web analytics
April 19, 2015 / 30 Nisan, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post


Gershom Mendes Seixas: American Patriot (Part III)

Last month’s column dealt with the activities of Reverend Gershom Mendes Seixas during and shortly after the American Revolution. Gershom, who served for almost 50 years as the hazzan of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York, chose to leave the city during the Revolution rather than live under British rule. From 1776 to 1780 he resided with his father in Stratford, Connecticut and from 1780 to 1784 in Philadelphia where he served as hazzan of Congregation Mickve Israel. Upon his return to New York in 1784 he served as hazzan of Shearith Israel until his passing in 1816.

In this concluding article about Seixas we will sketch his service to New York’s Jewish community as well as the wider New York community. In addition, we’ll get some insights into his family life based on his correspondence with one of his daughters.

Serving New York’s Jewish Community[i]

Hazzan Seixas was an expert mohel. “Gershom Seixas served in this capacity throughout his life, winning praise from a local doctor for his surgical expertise even at the age of seventy. The shortage of capable mohalim meant that a child would often be circumcized after the eighth day. Seixas’ correspondence indicates that it was not unusual for two weeks to pass before the operation, and we even find reference to the circumcision of a seven-month old baby. After the operation Seixas would attend the child to check on his health and progress, often administering necessary medicinal remedies. These tasks sometimes ended in Pyrrhic finance when the hazzan would in the end use most or all of his fee to pay for transportation and supplies.

“Seixas filled yet other positions of importance. Often his duties depended on knowledge of religious law and the subtleties of religious judgment based on such law. A number of times he sat on a board which would examine applicants for the position of shohet and supervise the practice of ritual slaughter within the community. At other times he would officiate at wedding ceremonies, often writing the necessary contracts in a handsome Hebrew script. These duties, too, required halachic knowledge in yet other areas.

“The growth in Seixas’ reputation and responsibility supplied him with the necessary stature for preaching to the congregation as their leader and minister. When the European rabbi spoke, it was usually in the form of learned Pilpulistic discourses or in an effort to arouse a transcendent piety, while Seixas’ sermons had a more secular tone. He preached sporadically, interweaving various topics under one heading. The subject which received the greatest amount of attention in these sermons was charity. It is significant that Seixas found it necessary to preach that poverty was no crime nor an outward manifestation of internal evil. He realized that ‘there are rich who are wicked,’ and for him this proved that wealth cannot, therefore, be a reward. He told his fellow congregants that the purpose of a rich man’s life is to help the poor, who in turn suffer poverty to test both the virtue of the rich and their own mettle.

“He asked the congregation to support various charitable societies that disbursed charity secretly to the needy without disclosing the names of the poor to the rest of the community. In these sermons he admonished the congregation, complaining that a few generous souls were forced to carry a disproportionate load. Charity, he preached, is a consummate act of faith. For Gershom Seixas it represented a recognition of man’s stewardship – his caretaker status. By the charitable act, man shows that wealth and goods are not really his but merely in his possession by favor of God for the purpose of doing good deeds.”

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 “Gershom Mendes Seixas: American Patriot (Part III)”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
ISIS affiliates murdering Christian Africans in Libya
African Christians Slaughtered by ISIS-Affiliates
Latest Sections Stories
Lewis-041715-Jewish-Soldiers

During the Second World War, a million and a half Jewish soldiers fought in the Allied armies, the Partisan units in Eastern Europe, and the anti-fascist underground movements in Western Europe and North Africa. These Jewish fighters won over 200,000 medals and citations. The Museum of the Jewish Soldier in World War II in Latrun, […]

Jerusalem Heights Penthouse

The 2-day real estate event will take place in Brooklyn on April 26 and 27.

Schonfeld-logo1

She wasn’t paying attention to what the child did when the mother was not in the room. Rather, her main focus was on what the child did when the mother returned.

The Mets at least have hope for the future with some good young pitchers.

French thinkers of the Enlightenment were generally not pro-Semitic, to say the least.

My Jewish star was battered, indeed it was a wreck
But I picked it up anyway and put it around my neck
To know that hatred mangled it was surely very painful
But just the same to me it is still very beautiful.

A compulsion is a repetitive action. But what underlies the compulsion is an obsession or fear.

When any student in the building is in danger of failing, the equivalent of tornado warning sirens should wail around the school.

It goes without saying that when it comes to your kids, safety is always your number one priority.

After the last of Austria’s Jews were murdered, Albert confiscated whatever Jewish property remained.

How can you expect people who go through such gehenom to even know how to give warmth and love?

More Articles from Dr. Yitzchok Levine
Dr. Aaron Friedenwald

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.

Glimpses-030615

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.

There were many who believed that some North America Indians were descended from Jews.

One might think to attribute the crudeness of the calendar to the fact that it was produced by a frontier community unable to calculate a more precise table.

“Throughout his life, he observed Tisha B’Ab as the Nahalah (anniversary) for all of his relatives who were murdered, as this is the national Jewish day of mourning.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/gershom-mendes-seixas-american-patriot-part-iii/2014/07/02/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: