Harby, Isaac

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HARBY, ISAAC (1788–1828), U.S. author, journalist, teacher, and pioneer of Reform Judaism. Harby was born in Charleston, South Carolina. He became both teacher and journalist at the age of 16. He then began to study law, but the death of his father in 1805 left him the main support of a large family. He returned to teaching, opening a school at Edisto Island and then at Charleston. Finding journalism more profitable, Harby worked on various Charleston newspapers, editing several of his own not too successfully. A play, Alberti, was successful in Charleston in 1819, but Harby soon returned to teaching. After his wife's death in 1827, he left Charleston to establish a school in the more prospering metropolis of New York, but died soon after. Many tributes were paid him, including the publication of a memorial volume by his friend Abraham *Moise. A man of rare literary taste, and author of excellent dramatic criticisms, Harby played an important role in the establishment of the Reformed Society of the Israelites, the pioneer effort of Jewish religious reform in the United States. In 1824 a group of 47 members of Charleston's Congregation Beth Elohim unsuccessfully petitioned the congregation's board to modify the ritual, remove the Spanish and Portuguese archaisms and permit explanatory discourses in English. Later that year the Reformed Society of Israelites was organized. On its first anniversary, Harby delivered a discourse outlining the Society's aims; in 1827 he was elected president. His departure for New York and subsequent death left a void. Other leaders left Charleston, also for economic reasons, and by 1833 the Society dissolved. A number of Harby's literary, political, and religious essays appear in J. Blau and S. Baron (ed.), Jews of the United States, 3 (1963).


L.C. Moise, Biography of Isaac Harby (1931); Kohler, in: ajhsp, 32 (1931), 35–53; Fagin, in: aja, 8 (1956), 3–13.

[Malcolm H. Stern]