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Sundays at Sinai

A Jewish Congregation in Chicago

First established 150 years ago, Chicago Sinai is one of America’s oldest Reform Jewish congregations. Its founders were upwardly mobile and civically committed men and women, founders and partners of banks and landmark businesses like Hart Schaffner & Marx, Sears & Roebuck, and the giant meatpacking firm Morris & Co. As explicitly modern Jews, Sinai’s members supported and led civic institutions and participated actively in Chicago politics. Perhaps most radically, their Sunday services, introduced in 1874 and still celebrated today, became a hallmark of the congregation.
In Sundays at Sinai, Tobias Brinkmann brings modern Jewish history, immigration, urban history, and religious history together to trace the roots of radical Reform Judaism from across the Atlantic to this rapidly growing American metropolis.  Brinkmann shines a light on the development of an urban reform congregation, illuminating Chicago Sinai’s practices and history, and its contribution to Christian-Jewish dialogue in the United States. Chronicling Chicago Sinai’s radical beginnings in antebellum Chicago to the present, Sundays at Sinai is the extraordinary story of a leading Jewish Reform congregation in one of America’s great cities.

384 pages | 16 halftones, 2 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2012

Historical Studies of Urban America

Chicago and Illinois

History: American History

Religion: American Religions


“Replete with new information and fresh insights, Tobias Brinkmann’s history of a key Chicago synagogue becomes a platform for exploring Radical Reform Judaism, German-Jewish immigration to America, and the religious history of Chicago. This volume will stand for a long time as the standard work on Chicago Sinai and its path. This is congregational history at its best.”

Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis University

“Readers usually learn about the influential Reform movement in American Judaism as if from a distance, since most historical glimpses deal with national episodes and trends. Readers can also get a close-up view through narratives of particular communities. Tobias Brinkmann’s account of one of the most important Reform synagogues makes it possible for readers to be informed and entertained at once, since with this close-up he brings fresh perspective to Reform, in a story about some of the talent, inventiveness, energy, community sense and achievements at Sinai.”

Martin E. Marty, emeritus, The University of Chicago

Sundays at Sinai is an important and well-crafted book that places this pioneer congregation firmly within the context not only of Judaism, but also the history of immigration and of Chicago. Tobias Brinkmann is an excellent practitioner of the historical method combining detailed research with new insights that widen and deepen our knowledge of the Jewish experience both in America and Europe.”

Dominic A. Pacyga, author of Chicago: A Biography

Table of Contents


Part I. Founding and Early Development
1. Jacob and His Sons
2. Origins and Founding
3. Fighting for Emancipation
4. A Step Too Far? The Introduction of Sunday Services at Sinai
5. Felix Adler Comes to Chicago

Part II. Social Justice and Civic Action
6. Emil G. Hirsch and the Transformation of Sinai
7. Bildung versus “Ghetto”
8. Spiritual Leader and Employee?
9. The Beginnings of a Jewish-Christian Dialogue
10. “Institutional Synagogue”
11. Building Bridges

Part III. Decline and Renaissance
12. Falling Behind


List of Abbreviations


Choice Magazine: CHOICE Outstanding Academic Title Awards

Jewish Book Council: National Jewish Book Award

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