Isaac Mayer Wise and Solomon Schechter, both immigrants, became the major influences on Reform and Conservative Judaism in America. Reading these two selections what do you see as the major differences between them?
Isaac Mayer Wise REFORMED JUDAISM (1871)
Change, universal and perpetual is the law of laws in this universe. Still there is an element of stability, the fact of mutation itself; the law of change changes not. This law lies in the harmony of the spheres; the mystery of truth in nature's variegation; the manifestation of the wisdom of the Immutable Deity. Progress and perfectibility are the effect, and, as far as reason penetrates the conscious aim of this cause. The geologist, as he comes away from the lowest stratum into which his researches have gone along the crust of this planet, and the historian, who returns from the study of the life of humanity from the cradle of its birth to the nineteenth century, see the chain of conscious progress in form and idea, from the lowest to the highest known to man, see the promise perfectibility everywhere, and see permanent retrogradation nowhere. Wisdom, boundless and ineffable, and the revelations of Deity lie in this law of laws "which God hath created to do."
Therefore, Reformed Judaism, the subject of this essay, acknowledges no necessary stability of the form,, but also no change of the principle. All forms change, adapting themselves to new conditions, and all changes proceed from the same principle, which is not subject to change. This is the central idea of Jewish reasoners on Judaism in the nineteenth century.
Before following this idea in its sequence, it must be understood that the term "Reformed" in connection with "Judaism," does not imply restoration to an older form; it is intended to convey the idea of putting into a new and improved form and condition. Judaism, from this standpoint admits no retrogression and maintains that all forms which the principle has developed and crystallized, were necessarily beneficial for each respective time or locality. But the civilization of the nineteenth century, being the sum and substance of all previous phases, has produced conditions unknown in former periods of history. Therefore, the principle of Judaism also must develop new forms corresponding to the new conditions which surround its votaries who live among the civilized nations; forms, too, which were neither necessary nor desirable in former periods of history, and would not be such now to other Israelites, although adhering to the same principle, who live among semi-barbarous, or even less enlightened nations. Again, as civilization progresses, the principle of Judaism will always develop new forms in correspondence with every progressive state of the intelligence and consciousness, until the great day when one shepherd and one flock will unite the human family in truth, justice and love. As an illustration of this, it is to be remembered that the Israelite of the reformed school does not believe in the restoration of the ancient mode of. worship by the sacrifice of animal victims and by a hereditary priesthood. He considers that phase was necessary and beneficial, in its time and locality, but that it would be void of all significance in our age when entirely different conceptions of divine worship prevail, and it would appear much more meaningless to coming generations. The divine institutions of the past are not obligatory on the present generation or on coming ages, since the conditions which rendered them necessary, desirable and beneficial have been radically changed. Therefore, Progressive ,Judaism would be a better designation than Reformed Judaism. But, on account of common usage, the latter term has been adopted as the caption of this essay, and should be understood in this spirit alone.
Solomon Schechter, ALTAR BUILDING IN AMERICA (1904)
The first settlers in this country were mostly men who had left their native land for conscience' sake, despairing of the Old World as given over to the powers of darkness, despotism and unbelief. And I can quite realize how they must have gloried in the idea of being chosen instruments of Providence who were to restore the spiritual equilibrium of the world by the conquest of new spheres of religious influence and their dedication to the worship of Almighty God.
As a Jew coming from the East of Europe, where my people are trodden down, where seats of Jewish learning and Jewish piety are daily destroyed, I am greatly animated by the same feelings and am comforted to see the New World compensating us for our many losses in the Old. I rejoice, therefore, at the privilege of being with you on this solemn occasion . . . .
We are now prepared for the minuter consideration of our text.
This is a test applicable to all ages and to all countries; the New World as well as the Old. There is nothing in American citizenship which is incompatible with our observing the dietary laws, our sanctifying the Sabbath, our fixing a Mezuzah on our doorposts, our refraining from unleavened bread on Passover, or our perpetuating any other law essential to the preservation of Judaism. On the other hand, it is now generally recognized by the leading thinkers that the institutions and observances of religion are part of its nature, a fact that the moribund rationalism of a half century ago failed to realize. In certain parts of Europe every step of our civil and social emancipation demanded from us a corresponding sacrifice of a portion of the glorious heritage bequeathed to us by our fathers . Jews in America, thank God, are no longer haunted by such fears. We live in commonwealth in which by the blessing of God and the wisdom of the4 Fathers of the Constitution, each man abiding by its laws, has the inalienable right of living in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience. In this great, glorious and free country we Jews need not sacrifice a single iota of our Torah; and, in the enjoyment of absolute equality with our fellow citizens we can live to carry out those ideals for which our ancestors so often had to die.