic (1837) and Ashkenazic (1848) prayer books, as well as Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem (1850). 

1845 CE Max Lilienthal in New York

In 1845, Bavarian‑born rabbi and educational reformer Dr. Max Lilienthal (1815‑82) arrived in New York City. He was promptly hired as the chief rabbi of the Union of German Synagogues in New York. Lilienthal opened the popular Union School for religious instruction, setting a precedent for consolidating Jewish life through education. In 1846, he also convened the first communal board of rabbis in American Jewish history. 

1845‑55 CE Leo Merzbacher and Reform Judaism

Leo Merzbacher (1809‑56) arrived in New York in 1841, possibly the second ordained rabbi to settle in America. In 1843 he was hired by Congregation Anshe Chesed as their preacher and teacher. His duties were enumerated as follows: to render religious advice to the board, deliver “lectures” on the first Sabbath of every month and during certain holidays, deliver funeral sermons, give religious instruction, perform weddings, and render decisions in Jewish law. He lasted but a few years at Anshe Chesed, leaving in 1845 to help establish the liberal congregation Emanu‑El, one of the premier Reform temples in America. In 1855 he published Seder Tefilah: The Order of Prayer for Divine Service, the first American Reform liturgy compiled by a rabbi.

1846 CE A Peripatetic Rabbi 

Polish‑born Julius Eckman (1805‑77) had acquired English proficiency as a youth in London–probably the main reason he was called to serve Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Mobile, Alabama in 1846. From Mobile he moved to New Orleans and from there to Richmond, Charleston, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon. A peripatetic career was in fact the norm among the majority of rabbis of this formative period: neither they nor their congregations could quite decide what it was they wanted.

1852 CE The First Russian‑Jewish Congregation

Abraham Joseph Ash (1821‑87) arrived in New York in 1851 to become the founding rabbi of Beth Hamedrash, the first synagogue founded by Jews of East European derivation and later a bastion of American Orthodoxy. In 1885, Beth Hamedrash Hagadol purchased and renovated a former Baptist church on Norfolk Street, which remains standing to this day.

1854 CE Isaac Mayer Wise in Cincinnati

In 1854, Isaac Mayer Wise (1819‑1900) who had arrived in the U.S. in 1846, moved from Albany to Cincinnati where he instituted his own national Jewish newspaper, American Israelite, and set about creating an American Judaism. In the same year, the philanthropist Judah Touro died in New Orleans, leaving a significant bequest to local Jewish institutions across the country. There were, as yet, no national Jewish bodies, but Wise would change that in the years to come.

1855 CE Einhorn and Wise, Rival Reformers

In 1855, David Einhorn (1809‑79) arrived in Baltimore to occupy the pulpit of Har Sinai, founded in 1842 as the first Reform congregation in the country. He soon became the leading spokesman of radical Reform Judaism in America. That same year, Isaac Mayer Wise called a meeting of rabbis with the expressed purpose of organizing a “Union of American Israel.” Taking place in October of that year, the Cleveland conference forestalled the divisiveness of the radical Reformers by joining liberal and traditionalist elements. Wise was charged with the preparation of a new Jewish liturgy for the American synagogue. His Minhag America, or The American Rite, was published in 1857. Einhorn published his own prayerbook, Olat Tamid, in 1858.

1858 CE Bernhard Felsenthal in Chicago

After moving from Kentucky to Indiana, Bernhard Felsenthal (1822‑1908) found a home in Chicago in 1858. Within months of his arrival he helped organize the Jewish Reform Society and the following year published his manifesto for the Reform cause, Kol Kore Bamidbar, literally, A Voice Cries in the Wilderness. The society soon evolved into Sinai, the first Reform congregation in Chicago, with the celebrated Felsenthal as its founding rabbi.

1860 CE Rabbi Raphall and the Slavery Issue

Dr. Morris J. Raphall’s 1849 arrival in New York had signalled a trend toward English sermons. In 1860 he became the first rabbi to offer a benediction before the U. S. Congress. In a sermon given on the National Fast Day of January 4, 1861, Raphall took the occasion to discourse upon “The Bible View of Slavery” in which he emphatically denied that Judaism prohibited slavery, as the abolitionists claimed. His controversial sermon aroused the ire of many of his fellow Jews, who instead found a champion in Rabbi David Einhorn. Due to his staunch abolitionism, Einhorn was forced to leave his pulpit in Baltimore for one in New York. 

