Wise, Stephen Samuel, 1874-1949

Alternative names
Birth 1874-03-17
Death 1949-04-19
English, German

Biographical notes:

Stephen Samuel Wise was born in Budapest, Hungary, and came to the United States the following year. He graduated with honors from Columbia University and in 1893 he was ordained in Austria "The People's Rabbi," as Wise would later be known, developed his deep concern for the less fortunate at an early age. Wise fought for housing projects, the abolition of child labor, the improvement of working conditions, securing rights for female workers and equal rights for African Americans. He founded the New York Federation of Zionist Societies in 1987, which led to the nationwide Federation of American Zionists in 1898, and was a founder of the World Jewish Congress. Later, Wise was a leader in the American Jewish Congress, president and vice president of the Zionist Organization of America. In 1900, Wise accepted the post of rabbi at Temple Beth Israel in Portland, Oregon. He remained in Oregon for six years where he threw himself into "Good Government," pressing for reform in state and city politics. In 1906, Wise first sprang into national prominence. In his famous, "Open Letter to the Members of Temple Emanu-El of New York on the Freedom of the Jewish Pulpit," he rejected the offer to serve as rabbi of the prestigious Temple Emanu-El of New York because his demand for a "free pulpit," one that was not subject to control by a board of trustees, was refused. A year later, he returned from Oregon to New York and founded the Free Synagogue. Most importantly, Wise established a pulpit where the rabbi had the autonomy to promote social welfare, criticize inaction, and encouraged the use of religion as the remedy to society's ills. Among Wise's proudest achievements was his establishment of the Jewish Institute of Religion [JIR] in 1922 in New York City, a rabbinical seminary which merged with Hebrew Union College in 1950. Wise became a mentor to a young Isaac Edward Kiev who began his studies at the seminary in 1924 and gave Kiev a job in the JIR Library to help pay for school. The relationship between Wise and Kiev grew and Kiev became Chief Librarian in 1943, where he remained until his death in 1975. In 1996, I. Edward Kiev's personal library was donated to the Gelman Library at the George Washington University and the papers of Stephen S. Wise were included with the original donation.

From the description of Stephen S. Wise papers, 1907-1952, bulk 1910-1934. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 256866609

Liberal rabbi and Zionist.

From the description of Family papers, 1899-1951. (Brandeis University Library). WorldCat record id: 35984687

Wise founded the Free Synagogue in New York City, in 1907, and was its rabbi until his death; from 1924 on he was also the president of the American Jewish Congress. Louise Wise was Stephen's wife; in 1940 she writes as president of the Women's Division of the American Jewish Congress. Marianne Rieser was Werfel's sister. A. M. Warren was Chief of the Visa Division in the U.S. State Department.

From the description of Correspondence with Alma Mahler and Franz Werfel, 1940-1944. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155864828

Austro-Hungarian-born American Reform rabbi and Zionist leader.

From the description of Stephen S. Wise correspondence, 1923. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 760114663

Rabbi, Zionist leader, founder and president of the Jewish Institute of Religion (J.I.R.), and founder and senior rabbi of the Free Synagogue in New York, N.Y.

From the description of Papers, 1893-1969. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70960630

Stephen S. Wise was an important American rabbi and Zionist who helped found the American Jewish Congress and the Jewish Institute of Religion.

From the description of Collection, 1896-1949. (Brandeis University Library). WorldCat record id: 276145477


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  • Jewish religious schools
  • Synagogues
  • Zionism
  • Rabbis
  • Judaism
  • Jews
  • Jews, American
  • Reform Judaism


  • Rabbis
  • Rabbi--New York (State)--New York
  • Zionists--New York (State)--New York
  • Jewish college presidents--New York (State)--New York


  • New York City, NY, US
  • Budapest, 05, HU
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
  • New York City, NY, US
  • United States (as recorded)