This afternoon I was preparing a class on Jews in America during the mid-19th century. The Minhag Amerika came up, Isaac Wise’s attempt to create a Jewish prayer book that would, he hoped, unify Jews in the U.S. around a Reform vision of Judaism. The central theme of the course I’m teaching this for is Americanization, with an emphasis on contested notions of what it means to “Americanize.” So the Minhag Amerika works well for asking: What is Wise’s understanding of what it takes to construct an “American” Judaism?
I’d never actually seen the Minhag Amerika, so I popped online and was delighted to discover a scanned version available from Hebrew Union College, just south of me in Cincinnati. I was disappointed, though, to find that the book doesn’t contain some kind of preface by Wise laying out his aims or a rationale for an American siddur.