Mitchell Salem Fisher and a Reform Jewish Prayer

By: Jim Hale  

Part history, part biography, my paper begins with my encounter with an extraordinary Reform Jewish prayer, "Disturb Us, Adonai." I explore the history of this prayer, which the Reform Jewish Prayer Book (the Mishkan T'filah) adapts from a poem by early 20th-century American rabbi, Mitchell Salem Fisher. After finishing his rabbinical studies in 1920s, Fisher became rabbi for two New York City synagogues, but then abruptly resigned from the rabbinate in 1930. In a letter to his congregation, Fisher declares his continuing faith in Judaism and organized religion, but cites a rampant institutionalism as betraying the religion's commitment to social justice. Fisher went on to take a law degree and work for the American Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League promoting a boycott on German goods in the years leading up to WW2 and, after the war, infiltrating and exposing the operations of the Ku Klux Klan. Both his letter and his prayer insist that holiness happens outside the temple walls and which we cannot let the religious institution inhibit. My paper ends by discussing Reform Judaism's resolution to the problems of religious institutionalism and the message of Fisher's prayer.

Judaism, Institutionalism, Social
The Politics of Religion
Focused Discussion

Jim Hale


A retired editor and professor, I live in Juneau, Alaska, where I continue to write (my newspaper column On Writing won me the Alaska Press Club's best columnist award for 2015 and 2016) and teach as a volunteer at a local prison. I am a former Shakespeare professor and technical editor for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. A former Catholic, I am preparing to convert to Judaism.