1865 CE An “Islamic” Synagogue in Ohio

Under Rabbi Wise, congregation Bene Yeshurun of Cincinnati, Ohio dedicated its new temple on Plum Street. The striking twin‑towered synagogue was the first in America designed in the Moorish Revival style. Intended to evoke the Golden Age of Spain, the new style inspired a succession of American Jewish “cathedral” synagogues in the ensuing years. The Isaac Mayer Wise Temple is today a national landmark.

1873 CE Wise Orchestrates an American Judaism

In 1873, Isaac Mayer Wise succeeded in forming the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), the first Jewish religious body organized on a national basis. Wise intended to unify American Jewry within one “American Judaism,” but the UAHC became the nucleus of the Reform movement instead. Two years later Wise added the first permanent rabbinical school in America, Hebrew Union College. A professionalized Reform rabbinate was created by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), founded in 1889.

1875 CE The YMHA Movement

Though the first Young Men’s Hebrew Association was established in Baltimore in 1854, the movement took off with the formation of YMHAs in New York and Philadelphia in 1875. Like its Christian counterpart, the movement quickly spread across the country, providing young Jews with a social and recreational alternative to the synagogue and a secular form of Jewish identification.

1881 CE The Onset of Mass Immigration

In 1881 a mass exodus of Jews from Eastern Europe ensued, and by 1914 more than two million Jewish immigrants would stream into the urban centers of America. The arrival of these Yiddish‑speaking, highly ethnicized Jews would have profound implications for the development of American Judaism in the twentieth century. 

1883 CE The “Treyfa Banquet”

Eight years after its opening, Hebrew Union College prepared to celebrate the graduation of its first class of four American‑trained rabbis. A scandal occurred at the banquet, however, when treyfa (non‑kosher) food was inadvertently served. Several traditional rabbis in attendance left in horror. It is this incident to which the counter‑Reform movement is often attributed. 

1883-88 CE Orthodox Judaism in America

The attempt to transplant traditionalist Judaism to America began in the first decade of the mass immigration with the establishment of a supplementary school (Machzike Talmud Torah) in 1883 and a full‑time religious school (Yeshivat Etz Chaim) in 1886, both on New York’s Lower East Side. In 1887, Rabbi Moses Weinberger published a biting critique of an anarchic American Judaism, Jews and Judaism in New York. Later that same year, the newly formed Association of American Orthodox Hebrew Congegations decided to import religious authority in the person of Rabbi Jacob Joseph of Vilna (1848­-1902), who arrived in July 1888. The new “chief rabbi of America” was welcomed with great excitement, but the attempt to establish a European‑style Orthodoxy was doomed to failure.

1885 CE The Pittsburgh Platform 

In response to the traditionalist challenge on the right and the threat of liberal Unitarianism and Ethical Culture on the left, a rabbinical conference was called in 1885 to clarify the stance of Reform Judaism. Under the guidance of David Einhorn’s sons-­in‑law Kaufmann Kohler (1843‑1926) and Emil G. Hirsch (1852‑1923), the rabbis issued the defining statement of classical Reform Judaism, the Pittsburgh Platform.

1886 CE The Jewish Theological Seminary

The counter‑Reform trend was given institutional form with the establishment of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York, led by Italian rabbi Sabato Morais (1823­-97) and Hungarian rabbi Alexander Kohut (1842‑94). JTS would later become the fountainhead of American Conservative Judaism.

1888 CE The Jewish Publication Society

Jewish literary productivity was spurred by the creation of a publishing house, the Jewish Publication Society (JPS). Its first publication was Outlines of Jewish History by Lady Katie Magnus. JPS soon set about introducing Jewish culture to America and, in the process, Jewish culture itself was Americanized.

1889 CE The Educational Alliance

In 1889, the New York YMHA, the Hebrew Free School Association, and the Aguilar Free Public Library merged their activities on the Lower East Side to form the Hebrew Institute, the first Jewish settlement house in America. Renamed the Educational Alliance in the following year, the institution became the flagship for a nationwide Jewish settlement movement.

