Early American Reform Prayer-books - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Early American Reform Prayer-books

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In the United States in the 1800's, many congregations saw the need for new prayer-books. They wanted shorter services, translations of the prayers, less repetition and to incorporate European elements of reform as well as American values. The HUC-JIR libraries have many examples of these prayer-books and as well as congregational hymnals. HUC students and staff can access the prayerbooks here, using a login provided by the Library.

Sabbath Service and Miscellaneous Prayers (Reformed Society of Israelites, Charleston, SC)

In 1824, a group of members of the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) in Charleston, South Carolina, petitioned the congregregation to make reforms. (1) They requested that the cantor repeat some of the prayers in English for those who didn't understand Hebrew; that the service be shorter; that the practice of having members make pledges before the Torah reading be abolished; and that the synagogue's reader talk about the portion as their Christian neighbors did. They hoped their plan would revitalize Jewish life and attract more members.

When the congregation refused to consider their proposal, the group formed an organization within the congregation to promote their reforms, the Reformed Society of Israelites. Isaac Harby, Abraham Moise, and David Nunes Carvalh began to work on a prayer book and shortly thereafter, the group decided to break away from KKBE in 1826. There were apparently several different hand-written manuscript versions of the prayer-book produced in the late 1820's including this early draft  by Isaac Harby. 

Their final prayer-book, The Sabbath Service and Miscellaneous Prayers, was published in 1830 entirely in English. It was reprinted in 1916 by Barnett A. Elzas who made some revisions. A facsimile edition of Isaac Harby's 1924 manuscript was produced by K.K. Beth Elohim in 1974.

K.K. Beth Elohim (Charleston, SC)

While KKBE had earlier rejected reform, in 1836 they hired Rev. Gustav Poznanski who had been active in Europe's reform movement. He instituted several changes to the congregation including adding an organ, eliminating the second day of holidays, and some reforms in the service (4)

The congregation published a hymnal. We have digitized Hymns written for the use of Hebrew Congregations 3rd. ed., revised and corrected, 1866. 

Sefer Tefilah : Order of Prayer (Temple Emanu-El, New York)

In 1844, Rabbi Leo Merzbacher joined a liberal cultural group which eventually became New York's Temple Emanu-El. He influenced the congregation to add an organ, change from separated seating to family pews, cease the celebration of the second day of the holidays, and incorporate the triennial cycle of Torah readings. In 1855 he published the Order of Prayer which was readily adopted by the congregation. Notably, the prayer-book contained English translations of the prayers in contrast to other early Reform works which contained German. Merzbacher omitted repetitions of the prayers and changed the wording of many of the prayers. He kept in the German hymns and expanded the Ein Ke-Eloheinu hymn.

Sadly, Merzbacher died of tuberculosis in 1856. His successor, Samuel Adler made further changes in the 1864 edition of the Order of Prayer including a prayer for the house of mourning. The Order of Prayer was relied on heavily in the later formation of the Union Prayerbook. 

Olat Tamid (Einhorn)

When David Einhord chose a name for his prayer book, he picked that of a sacrifice not to show that he wished for the reconstruction of Jerusalem, but rather that prayer should become our perfect offering to God. 2 In composing Olat Tamid, Einhorn relied heavily on three earlier German Reform prayer-books, Hamurg Gebetbuch, Holdheim's Gebetbuch für jüdische Reformgemeinden, and Leopold Zunz's Die gottesdienstlichen Vorträge. Einhorn incorporated the triennial cycle of Torah reading which meant that Simhat Torah was celebrated every 3 years. He replaced some of the somber Ashkenazi hymns with more optimistic Sephardic piyutim and songs. One of his more extreme changes was to replace the shofar with a modern trumpet (or other horn) <We are undergoing an initiative to enhance accessibility of our website for individuals with disabilities. The work may affect content that was previously available. Please bear with us as we enhance our content.. >

Minhag America

Isaac Mayer Wise was an early proponent of a unified prayer book for all American congregations. Together with Rabbis Kalisch and Rothenheim, Wise edited Minhag America; a new siddur (daily and Sabbath prayers) and mazhzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In his essay, "The world of my books" he recalls, "The piutim ["liturgical poems"] were, of course, discarded; everything cabbalistic and everything dealing with the sacrificial cult, the messiah, the return to Palestine, and the prayers for the heads of the Babylonian academies, as well as all laments about persecutions, were simply eliminated and were replaced by modern concepts." 5 Wise provided the English translations while Kalisch and Rothenheim translated the services into German. When it was time to produce a hymnal, Wise's colleagues were not available so the hymns were translated into English only. As several other congregations had already done, his congregation in Cincinnati gave up the second day celebration of the holidays. One of his major innovations was to introduce a Friday night Sabbath service.
Minhag America, 1872
Minhag America for New Year, 1866
Minhag America for Yom Kippur, 1866
Minhag America = Gebet-buch, 1864


Marcus Jastrow revised the Prayer book originally composed by Benjamin Szold (German ed., 1863; English, 1865) 2 Marcus applied his considerable scholarly skills to this venture. He focused on Biblical sources rather than rabbinic. His list of statements regarding reform shows his moderate mindset while editing the liturgy.
2nd. ed. 1885.
Avodat Yisrael = Israelitish Prayer Book v. 2 2nd. ed. 1885. 

Union Prayerbook

Union Prayerbook, 1892 

Other Prayer-books

Other early prayer-books that we are planning on digitizing include:

  • Siddur (Reform, Reformed Society of Israelites). The Sabbath service and miscellaneous prayers. New York : Bloch Publishing Company, 1916.
  • The American-Jewish ritual, as instituted in Temple Israel, Brooklyn New York : L.H. Frank & Co., 1870.
  • Siddur (Reform, Landsberg). Ritual for Jewish worship. Rochester, N.Y. : Charles Mann, 1884.
  • Siddur (Reform, Moses). Order of prayers and responsive readings for Jewish worship. Milwaukee : 1887.
  • Krauskopf, Joseph, The service-ritual. Philadelphia : J.B. Lippincott Co., 1888.

For more information, see these sources:

  1. Zola, Gary P. "The First Reform Prayer Book in America" in Platforms and Prayer Books edited by Dana Evan Kaplan. Lanham, Maryland : Rowman & Littlefield pub., 2002.
  2. Friedland, Eric Lewis. The historical and Theological Development of the Non-Orthodox prayer-books in the United States Thesis (Ph.D. Brandeis University) 1967.
  3. Wachs, Sharona R. American Jewish Liturgies : a bibliography of American Jewish Liturgy from the Establishment of the Press in the Colonies through 1925. Historical introduction by Karla Goldman ; liturgical introduction by Eric L. Friedland. Cincinnati : Hebrew Union College Press, 1997.
  4. Gordon, Theodore H. The Liturgy of the Reform Movement in America to the Union Payer book. Thesis, HUC, 1933.
  5. Wise, Isaac, Mayer. The world of my books. Translated by Albert H. Friedlander. Cincinnati : American Jewish Archives, [1954?]

If you have any further questions about finding information on this, or any other topic, ask your local HUC-JIR librarian or email us.