A Rare 1860 Reform Siddur

Israel

Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I just acquired a pair of extraordinarily rare prayer books published in New York in 1860 that offer insight on the wave of change that overcame American Jewry at this time.

Titled Seder Tephilah: The Order of Prayer for Divine Service, and based on Leo Merzbacher’s German siddurim, it was the first year-round siddur to feature English as the main language of prayer, as opposed to German, which many of the reformers in the United States were using at the time.

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Leo Merzbacher (1809-56) received semicha from his rebbe, the Chasam Sofer. The Chasam Sofer fiercely opposed the Reform movement, but upon his immigration to New York in the 1840s, Merzbacher joined it and was appointed the first rabbi of Temple Emanuel in New York.

In Merzbacher’s period, Reform Jews used German in to pray, but by the time his successor, Samuel Adler (1809-91), was hired, the congregation of Temple Emanuel was fluent in English; hence this prayer book.

The Order of Prayer introduced many drastic changes to the traditional liturgy, eliminating all mention of returning to Israel and rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, all mention of sacrifices, all mention of the kohanim, and all mention of the kingship of the family of David. References to techiyat hametim were eliminated as well.

On the free-end of the copy I acquired is a handwritten manuscript page containing a “Hymn on the Consecration Day of the Temple Emanuel, Curacao, 12 Sept 1867.” From the 17th century, Sephardic Jews made the island of Curacao their home, and their synagogue – Congregation Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, built in 1730 – is still in existence and in use, making it in the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas.

The synagogue is known for its sand-covered floors, which is said to have reminded the congregants of their forefathers, marranos in Spain and Portugal, who covered their prayer-rooms floors with sand to muffle the noise produced by their feet.

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