WASHINGTON, D.C.Today, U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rob Portman (R-OH) formally memorialized Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in the congressional record, as they recognized the 200th anniversary of Rabbi Wise’s birth. In addition to submitting a joint statement for the congressional record honoring his life and legacy, Brown and Portman introduced a resolution lauding Rabbi Wise’s contributions and commemorating the 130th anniversary of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR). 

Rabbi Wise immigrated from Budapest and adopted Cincinnati as his home and is recognized as the father of American Reform Judaism. He helped found a number of groundbreaking institutions that remain an integral part of Jewish life today, including the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, today known as the “Union for Reform Judaism,” and Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Cincinnati. Rabbi Wise also founded The Israelite, a Cincinnati-based paper that helped shape Reform Judaism. 

“Rabbi Wise believed in liberty, in life, and in faith – he wanted to ensure that his ancient religious tradition, which had sustained people for millennia, remained relevant in a new and fast-changing nation,” said Brown. “The groundbreaking institutions he founded left an indelible mark on Judaism, and remain an integral part of our country’s religious life to this day.”

“Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise was an American icon and one of the fathers of American Reform Judaism,” said Portman. “It is a deep source of pride to me and so many Ohioans that the roots of Reform Judaism run through Cincinnati and endure there thanks to his extraordinary professional achievements, which have had an indelible effect on the religious life of the American nation.” 

Full text of Brown and Portman’s joint statements for the record can be found below.   

Sen. Brown’s Statement: 

Mr./Mdme. President, 

I join my friend and colleague, Senator Portman, in rising to recognize the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the giants of American religious life, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. Rabbi Wise adopted Ohio as his home, and is recognized as the father of American Reform Judaism. His ideas and teachings, and the many great institutions he founded, have had a profound effect on American Judaism, and on people of faith throughout our country and around the world. 

Rabbi Wise believed in liberty in life, and in faith – he wanted to ensure that his ancient religious tradition, which had sustained people for millennia, remained relevant in a new and fast-changing nation. He pioneered ideas like men and women sitting together during services and choral singing, and gave so many a new way to understand and practice their faith. 

The groundbreaking institutions he founded left an indelible mark on Judaism, and remain an integral part of our country’s religious life to this day – the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, today known as the “Union for Reform Judaism,” and Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.

Rabbi Wise made Cincinnati his home, and in large part because of the institutions he created, Cincinnati became central to the fabric of American Judaism. HUC is a center of Jewish thought, and this year the CCAR will celebrate its 130th anniversary in the Queen City. The weekly newspaper Rabbi Wise founded, the Israelite, was based in Cincinnati, and that paper helped shape Reform Judaism. 

Senator Portman and I join the people of Ohio in remembering this great Ohioan on the bicentennial of his birth. Rabbi Wise and his legacy are a great source of pride for so many Ohioans, we are honored to recognize his incredible contributions to Judaism, to Ohio, and to our country. 

Sen. Portman’s Statement: 

Mr. President – I rise today with my colleague from Ohio, Sherrod Brown, to mark the bicentennial anniversary of the birth of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise founded the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1889 and this year its members are celebrating the 130th anniversary of its establishment at their annual convention in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise is widely acknowledged as one of the fathers of American Reform Judaism. We’d like to recognize the bicentennial anniversary of Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise’s birth as well as his extraordinary professional achievements, which have had an indelible effect on the religious life of the American nation. 

He created three major American institutions, all still vibrant today: the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (now the Union for Reform Judaism) in 1873, the Hebrew Union College (HUC) in 1875, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) in 1889. As founding president and faculty member of HUC for 25 years, Wise shaped and established Jewish seminary education in America. As CCAR president, he guided a fledgling American rabbinate to take its place within the broader American clergy as equal partners.  Celebrating the 130th anniversary of its founding in 2019, the CCAR is today the world’s oldest and largest rabbinical association. 

In 1854, Wise founded and edited a weekly newspaper, The Israelite (later, The American Israelite) in Cincinnati. The following year Wise founded and edited a German language newspaper, Die Deborah. Wise was also a scholar and educator. He authored over a dozen volumes, both fiction and non-fiction, many of which dealt with intergroup relations and the place of the Jew within American society. 

It is a deep source of pride to us and so many Ohioans that the roots of Reform Judaism run through Cincinnati and endure there.  We are so proud of Hebrew Union College and all who serve there and learn there now, and we know that all leads back to the man we honor today, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise. 

Isaac Mayer Wise was an American icon. His writings have been studied by scholars of many disciplines and backgrounds and we are proud to recognize him today.  

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