Congregation Rodeph Shalom dates its founding to 1795 with the coalescing of the first Ashkenazic congregation in the western hemisphere. Because the congregation chose to follow the German/Dutch order of prayer, in 1812 it was chartered by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania as the “Hebrew German Society (Rodeph Shalom).” From its founding, Rodeph Shalom was determined not to exclude members based on financial circumstances. Additionally, in 1829, a rule about intermarriage was established: “Members who married non-Jews would not be expelled as long as they raised their children as Jews.”
For more than 50 years, services were conducted in numerous locations throughout “Olde City Philadelphia.” Not until 1847, when a former church was purchased and refurbished, did Rodeph Shalom have its own building: the Juliana Street Synagogue. Rodeph Shalom was able to construct its first dedicated sanctuary in 1871 on its current site at Broad and Mount Vernon Streets. This striking edifice was designed by Frank Furness, considered the most exciting Philadelphia architect of his time. It was a showpiece of Moorish-style architecture.
In 1873, Rodeph Shalom became a charter member of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (which is now called the Union for Reform Judaism.) The Union was founded by Dr. Isaac Mayer Wise, the father of Reform Judaism in the United States. Many of Dr. Wise’s innovations, which were designed to improve worship among American Jews, were adopted by Rodeph Shalom.
William I. Kuhn became senior rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in 1998. Rabbi Kuhn was ordained in 1994 by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and immediately came to RS, serving as assistant and associate rabbi beginning in 1994. He brings broad and distinctive life experience to the congregation's historic pulpit.