1890 CE An Early Woman “Rabbi” 

In 1890, the multi‑talented Rae Frank conducted High Holy Day services for the tiny Jewish community of Spokane, Washington. Far ahead of her time, Frank nonetheless epitomized the religious aspirations of many of her contemporaries such as Hannah Solomon, Sadie American, Rosa Sonnenschein, Rebekah Kohut and Henrietta Szold, the latter two both daughters of prominent rabbis.

1892 CE The American Jewish Historical Society

American Jews expressed their pride in being American with the creation of an ethnic historical society. The American Jewish Historical Society was founded in 1892 and is housed today on the campus of Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

1893 CE The National Council of Jewish Women

The first national organization for Jewish women was the United Order of True Sisters, founded in 1847. After the World’s Parliament of Religions held at the Columbian Exposition in 1893, a group of “American Jewesses” founded the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), the central body of American Jewish feminism at the turn of the century. In true progressive fashion, the NCJW combined social activism with religious endeavor.

1893 CE The World’s Parliament of Religions

Kaufmann Kohler and Emil Hirsch were among the prominent Jewish participants in the Chicago Parliament, both proclaiming a universalism that was part of the spirit of the age and the spirit of Reform Judaism. As Hirsch put it, “The day of national religions is past. The God of the universe speaks to all mankind.”

1895 CE American Jewish Philanthropy

In Boston, the first merger of German Jewish philanthropies and East European Jewish social welfare agencies marked the beginning of the Federation movement. Today, every major American Jewish community is organized and unified by its local Federation of Jewish philanthropies. 

1897 CE American Zionism

Following the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, convened by Theodor Herzl, Zionism was brought to America with the formation of the American Zionist Federation in 1897. American Zionism would reach its apogee during the first World War under the leadership of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis (1856‑1941).

1897-1902 CE The Americanization of Orthodoxy

Following the failure of chief rabbi Jacob Joseph, Orthodox Jews began to organize in more American fashion. In 1897 the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) was established; in 1898 the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (UOJC) was formed, and the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada followed in 1902. Three decades later, the Rabbinical Council of America was formed to accommodate the new generation of Americanized Orthodox rabbis.

1900 CE Death of Isaac Mayer Wise

Isaac Mayer Wise, universally acknowledged as the architect of American Reform Judaism, died in 1900 at the age of 80. He had lived to see the UAHC grow to 99 member congregations with some 9,845 constituents, and the ordination of 75 Reform rabbis. Wise was succeeded as president of Hebrew Union College by Kaufmann Kohler. 

1902 CE Solomon Schechter Comes to America

In 1902, the Jewish Theological Seminary was reorganized under the leadership of scholar Solomon Schechter (1847‑1915), who was brought to New York from Cambridge, England to reinvigorate the Seminary and establish a modern version of traditional Judaism in America. This would become known as Conservative Judaism.

1906 CE Community‑Relations Organizations

The American Jewish Committee was founded in 1906 by leading American Jews such as financier Jacob Schiff, diplomat Oscar Straus, and lawyer Louis Marshall. The more democratic Anti‑Defamation League (ADL) of B’nai B’rith and the American Jewish Congress were founded in 1913 and 1918 respectively.

1909 CE Progressive Rabbis and their Institutions

In 1909, the New York Kehillah (a coordinated Jewish community) was founded under the leadership of Judah L. Magnes (1877‑1948); in the same year, Mordecai M. Kaplan (1881-­1983) was appointed principal of the new Teachers Institute, the educational branch of the Jewish Theological Seminary. Together with Israel Friedlaender (1876‑1920), Magnes and Kaplan united Jewish religion with Zionism, and thereby ushered in a new age in American Judaism. They jointly inspired, for instance, the creation of Young Israel (in 1912), a youth-­oriented movement for the modernization of the traditional synagogue.

1912 CE Henrietta Szold and Hadassah

In 1912, Henrietta Szold (1860‑1945) founded Hadassah, the first Zionist organization for women. Deeply affected by a trip to the holy land and inspired by the social work of Lillian Wald on the Lower East Side, Szold emphasized the provision of health care to the pioneers of the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine. Later, Szold created the Youth Aliyah program to rescue Jewish children from Nazi Germany and bring them to Israel.

