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Jews on the FrontierReligion and Mobility in Nineteenth-Century America$
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Shari Rabin

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781479830473

Published to NYU Press Scholarship Online: September 2018

DOI: 10.18574/nyu/9781479830473.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM NYU Press SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.nyu.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of NYU Press Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NYSO for personal use.date: 07 March 2021

The Empire of Our Religion

The Empire of Our Religion

The Mobile Imaginary

(p.123) 6 The Empire of Our Religion
Jews on the Frontier

Shari Rabin

NYU Press

Amidst unfettered mobility, Jewish leaders like Isaac Mayer Wise and Isaac Leeser attempted not only an institutional overhaul of American Judaism, but also an ideological one. Jewish leaders engaged in popular geography and new forms of theological reflection, drawing on Jewish thought and the ideologies of American imperialism. They both critiqued the settings of American Jewish life, even advocating for agricultural colonies, but also developed a Jewish pastoral ideal. In this mode, they developed novel understandings of Jewish identity, Jewish institutions, and religious change. The internalized “Jewish heart” and the powerful “empire of our religion” both became widespread metaphors for explaining how and why Judaism would flourish anywhere. They were used by a broad swath of Jewish leaders, as was the concept of “progress,” although those allied with Wise’s Reform Judaism and with Leeser’s traditionalism soon developed competing understandings of how religious change should happen and of whether Judaism should be fully mobile or merely portable. In spite of these divides, they helped establish an underlying confidence that Judaism could and should prevail throughout the American continent through institutional development and individual identities.

Keywords:   imperialism, progress, geography, Isaac Mayer Wise, Isaac Leeser, Reform

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