Wise, Stephen Samuel

Wise, Stephen Samuel

Wise, Stephen Samuel, 1874–1949, American Reform rabbi and Zionist leader, b. Budapest, grad. College of the City of New York, 1891, Ph.D. Columbia, 1901. He served as a rabbi in New York City (1893–1900) and in Portland, Oreg. (1900–1906). Returning to New York, he founded (1907) the Free Synagogue, of which he was rabbi until his death. Wise worked for labor reforms, world peace, alleviation of the problems of the Jewish minorities in Europe, and relief for refugees. He was one of the foremost leaders of Zionism and Reform Judaism. Among the many organizations in which he was active were the American Jewish Congress, the World Jewish Congress, and the Zionist Organization of America. He founded (1922) the Jewish Institute of Religion for the training of a modern rabbinate and of Jewish educators and community workers. His writings include The Great Betrayal (with Jacob De Haas, 1930), As I See It (1944), and his autobiography, Challenging Years (1949).


See his personal letters (ed. by his children, J. W. Wise and J. W. Polier, 1956).

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Wise, Stephen Samuel (b. Weiss)

(1874–1949) rabbi, social activist, Zionist leader; born in Budapest, Hungary. Brought to the U.S.A. as a baby by his rabbi father, he grew up in New York City, studied to be a rabbi there and in Vienna, and by age 19 was the rabbi of New York's Congregation B'nai Jeshurun. Outspoken in his sympathies for labor and other social causes, he refused an offer to be rabbi of New York's most prestigious temple, Emanu-El; instead he founded his own Free Synagogue (1907), where until his death he preached a message that combined liberal Judaism with calls for social justice. Along with openly siding with labor, he attacked everyone from corrupt politicians to the Ku Klux Klan. He was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (1909) and the American Civil Liberties Union (1920). He was one of the founders of the Federation of American Zionists (1893), was the first president of the new Zionist Organization of America (1918), and in 1919 went to France to argue for the goal of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. During the 1930s he spoke out against Hitler's treatment of Jews; in the 1940s, with World War II raging, he took the lead in demanding that the Allies stop the extermination of the Jews. Not unexpectedly in such a man, he could be contentious, and in his final years he lost his leadership of the American Zionist movement; but for half a century he had been one of the strongest voices for and from the American Jewish community.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.