In 1766 there appeared in New York a prayer book entirely in English, Prayers for Sabbath, Rosh-Hashanah, and Kippur, or The Sabbath, the Beginning of the Year, and the Day of Atonement . . . According to the Order of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, translated by Isaac Pinto, and “for him printed by John Holt in New York A.m. 5526.” Excepting only a fifty-two-page Evening Service of Roshashanah, and Kippur, published five years earlier in New York, it is the first published translation of the liturgy into English for synagogue use. The 1761 Evening Service lists neither translator, nor reason for the translation, but in this volume, Pinto, who was the translator of both, explains:
[Hebrew] being imperfectly understood by many, by some, not at all; it has been necessary to translate our Prayers, in the Language of the Country wherein it hath pleased the divine Providence to appoint our Lot. In Europe, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews have a Translation in Spanish, which as they generally understand, may be sufficient, but that not being the Case in the British Dominions in America, has induced me to attempt a Translation in English.
Not until 1770, four years later, was a prayer book with an English translation published in London, whose Jewish community was more than ten times the number of all American Jewry. Acculturation in the New World was swifter and more complete than in the Old.
Pinto, an English Jew, demonstrated his American loyalty as a signatory to resolutions favoring the Nonimportation Agreement, one of America's earliest acts of defiance against England. He was, as Ezra Stiles describes him, “a learned Jew at New York,” who on his death in 179 1, was extolled in this obituary in a New York newspaper:
Mr. Pinto was truly a moral and social friend. His conversation was instructive, and his knowledge of mankind was general. Though of the Hebrew nation, his liberality was not circumscribed by the limits of that church. He was well versed in several of the foreign languages. He was a staunch friend at the liberty of his country. His intimates in his death have lost an instructive and entertaining companion; his relations, a firm friend; and the literary world, an historian and philosopher.
In 1828, acculturation had made such progress in the New World that Abraham Israel Henriques Bernal, a religious functionary, teacher and scribe, found it necessary to translate into English the Prayers said by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews during the Ceremony of Washing the Dead by Rabbi Hillel of Blessed Memory. A small delicately written manuscript in Hebrew and English, it contains not only the prayers to be recited by the Hevra Kadisha (Holy Burial Society) but also instructions for the ritual preparation of the body for burial. Membership in this society was traditionally reserved for learned, pious, and respected members of the community, so that if a translation of the instructions and the liturgy was needed, it speaks of the poor state of Jewish knowledge in the Americas. The manual was written in Kingston, Jamaica, for D. K. Da Costa, a member of its most distinguished family. “Abr. of I. H. Bernal” is found among the subscribers of that city for Isaac Leeser's Instruction in the Mosaic Religion published in 1830. Bernal later went to the United States and in 1847 was the Hebrew teacher of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, and three years later was employed as a religious functionary of the Louisville, Kentucky, congregation.
A small pamphlet, Kranken Gebete (Prayers for the Sick), in Hebrew with instructions in German, issued by the Society of the Brothers of Mercy in New York in 1854, is among the rarest of American Jewish liturgical publications. A prayer, to be said by the sick person himself, carries with it the warning, “This prayer should not be pronounced in the presence of women or small children, for it may so upset the sick person as to cause him injury.” it reads in part,
I acknowledge before you, my God, and God of my fathers, that my healing and my death are in your hand. May it be thy will that you send me a full healing, and may my prayer rise before you as the prayer of King Hezekiah in his illness. But if my time has come, let my death serve as an atonement for all my sins and transgressions ... from the time I was placed upon the earth to the present day. May my place be Paradise and make me worthy of the World to Come which is reserved for thy righteous ... Amen
Three Reform prayer books appeared in the 1850s, each more radical than its predecessor. The first, Order of Prayer for Divine Service, Revised by Dr Leo Merzbacher (1810-1856), “Rabbi at the Temple Emanu-el'' of New York, was published in that city in 1855. Though prepared for one of the first and leading Reform congregations in America, it is an abridged form of the traditional prayer book, with Hebrew text and facing English translation, and it is paginated from right to left. The Kol Nidre prayer is omitted, but the five services for the Day of Atonement are retained, as is the prayer for restoration of the dead, “who revivest the dead ... and killest and restorest to life.“ Because it departed from tradition, it could not be used in traditional congregations; and because its revisions were slight it was not adopted by Reform congregations either, so very few copies, especially of volume 1, have survived.
In 1846, Isaac Mayer Wise began to plan a new prayer book which was to be a liturgy appropriate to the American scene, for as he explained in the Occident (vol. 5, p. 109) “the strength of Israel is divided, because the emigrant brings his own Minhag [liturgical rite] from his home.” He argued that “such a cause for dissension would be obviated by a Minhag America.” Ten years later, the projected prayer book was published in Cincinnati in two versions, the Hebrew text plus an English or a German translation, the Hebrew paginated from right to left, the vernacular from left to right. The Hebrew title is Minhag America, T'fillot B'nai Yeshurun (the name of his congregation); the German, Gebet-Buch fur den offentlichen Got\tesdienst und die Privat-Andacht (Prayer Book for Public and Private Worship); and the English, simply, The Daily Prayers. The form of the traditional prayer book was retained, but passages which did not conform to “the wants and demands of time” were freely deleted. Thus, where the Merzbacher prayer book has “send a redeemer to their children's children,” Wise changes the Hebrew goel (redeemer) to geulah (redemption) and the translation to read “bringest redemption to their descendants.” it came to be known as the Wise Prayer Book, as a fitting tribute to its architect and fashioner, who saw to its publication and promoted its distribution.
Dr. David Einhorn (1809-1879) was brought to Baltimore by the Har Sinai Congregation in 1855. A year later the first section of his Gebetbuch fur Israelitische Reform Gemeinden (Prayer Book for Jewish Reform Congregations) was published in New York, a radical departure from the traditional prayer book. The Library's copy is as issued: paper wraps are preserved, and the cover states, “Copyright secured March 22, 1856, Publication Deposited April 15, 1856.” Its main language is German, its pagination is from left to right, and its changes are both substantial and substantive. The traditional rubrics are dispensed with, and special prayers reflecting more the tenor of the age than the traditions of the faith are inserted. Two years later, in 1858, the completed work was published in Baltimore with Olat Tamid (Eternal Offering) added to its title. The traditional day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple, Tisha b'Av, is turned into a day of commemoration and consecration:
The one Temple in Jerusalem sank into the dust, in order that countless temples might arise to thy honor and glory all over the wide surface of the globe.
When Reform Judaism shaped its first official prayer book, The Union Prayer Book, the model chosen was Einhorn's Olat Tamid.
The Haggadah marked “Second American Edition” is, in a sense, the first. The first edition, so identified by its publisher S. H. Jackson, was printed in New York in 1837, and on both Hebrew and English title pages reads, “Translated into English by the late David Levy of London.” No such attribution to a foreign source is found on his son's edition, which appeared in 1850, where the only credit noted is to the printer and publisher, J. M. Jackson, 190 Houston Street and 203 Bowery. The Hebrew chronogram on both reads “Next Year in Jerusalem.”
A truly American note is found in a Haggadah published in New York in 1878. The text is traditional, the translation usual, but the seder table scene is new. It shows a turbaned father and a prim mother with the wise son, a kippah (skullcap) on his head and reading from a book, at their side. Across from them, the simple son sits bareheaded, as does the one “who knows not how to ask,” while the wicked son, bareheaded, is leaning back on his chair, smoking a cigarette. Haggadah illustration is commentary.
Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).