The development of all three branches of Judaism in America was directly influenced by German rabbinical traditions, especially reform Judaism, and especially by Rabbi Max Lilienthal. The institutional foundations for the American reform movement can all be traced to this 19th century Rabbi who comes to life in Cantor Ruben’s new biography.
Too often remembered as an associate of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, German born Rabbi Lilienthal (1814-82) came to the U.S. and explored new initiatives to bring his growing immigrant community into the mainstream of American society. Lilienthal’s fervent Haskalah ideology was shaped by his familiarity with the tensions within early 19th century German Jewish life. Using that Enlightenment ideology, he went to Russia to Reform the system of Jewish education, then to America where American culture influenced his approach to the Rabbinate. For students of German Haskalah as well as American reform Judaism, Max Lilienthal is a seminal figure.
Bruce Ruben is the director of the School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College. Previously he served for twenty years as the cantor of Temple Shaaray Tefila and earned his doctorate in Jewish history.