Latest update: September 4th, 2012
(Editor’s Note: The following is a fairly long quote about Moses Peixotto taken from An Old Faith in the New World, David and Tamar De Sola Pool, Columbia University Press, 1955, pages 174-175.)
Peixotto was born in Curacao on February 11, 1767. After the death of his first wife, Rachel, daughter of Isaac Jessurun Sasportas, he went to Amsterdam. There, in 1797, he married Judith, daughter of Samuel Lopez Salzedo. He was ‘a dark featured, square-built, middle-sized man, greatly addicted to snuff taking.’ At the age of forty he came to New York, arriving on June 11, 1807, with his wife and six children. He was a merchant and he went into business, but he found time also to be active as a freemason, a trustee of the synagogue [Congregation Shearith Israel], and occasional hazzan. He was a close personal friend of Hazzan [Gershom Mendes] Seixas (1745 – 1816). After the death of [Reverend] Seixas when Peixotto and Eleazar S. Lazarus took over the hazzan’s duties, he continued for four years to maintain his business activities alongside his ministry. But in March, 1820, he wrote to the board of trustees
I hold it undignified to continue the duties of hazzan with that of a merchant … now must make my election either to offer myself as hazzan of this congregation or return to the pursuits of commerce. I do not hesitate to say that I prefer the former.
After becoming officially the hazzan, although in his fifties, he applied himself to the study of the English language. Eventually he was able to deliver sermons in English on Thanksgiving Day and on other special occasions. His son, Dr. Daniel Levi Maduro Peixotto, said of him that
occasional Discourses on moral and Religious Subjects were composed with a facility derived in part from a familiar acquaintance with the language of the Scriptures and from native strength of intellect; but an irrepressible enthusiasm for the cause in which he labored had by far the greater share.
Rebecca Gratz wrote of ‘the humble yet dignified figure of the venerable Mr. Peixotto’ that he ‘has since his clerical appointment studied and become as learned as he is intelligent.’
When he passed away in his sixty-second year, on July 16, 1828, he was given all the honors of a synagogue funeral. This friendly, helpful, modest man had won the affection and respect of all his community. The oration at the memorial service held under the auspices of the Hebra Hased Va-Amet was spoken by New York’s most notable Jewish citizen, Mordecai M. Noah.
During the course of his address he said:
The writings of the Hebrews are generally acknowledged to be unequaled for the simplicity and dignity – the strength, conciseness and boldness of their style; the perfect truth to nature of their imagery; their animated eloquence and sublime figures. The conceits and puerile vanities which disgrace much of classical literature are altogether banished from their pages. It may, however, be suggested that these writings were inspired. This assertion is more imposing by its speciousness than forcible by its application. The great truths and sublime doctrines which were inculcated by Moses and the Prophets were undoubtedly derived from immediate communication with the Almighty.[vi]
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
[i]Jewish Encyclopedia.com http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=158&letter=P#599
[iii]Jewish Encyclopedia.com http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=158&letter=P#599
[v]Daniel L. M. Peixotto, M. D. by Daniel Peixotto Hays
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 email@example.com.
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