Merzbacher, Leo

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MERZBACHER, LEO (1810–1856), first U.S. Reform rabbi. Merzbacher, who was born in Fuerth, Bavaria, studied rabbinics under R. Moses Sofer. He went to the United States in 1841 and took up a teaching position with Congregation Rodeph Shalom in New York. In 1843 Congregation Anshe Chesed, New York, appointed him preacher and teacher at a monthly salary of six dollars. A sermon critical of the practice of married women covering their hair led to nonrenewal of his appointment, whereupon his partisans in the congregation united with the recently formed Cultus Verein to establish Congregation Emanuel with Merzbacher as its rabbi (1845). The reforms made by the new congregation were minimal in character. Confirmation was introduced in 1848 and Merzbacher compiled a shortened prayer book in 1855. He was one of the founders of the Independent Order of True Sisters. Sickness limited Merzbacher's activities, and he seems to have had little impact either on his own congregation or on the New York Jewish community.

[Sefton D. Temkin]