Adler, Samuel

Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated


ADLER, SAMUEL (1809–1891), rabbi and pioneer of the Reform movement. Adler, born in Worms, was the son of Rabbi Isaac Adler, who gave him his early education. He received a traditional education at the Frankfurt Yeshivah and studied privately with Rabbi Jacob Bamberger. He also received a secular education at the University of Bonn and Giessen, where he studied philosophy and especially Hegel under Joseph Hillebrand. He officiated as preacher and assistant rabbi at Worms, and in 1842 was appointed rabbi of the Alzey (Rhenish Hesse) district. Adler was one of the early protagonists of Reform and took part in the rabbinical conferences of 1844–46 (see *Reform Judaism). He worked strenuously for the improvement of Jewish education and the removal of legal disabilities affecting Jews. He believed that rituals had to be changed to fit contemporary circumstance and worked on improving the status of women in Jewish education and in prayer. In 1857 Adler went to America as rabbi of Congregation Emanu-el in New York, succeeding Leo *Merzbacher. A classic reformer, he rejected supernatural revelation and the authority of the law. He omitted references to the return to Zion in the prayer book and during the parts of the service that were not devotional, head covering was removed at Emanu-El. He published a revised edition of its prayer book in 1860, and in 1865 helped form a theological seminary under the auspices of his congregation. He was also one of the founders of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum. Adler's interests were scholarly, and he appears to have exercised little influence on the community. In 1874 his congregation resolved on his retirement and appointed him rabbi emeritus. When the Central Conference of American Rabbis was established (1889), Adler was made honorary president. Among his publications are A Guide to Instruction in Israelite Religion (1864) and a selection of his writings, Kobez al Jad, was published privately (1886). An English translation of Adler's memoirs was published privately by A.G. Sanborn (1967). His son Felix was presumed to be his successor but left the rabbinate to found the Ethical Culture Society and therefore take his father's ideas to the next stage of their evolution where the particularity of Jews and Judaism are no longer necessary.

add. bibliography:

M. Berenbaum: "The Dimension of Samuel Adler's Religious View of the World," in Hebrew Union College Annual, 46 (1975), 377–412; K.M. Olitzsky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1993), 4–6.

[Sefton D. Temkin /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]