web analytics
August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Reverend Samuel Myer Isaacs – Champion of Orthodoxy (Part II)

Glimpses-090712

Unless otherwise noted all quotations are from The Forerunners – Dutch Jewry in the North America Diaspora by Robert P. Swierenga, Wayne State University Press, Detroit, 1994.

Last month’s column sketched the life of Reverend Myer Isaacs, concentrating primarily on his efforts to preserve and foster Orthodoxy in New York City, where he served as the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaaray Tefila from its founding in 1845 to his passing in 1879. Reverend Isaacs’s sphere of influence was not limited to New York. His efforts encompassed a broad range of activities throughout America designed to strengthen Orthodoxy in its battle against the Reform movement.

“In 1857 Samuel Isaacs carried the fight against Reform to the wider Jewish community by launching a periodical, the Jewish Messenger, which he made an effective organ for Orthodoxy. He set the tone and established his themes in the initial ringing editorials, ‘Mammon Worship,’ which condemned materialism; ‘Our Divine Law,’ which commended true religion as the ‘boon and boast of Israel throughout the dispersion’; and ‘The Want of Union,’ which advocated a super board to safeguard Judaism in democratic America. The Jewish Messenger also promoted unified Jewish charities, day schools and seminaries, and orphan asylums. The rabbi turned journalist enlisted in the struggle his sons Myer, Abram, and Isaac as writers and assistant editors.”

In addition to editing The Jewish Messenger, Reverend Isaacs was a contributor to the Jewish newspaper the Asmonean as well as to Isaac Leeser’s monthly Jewish journal the Occident. Many of his articles criticized those who wanted to introduce reforms into religious practice that were against halacha. Reverend Isaacs began his article “The Reform Agitation” with:

In an age like the present, when the most startling theories are mooted, the most pernicious doctrines disseminated, and the strangest systems propagated regarding our religious polity, it becomes every man in whom the latent spark of religion is not extinct to employ all the means in his power to prevent the theorist from putting his visionary schemes into practice, to thwart the worldling in his dangerous doctrines, and to counteract the copyist in his onward course. Carrying out this principle to its fullest extent, I take up my pen, not to exhibit the “cacoethes scribendi” [insatiable desire to write], nor to cater to the taste of the innovator, not for self-aggrandizement, nor for fleeting popularity; but for the sole aim and purpose of demonstrating to the Judaic world that the system we have followed in our dark days and our brighter ones has performed all it was destined to accomplish; and to adduce evidence to prove that reforming our system of worship as regards its spiritual affairs, will entail danger on our nationality, and mainly tend to remove the landmarks which were erected by prudence and caution, and which hitherto have been sufficient to guide the pilgrim of hope to the regions of immortality. [The Occident, Volume II, No. 6]

Jewish Education

Samuel Myer Isaacs realized the future of Judaism depended on Jewish youth receiving a meaningful Jewish education. However, the reality was that during his lifetime most Jewish children were educated in public schools.

“In 1842 Isaacs converted his congregation’s afternoon school into an all-day English and Hebrew school, the New York Talmud Torah and Hebrew Institute, with the Dutch-born Henry Goldsmith as teacher of Hebrew. Although the school began strongly with 80 boys and was one of only three in the entire country, it failed within five years because of financial difficulties. Isaacs was not easily discouraged. In 1852 his congregation again founded a day school, the Bnai Jeshurun Educational Institute, which boasted an enrollment of 177 pupils within a year; but it too had to close after three years (1855) because of insufficient students.”

These attempts to maintain a day school were undermined by the New York state legislature having secularized the public schools. Christian textbooks were eliminated and local school boards could choose daily Scripture readings. In predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, only passages from the Jewish Bible were read. The result was that Jewish parents sent their children to public school where they received no Jewish education. Reverend Isaacs correctly “considered this an unmitigated tragedy.”

He was not deterred by failure, however, and in 1857 established a Hebrew high school where he served “as principal and Hebrew teacher for many years. The school thrived as a boarding institution and offered a college preparatory curriculum.”

About the Author: 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 llevine@stevens.edu.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Reverend Samuel Myer Isaacs – Champion of Orthodoxy (Part II)”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Seder at the White House. The one without the kippa is President Obama.
Obama Cashes in on Separating Israel from American Jews’ Concerns
Latest Sections Stories
South-Florida-logo

A light breakfast of coffee and danishes will be available during the program.

South-Florida-logo

A variety of glatt kosher food will be available for purchase at Kosher Korner (near Section 1).

South-Florida-logo

Jewish Press South Florida Editor Shelley Benveniste will deliver a talk.

South-Florida-logo

Corey Brier, corresponding secretary of the organization, introduced the rabbi.

The magnificent 400-seat sanctuary with beautiful stained glass windows, a stunning carved glass Aron Kodesh, a ballroom, social hall, and beis medrash will accommodate the growing synagogue.

Even when our prayers are ignored and troubles confront us, Rabbi Shoff teaches that it is the same God who sent the difficulties as who answered our prayers before.

I’ve put together some of the most frequently asked questions regarding bullies, friendship and learning disabilities.

His parents make it clear that they feel the right thing is for Avi to visit his grandfather, but they leave it up to him.

There is a rich Jewish history in this part of the world. Now the hidden customs are being revealed, as many seek to reconnect with their roots.

There are times when a psychiatrist will over-medicate, which is why it’s important to find a psychiatrist whom you trust and feel comfortable with.

On November 22, 1963, Abraham Zapruder created one of the most famous, and valuable, pieces of film and became forever linked with one of the greatest American national tragedies when he stood with his camera on an elevated concrete abutment as President John F. Kennedy’s motorcade passed through Dealey Plaza in Dallas. Exhibited here is […]

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” – Corrie ten Boom I’ve been thinking a lot about worrying. Anxiety is an issue close to my heart – […]

More Articles from Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Levine-Dr-Yitzchok-NEW

The student followers of the Malach stood in direct opposition to his philosophy and to the standards of the yeshiva.

Rav S. R. Hirsch

Last month we outlined how a few years after Judah Touro’s death a public movement was inaugurated by the citizens of New Orleans to erect a monument to his memory, and that opposition to this tribute came from a number of rabbis throughout the country who claimed that Judaism forbade the erection of any graven […]

After his marriage he was successfully engaged in the lumber business.

He wrote a strong defense of shechitah in which he maintained that the Jewish method of slaughter had a humanitarian influence on the Jewish people.

This was a most unusual step to take in those days, given the difficulties of travel to Europe. Nonetheless, on May 1, 1860 he sailed from New York on the steamship Hammonia.

The ship’s captain apparently respected the Friedenwalds’ strict adherence to halacha because he allowed them to use his cabin for davening and other religious observances.

I happen to believe that for a couple to spend a few years in kollel is a wonderful way to start a marriage.

Penn wrote the following to a friend in England: “I found them [the Indians of the eastern shore of North America] with like countenances with the Hebrew race; and their children of so lively a resemblance to them that a man would think himself in Duke’s place, or Barry street, in London, when he sees them.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/reverend-samuel-myer-isaacs-champion-of-orthodoxy-part-ii/2012/09/05/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: