web analytics
July 6, 2015 / 19 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Forty Years As Rav Of Baltimore’s Congregation Shearith Israel


      Note: This article is based on “Rev. Dr. Schepschel Schaffer, Twenty-Five Years of Activity in the Cause of Orthodox Judaism 1893-1918″ by Israel Fine, published by Kohn and Pollock, Baltimore, 1918 and “A History of Congregation Shearith Israel of Baltimore, On the Threshold of a Century,” by Arnold Blumberg, 1970, published by the congregation.

 

      Rabbi Schepschel Schaffer: Early Years of an Orthodox Activist,”which appeared as the front-page essay in last week’s Jewish Press, traced the intensive yeshiva education Rabbi Dr. Schepschel Schaffer received in his youth; his studies while he attended the Rabbiner Seminar in Berlin that led to his receiving semicha from a number of outstanding rabbonim, and his being granted a doctorate by the University of Leipzig.
 
      Despite his remarkable qualifications, it became clear to Dr. Schaffer that he would not be able to obtain a rabbinical position in either Germany or Russia. Therefore, he decided he had no choice but to immigrate to America, arriving in October 1892.
 
      Congregation Shearith Israel of Baltimore had not had a rav since its inception. However, toward the end of 1892, the congregational board wrote to Rabbi Dr. Azriel Hildesheimer, dean of the Rabbiner Seminar, and Rabbi Dr. Philip Hillel Klein, who in 1890 had become rav of Congregation Ohab Zedek on the Lower East Side, asking them to recommend someone to serve as rabbi of their congregation. Both rabbis nominated the same candidate – Rabbi Dr. Schepschel Schaffer.
 
      Therefore, shortly after his arrival in New York, Rabbi Schaffer was contacted by the Board of Shearith Israel and invited to Baltimore to deliver a trial sermon. This led to his appointment as rav of the shul in January 1893.
 
      The Baltimore Jewish community in 1893 consisted of between twelve to fifteen thousand Jews of German origin. There were only six synagogues of substantial size, and, of these, only Shearith Israel and Chizuk Emunah were Orthodox. Shearith Israel consisted of about fifty members and a considerably larger number of “seat-holders.” The members of Shearith Israel were considered to be the most observant Jews in Baltimore.
 
      Dr. Schaffer quickly became acclimated to his new surroundings, despite his having had to learn a new language and adjust to the customs of a new country. He soon sent for his kallah, Anna Lapidus, and, shortly after she arrived in March they were married in the shul in the presence of almost the entire congregation.
 
      Realizing the importance of learning to speak English well, Rabbi Schaffer engaged a student from Johns Hopkins University to tutor him. He immediately began to deliver biweekly sermons and inaugurated the custom of delivering a short d’var Torah on the sidra before Mincha on Shabbos afternoon.
 
      He also began giving a Gemara shiur four times a week. By 1918 those who attended regularly had completed Shas. He also gave a Mishnayos shiur once a week during the summer and between Mincha and Maariv in the winter.
 
      Dr. Schaffer became the head of the congregation’s Talmud Torah and taught the highest class. Under his leadership the school prospered to the extent that by 1918 it employed three teachers. Shortly after his arrival in Baltimore, his interest in Jewish education led him to become chairman of the Board of Education, which directed the entire Baltimore Talmud Torah system, and he served in that position for more than 25 years.
 
      In 1913, Rabbi Schaffer attempted to establish an institution for advanced Talmudic studies modeled after the Hildesheimer Rabbiner Seminar he had attended in Germany. The goal of the Rabbinical Seminary of Baltimore, of which Dr. Schaffer became the dean, was to train rabbis who were strictly Orthodox and possessed an excellent secular education. Six young men attended Johns Hopkins University during the day and studied Tanach, Gemara and halacha in the afternoon and evening in the bais medrash of Shearith Israel.
 
      Alas, this institution lasted for only one year. Rabbi Schaffer’s effort to found such a school preceded the 1915 merger of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS) with Yeshiva Etz Chaim to form the short-lived Rabbinical College of America, which led to the founding of Yeshiva College and its association with RIETS.
 
      Dr. Schaffer’s concept of a rabbinical seminary that combined religious and secular studies was sound, but the Jewish community of Baltimore was simply not ready for such an institution.
 

An Early Zionist

 

      The founding of the international organization Chovovei Zion (Lovers of Zion) in Odessa was an indirect outgrowth of the Russian pogroms of 1881-82. The organization soon spread throughout Russia, Germany and England. It was a predecessor to political Zionism and its goal was to foster the settlement of Jews in agricultural communities in the Holy Land.
 
      Shortly after Rabbi Schaffer arrived in Baltimore, a number of people expressed an interest in founding a Baltimore branch of Chovovei Zion. At a meeting held in his home, Dr. Schaffer was elected president of this branch, the first to be founded in America.
 
      Under his leadership the Baltimore branch grew rapidly, and its membership eventually exceeded 300. It regularly sent contributions to Eretz Yisrael, especially to the colony of Mishmar HaYarden. A substantial sum of money was also raised for a Jewish school in Jaffa where Hebrew was used as the sole language of instruction. (This was not common in Israel in the late 1890’s.)
 
      When in 1896 Theodor Herzl issued a call for an International Jewish Congress, Dr. Schaffer was chosen to be the representative of the Zionists of America. Thus, in the summer of 1897, he traveled to Basel, Switzerland, where he was the sole American representative at this assembly. While there he took an active part in the deliberations of the Congress.
 
      In 1901 he was one of fifteen American delegates to the Fifth Zionist Congress. For a number of years he served as president of the Southern Council of Zionist Societies. When the American branch of the International Mizrachi Association was formed in 1913, Rabbi Schaffer transferred his allegiance to this wing of the Zionist movement. He served as a member of its Governing Council as well as president of the Baltimore Mizrachi Society. He was deeply devoted to the Mizrachi slogan of “The people of Israel, in the land of Israel, with the Torah of Israel.”
 

Family

 

      Rabbi Dr. and Mrs. Anna Schaffer had nine children, five of whom survived. Their oldest child, Aaron (1894-1957), was for many years a distinguished professor in the Department of Romance Languages at the University of Texas. Their youngest child, Alexander (1902-1981), was a professor of Pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Grace, their eldest daughter, married Rabbi Max Drob of Buffalo, New York. She apparently died young, leaving two children. This writer was unable to find out anything about their other two daughters, Molly and Rose.
 

      In 1928, having served for thirty-five years as rabbi of Shearith Israel, Dr. Schaffer retired to the position of rabbi emeritus. He was to remain responsible for the congregation’s kashrus supervision until the appointment of his successor. However, at the time of Dr. Schaffer’s passing in 1933, no successor had been appointed. It was not until four years later, in December 1936, that Rav Shimon Schwab, zt”l, arrived from Europe to fill the vacancy left by Rabbi Dr. Schaffer’s death.

 

      Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Forty Years As Rav Of Baltimore’s Congregation Shearith Israel”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Russia Steps Up in U.S.-led Nuclear Talks with Iran
Latest Sections Stories
Grieff-070315

In the face of evil, we can do acts of kindness. We can do good deeds.

Teens-Twenties-logo

I realized that I am an integral part of that man who wished to win – I am also a part of a nation; I felt like I was standing there and shouting, “I won.”

Teens-Twenties-logo

As I powerfully belted out the song, Ani Maamin B’emunah Sheleima – which means “I believe in God with full faith” – a thought suddenly crossed my mind.

Ganz-View-From-Window-logo

I do not suggest abandoning civilization for a pristine desert island or a hilltop in Judea or Samaria.

After diamonds were discovered in South Africa in the mid-1800s, Antwerp regained its prominence as the diamond capital of the world.

Search the Internet for innovative barbeque items and you might just be surprised at what you come across.

Orlando was once a place where people came only to visit and vacation. Now it is home to a burgeoning Torah community, a place Jewish families can be proud to call home.

You’re not seeking perfection. You’re seeking a life that an average person can manage and feel good about. Don’t feel pressure to change everything at once.

The smuggler’s life has been changed forever. He is faced with a major criminal charge. He will probably be sent to prison.

In Culture Shock, readers will also come to identify with a culture from the other end of Orthodox Jewry’s spectrum.

Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Executive Function Disorder (EFD) have trouble keeping themselves organized and on-task.

Our Sages have told us exactly how we should act – and how our children should act – in Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers.

A second supposed difficulty actually becomes a reason to corroborate that Amestris is Esther.

I work with the Bible in one hand and the tools of excavation in the other.

More Articles from Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Rav S. R. Hirsch

Last month we outlined how a few years after Judah Touro’s death a public movement was inaugurated by the citizens of New Orleans to erect a monument to his memory, and that opposition to this tribute came from a number of rabbis throughout the country who claimed that Judaism forbade the erection of any graven […]

Levine-Dr-Yitzchok-NEW

After his marriage he was successfully engaged in the lumber business.

He wrote a strong defense of shechitah in which he maintained that the Jewish method of slaughter had a humanitarian influence on the Jewish people.

This was a most unusual step to take in those days, given the difficulties of travel to Europe. Nonetheless, on May 1, 1860 he sailed from New York on the steamship Hammonia.

The ship’s captain apparently respected the Friedenwalds’ strict adherence to halacha because he allowed them to use his cabin for davening and other religious observances.

I happen to believe that for a couple to spend a few years in kollel is a wonderful way to start a marriage.

Penn wrote the following to a friend in England: “I found them [the Indians of the eastern shore of North America] with like countenances with the Hebrew race; and their children of so lively a resemblance to them that a man would think himself in Duke’s place, or Barry street, in London, when he sees them.”

The special charm of these letters is their immediacy and authenticity of emotion and description.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/forty-years-as-rav-of-baltimores-congregation-shearith-israel/2008/01/03/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: