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December 7, 2016 / 7 Kislev, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘Congregation’

Young Israel Congregation Youth Program For All Ages

Monday, June 6th, 2016

The Young Israel Congregation, serving the communities of Bal Harbour, Bay Harbor, and Surfside, has become famous for its innovative youth program. Rabbi Avi Fried and his staff have accommodated youngsters from tots to teens in a fun-filled atmosphere.

A very special fun summer trip for all 6th, 7th, and 8th graders is planned on Tuesday, June 14 to Busch Gardens in Tampa. (E-mail RabbiFried@yicbh.org to reserve a spot.)

Father and child learning continues on Saturday nights. Children learn and enjoy ice cream and prizes.

High school teens are invited to learning and frozen yogurt every Wednesday night. Contact Rabbi Fried for times and locations.

Shabbos groups for children from ages 2 to 13 meet every week. They daven, participate in activities, have yummy refreshments, and receive tickets for really incredible prizes.

Young Israel Congregation is located at 9580 Abbott Avenue in Surfside. For more information about the youth activities, call Rabbi Fried at 305-866-0203.

Shelley Benveniste

Rhode Island Residents Riled About Anti-Semitic Attack on Local Synagogue

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

Police in Pawtucket, Rhode Island continue to investigate a hate crime after a big red Nazi swastika was found spray-painted on the welcome sign of Congregation Ohawe Sholam.

Worshipers found the swastika on Sunday. It was painted on the sign for the Kollel Center for Jewish Studies outside their Orthodox synagogue.

A news conference was held Monday morning by city and religious leaders, who condemned the vandalism.

“It can’t be tolerated, it shouldn’t be tolerated, and it won’t be tolerated,” said Rabbi Raphie Schochet. “This symbol that’s been blotted out over here is a symbol of bigots and bullies.”

Officials immediately condemned the crime.

“The police department will go through any neighborhood video, hopefully we can catch anyone coming from or leaving the scene,” said Pawtucket Police Chief Paul King. “We’re asking neighbors, we’ll check Facebook, but what we really need is the help of the public. If you thought you saw something that looked a little bit off – please notify us.”

“The vandalism that has occurred at Congregation Ohawe Sholam in Pawtucket is demonic and depressing,” said Bishop Thomas Tobin, head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

“I’m angry and disgusted,” said U.S. Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) . “This despicable act of vandalism has only one purpose – to intimidate members of our community and it won’t succeed.”

Congregation Ohawe Sholam president David Pliskin told local WPRI-TV in an interview that Holocaust survivors among the congregants found the graffiti to be a painful reminder of the past. “This is the kind of thing that makes your whole body roil inside if you’re a Jew,” he said. But for those who survived the death camps, “It’s like someone trying to stab you in the heart again.”

Ohawe Sholam is the only synagogue in Pawtucket.

Pliskin rejected claims the graffiti might have been a childish prank. “This person clearly had some knowledge,” he told WPRI. “A lot of people draw the swastika with a cross, but this person has actually done it the way it was done on the Nazi flag, with an ‘X’.” He called it a hate crime.”

Nor has it been the first.

Last October, flyers were distributed just a few blocks from the synagogue with an illustration of a hooded man bearing a rifle, captioned, “Revolution is the only solution to Jewish pollution.”

But Pliskin also said the community has been incredibly supportive. One person gave a blanket to cover the sign. Another offered money to repair it.

‘The immediate result has been an outpouring of compassion and many acts of kindness from the entire community,” Pliskin said. ‘We should be thankful there are so many good and wonderful people around us.”

The city’s Department of Public Works has taken the sign off-site and is in the process of restoring it, according to WPRI.

Hana Levi Julian

Judge Awards Newport, RI Synagogue to Congregation Despite NY Landlord’s Claim

Tuesday, May 17th, 2016

Federal Judge John J. McConnell Jr. ruled in favor of Jeshuat Israel which resides in Touro Synagogue in Newport, RI, and against Shearith Israel of New York which had claimed ownership of the edifice and its contents, the NY Times reported Monday.

The $7.4 million dispute between two of America’s oldest Jewish congregations erupted in 2011, when the Newport Touro synagogue congregation, known as Jeshuat Israel (Heb: salvation of Israel), offered to sell the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston two silver Torah ornaments called “rimonim” (Heb: pomegranates) for $7.4 million. But the ornaments, like the rest of the synagogue, were the property of Congregation Shearith Israel, currently residing on West 70th Street in New York, and they were not amused when they heard of the sale.

Shearith Israel trustee Michael Katz testified that “we were aghast that they were doing this without informing us in advance. We considered it a violation of the lease. We considered it a violation of trust, and it upset us very, very much.”

Back in the early 1900s, the NY congregation leased the Touro building to a newcomer Jewish congregation in Newport for $1 a year (which, in today’s value, comes to $1.87). They didn’t believe this generous lease empowered the tenants to sell off parts of the synagogue.

Bea Ross, of the Newport congregation, testified that she had informed Katz of the sale, but not directly. In 2009, there was a Forward article about the sale of the rimonim, and she and Katz talked about it over the phone. Apparently, that call didn’t leave as much of an impression on Katz.

The $7.4 million rimonim / Newmans, Ltd. report

The $7.4 million rimonim / Newmans, Ltd. report

Members of the Newport congregation told the court that the reason they had to sell the ornaments—which were made by Jewish American Silversmith Myer Myers (1723-1795)—was that their numbers were starting to dwindle and they could no longer afford to pay a rabbi.

Rabbi Marc Mandel, formerly the associate rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, Ca. has been the Jeshuat Israel spiritual leader since 2011.

Incidentally, the reason the NY congregation has owned the Newport synagogue in the first place had to do with the declining numbers of Newport’s Jews in the late 18th century, when Shearith Israel took over the building and remained its caretaker as it stood empty for almost a hundred years.

Katz told the court that his congregation saw itself as strictly the landlord of the Newport synagogue, and not responsible for its financial problems (they had come asking for help).

On the face of it, the case looked like it should have gone to the New York congregation, but the local paper, Times Argus, reported prior to the trial that the state of Rhode Island was monitoring the case and planned to intervene with the judge to make sure “justice would be done.” Now the ruling has cleared the way for Jeshuat Israel to sell the rimonim, valued at $7.4 million—there are 130 members left in the congregation, so “justice” in this case could net them $57,000 each, before court costs. Or it could pay the rabbi’s salary and maintenance.

“The central issue here is the legacy of some of the earliest Jewish settlers in North America, who desired to make Newport a permanent haven for public Jewish worship,” Judge McConnell wrote in a 106-page decision, disregarding the fact that said legacy had been interrupted for as long as a century, and that what he facilitated was the removing of $7.4 million from the possession of a New York congregation, its legal owner, and handing it over to a local group that couldn’t pay its own way.


Chabad House Hosts Joe Kaufman For Lunch & Learn

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

The Chabad House in Miami Beach hosted a lecture and “the best lunch in town” on Wednesday, July 11, at its location, 669 Lincoln Lane North. The congregation’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Zev Katz, started the program with a dvar Torah. The talk was followed by guest speaker Joe Kaufman, who spoke on the direction of political movements in the Middle East and the Maghreb. Kaufman’s presentation was titled “Arab Spring or Nuclear Winter?”

Kaufman is an expert in the fields of counter-terrorism, energy independence and Middle Eastern and Southern affairs. He has been a lecturer for the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and his articles can be found at FrontPageMag.com, the Hudson Institute, Pajamas Media and National Review. Kaufman is also a candidate for United States Congress.

The riveting talk was followed by a delicious lunch sponsored by Scott Abraham in loving memory of his father, Shalom ben Chaim Menachem.

For more information about the Chabad of Miami Beach adult education series or other activities contact Rabbi Katz at 305-CHABAD1 or visit www.chabadonwheels.com.

Shelley Benveniste

Q & A: Tisha B’Av And Mourning

Wednesday, July 18th, 2012

Editor’s note: We interrupt our “Chazzan and Congregation” series for this timely discussion on Tisha B’Av. Part IX of “Chazzan and Congregation” will appear next week.

* * * * *

Question: I was taught that due to our state of mourning on Tisha B’Av, we are not allowed to learn or discuss Torah – a topic that makes us happy and weakens our mournful state. Why, then, are we allowed to read from the Torah at Shacharit and Mincha on Tisha B’Av? Also, does the halacha of not learning apply to a regular mourner as well?

(Via E-Mail)

Answer: Yoreh De’ah 384:1 (based on Mo’ed Katan 15a) states, “During the entire seven-day period [of mourning], a mourner is forbidden to read from the Torah, Prophets, Writings, Mishnah, Gemara, halachot and aggadot – except if people need him to teach them. In such a case, it is permissible.”

We also find a similar ruling regarding Tisha B’Av, our national day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, as the Mechaber notes (Orach Chayim 554:1).

The reason behind the prohibition, according to the Shach (Orach Chayim ad loc.), is the verse in Psalms (19:9), “Pikudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei lev, mitzvat Hashem barah me’irat eynayim – The commands of Hashem are right; they gladden the heart. The commandment of Hashem is of such clarity that it enlightens the eyes.” Torah has the power of offering unique enjoyment and pleasure. A mourner in his bereavement is not supposed to enjoy this delight.

It is interesting to note that this Shach is at variance with the Mechaber who gives a different source for this halacha. He cites Mo’ed Katan 15a, where we learn that a mourner is prohibited to utter words of Torah since Hashem stated (Ezekiel 24:17), “He’anek dom – Sigh in silence.” Hashem only precluded Ezekiel from any manifestation of outward sorrow. All other people were supposed to publicly mourn, explains Rabbenu Chananel, explicating the position of our sages.

The Gemara (in Ta’anit 30a) states that all customary restrictions on an ordinary mourner during the seven days of mourning apply to the community as a whole on Tisha B’Av. However, there is a difference. On Tisha B’Av, one is prohibited from eating and drinking (Rashi s.v. “asur be’achila uvi’shetiya” explains that these two restrictions apply only to the mourning for the Temples’ destruction).

The Gemara in Ta’anit explains that one is prohibited from (washing and) anointing, donning (leather) shoes, and engaging in marital relations. One is also forbidden to read from the Torah, Prophets, Writings, Mishnah, Talmud, Midrash, as well as halachot and aggadot. However, one is permitted to read material that he usually does not read. (Rashi s.v. “be’makom she’eino ragil likrot” explains that since this material is beyond the mourner’s familiarity and understanding, it actually causes him distress.) One may also read Kinot and Job and the elegies in Jeremiah.

Young schoolchildren – tinokot shel beit rabban – should remain idle (i.e., we do not study with them on Tisha B’Av), in accordance with the verse (Psalms 19:9), “Pikudei Hashem yesharim mesamchei lev – The commands of Hashem are right; they gladden the heart.” R. Yehuda disagrees and states that the learning restrictions apply even to material that one is unfamiliar with. The only exceptions to the no-learning rule, he maintains, are Job, Kinot, and the elegies in Jeremiah.

In any event, we see that both verses apply: the verse from Ezekiel as well as the verse from Psalms.

Regarding the reading of the Torah in shul on Tisha B’Av during Shacharit and Mincha, the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 554:4) writes as follows: “One is permitted to read the complete order of the day [i.e., the order of the daily prayer service] as well as the portion of the korbanot, the Mishnah of Ezehu Mekoman (Tractate Zevachim, chapter 5) and the midrash of Rabbi Yishmael (Beraita, in Sifra). (The latter three constitute the portion of tefillah referred to collectively as korbanot.)

The Rema adds that one is allowed to review the parshah on Tisha B’Av. However, both the Ba’er Heiteiv and Mishna Berurah (ad loc.) note that this applies only to the chazzan, who reads the Torah publicly for the congregation. His reading and advance preparation are obviously considered tzorech ha’tzibbur (a public need).

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Q & A: Chazzan And Congregation (Part VIII)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Question: I understand that at a minyan, the chazzan is required to repeat Shmoneh Esreh out loud so that people who may not know how to daven can fulfill their obligation to daven with the chazzan’s repetition. What, however, should the chazzan do when he reaches Kedushah and Modim? I hear some chazzanim say every word of Kedushah out loud and some only say the last part of the middle two phrases out loud. As far as the congregation is concerned, I hear some congregants say every word of Kedushah and some say only the last part. Finally, some chazzanim and congregants say Modim during chazaras hashatz out loud and some say it quietly. What is the source for these various practices?

A Devoted Reader
(Via E-Mail)

Answer: The Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 124:1) explains that a chazzan repeats Shmoneh Esreh out loud to fulfill the prayer obligation of those who can’t pray on their own (see Rosh Hashana 33b-34a).

The Mechaber (Orach Chayim 125:1) states that congregants should not recite Nakdishach [Nekadesh] together with the chazzan; rather they should remain silent and concentrate on the chazzan’s recitation until he finishes that portion, at which point they should say, “Kadosh, kadosh…” The Mishnah Berurah (ad loc. sk1) explains that congregants should remain quiet because the chazzan is their messenger, and if they say Nakdishach along with him, he no longer appears as their messenger.

Many do not follow the correct responsive procedure for Kedushah, and since the practice is widespread, it may have to be overlooked (Berachot 45a). If the congregants will miss z’man tefillah, however, the Rema (Orach Chayim 124:2) writes that they should quietly recite along with the chazzan until after Kedushah. At least one person who already prayed, even a child, should answer “Amen” to the chazzan’s blessings to substantiates the shlichut of the chazzan. Those praying with the chazzan may not respond “Amen.”

Another prayer style when time is pressing is as follows: The chazzan begins the Amidah, and after “HaKel HaKadosh,” everyone begins their silent Amidah (while the chazzan continues quietly with his own Amidah). (See Mishnah Berurah, Orach Chayim 124 sk8.) This procedure is commonly performed for Mincha, especially in yeshivot.

The tefillah of Modim within the Amidah is so important that Berachot 21b instructs one who arrives late (after kedushah, explains Orach Chayim 109:1) to begin praying only if he will conclude before the chazzan reaches Modim. The Mishnah Berurah (sk2) notes that this applies to a latecomer in middle of birkat keriat Shema attempting to catch up to the minyan and debating whether he should start his personal Amidah after the congregants have started theirs. Tosafot explain that one must bow with the congregation at Modim in order that he not appear as a denier of G-d to whom they are praying (see Rabbenu Tam, Tosafot s.v. “ad sh’lo yagia…” Berachot 21b).

Modim D’Rabbanan is discussed in the Gemara in Sotah. Rav offers a text to recite for Modim and Shmuel, R. Simai, and R. Acha b. R.Yaakov all add more verses to recite. R. Papa says to recite them all – hence the name “Modim D’Rabbanan,” the Modim of (all) the Sages. Our Modim text also includes additions by sages listed in the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 1:5).

Rabbi Soloveitchik (as cited in Nefesh Horav by Rabbi Herschel Schachter, p. 128-129) notes that the congregation must listen to Modim of the chazzan. Rabbi Soloveitchick acknowledges the similarity between the recitation of Modim D’Rabbanan and the practice of reciting pesukim during Birkat Kohanim, discussed in Sotah 39b-40a. He cites R. Chanina b. R. Pappa, who argued against doing so, as does the Tur (Orach Chayim 128). Others favor the practice. Rabbi Soloveitchick suggested that the chazzan recite the beginning of Modim out loud, pause for the congregants’ Modim D’Rabbanan, and then continue with his Modim blessing out loud.

Sefer Kol Bo (siman 11, hilchot tefillah) points out that the gematria of Modim equals 100, corresponding to the 100 blessings that a Jew is required to say every day (Mechaber, Orach Chayim 46:3, also see Tur ad loc. who attributes this enactment to King David). I pointed out that the number of words in the opening paragraph of Modim added to the number of words in Modim D’Rabbanan (Nusach Sefard, exclusive of the concluding blessing) also yields the number 100. These gematriyos hint at the importance and efficacy of reciting Modim.

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

Lost To Orthodoxy: The Fate of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations are from A History of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation: 1830-1905 by Adolf Guttmacher, Lord Baltimore Press, 1905. I am indebted to Sally Plumbaum, assistant to the executive director of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, who provided me with a copy of this rare book.



Not many Jews lived in Baltimore during the eighteenth century; by 1796 the entire Jewish population of the city consisted of about 15 families. As late as 1825, Solomon Etting, one of the first Jewish residents of Baltimore, estimated the Jewish population of Baltimore to be about 150.

Given this, it is not surprising that the minyan that led to the organization of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation was not established until the autumn of 1829. It first met in the home of Zalma Rehine, who had recently relocated to Baltimore from Richmond. On January 29, 1830 the Maryland House of Delegates passed an act incorporating the congregation as an official entity within the city of Baltimore.

The Hebrew name of the congregation was Nidchei Yisrael, “The Scattered of Israel.” In its early years it was often referred to as “the first Hebrew Congregation” and later as the Stadt Shul.

“This latter designation was used to distinguish it from ‘The Fell’s Point Hebrew Friendship Congregation’ (later the Eden Congregation), which was organized in 1838 by a number of co-religionists who had settled in what was then an outlying and, at first, [a] separate district, while the Mother Congregation was located in the center of town.”

The early membership was largely made up of Jews originally from Holland, many of whom had previously settled in the West Indies. There were commercial ties between Baltimore and the West Indies that explain the settlement of Dutch Jews from the West Indies in Baltimore.

Beginning in 1835 a number of Bavarian Jews settled in Baltimore and soon outnumbered the Dutch Jews.

“In 1832 the roster of the Congregation contained the names of 29 heads of families; in 1835 there were 41 families, and in 1839 the membership had grown to 59.”

The synagogue “was organized by Orthodox Jews, and for many decades the services were carried on according to the old Orthodox ritual. The people lived strictly Orthodox [lives], observing the very minutiae of the Rabbinical Law. The dietary laws were conscientiously carried out. The Sabbath and the Festivals were consecrated to worship and to rest, and the ceremonies connected with them were observed in every home.

“The Congregation, in those early days, was the center of all communal activity; it reflected, far more than today, the religious and social status of its members, for the Congregation entered into the life of everyone. It regulated the religious affairs of the community by appointing Shochtim, maintaining a Mikvah (Ritual bath), and looking after the baking of Matzoth.”

* * * * *
It is important to keep in mind that those who supported the congregation were, with few exceptions, relatively poor. Most of them struggled to earn their livelihood. Still, help was never refused to those who asked, and the members of the congregation made sure the poor were cared for in many ways. The congregational minutes indicate that at almost every meeting the board voted to give relief to some poor stranger or to someone “who had grown poor in our midst.” Twice a year the congregation sent money to charities in the Holy Land that assisted the poor.


In addition to the revenue from dues, the congregation was funded through the selling of aliyahs, Mishebeirachs and Kale Malei Rachamims. Until 1847 the aliyahs were sold before the Torah was taken out via bidding run by the sexton in a manner similar to what is still done in many synagogues on Yomim Tovim. Later the board fixed the amount to be paid for aliyahs.

According to Maryland law, it was required to proclaim an upcoming marriage on three successive Shabbosim before the wedding.

“The sexton proclaimed the marriage, and the Congregation charged for such proclamation from $1.00 to $4.50. The last recorded proclamation is dated May 28, 1881.”

A curious system of fines existed in the synagogue and was in effect until 1893:

“For the purpose of fining, three kinds of tickets were used. A white ticket was sent through the sexton by the president, or one of the officers, to the offender as a warning. If this was not heeded, a blue or red ticket followed, the former being a fine of 25 cents, the latter of 50 cents.

“There were fines for talking during services; for chewing; for gathering on the pavement in front of the Synagogue; for bringing children under five years of age to services; for putting away the talith before services were over; for leaving the Synagogue during services without the permission of some officer; for singing L’Dovid Boruch louder than the Chazan at the going out of the Sabbath.”


* * * * *
In 1840 Rabbi Abraham Rice, a talmid chacham and the first Orthodox rabbi to settle permanently in America, became the spiritual leader of the congregation. He realized something we take for granted today, namely, that the future of Judaism depended on children receiving a thorough Torah education. Sadly, opportunities for Jewish education in 1840 in Baltimore were minimal at best. (The same was true throughout America during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.)

The proper education of Jewish youth was Rabbi Rice’s first and major concern, and he set out to remedy the lack of Jewish education in Baltimore in what was then a bold and innovative manner.

He therefore established a Jewish all-day school that taught both limudei kodesh (religious subjects) and limudei chol (secular subjects). In 1841 he opened a Hebrew day school under the auspices of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation named the Hebrew and English Benevolent Academic Association of Baltimore.

It was the first Jewish all-day school in America under the auspices of an Ashkenaz congregation. The religious curriculum focused on Hebrew language and grammar, the Siddur, Tanach, Rashi, biblical history, and mitzvah observance, while in the afternoon English reading, writing and spelling were taught, as were mathematics and geography.

“It is noteworthy that the selection of an English teacher was considered of such great moment as to be entrusted to a committee of American-born and educated Christians, who were supposed better to understand the needs of the future citizen.”

Rabbi Rice realized that while most of his congregants spoke German, their offspring were more likely to use English in their daily lives and hence should be able to read, write and speak English properly.

Although originally only for boys, within a few years the school also admitted girls, since it was realized that they too needed a Jewish education. The school was fairly successful, and by 1851 it had an enrollment of about 200.

Unfortunately, the establishment of free public school education led to a decline in enrollment and the school ceased to function in 1870. Parents at that time chose to send their children to public school rather than a Jewish religious school, not realizing they were paving the way for the assimilation of future generations.

While it functioned, the school managed to educate a number of young people who remained observant Jews. One such person was Dr. Aaron Friedenwald, who attended the school and remained an observant Jew throughout his life – something nearly unheard of for a nineteenth-century physician.

“The Baltimore Hebrew Congregation outgrew its quarters every few years. At first it occupied a room, corner of Bond and Fleet streets, over a grocery; then it moved in 1832 to North Exeter Street, near what is now Lexington Street. In 1835 the Congregation occupied an one-story dwelling on High street near the bend, between Fayette and Gay Streets. In 1837 the Congregation had grown sufficiently prosperous to buy a three-story brick dwelling, corner of Harrison Street and Etna Lane.”

Within a few years, however, this facility also became inadequate, and the membership erected the first synagogue building in Maryland. The result was a beautiful structure located on Lloyd Street that, in addition to a magnificent main sanctuary, housed in the basement a bais medrash, four classrooms, a mikveh, and an oven for baking matzahs. The building was completed in 1845 and dedicated with much fanfare.

By 1860 the original building had become too small to seat all of the Congregation’s members and their families, so the structure was enlarged by a 30-foot extension on its eastern end.

Lloyd Street Synagogue 
(Today the Lloyd Street Synagogue Building is an historic site.)  
* * * * *
Increased membership proved to be both a blessing and a curse, as it attracted some who were influenced by the Reform movement. At first the newcomers demanded minor innovations, but as time went on they pushed for more substantial changes. There was constant conflict and dissension. Reform was affecting most synagogues in America by the middle of the 19th century, and Baltimore Hebrew Congregation was no exception.

