Stephen S. Wise (1874-1949) was born in Hungary to middle-class Jewish parents. One month after his birth, his father emigrated to America and became rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan. In 1875 his wife and children followed him to America.
Wise followed his father's and grandfather's footsteps and was ordained as a rabbi. In the 1890s, Wise turned to Reform Judaism and Zionism, falling under the influence of Theodor Herzl. Wise accepted an offer to be rabbi at a Portland, Oregon temple and in 190 he married Louise Waterman and moved to Oregon. Five years later Wise was offered the position of rabbi at Emanu-El but did not accept it after a disagreement over the role of the rabbi. Wise felt rabbis should exhort the congregation, expose injustices and encourage action. This philosophy made him a dynamic and controversial figure for his entire career.
In 1906 the Wises returned to New York and Stephen Wise founded the Free Synagogue, where he remained rabbi until his death. From his position he became involved in Jewish rights, Zionism, and political justice. An excellent orator, Wise frequently went on the lecture circuit. In 1915-16 he and Louis Brandeis founded the American Jewish Congress to support Jewish rights around the world.
Louise Wise was also active in affairs outside of the home, founding a Women's Division of the American Jewish Congress and working on social issues. Both the Wises remained close to their numerous family members and active in their concerns.
During the 1930s Stephen Wise devoted his time to warning the country about the rise of fascism in Europe and the plight of the Jews, with limited success. After World War II Wise involved himself in Zionist issues and the founding of the free state of Israel.
In 1949 Stephen Wise died. He had known and worked with many of the most influential people of the era: Louis Brandeis, Chaim Weizmann, Abba Hillel Silver and John Haynes Holmes. He was one of the greatest American religious leaders of his time, leaving a permanent mark on American Reform Judaism
Urofski, Melvin I. A Voice That Spoke for Justice: the Life and Times of Stephen S. Wise. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1982. Voss, Carl Hermann. Rabbi and Minister: the Friendship of Stephen S. Wise and John Haynes Holmes. Cleveland, OH: The World Publishing Co., 1964.