return to Home Anshe Chesed Becomes Reform  
Great shift in 1907 with the arrival of Rabbi Louis Wolsey

Anshe Chesed left Orthodox practices early, but would not become Reform until 1907. That year marks its major change in leadership, when Rabbi Michaelis Machol, a graduate of a conservative rabbinical seminary in Breslau, who had led them for 30 years became its rabbi emeritus, and American-born HUC-ordained Rabbi Louis Wolsey became its spiritual leader.

In the 1890s, when graduates of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati were being offered pulpits in congregations that had not affiliated with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise asked his former students to serve only member congregations that would use the Reform prayer book. Though Wise, the great organizer of Reform Judaism, died in 1900, that preference was at work in 1907.

The record shows that although both congregations had sent leaders to Cincinnati in 1873 to attend the founding meeting of the UAHC, only Tifereth Israel had joined. (The Anshe Chesed rabbi who attended, not mentioned in its history, left the next year for a congregation that could be considered conservative.) A news report of the second UAHC meeting, in Cleveland in 1875, includes thanks to both congregations for being good hosts. But Anshe Chesed did not join, and as of 1907 was still unaffiliated.

Rabbi Machol was conservative. He accepted the direction of change, but wanted it to happen in a gradual and respectful way. A rare glimpse of his thinking is found in this discussion of worship customs reported in this Plain Dealer story of May 11, 1891. An ardent reformer might support praying bare-headed by stating that our bible does not instruct us to pray with our head covered.

That Rabbi Machol takes what can be seen as a conservative stance may be explained by his education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau, which was founded in 1845 by Zecharia Frankel (1801-75), considered to be the founder of Conservative Judaism.

The December 12, 1905 Plain Dealer report of Rabbi Machol's plan to move to emeritus status in 1907 describes Anshe Chesed as "conservative reform". They were very close to Tifereth Israel and in 1890 had combined their cemeteries into United Jewish Cemeteries.

In 1892 Tifereth Israel's first American-born, Hebrew Union College ordained rabbi, arrived. Rabbi Moses J Gries soon led it to the most progressive wing of Reform Judaism. Now there was room for Anshe Chesed to join UAHC and find its place in the movement, but continue its stance as the more conservative of the two old Cleveland congregations. Within two years Rabbi Gries had led his congregation east, a leap from East 6th Street and Huron Road to East 55th Street (then Willson Avenue) and Central Avenue.

The trustees of Anshe Chesed believed they could do the same: find an energetic, American-born HUC-educated rabbi (but not a radical reformer) who would attract new members and lead them to a new home much farther east, where most of their members now lived. The congregation noted that its new home would be east of East 55th Street, where in 1894 Tifereth Israel had built.

On May 12, 1907 Anshe Chesed Congregation voted to join the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and to adopt the Union Prayer Book.


On Friday evening August 30, 1907 Rabbi Louis Wolsey was installed as spiritual leader of the Scovill Avenue Temple.

Page by Arnold Berger    last revised 6/24/2024

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