The effects of Reform were evidenced by the fact that in 1850 the synagogue found it necessary to pass a bylaw requiring all officers not only to be personally shomer Shabbos but also to keep their businesses closed on Shabbos and on the first and last two days of Yom Tov.

Every attempt at innovation was fought by those members committed to Orthodoxy, but they were soon in the minority and could not stem the rising tide of Reform. In 1853 confirmation of girls was introduced; in 1857 duchening was abolished; in 1860 many of the piyutim traditionally said in German congregations were omitted; and in 1866 the haftarah was read in German instead of in Hebrew.

In 1870, a petition was presented to the congregational board asking for the introduction of “moderate” reforms – including a mixed choir.

“The petitioners begged for a speedy introduction of moderate reforms [so] ‘that the religious life of the Congregation may not suffer.’ “

A special meeting was called to consider the petition, and it was defeated by a vote of 32 for and 39 against. It looked like the Orthodox members of the Congregation had won.

A few months later, however, the spiritual leader of the congregation proposed a number of sweeping ritual reforms. These included elimination of any references to the restoration of the Temple sacrifices and the recitation of all selections from the Talmud – as well as the elimination of the repetition of certain prayers by the cantor. Despite the earlier rejection of similar reforms, these passed by a vote of 56-22. Further, a resolution for a mixed choir was reintroduced and approved.

Twenty members of the congregation took the matter to civil court, seeking an injunction preventing the board from carrying out the reforms.

“An agreement was finally entered into and the case allowed to sleep on the dockets of the court. The majority of the complainants then resigned from the Congregation in December 1870, and January 1871.”

Shortly thereafter they established Congregation Chizuk Amuno, which adhered strictly to halacha.

Other reforms followed in 1873, including mixed seating and a three-year cycle for reading the Torah. The wearing of talleisim, thecalling up for aliyahs and the reciting of Mishebeirach and Kale Malei Rachamim were all discontinued.

In 1878 the use of the venerable Rodelheim siddur was done away with.

A few years later, observance of the second day of the festivals became a thing of the past.

Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, once a bastion of Orthodoxy, was now a full-fledged Reform temple. In fact, it bills itself today as “the largest Reform congregation in Maryland.”

On February 3, 1889, the old synagogue building, which had once been the centerpiece of traditional Judaism in Baltimore, was sold to the newly organized Lithuanian Roman Catholic Parish and became the Church of St. John the Baptist.

* * * * *
The fate of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation is not unique in the annals of American Jewish history. Many synagogues that started out as Orthodox institutions became Reform temples during the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries. Ostensibly their goal, as the petitioners for reforms in the rituals of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation had claimed, was “that the religious life of the Congregation may not suffer.”

We know, of course, that they failed miserably. Instead of preserving Judaism, they opened the door to the abandonment of Jewish observance and the assimilation of hundreds of thousands of Jews through intermarriage.

It seems that even Dr. Adolf Guttmacher, who wrote the history of Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, realized this to some extent:

“The present religious conditions of the Congregation require some notice. While the material prosperity of the Congregation is all that can be desired, spiritually there is, indeed, much room for improvement. The conditions are the same here that obtain in all other large cities. On the great Holydays the seating capacity of the Temple is taxed to the utmost. The Sabbath services are well attended by women and children, but the men are in a woeful minority.

“But what is most discouraging is the fact that as the fathers, who attended services regularly, die, the sons, though retaining the membership, do not come to the House of God except on rare occasions.”

Time and again it has been demonstrated that the only way to ensure the preservation of Judaism is by strict adherence to halacha. Other approaches, no matter how well intentioned, are doomed to failure.

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

Dr. Yitzchok Levine

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/front-page/lost-to-orthodoxy-the-fate-of-baltimore-hebrew-congregation/2011/07/20/

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