1913 CE The United Synagogue of America

In 1913, Solomon Schechter organized a national union of modern‑traditional congregations, to be called the United Synagogue of America. The event signaled the emergence of the Conservative movement as a separate branch of American Judaism. Two years later Schecter died and was succeeded as president of JTS by Cyrus Adler (1863‑1940).

1917 CE An American Jewish Septuagint

After several years of intensive labor, a new English translation of the Hebrew Bible was issued by the Jewish Publication Society in 1917. The Bible Translation Committee was made up of a mixed group of Conservative and Reform scholars: Solomon Schechter, Cyrus Adler, Max Margolis, Joseph Jacobs, Kaufmann Kohler, Samuel Schulman, and David Philipson.

1918 CE The Synagogue‑Center Movement

In 1918, two new Jewish institutions were established in New York—the Jewish Center by Mordecai Kaplan and the Institutional Synagogue by Herbert Goldstein—inaugurating the national synagogue‑center movement of the 1920s. The synagogue‑center combined the religious functions of the synagogue‑‑prayer, study, and assembly‑‑with the social functions of the Jewish community center, such as recreation, informal education, and communal welfare. It provided the model for the American Jewish institutions of today.

1922 CE New Religious Initiatives

Zionist Reform Rabbi Stephen S. Wise established the Jewish Institute for Religion in New York to train rabbis. In this year, Mordecai Kaplan also left the Jewish Center to establish the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, the first Reconstructionist synagogue. Kaplan raised the religious status of Jewish women by encouraging mixed seating into the synagogue and conducting the first ever Bat Mitzvah service, the female equivalent of the Bar Mitzvah, a boy’s coming‑of‑age ceremony.

1923 CE Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life

In 1923, Hillel was founded at the University of Illinois, and was adopted by B’nai B’rith the following year. Since then, Hillel has become a Jewish fixture on many campuses throughout North America, a place where Jewish students of any level of affiliation can socialize, pray, study, and form community together.

1928 CE Bernard Revel and Yeshiva University

After merging with Etz Chaim in 1915, RIETS was renamed the Rabbinical College of America. Under the leadership of Bernard Revel (1885‑1940), the religious seminary added secular studies in 1928 and became Yeshiva College. It added a graduate school in 1937, becoming today’s Yeshiva University.

1934 CE Judaism as a Civilization

In 1934, Mordecai Kaplan published his magnum opus, Judaism as a Civilization: Toward a Reconstruction of American‑Jewish Life. It was the founding statement of Reconstructionist Judaism, at first a school of thought within the Conservative movement, later emerging as a fourth branch of American Judaism.

1937 CE The Columbus Platform

Inspired by Kaplan’s Reconstructionism, and responding to the growing proportion of East European Jews in its membership, the Reform movement convened in 1937 to issue a new platform. The new principles adopted by the Columbus Conference were more hospitable to Zionism, Hebrew and Jewish ritual and superseded the radical universalism of the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885.

1939 CE Jewish Refugees Refused

The German ship St. Louis sailed from Nazi Germany with nearly nine hundred Jews, and was turned away from landing in Cuba or Florida. Eventually it had to return to Hamburg, Germany. Many of the refugees no doubt perished in the Holocaust.

1940 CE A New Generation of Religious Leadership

In 1940, Rabbi Joseph L. Schneersohn, Rebbe of the Lubavitcher Hasidic sect, arrived in New York City to rebuild the Hasidic movement. Another refugee from Nazism that year was Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907‑1972), a scion of several Hasidic dynasties who would become the leading Jewish theologian in America.

1945 CE Kaplan Excommunicated

Like Spinoza before him, Mordecai Kaplan suffered the ignominy of a religious ban when his newly published Sabbath Prayer Book was burned in a New York City hotel room by a group of Orthodox rabbis.

1948 CE The Post‑War Jewish Revival

Concurrent with the establishment of the State of Israel, American Judaism entered a period of revival. In 1948, Brandeis University, the first Jewish‑sponsored non‑sectarian college, was founded; Ramah, the summer camp of the Conservative movement was created; and Oscar Janowsky completed a survey of new synagogue and community center construction in the rapidly growing Jewish suburbs.

