Mikveh Israel Portrait Gallery
Rev. Isaac Leeser

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Record 3/17
Copyright Congregation Mikveh Israel
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Collection KKMI Paintings
Artist Heller, Samuel S.
Description Portrait of Rev. Isaac Leeser (1805-1868). Hazan (Minister) of KKMI 1829-1850.
Signed and dated 1927 by KKMI member Samuel S. Heller after an 1850 Solomon Nunes Carvalho (1815-1896) original.
Dimensions H-35 W-29 inches
Material Canvas
Object Name Painting
Provenance Born and raised in Germany, Leeser was orphaned at an early age He became one of the great American Jewish scholars of the 19th century, producing the first Jewish translation of the Bible in the United States as well as translations of both the Sephardic and Ashkenalic prayer books. He was also a pioneer in Jewish sermonizing, publishing, and education, and founded the first Jewish Publication Society, Maimonides College and a monthly publication, 'The Occident' '

Leeser's tenure at Mikveh Israel was fraught with controversy and conflict with the Board of Adjuntos. One of his passions, and the cause of some of his conflicts, was his championing, along with Rebecca Gratz, of a Jewish orphanage. His insistence on the importance of the sermon, which was not then a traditional part of the liturgy, was an additional cause for controversy. He was an unusual person who combined humility with steadfastness. Like many great influential men, he was not always the most pleasant individual and this did not endear him to some people of lesser talents. His short stature, pockmarked face and poor vision along with his somewhat difficult personality may perhaps have kept him from marrying throughout his life. However, his apparent weaknesses did not prevent him from becoming the main champion of traditional Judaism in early American history.

Leeser eventually left Mikveh Israel. From 1857 to the end of his life, he was the leader of another Sephardic synagogue (Beth El Emeth) in Spring Garden, Philadelphia, which eventually rejoined Mikveh Israel as it turned out. Mikveh Israel did establish an orphanage and indeed followed many of the other paths that Lesser had set for it prior to his departure from the congregation. It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of Isaac Lesser to American Jewish life. Although he did not consider himself truly worthy of spiritual leadership, he became not only a leader for Mikveh Israel and Philadelphia, but in a sense he served as the undeclared spititual and intellectual leader of all American Jewry He is prominently buried In the Beth El Cemetery at 55th Street, now owned by Mikveli Israel.
Title Rev. Isaac Leeser
COPYRIGHT INFORMATION ~ Images used courtesy of Congregation Mikveh Israel

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Last modified on: April 19, 2012