Photo Credit:
Sabato Morais

 

Dr. Morais was active in virtually every civic and charitable cause in Philadelphia. However, his interests were not limited to the city in which he resided. He “carefully followed the political issues of his day both throughout the United States and around the world.” His outspoken support of President Lincoln and the North during the Civil War resulted in his receiving honorary membership in the Philadelphia Union League. He maintained his public opposition to slavery and his support of the Union in the face of extreme pressure, some of it from his own congregants.

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Morais identified true power and authority with God, not with worldly accomplishments, political muscle, entering the public sphere or gaining public recognition. As Morais once put it, “to exercise social and domestic virtues is to serve the Lord and Redeemer.” For Morais, communal and charitable work functioned as a form of worship, a sacrificial service of the heart (Avodah). Morais followed the biblical writings he read so carefully, such as Jeremiah and Ecclesiastes, in pronouncing earthly achievements “vanities.”

…. In principle Morais objected to…political Zionism because he judged the essentially secular call for a Jewish return to the Land of Israel to be in conflict with the traditional religious doctrine that only God, not Jews, should initiate a messianic restoration. But Morais’ opposition also reflected a religious sensibility rooted in the idea that true piety involved humble submission to God’s will. Three months later, in August 1897, political Zionism was born at Basle, and three months after that Morais died.[iv]

 

“Notable among Morais’ other controversial stances as minister of Mikveh Israel was his support of the right of women to vote on all congregational issues, a policy which was adopted by vote in 1882.”

When, in 1881, thousands of Jews began immigrating to America due to pogroms taking place in Eastern Europe, it was Reverend Morais who was in the forefront of efforts to re-settle them in the United States.


[i] The New York Times, Saturday, November 13, 1897, 7.

[ii]  Ibid.

 [iii] “Dust and Ashes”: The Funeral and Forgetting of Sabato Morais, Arthur Kiron American Jewish History 84.3 (1996) 155-188.  

 [iv] Ibid.

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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 then taught as an adjunct at Stevens until 2014. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Rabbi Morais' outspoken opposition to chattel slavery may have been unique among Orthodox rabbis in the United States at the time. Two other Orthodox rabbis in America as of 1860, Rabbi Morris Raphall in New York, and Rabbi Bernard Illowy in Baltimore (who shortly moved to New Orleans), were outspoken supporters of slavery.

  2. Rabbi Morais' outspoken opposition to chattel slavery may have been unique among Orthodox rabbis in the United States at the time. Two other Orthodox rabbis in America as of 1860, Rabbi Morris Raphall in New York, and Rabbi Bernard Illowy in Baltimore (who shortly moved to New Orleans), were outspoken supporters of slavery.

  3. That's hardly the worst revisionism here. Sabato Morais was the founder of the Jewish Theological Seminary! (and it was absolutely taking positions even in his day that the Charedim at least would consider heretical regarding biblical analysis

  4. Not to mention that by today's standards, Mikveh Israel in those days wouldn't be considered Orthodox; all evidence suggests they still had a mixed choir in those days.

  5. Technically nothing since any kol isha concerns should be nullified by the group singing, but I can't imagine an Orthodox synagogue having a choir today, period, much less a mixed one.

  6. Choirs are indeed rare in Orthodox synagogues today, but they exist in some rather important large congregations. The HIR choir doesn't sing in services as an organized group — everyone in the congregation sings in services there ;).

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