1951 CE Judaism as an American Faith

Celebrating his leading role in the American interfaith movement, Time magazine portrayed Louis Finkelstein on its cover of October 1951. The year also saw the publication of two classics in American Jewish writing, Will Herberg’s Judaism for Modern Man and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Man is Not Alone. Herberg would later publish the seminal Protestant, Catholic, Jew: A Study in American Religious Sociology (1955), and Heschel would gain widespread fame when he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

1955 CE Women in the Synagogue

In 1955, The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative movement voted in favor of women being called to reading the Torah in the synagogue.

1960s CE Institutionalization of Reconstructionism

The Reconstructionist movement emerged as a distinct entity during the 1960s. The Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Fellowships was formed in 1961, Mordecai Kaplan finally retired from JTS in 1963, and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC) was opened outside of Philadelphia in 1968.

1967 CE Jewish Survivalism

Israel’s victory in the Six‑Day War in June of 1967 led many American Jews back to an identification with Israel. The preoccupation with Jewish survival was also evident in renewed concern over the rate of intermarriage and belated attention to the Holocaust as a pivotal event in Jewish history.

1968 CE Birth of the Havurah Movement

In the fall of 1968, Havurat Shalom was established near Tufts University in Somerville, Massachusetts. It was the first havurah. Begun as the communal experiment of the Jewish counterculture, the havurah idea spread as an alternative to the bureaucratic and hierarchical synagogues of suburbia. The movement for do‑it‑yourself Judaism was widely popularized by The Jewish Catalog, modelled after the Whole Earth Catalog, authored by members of Havurat Shalom and published in 1973.

1969 CE A Call for Jewish Continuity

At the 1969 General Assembly of Jewish federations, Hillel Levine publicly challenged the American Jewish establishment to support Jewish education in America as strenuously as it did Jewish welfare overseas. The call for “Jewish continuity” was taken up at last by the Federation movement in the 1990s.

1970s CE Third Generation Religious Leadership

The decade of the seventies saw a new generation of leaders take the reins of the three major seminaries of American Judaism: Alfred Gottschalk at Hebrew Union College in 1971, Gerson Cohen at Jewish Theological Seminary in 1972, and Norman Lamm at Yeshiva University in 1977.

1972 CE First Women Rabbis Ordained

In 1972, Sally Priesand was ordained as a Reform rabbi by Hebrew Union College. In the same year, a New York‑based Jewish feminist group called Ezrat Nashim issued a manifesto titled, “Jewish Women Call for Change,” demanding the equalization of religious rights for women in Conservative Judaism. Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, which had been the first seminary to admit women, graduated its first class in 1973. Women’s ordination was not approved by the Conservative movement until 1983, and the first Conservative woman rabbi, Amy Eilberg, was ordained two years later.

1976 CE The Centenary Perspective

Following the 1975 publication of its new prayerbook Gates of Prayer, the Reform movement met in San Francisco to issue a third statement of principles (after the Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 and the Columbus Platform of 1937), called the Centenary Perspective. Largely the work of Reform theologian Eugene Borowitz, the new “perspective”—as opposed to a “platform”—responded to dissension by turning diversity into a virtue.

1978 CE The Denver Experiment

Beginning in 1978, a group of Reform, Conservative, and Traditional (not Orthodox) rabbis formed a joint beit din (rabbinic court) in Denver for the purpose of overseeing conversions to Judaism. The experiment in rabbinic cooperation only lasted six years, however, as ideological tension heightened following the Reform resolution on patrilineality in 1983.

1983 CE Jewish Identity Redefined

At its annual convention of 1983, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing Reform Judaism, voted to revise the traditional definition of a Jew. Rather than the halakhic standard of matrilineal descent (a Jew is one born of a Jewish mother) the Reform rabbis added the option of patrilineal descent as well as the criterion of personal choice. The decision ignited a firestorm of controversy, prompting one Orthodox rabbi to wonder, “Will there be one Jewish people by the year 2000?”

1985 CE The Jewish Day School

When the UAHC voted to support the establishment of Reform Jewish day schools—an institution it had long opposed as parochial—it joined a movement that counted nearly 500 Jewish day schools across the country, the majority of which were Orthodox yeshivas.

