Quick Clarification

October 30, 2013

I am very appreciative to the Baltimore Jewish Times and to Gabriel Lewin for the kind coverage regarding the rededication of the gravesite of Rabbi and Rebbitzen Abraham Rice (“Ha’Posek,” Oct. 18). Rabbi Rice represents a very significant historical figure in early American Jewish history. As well, his contribution to the preservation of traditional Orthodox practices took place in Baltimore and is evident in the vibrant Orthodoxy in Baltimore and the Shearith Israel Congregation, which remains a strong Orthodox Jewish synagogue to this day.

I feel it is necessary to correct one aspect of the article. Lewin states that Rabbi Rice’s efforts to bring more traditional Orthodox Jewish practices to Baltimore Hebrew Congregation were met with resistance by its Reform movement members. This may be incorrectly understood to mean that Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (Nidche Yisroel) was a Reform congregation in 1840 when Rabbi Rice became its spiritual leader. In fact, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation was clearly an Orthodox synagogue at that time. Rabbi Rice was dedicated to the preservation and growth of the Orthodox practices in Baltimore Hebrew Congregation and in the United States. In 1842, those few congregants who did not agree with his insistence on strengthening the Orthodox traditions broke away and formed Har Sinai Verein, which used the Reform prayer book from Germany and installed an organ into the service. Baltimore Hebrew Congregation refused to lend a sefer Torah to this new Reform congregation.

Throughout his time in Baltimore until his death in 1862, Rabbi Rice steadfastly fought to preserve traditional Judaism. In 1850, he resigned from Baltimore Hebrew Congregation because of conflicts with congregational members wanting to institute gradual change. He did return to Baltimore Hebrew in 1862 and passed away several months later. Baltimore Hebrew Congregation remained an Orthodox Jewish synagogue until 1873 when family pews were installed, an organ was introduced into the synagogue service, and a three-year cycle of reading the Torah portion was adopted, along with multiple other changes conforming to the Reform rituals.

There are multiple sources available documenting Rabbi Rice’s history. Quite proudly, Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, in a 1976 book dedicated to its history, “A Chronicle of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation 1830 to 1975” by Rose Greenberg, clearly documents the contributions of Rabbi Rice to Baltimore Hebrew Congregation’s Orthodoxy during the period of Rabbi Rice’s tenure.

Robert B. Lehman, M.D.
Baltimore

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