Chillul Tefila Bifarhesia, as well as halachicly challenged verbiage and dress, are external manifestations of a critical lack of personal yiras shomayim which has lethal consequences.
It was not easy to maintain tradition and religious observance in the sparsely settled American colonies. These colonies were, of course, far away from the old European centers of Jewish life and learning. Furthermore, there were very few Jews residing in America during the 17th and 18th centuries.
In 1695, New York City, considered to be a relative bastion of American Judaism, had a Jewish population of about 100. By 1750 this number had increased to about 300; by 1794 it rose to only 350. In addition, qualified religious leadership was to be found only in a few cities. The first ordained Orthodox rabbi in America, Rav Abraham Rice, did not arrive until 1840. Sadly but not surprisingly, he found total chaos in Baltimore`s Jewish religious community.
Despite the almost insurmountable obstacles that stood in the way of observance, there were those who made valiant efforts to maintain Yiddishkeit to whatever extent possible.
The Franks were a prominent New York Jewish family during Colonial times. Jacob Franks came to New York in 1705, and he married Bilhah Abagail Levy in 1719. They were typical of Jewish families of the times in that, with very few exceptions, they were observant and resolved to continue their Jewish way of life.
Of course, “remaining loyal to the ancient traditions was not easy in the colonies where there were neither rabbis nor Jewish learning, and where Jews were outnumbered 1,000 to one.” (Jewish Pioneers in America, 1492-1848, Anita Libman Lebeson, Brentano`s Publishers, 1931, pages 110-111.)
In the 1740`s it was extremely difficult in a place like Georgia to maintain observance. There were at most four or five Jewish householders and only two of them were “religious.” One of the two families was that of the Sheftalls, headed by Benjamin Sheftall, who came to Savannah with the first Jewish settlers. Benjamin`s oldest son, Mordecai, became thirteen in the spring of 1749. However, his father did not have a siddur and tefillin for him. Such religious items had to come from abroad, and war had made it very difficult for British ships to come to Georgia.
Benjamin`s anguish at the thought that his son would not be properly prepared for full-fledged membership in the Jewish community is reflected in a note to his friends in England [the spelling and wording of the original has been preserved]:
As I have received some letters five days ago from one of our relation, Samule, who writes me that you was so good as to send mee some books and other things, which I to my misfortune never have received, and as I do not no [know] which way they wear [were] sent, nor no [know] the name of the captain or the name of the ship, so I can`t enquier for them. I hope your honour will soon find it out wether that ship is taken by an enemy or lost at sea.
If she is not taken nor lost, I hop your honour will let me no [know] where to inquier for them. I live [leave] your honour to guess in what grife I am in to be so misfortenabel, my eldest son binq [being] three months ago thirten years of age and I not to have any frauntlets [phylacteries] nor books fit for him. I won`t troubel your houner with much writing, for my heart is full of grife.
No more at present, I am Your humbel servant Benjamin Sheftall Savanah in Georgia, March 1748. 
Mrs. Hyman Samuel (n?e Rebecca Alexander), whose family lived in a small town in Virginia during the last part of the 18th century, corresponded with her parents in Hamburg, Germany. Rebecca`s husband, a competent craftsman, was a watchmaker and silversmith. The letters of hers that are extant are among the best descriptions we have of life on the American Jewish cultural and religious frontier. They indicate the difficulties encountered in America by those who wanted to remain observant Jews. Indeed, the reader cannot help but empathize with the Samuels for the Jewish isolation they experienced in the New World.
Petersburg, January 12, 1791, Wednesday, 8th [7th ?] Shebat, 5551.
Dear and Worthy Parents:
We are completely isolated here. We do not have any friends, and when we do not hear from you for any length of time, it is enough to make us sick. I hop e that I will get to see some of my family. That will give me some satisfaction.
You write me that Mr. Jacob Renner`s son Reuben is in Philadelphia and that he will come to us. People will not advise him to come to Virginia. When the Jews of Philadelphia or New York hear the name Virginia, they get nasty. And they are not wrong! It won`t do for a Jew. In the first place it is an unhealthful district, and we are only human. God forbid, if anything should happen to us, where would we be thrown? There is no cemetery in the whole of Virginia. In Richmond, which is twenty-two miles from here, there is a Jewish community consisting of two quorums [twenty men], and the two cannot muster a quarter [quorum when needed?]. In another letter Rebecca wrote:
I hope my letter will ease your mind. You can now be reassured and send me one of the family to Charleston, South Carolina. This is the place to which, with God`s help, we will go after Passover. The whole reason why we are leaving this place is because of (its lack of) Yehudishkeit.
Dear Parents, I know quite well you will not want me to bring up my children like Gentiles. Here they cannot become anything else. Jewishness is pushed aside here. There are here (in Petersburg) ten or twelve Jews, and they are not worthy of being called Jews. We have a shohet here who goes to market and buys terefah meat and then brings it home. On Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur the people worshipped here without one Sefer Torah; and not one of them wore the tallit or the arba kanfot, except Hyman and my Sammy`s godfather.
You can believe me that I crave to see a synagogue to which I can go. The way we live now is no life at all. We do not know what the Sabbath and the holidays are. On the Sabbath all the Jewish shops are open, and they do business on that day as they do throughout the whole week. But ours we do not allow to open. With us there is still some Sabbath. You must believe me that in our house we all live as Jews as much as we can. My children cannot learn anything here, nothing Jewish, nothing of general culture.
 On Love Marriage Children and Death Collected and Edited by Jacob R. Marcus, Society of Jewish Bibliophiles 1965, pages 7 and 9.
 Ibid., pages 42-45.
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. He can be contacted at email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
You must log in to post a comment.
