93 203 MORDECAI, JACOB. Autograph Letter Signed, written to the Corresponding Committee of the Reformed Society of Israelites in Charleston. 14 pages. Expertly silked, with margins extended. Sm. folio. Richmond, 1st June, 1825. $15,000 - $20,000 ❧ SIGNIFICANT EARLY 19TH-CENTURY LETTER DISPLAYING THE DEVOTION OF A NATIVE-BORN AMERICAN JEW TOWARD TRADITIONAL JEWISH PRACTICE AND IN OPPOSITION TO THE REFORMS OF ISAAC HARBY. In this lengthy letter addressed to Charleston’s Reformed Society of Israelites, Jacob Mordecai defends traditional Judaism in relation to the Society’s proposed changes in opposition to the “Adjunta” (Trustees) of Charleston’s Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE). Mordecai states he understands the need to make synagogue services more accessible, however “your measures, if persisted in, will inevitably lead to consequences most dreadful to your future peace …they will cause father and son and brother to be engaged against each other in warfare.” He warns “the completion of your scheme will indeed make you schismatic and render your worship, in form at least, completely Gentile.” Mordecai argues not against the perceived ideals of the Society, but in opposition to their proposed practices: “I believe your motives are good. [Yet] I know your measures lead to evil.” Mordecai goes on to advise how to improve the prayer service in keeping with tradition. He confides that should the Society follow his advice “the synagogue will no longer exhibit a Babel of confused sounds causing a blush on any man’s cheek, but it will, as I constantly witness, be frequented by strangers to gratify their curiosity and to please their ears with the regularity of chanting - this cause if once adopted will be retained by general consent and never be banished from the walls of the synagogue.” Mordecai stresses the fundamental importance of retaining Hebrew as central to the synagogue service, due to the Hebrew language being the core source of identity to Jews as a people. As an example, he tells the story of “a great French statesman when asked how Napoleon if successful in his contemplated quest, would retain the English in subjection, answered: we would change their language.” The Reformed Society of Israelites was the name of the group that broke away in 1825 from Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (KKBE) of Charleston, South Carolina. They sought to make reforms to traditional ritual, seeking to revitalize synagogue services with new prayers reflecting contemporary American life. The leader of the Society was native born Charlestonian Isaac Harby, along with Abraham Moise and David Nunes Carvalho. Jacob Mordecai heard of the Society’s original petition to Beth Elohim via his own daughter Rachel, who was a supporter of Harby. Mordecai’s denouncements did not persuade Harby, but did win his daughter’s opinion back to traditional views of Judaism. See M.A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism (1995) pp. 228-33; and Emily Bingham, Mordecai: An Early American Family (2004) pp. 151-53.