At Reverend Isaacs’s insistence Shaaray Tefila had a mikveh constructed according to guidelines prescribed by Rabbi Abraham Rice of Baltimore, the first Orthodox rabbi to settle in America. Reverend Isaacs admonished the women of his congregation for not adhering to the Laws of Family Purity and hence not using the congregation’s mikveh.
“Isaacs’s goal was to safeguard the rank and file of American Jewry from Reform.” He realized that the changes in religious observance that were being adopted by many Jews would lead to assimilation, and he was, of course, not wrong. He was “at the forefront of the defense of Orthodoxy in New York and throughout the country.”
“Shaaray Tefila prospered under Reverend Isaacs. The liturgy, ritual, and physical arrangement of seating all conformed to the requirements of Orthodoxy. He was the first Jewish cleric to preach regularly in English in Ashkenazic synagogues, and he was much in demand as a guest speaker because of this ability. Throughout his long career he was the featured speaker at some 47 synagogue dedication ceremonies across the country. He officiated at 812 weddings and not one was a mixed marriage, or ‘as far as my knowledge extends,’ ended in divorce. Isaacs was also the first to reach his seventieth year while in office.”
He was most honored and noted for his staunch adherence to traditional Judaism. “An eminent Christian clergyman in a glowing tribute sent to Isaacs’s sons described their father as ‘a bulwark of strength against the infidelity and godlessness that are growing upon us in this great city. His firm devotion to God’s holy word brought him into direct and cordial sympathy with us Christians….’ ”
Reverend Samuel Myer Isaacs’s activities and accomplishments were not restricted to his congregation or to New York City. He played a major role in all things Jewish that occurred in America during his tenure as spiritual leader of Shaaray Tefila. These activities will be dealt with in next month’s column.
Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i] Magazine of American History with Notes and Queries, edited by Mrs. Martha J. Lamb, Vol. XXV, January – June, 1891, New York City, page 211.