The CLEVELAND ASSEMBLY OF 1855, convened 17-20 Oct. at the Masonic Hall, was the first and last general synod of American Jewish religious and lay leaders. The meeting resulted in a prayerbook but did not succeed in uniting American Jewry. By 1855 the approx. 110 U.S. Jewish congregations followed various religious rituals, including Orthodox, traditional (Historical School) and moderate Reform, and radical Reform. Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati, OH, the leader of moderate Reform, and Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia, PA, the leader of traditional Jewry, had attempted to unify American Jews for a decade, each under their respective philosophies.

The Cleveland Assembly, the third attempt at organizing a synod, was successful largely because of the initial cooperation between Wise and Leeser under the slogan "Shalom Al Yisrael" (Peace be unto Israel). Among the religious and lay leaders attending were rabbis Leo Merzbacher of New York, Maximillian Lillienthal of Cincinnati, Elkan Cohn of Albany, and approx. a dozen others, primarily from the Midwest. Representing Cleveland were Bennard L. Fould, Joseph Levi, Asher Lehman of ANSHE CHESED, and Rabbi ISIDOR KALISCH, F. I. Cohen, and Alexander Schwab of Tifereth Israel.

The synod resolved that: the Bible is the revealed word of God; the Talmud is the traditional legal and logical exposition of Biblical law; the resolutions of the synod are legally valid; and illiberal assertions in the Talmud are not legally binding. Additionally, the assembly: established a committee to produce a new prayerbook; agreed to create Zion collegiate associations in all major American cities; and expressed opposition to all-day Hebrew schools in favor of public education supplemented by afternoon religious school. The latter three resolutions were introduced by Wise and his supporters but were opposed by Leeser.

The majority of religious leaders boycotted the meeting. Radical reformers, led by David Einhorn of Baltimore, rejected the resolutions because they did not believe that the Talmud was legally binding and because they opposed Wise's moderate Reform. The Orthodox and traditionalists welcomed the resolutions but stated their wariness of Wise. In 1856 the committee appointed to produce a new prayerbook—Wise, Kalisch, and Dr. Rothenheim of Cincinnati—issued the Minhag America (American Ritual), which became the most popular ritual among moderate Reform congregations during the 1860s and 1870s. The Cleveland Assembly illustrated that national religious unity was not yet possible.

Davis, Moshe. The Emergence of Conservative Judaism (1963).

Philipson, David. Centenary Papers and Others (1919).

Wise, Isaac Mayer. Reminiscences (1901).


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