1990 CE Conservativism Fragments

Following the 1983 decision to ordain women, opponents of egalitarianism organized the Union for Traditional Conservative Judaism (UTCJ). In an attempt to ensure unity, the Conservative movement issued Truth and Faith, a “statement of principles of Conservative Judaism,” in 1988. Two years later, UTCJ was renamed the Union for Traditional Judaism, and broke with the Conservative movement through the establishment of a separate seminary. In 1995, the Los Angeles branch of JTS, the University of Judaism (UJ), announced its plan to separate from its parent institution in order to train a less scholarly, more hands‑on rabbinate for the west coast.

1993 CE Holocaust Memorialization

With the dedication of the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., a national shrine was created for the memorialization of the Holocaust, a central feature of American Jewish consciousness. Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust film Schindler’s List was released and won the Academy Award for best film of 1993.

1994 CE The Rav and the Rebbe

The deaths of Joseph D. Soloveitchik (1903‑1993) and Menachem M. Schneersohn (1902-1994) left enormous gaps in the world of Orthodox Judaism. Rabbi Soloveitchik, known popularly as the Rav (rabbinic teacher), was the undisputed authority on Jewish law in the twentieth century, as well as the acknowledged leader of mainstream Orthodoxy. Rabbi Schneersohn, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, died without designating a successor and has been proclaimed the Messiah by his Hasidic followers.

1995 CE The Rabin Assassination

Throughout the country, American Jews flocked to their synagogues to mourn the tragic death of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin. The killing by the hand of a Jew sparked mutual recriminations between Orthodox and non‑Orthodox Jews as well as new initiatives for the reconciliation of opposing camps of Judaism.

1999 CE Birthright Israel

In 1999, Birthright Israel was founded as a non-profit institution with the goal of strengthening the ties between Israel and the worldwide Jewish community. Birthright offers an all-expenses paid 10-day trip to Israel for Jewish young adults, to strengthen their Jewish identity and feeling of connection to the State of Israel. Since it’s inception, over 340,000 young adults have gone on Birthright’s various trips, which cover the basic tourist sites in Israel, including the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem.

2000 CE Camp David Peace Summit

In July, 2000, President Bill Clinton convened direct peace negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. While the negotiations did not lead to the peace accord that the parties hoped for, it laid the groundwork for any future successful talks. There is a broad consensus that the parameters negotiated at Camp David—including borders along the Green Line (the border drawn, in green, at the conclusion of the Six Day War) plus one-to-one land swaps for settlements that Israel has built outside of the Green line—would have to form the basis for a lasting Palestinian-Israeli peace.

2000 CE Jewish Population Survey Indicates Intermarriage at 39 Percent

The percentage of marriages that include one partner who is Jewish and another who is not continues to rise and remains a source of conversation among Jews and researchers who study the Jewish community. According to the research of Bruce Phillips, a professor at Hebrew Union College and senior research fellow at the University of Southern California’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, intermarriage may reach 70 percent by 2030, although, as of 2013, Jews were more likely than Hispanic or African Americans to “in-marry.”[1]

2003 CE Hebrew College Rabbinical School

In 2003, Hebrew College—a center of Jewish learning and culture since 1921—opened a Rabbinical School focused on training a pluralistic group of future Jewish religious leaders who would be well-equipped to engage meaningfully in the multi-religious world of America. Hebrew College is the only pluralistic, non-denominational Rabbinical School in America.

2010-2011 CE Anti-Defamation League Opposes Cordoba House; Supports Mosque-Building Efforts Nationwide

When controversy surrounding plans to build an Islamic cultural center in Lower Manhattan—an effort spearheaded by many individuals known to promote anti-Muslim sentiments—reached a fever pitch in 2010, the Anti-Defamation League drew ire from many of its supporters by making known its opposition to building project. A few months later, the ADL demonstrated its support for other mosque-building efforts in places like Temecula, California.

2011 CE Bearded Orthodox Rabbi Allowed to Serve as U.S. Army Chaplain

Rabbi Menachem M. Stern was granted permission by the U.S. Army’s Chief of Chaplains to serve as a chaplain in the army while maintaining his beard which Stern considers a requirement of Jewish law. He was the first Orthodox Jew in thirty years to be granted an exemption from the Army’s policy banning facial hair.


[1]  http://news.usc.edu/#!/article/46804/intermarriage-expected-to-shape-the-jewish-future/)