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Posts Tagged ‘Shearith Israel’

Sampson Simson, Eccentric Orthodox Philanthropist

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
(Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are from Sampson Simson by Myer S. Isaacs, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961);1902;10, AJHS Journal, available online at www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm.
Sampson Simson was born on June 30, 1781 in Danbury, Connecticut and died January 7, 1857 in New York.  Sampson’s father, Solomon Simson, was also American born.   Solomon was partners with his brother Sampson Simson, whom we shall refer to as Sampson the elder. 
The Simson firm, known as “Simson’s in Stone Street,” imported beaver coating and other articles.” Sampson the elder “was the owner of several vessels engaged in the foreign trade and he was prominent on important Committees of the Chamber of Commerce – on Arbitration, Coinage and Fisheries.  He was a remarkably pious and conscientious Jew, celebrated for his punctuality and strict honesty.” 

            During the Revolution Congregation Shearith Israel was temporarily closed due to the capture of New York by the British.  Reverend Gershom Mendes Seixas and many of the prominent Jewish families associated with the synagogue relocated to Connecticut, which was not under British rule. Solomon and Sampson the elder were among those who left New York.  Sampson (the younger) was born while the Simsons were residing in Connecticut.

 

Sampson Simson studied at Columbia and is said to have been the first Jewish graduate of that college; at his graduation he delivered a Hebrew address which seems to have been written for him by Gershom Mendes Seixas. Then Simson became an attorney in New York, starting his training as confidential clerk to Aaron Burr. When in need of legal help, Shearith Israel occasionally used Simson’s services. In 1813, after he had been severely injured in a nocturnal assault upon him, he retired to a farm in Yonkers, where he stayed for many years, observing Jewish dietary laws and other prescriptions, but isolating himself from all contact with New York and with his fellow – Jews.” [The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York 1654-1860 by Hyman B. Grinstein, Jewish Publication Society of America]

 

“Sampson never married. His sister, Mrs. Rebecca Isaacks, with her two children Moses and Jochebed (or Jessie) constituted his family. Moses Isaacks was of very retiring disposition, being in wretched health and physically disqualified from active participation in affairs. Jochebed married Rev. Amsel Leo, the well-known and respected Reader of the Greene Street Synagogue (formerly Elm Street) New York – Congregation B’nai Jeshurun. Mr. Simson survived his sister and her children.”
Myer S. Isaacs provides the following description of Sampson Simson:
“I can recall Mr. Simson’s appearance quite vividly. He affected the old fashioned costume, sometimes wearing knee breeches and buckles. He was above the average height, very stiff’ and upright in his bearing. His hair was white and worn in long wavy locks. His spectacles were of great size. His habitual walk was in short, quick steps and he carried a silver headed cane, upon which he would lean when seated. His voice was not musical and he rarely laughed. He was exacting and even tyrannical – would not endure criticism or contradiction. As he was quite wealthy and of benevolent instincts, he was, no doubt occasionally imposed upon. There were men he did not like and he let them perceive it quickly. He wrote a good hand; his signature was of the John Hancock style.”
As mentioned above, Sampson owned a large estate in Yonkers, New York, and resided there in a large house called the Old Homestead.  There he employed “several old family servants, some of whom had been slaves.”

 

It has been said that he was an eccentric person with utopian ideas. Perhaps his years of seclusion tended to make his ways peculiar. His ideas were certainly novel and stimulating. Among them was his belief that Jewish societies should not lend their funds at interest to synagogues, as they were wont to do. This view was, of course, based upon the Bible. Inline with his belief, he prohibited the North American Relief Society from lending its funds to any Jewish institution. [The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York 1654-1860]

 

Sampson was interested in a wide variety of affairs including prison reform and the politics of Westchester County. He closely followed the religious and charitable activities of organizations that functioned in the vicinity of Yonkers. He was very interested in agricultural affairs and fascinated by new machinery.
“He was a member of the Congregation Shearith Israel, and was a friend of its respected minister, Rev. J. J. Lyons. Occasionally, he was pretty positive in his expression of difference as to the management of Congregation affairs. He was fond of repeating his recollections of the great men of his early days.”
Sampson “was always greatly interested in the Holy Land and ready to welcome the messengers that occasionally visited America to carry to Jerusalem the offerings of pious donors.”
He founded the North American Relief Society for Indigent Jews in Jerusalem with the stipulation that the poor be given assistance to encourage them to become self-supporting so that at some point they would no longer need financial assistance. Only the aged, widows and orphans were to be supported long term. 
Sampson “rose very early and spent time at his devotions. He was so particular that he had his Matzos baked in his own house. He had ‘the New England conscience’ as it is termed; but he was an old fashioned, uncompromising orthodox Israelite whose ancestry had been emancipated from the Ghetto of the Middle Ages, and in whose blood there was no trace of racial subordination to surrounding circumstances. He was unyielding, conscientious in his religious views. The combination of a public-spirited citizen with the conformist Jew was not rare in his days. There was no cause that appealed in vain to his generosity; but to aid a church, whether Protestant or Catholic, or a Synagogue by whomsoever founded, gave him intense pleasure .”

Mr. Simson’s will

 

contains some matters of interest. When he died, in 1857, he left three thousand dollars to Shearith Israel, two thousand dollars to the Beth Hamidrash, the very orthodox synagogue, and one thousand dollars to his alma mater, Columbia. To Amsel Leo, who had married his niece, he bequeathed a Sefer Torah (perhaps the one which he had used while on his Yonkers farm).  [The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York 1654-1860]

 

The bulk of his estate, fifty thousand dollars (a huge sum in 1857), was set aside for his nephew Moses A. Isaacks, who was to use only the income generated by this money. After Isaacks’s death Sampson wanted the principal to be given to the North American Relief Foundation to assist the poor in the Holy Land. However, the children of his niece contested Sampson’s will in court, and his intentions were never carried out.
Next month’s Glimpses will deal with the key role Sampson Simson played in the establishment of Mt. Sinai Hospital and the hospital’s early history.

 

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.

Chazzan Jacques Judah Lyons: Early American Congregational Leader

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

   From 1654, when the first Jews arrived in North America, until 1840, when the first Orthodox ordained rabbi, Rav Abraham Rice, settled in Baltimore, American Jewry was led by chazzanim and baalei batim (private individuals) who had better than average Torah educations. These men did their best to fill the void in rabbinical leadership that characterized American Jewish life until the last few decades of the nineteenth century.

 

   One such congregational leader was Jacques Judah Lyons, who served as the chazzan of New York’s Spanish-Portuguese Congregation Shearith Israel for almost four decades.

 

     Jacques Judah Lyons was born in the city of Surinam,1 Dutch Guiana, on Menahem [Av] 29, 5573 (August 25, 1813). His father, Judah Eleazar Lyons, and his mother, Mary Asser Lyons, who before her marriage was Mary Asser Levy, were born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and there they were married. In the early part of the last century they went to Surinam, Parimaribo, Dutch Guiana. Their son Jacques received the ordinary common school education afforded by the colony, there being neither university nor college in the place. Besides Dutch (the language of the country), he spoke Hebrew, English, German and French fluently and could also read and understand Spanish.2

 

   In 1833 at the age of 20 Jacques became one of the Chazzanim at Surinam’s Congregation Neve Shalome.  In 1837 he left Surinam for Philadelphia. Shortly thereafter, he was offered the position of chazzan by Congregation Beth Shalome of Richmond, VA.

 

   His accomplishments while serving this synagogue were noteworthy. Indeed, the following piece appeared in the Richmond newspaper The Daily Dispatch:

 

     The new minister, thoroughly infused with his love for his faith, and armed with the divine enthusiasm of youth, at once addressed himself to the task of waking the memories of the ancient creed in the hearts of the faithless, and summoning her people again to their neglected affairs. In a brief period he had gathered the scattered flock, comforted the strong, encouraged the weak, recalled the wandered, aroused the indifferent and compacted the congregation which has probably never been equaled in influence and respect among the dwellers of this city. For years he labored with unflagging zeal, continued success winning the devoted affection of his own people, and the sincere respect of all.3

 

   In 1839, shortly after the death of its chazzan, Isaac B. Seixas, Congregation Shearith Israel of New York invited Lyons to apply for the position.

 

     For the New Year the Richmond congregation had consented that Mr. Lyons remain in New York. On that Holy Day and on the two preceding Sabbaths Mr. Lyons conducted the services in what the trustees found to be a “dignified, impressive, and appropriate manner,” besides giving an “able and interesting discourse in commemoration of the fifty-sixth centennial of the creation.” The electors immediately approved him as hazzan at a salary of $1,500 a year, a substantial increase over the $1,080 finally paid Hazzan Isaac Seixas. By the middle of October he had said farewell to Richmond and he came to New York ready to assume his duties.

     He was conscientious and a good hazzan. His reading of the services with his tenor and sometimes falsetto voice was most acceptable. He was somewhat tall and of dignified appearance and gracious manner. Above all, his religious sincerity and his studied courtesy to all endeared him to his congregation. In 1842, he married Grace, daughter of Seixas Nathan and Sarah Mendes Seixas. Genealogical charts would show how in the intricate pattern of the First Families of Shearith Israel he became a central figure in the midst of a group which for a long time had played a large part in guiding the affairs of the congregation.4

 

   Chazzan Lyons was staunch and unyielding in his commitment to Orthodoxy at a time when Reform was making advances amongst American Jewry. Through his efforts many of his congregants remained within the fold of Orthodoxy.

 

     His appearance was commanding, his personality magnetic, and with all his strength he was a mild-mannered man, unobtrusive and notably courteous. He swayed his flock by persuasion and affection more than by authority. As was said in one of the notices published at the time of his death, he “Truly he was the Jewish Bishop.”5

 

   In addition to serving as chazzan he was also responsible for the educational programs of the congregation. He was for a number of years the superintendent of Shearith Israel’s Polonies Talmud Torah School. In this capacity he not only directed the school staff, but also personally prepared boys for their bar mitzvahs. Due to his influence, many boys developed an interest in synagogue ritual and regularly attended synagogue services for the rest of their lives.

 

   When he led services, he carefully maintained in a most dignified and respectful manner every detail of Shearith Israel’s Spanish-Portuguese liturgy.

 

     He had a pure, clear, melodious, tenor voice, and this with his intense fervor and earnestness made his rendition of the services most effective. Indeed it often seemed to be almost dramatic, especially in the services of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) and the anniversary of the destruction of Jerusalem (Tisha be-Ab).

     At his death a writer in one of the papers devoted to Jewish matters said:

     Everyone has his own idea as to the part of the prayers which he considers the most solemn. For my part I always regarded Mr. Lyons as at his best at the opening of the Negilah [Neilah] on Yom Kippur when with his Talleth over his head he walked from the Reader’s desk to the Ark, solemnly and deliberately opened its doors and turning to the Congregation chanted, “Elle Norah Naleelah.”6 I think he approached and seemed to be nearer a man of God than any clergyman whom I ever saw or knew.7

 

Diarist, Historian and Scholar

 

Jacques Lyons was a painstaking diarist who recorded the details of his personal contacts, events at synagogue services, the administration of the synagogue’s business, and even the weather. These records give invaluable insight into Jewish life in New York during the 37 years he resided there.

 

     Jacques possessed a deep interest in Jewish history. In 1854, Jacques and Rabbi Abraham de Sola of Montreal collaborated in writing A Jewish Calendar for Fifty Years, a book that contained a comprehensive Jewish calendar, an essay on the Jewish calendar system, as well as historical information concerning Jewish communities in the United States, Canada, and the West Indies.8 Prior to 1861, and continuing to the end of his life, Jacques painstakingly gathered sources and information on United States Jewish history in the hopes of publishing his findings. He made copies of some of the documents he found, and also obtained papers from old families, such as Naphtali Phillips, Isaac Phillips, Joshua Phillips, Horatio Gomez, Joseph Nones, the Pesoa, and Judah Families. His family later destroyed a portion of his papers; one cannot but think of the treasures that may have been contained therein.9

 

   Chazzan Lyons passed away at the age of sixty-three on August 13, 1877, shortly before Rosh Hashanah. His funeral services were held on August 15 at Shearith Israel.

 

 

1 For information about the Jewish community of Surinam please see “The Jewish Community of Surinam” byDr. Yitzchok Levine, The Jewish Press,July 7, 2006.

2 “Jacques Judah Lyons,”Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society(1893-1961); 1913; 21, AJHS Journal. This article is available at no cost at www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.

3 Ibid.

4An Old Faith in the New World: Portrait of Shearith Israel, 1654-1954 by David and Tamar De Sola Pool, Columbia University Press, New York, 1955.

5 “Jacques Judah Lyons,” AJHS Journal1913; 21.

6 The writer is referring to a piyyut sung in the Sephardic ritual for Yom Kippur. One can listen to this piyyut at www.youtube.com/watch?v=61UUFNVXNmM&feature=related     

www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDfl9dOdyyo&feature=related   High Holidays: El Nora ‘Alila – Ramon Tasat and www.youtube.com/watch?v=N6Mregs7nCI&feature=related .

7 “Jacques Judah Lyons,”AJHS Journal1913; 21.

8 This book may be downloaded at www.archive.org/details/jewishcalendarfo00lyonrich

9 “Jacques Judah Lyons, 1813-1877,” www.cjh.org/nhprc/lyons_jacques_judah.pdf.

 

 

   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.

The Case Of The Charleston Synagogue Organ

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

 

Note: All quotes are from The Charleston Organ Case by Allan Tarshish, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 54, 1965 (http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm).

 

In 1749 the Jews of Charleston, South Carolina established their first synagogue, Kahal Kodesh Beis Elokim (KKBE). Last month we examined the events that led some members of KKBE to establish The Reformed Society of Israelites.

 

   The society was launched in 1825 but disbanded in 1833 due to lack of support. However, in 1840 it again became active and on July 14 of that year presented a petition to the Board of Trustees of KKBE, signed by thirty-eight members, that called for, among other things, a discussion of “the propriety of erecting an organ in the synagogue to assist the vocal part of the service.”

 

The reformers had found an ally in Gustavus Poznanski, chazzan of the congregation who had been hired in 1837. Given the efforts of the Reform Society in 1825 to institute changes in synagogue ritual, those in control of KKBE had interviewed Poznanski before offering him the position of chazzan to ascertain if his views were in accordance with Orthodox Judaism. They had been completely satisfied regarding his commitment to traditional Judaism and even gave him a lifetime contract within a year of his arrival in Charleston.

 

However, by 1840 the chazzan’s views had drastically changed, and, when the KKBE synagogue was rebuilt in 1840 after a disastrous fire in 1838, he made it known he was in favor of the use of an organ in the new synagogue.

 

The issue of introducing organ music into Sabbath and festival services was discussed at a general meeting of the congregation held on July 26 and attended by ninety members. In the course of the heated discussion on this issue, a resolution was introduced and passed inviting Poznanski to come to the meeting and give his opinion on this matter.

 

He accepted the invitation and confirmed his view that an organ would be beneficial, quoting from some authorities in an attempt to bolster the idea that such an addition would not be contrary to Jewish law. Despite the attempts of the chair, Nathan Hart, to declare the resolution calling for the introduction of an organ out of order, it was passed by a vote of 46 to 40.

 

   The traditional members of KKBE were stunned by the outcome. They maintained that a vote of 46 to 40 did not fulfill the synagogue’s constitutional requirement that any ritual alteration required a three-fourths majority of members present at a meeting. None of this helped, and beginning in 1841 an organ was used during Sabbath and festival services.

 

It is known that Isaac Leeser [prominent Philadelphia chazzan] advised Nathan Hart, the President, to take out an injunction against the majority, but he did not do so. Also, although the minority had threatened that they would take the matter to court, it happened that two of their leaders, Nathan Hart and H. M. Hertz, died shortly after the organ meeting and, feeling that an appeal to the law would have been repugnant to them, they decided instead to “retire” from Beth Elokim. They organized another congregation called Shearith Israel (using the same name as the Sephardic congregation in New York City) and erected a building on Wentworth Street, near Anson, a few blocks away from Beth Elokim.

 

The reformers were now in control of KKBE, and it was not long before other changes were introduced.

 

Emboldened by their control of the congregation and Board, the Reform group began to make and suggest a number of other changes such as the modification of the Maimonidean creed and various traditional prayers and hymns, to the extent that the more moderate Reformers within Beth Elokim, although satisfied with the organ, became alarmed that things might go too far.

 

Peacemakers managed to work out an uneasy compromise, but much more was still to come.

 

     On the first day of Passover, 1843, the Reverend Poznanski delivered a sermon advocating the discontinuance of the second day of the Holy Days, which aroused further strong opposition. A special meeting of the Board of Trustees was held on April 19, 1843, which wrote the hazzan asking him to inform it if in the future he would continue to advocate “innovations of the established forms of service as observed by us and all the congregations of Jews throughout the world.” The Board contended that his suggestion was “a violation of the Constitution and calculated to create discord and anarchy.”

 

     Poznanski replied that he had been authorized by a former Board of Trustees “to make such remarks and observations as I deem proper” and that the majority of those who now disapproved of his sermon had previously well known his opinions on the subject in question. He concluded that since lecturing was not a part of his original duty anyway, he would discontinue all lectures and would also discontinue reading prayers in English, and confine himself to Hebrew, “the performance of which only devolves on me as your hazzan.”

 

The synagogue membership now split into two groups – those who supported Poznanski and his reforms and those against them. Those opposed proposed a resolution that would require synagogue services to follow all Mosaic and rabbinic Laws. It failed by a close vote of 27 to 24.

 

The traditionalist group proceeded to invite the former members of KKBE who had formed Congregation Shearith Israel at the time of the introduction of the organ to rejoin KKBE. (They would later claim these individuals had temporarily withdrawn but never actually resigned their membership.) In this way they would end up with a majority of members who favored traditional religious services.

 

Thirty-four former members agreed to rejoin provided certain religious conditions were met. One was that religious services be conducted as they had been before the introduction of the organ. A second was that KKBE build a mikveh. The third was that no chazzan be elected or allowed to officiate who expressed or advocated reform doctrines.

 

   This led to a good deal of wrangling, with the reform group attempting to keep those who wanted to rejoin from becoming members and the traditionalists agitating for their admission as members in good standing. At a meeting in May 1843 the traditionalists granted membership rights to thirty-two members of Shearith Israel. The reformers, of course, claimed the vote was invalid.

 

The issue was brought to the Charleston Court of Common Pleas by the reform group. This court, as well as a court of appeals to which the case was later brought, decided in favor of the reform group, ruling invalid the membership of those from Shearith Israel.

 

And so ended the legal aspects of the court ease, with the parties involved still in direct opposition about the basic philosophy and pattern of Judaism in regard to change and reform. Nor did the contestants accept the suggestion of Judge Butler [who wrote the majority appeals court decision] to concede somewhat to each other. The Shearith Israel members remained with Shearith Israel, joined now by some of the Traditionalists of Beth Elokim. The Reform group of Beth Elokim, having won the court case, retained control of the Hasell Street Synagogue and its ritual, but continued to have internal difficulties, because the congregation remained divided on matters of liturgy and Reform.

 

 

 

   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.

Forty Years As Rav Of Baltimore’s Congregation Shearith Israel

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

      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.

David Mendes And Zipporah Nunes Machado

Wednesday, July 4th, 2007

      One of the truly amazing aspects of Jewish history is that there were Jews who secretly maintained as much religious observance as they could while living under the merciless eye of the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal.
 

       These Jews, while outwardly professing Christianity, wanted nothing more than to escape to a country where they could openly practice the religion of their forefathers. In 1531 the Inquisition was officially instituted in Portugal. Yet, more than 200 years later, we find certain Marrano families who married only amongst themselves and clung to Judaism.

       
        Two people who came from such families were David Mendes Machado and his wife, Zipporah. Both were born in Portugal during the Inquisition – he in 1695 and she in 1714. Both were baptized, since this was the only way their families could outwardly appear to be loyal Christians while maintaining their secret Jewish practices. Indeed, Zipporah’s Christian name was Maria Caetana.
 

Rev. David Mendes Machado

 

         According to Naphtali Taylor Phillips,[i] David Machado escaped from Portugal with Dr. Nunes and his family in 1732. However, Rabbi David and Tamar De Sola Pool point out that this date must be incorrect:

 

                        According to the tradition transmitted by his descendants, Hazzan Machado began life as a Marrano, that is a Jew who could practice the faith of his fathers only in the secrecy of his heart and hearth. His older brother, whose loyalty as a Jew was discovered before he could escape his tormentors, was burned at the stake. In 1732, David Machado, it is said, escaped from his spiritually strangled existence in Portugal and came in the following year, 1733, to Savannah proudly professing his Judaism.
 

                        Though there is no reason for doubting the basic story, the dates call for revision. The records of the congregation [Shearith Israel Synagogue] show that already in 1728 David Mendes Machado was one of its contributing members. This earlier date explains how in 1736 he could enter the Jewish ministry after a life of Marranoism in which Jewish observance was a perilous matter of life and death, and the acquisition of Hebrew learning was virtually impossible. For a Marrano brought up under the watchful eyes of the Inquisition who wished to return to Judaism, there was much both to learn and unlearn, and in addition in order to be minister in Shearith Israel he had to acquire a knowledge of English. More than eight years of freedom of worship in New York could well have opened for him the gates of Hebrew knowledge, and given him familiarity with the synagogue ritual and acquaintance with the complex rules of shehitah, enabling him to become the religious leader of the synagogue. [ii]

 

                       
          Reverend Machado served a cantor of Shearith Israel in New York City from 1737 until 1747. His responsibilities were not limited to leading religious services. He was also hired “to keep a public school in due form for teaching the Hebrew language, either the whole morning or afternoon as he shall think most proper. Later, the Reverend Mr. Machado had to keep school in the Hebra building, mornings from nine to twelve and afternoons from two to five.”

 

                        Another of his duties was to give a certificate of kashruth for all kasher beef exported to the Caribbean communities. For this service it was agreed in October, 1747, that he would be paid six shillings for every twenty barrels of kasher beef, so as to make up the relatively large increment of £ 20 a year that had been voted him. Less than two months later, on December 4, 1747, he died. The congregation paid £ 18.7.0 for funeral charges and for clothing for his widow and children. He was given a worthy tombstone with the epitaph inset on a lead plate. Some thirty years later during the Revolution, that lead was taken from his tombstone. (In those days lead, needed for bullets, was taken from windows, from the weights on fishing nets, and even from tombstones.) Therefore Hazzan Machado’s memory is preserved not through any tumulary inscription, but in a living line of descent that was outstanding in every generation in Shearith Israel’s history.[iii]
 

 

Zipporah Nunes Machado
 
        Zipporah Nunes came from another Marrano family. She and other members of her family were at one point imprisoned by the Inquisition for practicing Judaism. However, her father, Dr. Samuel (Diogo) Nunes (Ribeiro), was a well-respected physician, and his medical expertise was needed by the royal court in Lisbon. Therefore, the family was eventually released. Since the Church wanted to insure that the Nunes family would not return to secretly practicing any Jewish rites, it appointed two Christian “spies” who were required to live with the family.
 
        This made life intolerable for the family and, in 1726, they escaped from Portugal to London. (For the details of this bold escape see Glimpses Into American Jewish History: “Escape From The Inquisition” at http://www.jewishpress.com/page.do/19159/Glimpses_Into_American_Jewish_History_%28Part_9%29.html)
 
         In 1733 Zipporah came with her father and two brothers to settle in Savannah, Georgia. Her mother arrived some months later. She was amongst the first Jewish settlers of Savannah. (See Glimpses Into American Jewish History: “The Jewish Settlement of Savannah, GA” at
 
        Crypto-Jewish women displayed exceptional religious tenacity and were the primary transmitters of secret Jewish rituals on the Iberian Peninsula. A Nunes oral family tradition reveals that the women were so conditioned to leading a double life that for years after their move to America they continued to recite their Hebrew prayers with the aid of the Catholic rosary. Zipporah’s great-grandson, Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851), recounted that she would repeat a silent prayer whenever the clock struck. This prayer had some reference to her imprisonment by the Inquisition.
 
        “Zipporah Machado was an unusual woman, charming and cultured, mistress of six languages. Her charity, which she bestowed as her means permitted, was ‘unbiased by national or sectarian prejudices.’ “[iv] She was known in her youth as a great beauty.
 
        In 1733 Zipporah married David Machado. They did not have children until 1746 when Rebecca was born. Sarah was born a year later. However, Hazzan Machado never really knew his two daughters, because he passed away in 1747, leaving Zipporah a widow with two young children.
 
        In 1753 Zipporah married Israel Jacobs of Philadelphia. “Her marriage with Jacobs was considered somewhat of a messalliance, he being a man of ordinary attainments. He was familiarly known by the term ‘Daddy,’ applied on account of his fondness for children, from whom when separated he was never happy and in whose society he spent much of his time.”[v] They had one child Rachel, who was born in either 1754 or 1760. Zipporah died in 1799 at the age of 85. Israel outlived her, passing away in 1810.
 
          Zipporah’s oldest daughter Rebecca married Jonas Phillips, a Revolutionary War veteran. (For information about her life see Glimpses Into American Jewish History: “Rebecca (Machado) Phillips: Colonial Jewish Matriarch” at http://www.jewishpress.com/page.do/17894/Glimpses_Into_American_Jewish_History_%28Part_13%29.html)
 
           Zipporah was also the great-grandmother of Uriah Phillips Levy (1792-1862), a commodore in the United States Navy, and of Manual M. Noah (mentioned above), a Grand Sachem of Tammany Hall.
           
             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.

                       



[i]Family History of the Reverend David Mendez Machado, N. Taylor Phillips, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 1894; 2, AJHS Journal page 45. This article is available online from AJHS at http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm.

                               

[ii]An Old Faith In The New World, Portrait of Shearith Israel 1654-1954, by David and Tamar De Sola Pool, Columbia University Press, New York, 1955, pages 162-163.

 

[iii]Ibid., page 163

 

[iv]Early American Jewry, The Jews of Pennsylvania and the South, 1655-1790, Volume 2, by Jacob Rader Marcus, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1953, page 335.

 

[v]Family History of the Reverend David Mendez Machado

America’s First Torah Scholar: Israel Baer Kursheedt

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

Editor’s Note: The following article is based on “Israel B. Kursheedt” by Dr. M. J. Raphall, The Asmonean, May 7, 1852; “Mr. Israel Bear Kursheedt” by Isaac Leeser, The Occident and the Jewish Advocate, 1852 (10); and “The Seixas-Kursheedts and the Rise of Early American Jewry” by Kenneth Libo and Abigail Kursheedt Hoffman, Bloch Publishing Company, 2001).

One of the factors that hindered the proper early development of Judaism in America was a lack of qualified religious functionaries. From 1654 until the middle of the 19th century the religious needs of the few small Jewish communities in North America were served by a variety of layman, “reverends” and cantors, few with anything more than a basic yeshiva education.

 

Indeed, the first ordained Orthodox rabbi did not arrive in the United States until 1840. Rav Avraham Rice found religious chaos in the Jewish community of Baltimore where he served. 

 

One man who came to America just before the turn of the 18th century did possess an excellent yeshiva education. Israel Baer Kursheedt (known to many as IBK) was the first Ashkenazic talmid chacham to make his way to these shores. His knowledge, leadership, and sage counsel were of inestimable value to the Jewish communities in which he resided.

 

Little is known of Kursheedt’s early life. He was born in Singhofen, Germany, near the Rhine on the 4th day of Pesach in 5526 (April 6, 1766). His father passed away when he was young, and his mother relocated to the village of Kursheidt, near Konigswinter, where he spent his childhood. At the time many German Jews did not have family names, so Israel Baer took as his surname the name of this village.

 

His exceptional intellectual abilities induced friends of his family to send him to the yeshiva of Rabbi Nosson Adler in Frankfurt am Main. Rav Adler, a celebrated Talmudist and kabbalist, attracted a number of excellent students who later became well-known rabbonim, the most famous being the Chasam Sofer.

Among Kursheedt’s fellow students were two who particularly distinguished themselves and attained considerable eminence: Rav Avraham Bing and Rav Wolf Heidenheim. Rav Bing became chief rabbi of Wurzburg; his students included Rav Jacob Ettlinger, Rav Nathan Marcus Adler, Chacham Isaac Bernays and Rav Seligman Baer Bamberger. Rav Heidenheim is known for his many literary publications, including a Hebrew commentary on and a German translation of the machzor.

Rav Adler held these three students – Bing, Heidenheim and Kursheedt – in equal esteem. Rav Adler liked to say that Reb Avraham was a charif  (acute logician), Reb Wolf a medakdek (grammarian and philologist), and Reb Yisroel a chacham, a wise man accomplished in Torah learning.

Kursheedt’s studies in Rav Adler’s yeshiva were interrupted by the outbreak of the French Revolution and General Adam Custine’s invasion of Frankfurt in 1792. He was forced to find some means of earning a livelihood and in some way or another was able to obtain a contract to supply the Prussian army with provisions. It’s quite amazing that this young man, whose life had been spent in a cloistered yeshiva environment, was able to navigate the inherent dangers of doing business during wartime and deal with gentile military officials.

Coming to America

In 1795, as a result of the peace of Basil, the Prussian army on the Rhine was disbanded and IBK’s military-related business endeavors came to a close. He decided he would leave Germany, a country where Jews were treated as less than second-class citizens, and immigrate to England where he would try his luck in business.

In 1796 he traveled to Hamburg with the intention of going on to England. While in Hamburg, however, he heard of an American sloop, the Simonhoff, which was preparing to sail to Boston. A friend had told him that Boston had a burgeoning Jewish community, so he changed his plans and booked passage on the ship.

Kursheedt may not have realized the difficulty of crossing the Atlantic in this relatively small (70- to 80-ton) one-mast ship. The trip took 70 days and Kursheedt, who spoke virtually no English at the time, was probably the lone Jew making the voyage. He was fortunate that the captain of the ship became kindly disposed to him and did his best to make his time on board as comfortable as possible.

Kursheedt was at sea during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He often related how on erev Yom Kippur he managed to communicate to the captain the nature of his observance of this holy day. He had the captain get an English Bible, and, using the Arabic numbering of the chapters and verses to find those dealing with Yom Kippur, he pointed them out. In this way the captain came to understand what he was doing. Kursheedt also used this device to get the captain to understand and assist him with some of his other religious needs.

When Kursheedt arrived in Boston sometime toward the end of 1796, he discovered that there was no synagogue. Indeed, the entire Jewish community consisted of one family. Disappointed, he stayed only a short time in Boston before deciding to give New York a try:

Israel Baer’s first impressions of Jewish life in New York must have left him crestfallen. In material terms, the Jewish community consisted of a synagogue building on Mill Street dating back to 1730, an adjoining hebra [meeting place and schoolhouse], the minister’s house, and a cemetery on Chatham Square. Its upkeep was the cause of frequent outbreaks [disagreements] among the trustees of Shearith Israel; until 1825, it would be the only Jewish cemetery in New York City. They [the Jews of New York] knew little of Jewish traditions. Neglect, apathy, and petty bickering were pervasive. (The Seixas-Kursheedts)

It did not take Kursheedt long to make the acquaintance of Rev. Gershom Mendes Seixas, who served as the chazzan of Congregation Shearith Israel for almost fifty years.

Born two decades before Kursheedt and raised in New York, Seixas lacked Kursheedt’s educational background. Recognizing the benefits of Israel Baer’s years of intensive Torah study, Seixas increasingly turned to him for advice in resolving questions regarding Jewish law. Kursheedt was Ashkenazic while Seixas came from Sephardic stock, but that difference in background proved no detriment to their relationship.
 

At that time, and for many years afterward, Kursheedt was the only real rabbinical scholar to be found anywhere in North America. On January 18, 1804, he married Sarah Abigail (Sally) Seixas, the eldest daughter of Chazzan Seixas. Sarah was Seixas’s favorite child and Kursheedt became his favorite son-in-law.

In New York, Kursheedt went into business:

He had his share both of prosperity and of adversity, like all other men. But the one never rendered him arrogant, the other could not cast him down. There were in his character two remarkable traits that still kept him upright and enabled him to preserve the serenity of his mind: trust in God and good opinion of men. He was incapable of believing in the bad intentions of others. And though he, more than once or twice, suffered severely from his confidence being abused, he could not be persuaded that the cause was other than imprudence or folly on the part of those through whom he suffered. His trust in God was firm and not to be shaken, as it sprung from his profound conviction of the truth of his religion and consequently in the wisdom and goodness of Providence. (The Asmonean)

Communal Activities
 

As a man with a growing family, it was natural for IBK to become involved in the Jewish education offered by Yeshibat Minhat Arab, which Shearith Israel had established in 1731. He believed strongly that Jewish education was “the first thing that ought to be pursued in life.” With this goal he worked diligently to expand the curriculum of this yeshiva.

In 1808 IBK was appointed to a committee of six to draft a detailed proposal and regulations for the reorganization of the yeshiva into a real Jewish day school for boys and girls. The school remained active until 1822. Its aims, as articulated by Israel Baer, were to: 1) instruct students in religion and morality, 2) make sure their actions are in harmony with these teachings, and 3) “impress on their minds the excellence of our belief.”
 

In 1810, in recognition of his service to the Jewish community, IBK was elected parnas (president) of Shearith Israel and served for one term.

Israel Baer fought many battles at Shearith Israel; not all were victorious, especially in matters involving ingrained customs. In 1809 he and other forward-minded congregants attempted to restrict Mishe-Berakh prayers, made on behalf of individuals called to the Torah (for which it was customary to make a donation to the synagogue) to three per person. The plan was not adopted. (The Seixas-Kursheedts)

Richmond, Virginia
 
By 1812 the Kursheedts were the parents of four children. Kursheedt must have had trouble supporting his family in New York, however, because that year he relocated to Richmond, Virginia, with the hopes of finding more lucrative business opportunities in the South. Kursheedt and his family traveled by land, while his valuable library of Jewish religious books was shipped by sea. Unfortunately, that particular ship was the first prize taken by the British in the War of 1812. It was brought to Bermuda and sold. Miraculously, several years later, much of his library was returned to him. Kursheedt never knew who was responsible for this extraordinary act of kindness.
 
While in Richmond Kursheedt took an active part in Jewish communal affairs. He served as the third chazzan of Richmond’s first synagogue, Kahal Kadosh Beth Shalome (Holy Congregation, House of Peace), from 1812 until 1824. While residing in Virginia, Kursheedt became acquainted with Thomas Jefferson and even visited him on more than one occasion at Monticello.
 
Return to New York
 

In 1824 the Kursheedts, now a family of 11, returned to New York where Israel Baer resided until his passing in 1852. New York’s Jewish community had changed a great deal during the 12 years the Kursheedts lived in Richmond. The majority of the Jewish community was now of Ashkenazic background, and they were unhappy with the Spanish-Portuguese (Sephardic) ritual of Shearith Israel, the only synagogue in the city.

In 1825 in an attempt at compromise, Kursheedt organized a separate Ashkenaz minyan at the synagogue. The leaders of the congregation, however, refused to let the minyan continue, and Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, New York’s second oldest congregation, following Ashkenazic ritual, was established that same year.
 
Kursheedt was active on a number of other fronts as well. He played a key role in the establishment of Hebra Terumath Hakkodesh, which aided the poor of Israel and on August 19, 1840, chaired a gathering of New York’s Jewish community to protest the Damascus Affair: “When a Franciscan friar and his Muslim servant disappeared, the Jews of Damascus were accused of having killed them to use their blood for Jewish Passover rites. A number of Damascene Jews were arrested and tortured to make them ‘confess’ to the crimes. Some Jews died; even Jewish children were taken prisoner.” (The Seixas-Kursheedts)
 
Last Days
 
In The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York, Hyman Grinstein writes, “Israel B. Kursheedt, whose rabbinical knowledge was undoubtedly outstanding in the city in the first half of the nineteenth century, was a retiring person who rarely went out of his way to make his influence felt in the community. When he was approached on legal or ritual problems, he would prepare an answer; occasionally he led a movement or made a suggestion. His leadership was not aggressive, nor did he leave any books as tangible monuments to his scholarship.”
 
Another reason Kursheedt did not play a larger role in public affairs was that there were few people in America at the time who could appreciate the extent and value of his learning. Perhaps more important, he had a very marked influence on his nine children. He made sure to give them the best Jewish education he could. The result was that all married Jewish spouses (save for one who never married) and were strongly attached to Judaism. This was no small feat in light of the high rate of intermarriage in America during the first part of the 19th century.
 
According to his obituary in The Asmonean, Kursheedt was more than beloved by his family – he was almost idolized. His family devoted themselves to caring for him during the last two years of his life when he was ill and suffering. During this period he was confined to his home, and many came to visit him simply to be in the presence of a man who was a living example of a true Jewish patriarch.
 
He died at age 86 surrounded by family and friends. Someone present at his passing, witnessing Israel Baer’s serenity of spirit, spontaneously and with great fervor declared, quoting the words of Scripture, “May I die the death of the righteous, and may my end be like his.”
 

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. His monthly Jewish Press feature “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

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