Nearly half a million of them fought in Red Army uniforms, under communist slogans but with a personal vengeance that was solely the result of Jewish experience. More than the “Greatest Generation,” they were the living superheroes hidden in plain sight.
It’s all over.
The orchestra is still, the lights are dimmed. Your simcha outfits hang in your closet, silent witnesses to a time you will treasure in your mind and heart forever.
After noticing that you can’t log into your computer, your pulse quickens as you are called into your supervisor’s office. S/he has some bad news. You are being laid off. You have 15 minutes to clean out your desk and surrender your cell phone before security escorts you out of the building. Job termination, especially in the corporate world, can be heartless.
I have always had a problem with the Omer. Doing the mitzvah of counting the Omer was of course pretty easy. Remembering to start the second evening of Passover and remembering to stop the day before Shavous took a little concentration but somehow I always managed. No, for me the nagging problem was always why was I doing this in the first place, other than the fact it was a biblical (according to the Rambam) commandment.
With the semi-mourning period of Sefira behind us, and the festival of Shavuot as well (as evidenced by the tightness of our clothing due to over-indulging in irresistible versions of cheesecake that is an integral component of celebrating our receipt of the Torah), our community can look forward to participating in joyous engagement parties and weddings.
Dear Dr. Yael:
Do you really believe that the Internet is the reason why the divorce rate is so high among young couples? This may be so in some cases, but what about the fact that many singles are pressured to get married at a young age despite not having any idea what they are looking for in a mate? And add to that the fact that many are pressured to make a decision about marriage after dating for a very short period of time.
From the moment they stand under the chuppah, newlyweds have two years to enjoy the special bliss that new love brings. This new finding, reported by the New York Times, is based on a study undertaken by American and European researchers. 1,761 people who got married and stayed married over 15 years were followed. The research shows that after two years the couples moved into a more companionable state in their relationships.
Shel Silverstein’s 1974 poem “Where The Sidewalk Ends” is intended to paint a magical picture of a world of peace and serenity far away from the “black and dark streets.” At the time, perhaps the end of the sidewalk was a place that was “measured and slow.” Today, however, for many parents, where the sidewalk ends can feel like a scary place.
The next chapter of the award-winning novel.
Florida is famous for sparkling water. We have the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico surrounding our coast. We have bays, lakes, canals and, of course, an incredible abundance of swimming pools in homes, resorts, apartment complexes and city parks.
The buzz is back as Camp Gan Israel Florida Overnight gears up for another fantastic summer, CGI Florida style. What makes CGI Florida so different from all the other overnight camps? It’s all in the details.
Leah Katz, a TeenZone camper at Oorah’s TheZone summer camp and an 11th grader at Midwood High School, read her winning essay about how TheZone changed her views on Judaism at the Jewish Heritage Awards Ceremony held at Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes’s office in April. The purpose of the Jewish Heritage Essay Contest is to acquaint public school students with Jewish history and customs and to help foster a deeper understanding of Jewish culture. The contest is open to students of all ethnic and religious backgrounds. Leah’s essay is reproduced in full below.
Moshe Sharett, the head of the Jewish Agency’s Political Department, visited Egypt in 1945. In Cairo he met a most remarkable young woman, a beautiful journalist who was the darling of Egyptian high society – from high-ranking military brass, to culture icons and Muslim sheikhs, to the court of King Faruk.
The two proceeded to talk about everyday things and surprisingly her mother-in-law did not find anything else to criticize. This occurred a few more times, with my client changing the topic every time by complimenting her mother-in-law or mentioning something positive about her.
The overwhelming majority of Jews who came to America before the Revolutionary War did not have an extensive Jewish education. One exception was Manuel Josephson (1729-1796), who was born and educated in Germany. His extensive knowledge of Judaism qualified him to serve on the beis din of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York.
Last month we sketched the life of Reverend Dr. Sabato Morais and discussed his spiritual leadership of Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia as well as his involvement in a wide range of communal activities. Here we outline some of his many other accomplishments and describe his huge funeral.
“Sabato Morais was born on April 13, 1823 to Samuel and Bonina Morais in the northern Italian city of Leghorn (Livorno), in the grand duchy of Tuscany. Morais was the third of nine children, seven daughters and the older of the two sons. The Morais family descended from Portuguese Marranos. Morais’ mother, Bonina Wolf, was of German-Ashkenazic descent.”
In February 1861, Abraham Kohn, one of the founders of Chicago’s Congregation Kehilath Anshe Maariv and at the time the city clerk in the administration of Mayor John Wentworth, presented Abraham Lincoln with a unique American flag.
Last month we dealt with the building of the Lloyd Street Synagogue, the first synagogue to be built in Maryland. This month we look at how the building became a church, then again an Orthodox Synagogue, and finally a historic site.
While it is not known precisely when Jews first settled in Baltimore, we do know that five Jewish men and their families settled there during the 1770s. However, it was not until the autumn of 1829 that Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, whose Hebrew name was Nidchei Yisroel (Dispersed of Israel), was founded. This was the only Jewish congregation in the state of Maryland at the time, and it was referred to by many as the “Stadt Shul.”
Early American Jewish history is unfortunately replete with examples of observant families who came to America and, within a relatively short period of time, not only abandoned much of their commitment to religious observance but even had the sad experience of having some of their children intermarrying and assimilating. One family that did not follow this trend was the Hays family.
For centuries Jews have believed America to be a land of freedom and financial opportunity. One such Jew was Moses Raphael Levy, who achieved tremendous financial success as an American colonial merchant.
Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/maintaining-yiddishkeit-in-colonial-times/2005/09/01/
Scan this QR code to visit this page online: