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October 1, 2014 / 7 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Yitzchok Levine’

Sixty-Five Years And Four Generations

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

            Sixty-five years is a long time. Indeed, it was not until about 1947 that a person born in that year could expect to live to at least age 65.  So when one encounters a couple who have been married for sixty-five years, it is certainly worth noting.
 
Olga and Alexander Spiegel will, God willing, celebrate their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary on March 24. The Spiegels are at the same time an ordinary and an extraordinary couple. Let me explain.
 
Mr. and Mrs. Spiegel are Holocaust survivors who lost their parents during World War II. Mrs. Spiegel, who was forced by the Nazis to work in a munitions factory, lost all of her siblings save for one brother, Menachem, who survived the war but was killed by Arabs in Eretz Yisrael in 1948 shortly before the State of Israel became a reality. He was part of a convoy that was ambushed by Arabs as it attempted to penetrate the Arab blockade of Jerusalem. Menachem Wald’s picture and a plaque describing his efforts can be found in the library of Yeshivat Har Etzion.
 
Mr. Spiegel was for two years part of a Hungarian forced labor group. After this he disguised himself as a gentile and in that manner survived the war. He proudly relates how he put on tefillin daily and always wore tzitzis (albeit wrapped around his waist when he was forced to hide the fact that he was a Jew). In addition to his parents, Mr. Spiegel lost a sister, her husband and a nephew. Fortunately for him, all but one of his brothers survived.
 
In 1946 these two individuals, whose lives had been shattered, had the courage to marry and begin life anew. (Make no mistake – after what they had been through, it did take courage to start a new life.)  In 1947 they arrived in the United States with their nine-month-old daughter, Blima, who is my wife.
 
As was the case with so many refugees from war-torn Europe, they arrived here with almost nothing. Thankfully, they had a relative who owned a large estate in Irvington, N.Y., who invited them to live on his estate.  Other relatives who had survived the Holocaust resided there as well.  The Spiegels were blessed with the arrival of a son in 1948.
 
When Blima reached the age of 5, the Spiegels moved to Brooklyn.  They were committed to giving her a proper Jewish education and this was the place where she could get it. While living in Brooklyn, the Spiegels became the proud parents of two more daughters.
 
It was not easy to remain an observant Jew, even in Brooklyn, during the 1950s.  Mr. Spiegel told me he once went for an interview and was offered a job at a salary of $165 a week, a substantial sum at the time. When he told the person interviewing him that he would not work on Shabbos or Yom Tov, the offer was withdrawn.  He ended with a job that paid only $100 a week.  When he told me this story, there was no regret in his voice. On the contrary, he conveyed what had happened with pride.
 
Olga and Alexander Spiegel created a home that is a proud monument to the religious values of their parents. Indeed, Mr. Spiegel is what I term an “old time Jew,” that is, he does whatever he saw in his parents’ home.  Mrs. Spiegel is his azer k’negdo in all of his efforts. All of this was done without fanfare; it was both ordinary and yet extraordinary given what they had been through and the sacrifices they made once they arrived here. 
 
Their efforts, through years of good and not so good, have, b’li ayin harah, been rewarded. They have lived to see not just wonderful children and grandchildren, but also great-grandchildren. The extended Spiegel family represents four generations of committed Jews.
 
What a wonderful legacy to celebrate on their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary.
 

Mazal Tov. Mazal Tov.

 

Dr. Yitzchok Levine writes the “Glimpses Into American Jewish History” feature which appears the first week of each month.

Reverend Abraham de Sola: Scholar Extraordinaire

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

(All quotes are from “History and Biographical Gazetteer of Montreal to the Year 1892″ by John Douglas Borthwick, John Lovell & Son, Montr?al [Quebec], 1892, pages 465-469.)

The name de Sola appears prominently in the annals of Spanish Jewish history. The de Solas may have settled in Andalusia (in southern Spain) as early as the sixth century.

They held various offices under the Saracenic Caliphs at Toledo and Cordova, and afterwards when they removed to Navarre they were received with like favor by the Gothic Princes. From their estate in this province, their surname had its origin. A particularly distinguished member of the family was Don Bartolomeu de Sola, who, in reward for his services, was ennobled, and, after being a Minister of State, held for a while the position of Viceroy of Navarre.

During the 14th Century another de Sola distinguished himself fighting under the Infante of Aragon, and figured conspicuously in the Spanish Wars of that period. During the succeeding centuries the family continued to hold an illustrious place, owing to the large number of eminent scholars, physicians and statesmen it produced.

The de Solas, like all Jews living in Spain, were negatively affected by persecution at the hand of the Catholic Church during the 14th and 15th centuries. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, most of the family fled to Holland, though a branch of the family settled in Portugal. These family members were forcibly converted to Catholicism in 1497 and yet managed to live as secret Jews (Marranos). In 1749 they managed to leave Portugal (which, strangely enough, persecuted secret Jews and yet did not let them immigrate). They settled in England where they could finally practice Judaism openly.

Abraham de Sola, a descendent of the de Solas who had settled in England, was born on September 18, 1825.

His father, David Aaron de Sola, was Senior Minister of the Portuguese Jews of London and was eminent as a Hebrew author, having produced among many other works an elegant translation of the Jewish Forms of Prayer, also, in conjunction with Dr. Raphall, an edition of Genesis, very valuable to Biblical students on account of its commentaries and copious notes, and the first English translation of Eighteen Treatises of the Mishna. His mother was the daughter of Dr. Raphael Meldola, Chief Rabbi of the Spanish-Jewish congregations of Britain. The Meldolas had given eminent Chief Rabbis to Europe for twelve generations.

Abraham de Sola received careful tuition [instruction] in all the usual branches of a liberal education. He became early engrossed in the study of Oriental languages and literature and of theology, and continued to devote his attention to those subjects until he acquired that profound knowledge of them which subsequently won him so prominent a place among scholars.

In 1846 Reverend de Sola was offered the position of spiritual leader of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue in Montreal, Canada. He arrived in that city in early 1847 at the age of 21. In 1852 he married Esther Joseph, whose father was one of the earliest Jewish settlers in Montreal.

His able pulpit discourses soon attracted attention. Dr. de Sola’s abilities, however, were not destined to be confined exclusively to his official duties. Before leaving London he had been associated in the editorial work of a Hebrew journal, The Voice of Jacob, and soon after his arrival in Canada he delivered a course of lectures on Jewish history before the Mercantile Literary Association. In 1848, he published his “Notes on the Jews of Persia Under Mohammed Shah, and also “A History of the Jews of Persia.” Within the same year there appeared his important work on “Scripture Zoology.” Soon afterwards he published his “Lectures on the Mosaic Cosmogony [origin of the universe].” This was followed by his “Cosmography [Description of the Universe] of [R. Abraham] Peritsol,” a work displaying such erudition that it gained a wide circulation in Europe, and was reprinted there in several languages.

His next work, “A Commentary upon Samuel Hannagid’s Introduction to the Talmud” was a book which deservedly attracted much attention, owing to the light which it threw upon an interesting portion of rabbinical literature, and to its depth of Talmudic knowledge. In 1853 he published, conjointly with the Rev. J.J. Lyons of New York a work on the Jewish Calendar System, chiefly valuable on account of its excellent prefatory treatise upon the Jewish system of calculating time.

De Sola’s mastery of Semitic languages attracted the attention of scholars at McGill University. In 1853, after having served as a lecturer for several years, he was appointed professor of Hebrew and Oriental Literature at this institution, a position he held until his death. In 1858, in recognition of his extraordinary scholastic accomplishments, McGill conferred upon him the degree of LL.D.

Reverend de Sola’s interests were not limited to Semitics and rabbinics.

[His] wide range of studies had made him very popular both as a public lecturer and as a contributor to various literary papers. The themes of some of these were afterwards much amplified by him, and republished in their elaborated and completed form. At comparatively short intervals he gave to the public his works on “Scripture Botany,” “Sinaitic Inscriptions,” “Hebrew Numismatics,” “The Ancient Hebrews as Promoters of the Arts and Sciences,” “The Rise and Progress of the Great Hebrew Colleges,” and “Philological Studies in Hebrew and the Aramaic Languages.” Turning his attention again to Jewish History, he, in 1869, wrote his interesting “Life of Shabethai Tsevi, the False Messiah.” The following year he completed his “History of the Jews of Poland,” and in 1871 he published his “History of the Jews of France.”

Reverend de Sola maintained an almost frenetic pace of academic activity in addition to his pastoral duties at Congregation Shearith Israel. He accepted the chair of Hebrew at the Montreal Presbyterian College and later an appointment as a lecturer in Spanish Literature at McGill.

Dr. de Sola frequently lectured in the United States. In 1872 he was invited by the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant to deliver the opening prayer of the United States Congress. This was the first time someone who was not a citizen of the United States nor a Christian was given this honor. It was also particularly significant given that relations between Britain and the U.S. had lately been particularly strained. The choice of Dr. de Sola, who was a resident of Canada and a citizen of the British Empire, marked a move by the U.S. at rapprochement with England.

His incessant involvement in a myriad of activities eventually took its toll on his health. He was forced to take a year off from his activities and spent that year in Europe recuperating from his failing health. Dr. de Sola was visiting his sister in New York when he passed away on June 5, 1882. His body was brought to Montreal where he was interred.

 

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.

A Non-Jew’s 1841 Impressions Of Shearith Israel

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

All quotes are from “Mrs. Child’s Visit to a New York Synagogue in 1841″ by Lee M. Friedman, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); Sept. 1948-Jun 1949; 38, 1-4; AJHS Journal. This article in turn quotes extensively from pages 25-35 of the 1843 edition of L. Maria Child’s book “Letters from New York.” The article may be downloaded at www.ajhs.org/scholarship/adaje.cfm.

 

Lydia Maria (nee Francis) Child (February 11, 1802-Oct. 20, 1880) was educated at home, at a local “dame school” and at a nearby women’s seminary. After her mother died when she was twelve, she went to live with an older sister in Maine for some years. She is little known today, but in her time she was a famous anti-slavery activist. She was also a novelist, editor, journalist and scholar. She is best remembered for her poem “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which recalls her Thanksgiving visits as a child to her grandfather’s home.

“Mrs. Child was thoroughly imbued with the contemporary American philo-romantic, interested attitude towards Jews – an impersonal veneration inherited from Puritanical Old Testament study and reverence for Hebraic learning, with a total ignorance and innocence of contemporary Jews.”

During a visit to New York in September 1841, Mrs. Child decided to visit Congregation Shearith Israel. The synagogue, then located on Crosby Street, had been built in 1833 and was considered the outstanding Jewish edifice in the city. This was the first time she had ever entered a non-Christian house of worship.

Mrs. Child obviously found her visit interesting, because she devoted an entire chapter of the first printing of her book Letters From New York to describing her impressions of the Rosh Hashanah service she attended. Her recollections give us “insight into the kind of impression created by the every day Jews of the time upon the self-sufficient, impersonal, pietistic American imbued with sentimental sympathy with the people of the Book.”

 

Mrs. Child’s Synagogue Visit

Below are some selections from Mrs. Child’s description of the Rosh Hashanah services she attended at Shearith Israel on either September 17th or 18th, 1841. Mrs. Child was a committed Christian with a good deal of familiarity with the Hebrew Bible, and this is reflected in her writing.

I lately visited the Jewish Synagogue in Crosby-street, to witness the Festival of the New Year, which was observed for two days, by religious exercises and a general suspension of worldly business. The Jewish year, you are aware, begins in September; and they commemorate it in obedience to the following text of Scripture: “In the first day of the seventh month ye shall have a Sabbath, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. Ye shall do no servile work therein.”

It seems that when Mrs. Child entered the synagogue with a friend, they made the mistake of sitting in the front row of the men’s section:

The women were seated separately, in the upper part of the house. One of the masters of Israel came, and somewhat gruffly ordered me, and the young lady who accompanied me, to retire from the front seats of the synagogue. It was uncourteous [sic]; for we were very respectful and still, and not in the least disposed to intrude upon the daughters of Jacob.

The effect produced on my mind, by witnessing the ceremonies of the Jewish Synagogue, was strange and bewildering; spectral and flitting; with a sort of vanishing resemblance to reality; the magic lantern of the Past.

There was the Ark containing the Sacred Law, written on scrolls of vellum, and rolled, as in the time of Moses; but between the Ark and the congregation, instead of the “brazen laver,” wherein those who entered into the tabernacle were commanded to wash, was a common bowl and ewer of English delf, ugly enough for the chamber of a country tavern. All the male members of the congregation, even the little boys, while they were within the synagogue, wore fringed silk mantles, bordered with blue stripes; for Moses was commanded to “Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments, throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of their borders a ribbon of blue;” – but then these mantles were worn over modern broadcloth coats, and fashionable pantaloons with straps.

The chanting was unmusical, consisting of monotonous ups and downs of the voice, which, when the whole congregation joined in it, sounded like the continuous roar of the sea.

The trumpet, which was blown by a Rabbi, with a shawl drawn over his hat and face, was of the ancient shape, somewhat resembling a cow’s horn. It did not send forth a spirit-stirring peal; but the sound groaned and struggled through it.

The ark, on a raised platform, was merely a kind of semi-circular closet, with revolving doors. It was surmounted by a tablet, bearing a Hebrew inscription in gilded letters. The doors were closed and opened at different times, with much ceremony; sometimes, a man stood silently before them, with a shawl drawn over his hat and face. When opened, they revealed festoons of white silk damask, suspended over the sacred rolls of the Pentateuch; each roll enveloped in figured satin, and surmounted by ornaments with silver bells.

Two of these rolls were brought out, opened by the priest [the chazzan], turned round toward all the congregation, and after portions of them had been chanted for nearly two hours, were again wrapped in satin, and carried slowly back to the ark, in procession, the people chanting the Psalms of David, and the little bells tinkling as they moved.

At points in her writing, Mrs. Child makes it clear she has innate prejudices against Jews. Nonetheless, she admits:

The proverbial worldliness of the Jews, their unpoetic avocations, their modern costume, and mechanical mode of perpetuating ancient forms, cannot divest them of a sacred and even romantic interest. The religious idea transmitted by this remarkable people, has given them a more abiding and extended influence on the world’s history, than Greece attained by her classic beauty, or Rome by her triumphant arms. Mohammedanism and Christianity, the two forms of theology which include nearly all the civilized world, both grew from the stock planted by Abraham’s children. On them lingers the long-reflected light of prophecy; and we, as well as they, are watching for its fulfillment. And verily, all things seem tending toward it. Through all their wanderings, they have followed the direction of Moses, to be lenders and not borrowers.

There is something deeply impressive in this remnant of scattered people, coming down to us in continuous links through the long vista of recorded time; preserving themselves carefully unmixed by intermarriage with people of other nations and other faiths, and keeping up the ceremonial forms of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through all the manifold changes of revolving generations. To us they have been the medium of glorious truths; and if the murky shadow of their Old dispensation rests too heavily on the mild beauty of the New, it is because the Present can never quite unmoor itself from the Past; and well for the world’s safety that it is so.

 

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.

Intermarriage Circa 1918

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Intermarriage is without doubt destroying the American Jewish community.

There are approximately 5.6 million American Jews, some 2 million of whom live in households identified as non-Jewish. Better than half the Jewish children under the age of 18 are being raised as non-Jews or with no religion. Whereas before 1965 only 10 percent of American Jews who married did so outside the faith, that percentage has jumped over the past two-and-a-half decades to at least 52 percent.

These statistics are depressing, alarming, and frightening. But this is not an entirely new phenomenon in American Jewish life. Page 6 of the January 20, 1918 edition of the New York Tribune carried an article headlined “American Melting Pot Already Diluting Jewish Religion and Race.” The article, written by D. M. Hermalin, described the marriage, on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, of “Esther Lifshitz, the nineteen-year-old daughter of Samuel Lifshitz, an Orthodox Jew, to John D. Sylvester, a full-fledged American Gentile.”

Hermalin reported that “the marriage ceremony was performed in the bride’s home. Father, mother, uncles and aunts and numerous other relatives were present. An Orthodox rabbi performed the ceremony and made the bridegroom repeat in pure Hebrew ‘Hare ath m’kudesheth li b’tabaath zu k’dath Mosheh v’Israel.’

“It was no secret. Everybody present knew that the young bridegroom was a Christian, and he refused to embrace Judaism at the solicitation of Esther and her relatives. He agreed, however, to a Jewish marriage ceremony.”

According to the article, “The entire affair went off without a ripple in the life of Jewish orthodoxy on the East Side. The reason is that such things occur on the East Side, in Brownsville, Williamsburg, Harlem, and The Bronx, or wherever Jews in New York have settled in large communities.”

Hermalin wrote that intermarriages are “almost a daily occurrence now,” but that just a few years before, intermarriage “would have called forth surprise, astonishment and resentment on the part of the religious.” He attributed this to the precipitous drop in immigration from Eastern Europe that began in 1915.

Hermalin pointed out that without a steady influx of Jews from the Old World who were raised in an environment of commitment to religious practice, there are few people “to criticize the actions of the younger generation in America and to remind the old of its religious duties.”

Hermalin claimed that if Esther Lifshitz had wanted to marry her suitor in 1915, “and he had refused to become a member of the synagogue, she would have had to leave the house of her parents and probably been disowned by them.”

Jewish immigrants who came to America began to lose their commitment to Jewry, wrote Hermalin, and Jewry in America survived only because new immigrants from the Old World arrived to reinforce Judaism here.

It was the influx of Jews from Germany in the early part of the 19th century that was responsible for keeping Judaism viable in the United States. “But,” Hermalin noted, “with all due respect to their religious ardor, it was comparatively short-lived. During the time of forty years, German Jews in America lost even that enthusiasm which they had originally brought with them. They produced rabbis who knew very little of the Hebrew language and literature, and their sermons were smattered with politics, philosophy and everything but Judaism.”

Thus, during the middle of the 19th century the German Jews who were here were well on their way to assimilation. But a new influx of Jews from Europe that began after the Civil War and gained momentum after 1881 bolstered Judaism in America.

“The influence of the new arrivals,” Hermalin continued, “was immense. They actually made prominent American Jews feel ashamed of intermarriage and practice a purer Judaism than they had ever done before. All was well so long as the influx of immigration did not come to a stop. Then the World War broke out and the transformation came. It came suddenly and with gigantic strides. It does not manifest itself exactly in conversions to Christianity, but the laxity of religious adherence on the one hand and frequent intermarriage on the other hand all tend to undermine the integrity of Judaism in America.”

Once immigration to America slowed to a trickle after 1923, Judaism again entered a period of decline. There were, however, other factors that came into play during the first part of the 20th century, namely the founding of yeshivas, which tended to stem this decline or at least slow it.

The Early Jewish Community Of Charleston

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Note: Unless otherwise indicated all quotes are from “The Jews of Charleston, A History of an American Jewish Community” by Charles Reznikoff in collaboration with Uriah Z. Engelman, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1950.

 

The English first settled at Albemarle Point in what is now South Carolina in 1670. In 1680 this settlement was moved to a peninsula between the Ashley and Cooper Rivers, and became Charles Town (named in honor King Charles II). The new location was more healthful than the original settlement, and, since it was behind the islands of a land-locked harbor, provided safety from attack. The name was changed to Charleston at the end of the War of Independence.

 

“By the late 1680s, the colony was beginning to enjoy prosperity, especially in the coastal areas. Its economic base depended initially on the fur trade, which fostered generally good relations between the Carolinian settlers and the local Indian tribes.”1

 

In 1695, four Indians from Florida (then Spanish territory), who had been captured by the Yamasee Indians, were brought to town: the captives “could speak Spanish,” wrote the governor of the colony afterwards, “and I had a Jew for an interpreter, so upon examination I found they profess’d the Christian Religion as the Papists do; and the governor, accordingly, sent the captives back to St. Augustine.” [Page 4]

 

This is the first mention we have of a Jew in the Carolinas. Given that he knew Spanish, he may very well have been a Marrano.

 

The constitution of the colony was heavily influenced by the political philosopher John Locke, resulting in a veritable Magna Charta of liberty and tolerance.

 

In 1697, the colonial Assembly declared that religious persecution had forced aliens to settle in South Carolina and acknowledged that these had proved themselves law-abiding and industrious; accordingly, the Assembly enacted that “all aliens … of what nation soever, which now are inhabitants of South Carolina” should have all the rights of any person born of English parents. Full freedom of worship was granted, however, only to Christians – “Papists excepted”; but all other rights were granted every alien who applied by petition if such alien would swear allegiance to the king. [Page 4]

 

It is little wonder, then, that Jews as well as other persecuted minorities such as Huguenots and German Palatines found South Carolina a save haven and settled there in increasing numbers.

 

The Jews who first went to Charles Town came, almost all of them, from England and English possessions in the western hemisphere: from New York to the north, from Georgia to the south, and, like the English from Barbados, from the British West Indies. For the most part they came to the growing port as merchants; but like other merchants in Charles Town some hoped, no doubt, to buy land and become planters. If a few were men of consequence with transactions involving large sums, others, as stated above, were no more than petty tradesmen, ready to sell a loaf of bread or of sugar, a ribbon for a lady or a cut of rough cloth for a slave.

About 1741, Jews, as well as many Christians, who had been among the earliest settlers in Georgia, left Savannah because the trustees of the colony would not let them have the use of Negro slaves. (Many returned to Georgia when slavery was permitted in 1749.) [Pages 11-12]

 

Synagogue and Social Life

 

After the arrival of the Jews from Georgia, there certainly were enough Jews to sustain a regular minyan. However, it was not until 1749 that a congregation, which they called Beth Elokim Unveh Shalom, was formed. The synagogue soon became known as Kahal Kodesh (Holy Congregation) Beth Elokim (KKBE).

 

From 1750 to 1757, Kahal Kodesh met for worship in a small wooden house – that had been most likely used for a dwelling – on Union Street (now State Street and so since the days of the Secession). From 1757 to 1764, the Charles Town congregation met in a house “back in the yard,” afterwards 318 King Street, near Hasell Street; and, from 1764 until 1780, on Beresford Street near King Street. [Pages 17-18]

 

The synagogue was Orthodox and followed the Sephardic ritual (as was the case with all synagogues founded in the American colonies). Moses Cohen served as the first chazzan and reader and Joseph Tobias was the first parnas (president).

 

In 1820, the estimated Jewish population of Charleston was 700 as compared to 550 in New York City, 450 in Philadelphia, 200 in Richmond, 150 in Baltimore, 100 in Savannah and 500 to 600 others scattered in the balance of the United States.

The religious, cultural and economic climate of Charleston was favorable to Jews and Jews were accepted easily in community life. Jews voted in an election in 1703, probably the first time in the Western world, and participated actively in almost every area of life. Many of them had fought in the Revolution. Leading Jews of Charleston brought steam navigation to the Savannah River, established a line of steamships between Charleston and Havana, reestablished the Chamber of Commerce, introduced illuminating gas to the city and pioneered in other industrial enterprises. The community abounded with well-known Jewish writers, painters, teachers, lawyers and physicians. At one time, during this period, of the four newspapers in Charleston, two were edited by Jews. Of the nine people who founded the Supreme Council of Scottish Rite Masonry in Charleston in 1801, “Mother Council of the World,” four were Jews. And Jews were also prominent in the social and charitable life of the region.2

 

Not all was well, however. Many of the Jews of Charleston were influenced by its long tradition of liberalism and pluralism as well as the new waves of thought that were affecting various segments of Protestant America at this time. They were certainly aware of the beginnings of the Reform movement in Germany. In addition, some of Charleston’s Jews undoubtedly were affected by the development of the Unitarian Church in Charleston under the leadership of Samuel Gilman.

 

Some of the Jews compared the Orthodox services conducted at KKBE with those of their fellow Christians and found them lacking in decorum and dignity. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that in 1824 forty-seven members of the KKBE presented a petition to the congregation which in part said that while they believed the “present system of worship” had “certain defects,” they sought “no other end than the future welfare and respectability of the [Jews] . We wish not to overthrow, but to rebuild; we wish not to destroy, but to reform and revise the evils complained of; we wish not to abandon the institutions of Moses, but to understand and observe them 3

 

Their initial request for change was modest – they wanted the Hebrew prayers translated into English, a shortening of services by the omission of some of the prayers, the abolishment of monetary pledges during services, and an English sermon based on the portion of the week.

 

This petition was rejected by the officers of KKBE on the grounds that it violated the Constitution of the synagogue. However, this was by no means the end of the matter. Indeed, it eventually led to the establishment of the first Reform temple in America.

 

Part II will appear in next month’s Glimpses column.

 

http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h637.html

2 “The Charleston Organ Case” by Allan Tarshish, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, 54, 1965. This article is available at no cost at http://www.ajhs.org/reference/adaje.cfm

3 Ibid.

 

 

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.

Building And Dedication Of The Newport Touro Synagogue

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

The January installment of Glimpses Into American Jewish History discussed the early Jewish settlement of Newport, Rhode Island. Even as the Newport Jewish community developed, its numbers were always small, especially compared to Jewish communities today. Indeed, despite growth during the middle part of the 18th century, there were probably never more than 100 Jews residing in Newport.

For its first hundred years the Jewish community worshipped in private homes. By the year 1754 Newport Jewry had organized itself into a congregation called Nefutse Yisrael (the Scattered of Israel). This name was later changed to Yeshuat Yisrael (the Salvation of Israel).

 

            By 1759 the Congregation had sufficiently increased to undertake the building of a Synagogue, which would also incorporate provision for the religious instruction of the young. As this was an ambitious undertaking, beyond the means of the community, an appeal was addressed to other congregations for funds.

It is interesting to note that in the letter of appeal to Congregation Shearith Israel, in New York, reference is made to the urgency of procuring proper facilities for educational purposes. In this letter dated March 21, 1759, the Newport Congregation wrote:

“When we reflect on how much it is our duty to instruct children in the path of virtuous religion and how unhappy the portions must be of the children and their parents who are through necessity, educated in a place where they must remain almost totally uninstructed in our most holy and Divine Law, our rites and ceremonies – we can entertain no doubt of your zeal to promote this good work.”1

 

The response to this appeal was positive, because the land upon which the synagogue was eventually erected was purchased on June 30, 1759. As construction proceeded appeals for funds were made to other Jewish communities throughout the world.

 

            The architect selected for the work was the renowned Peter Harrison. There is no record of his ever having asked for or receiving payment for his work. It must have been a labor of love to him. With consummate skill he applied his great talents to his assignment and succeeded in erecting a Synagogue of outstanding beauty, dignity and impressiveness.2

 

Construction began in 1759 and proceeded in stages as funds became available. In addition to the actual synagogue, the building includes a school wing. There was also a slaughterhouse located on part of the property (which was eventually removed).

The synagogue was dedicated on Friday, December 2, 1763, the second day of Chanukah. Isaac (de Abraham) Touro was the chazzan of the congregation at this time. Reverend Touro (1738-1783) was a native of Holland who had studied in the yeshiva of the Grand Synagogue of Amsterdam but never received rabbinical ordination. In 1760 he came to America and settled in New York. He then went to Boston where he met and married Reyna Hays, daughter of Judah Hays. Subsequently, the Touros moved to Newport and not long thereafter he was elected minister of the congregation.

The Rev. Ezra Stiles3 attended and then recorded the dedication ceremonies. Below is his description of the event, as well as of the synagogue structure (with his original punctuation and spelling preserved).

 

            December 2, 1763, Friday. In the Afternoon was the dedication of the new Synagogue in this Town. It began by a handsome procession in which were carried the Books of the Law, to be deposited in the Ark. Several Portions of Scripture, & of their Service with a Prayer for the Royal Family, were read and finely sung by the priest [Chazzan Touro] & People. There were present many Gentlemen & Ladies. The Order and Decorum, the Harmony & Solemnity of the Musick, together with a handsome Assembly of People, in a Edifice the most perfect of the Temple kind perhaps in America, & splendidly illuminated, could not but raise in the Mind a faint Idea of the Majesty & Grandeur of the Ancient Jewish Worship mentioned in Scripture.

Dr. Isaac de Abraham Touro performed the Service. The Synagogue is about perhaps fourty foot long & 30 wide, of Brick on a Foundation of free Stone: it was begun about two years ago, & is now finished except the Porch & the Capitals of the Pillars. The Front representation of the holy of holies or its Partition Veil, consists only of wainscoted Breast Work on the East End, in the lower part of which four long Doors cover an upright Square Closet the depth of which is about a foot or the thickness of the Wall, & in this Apartment (vulgarly called the Ark) were deposited three Copies & Rolls of the Pentateuch, written on Vellum or rather tanned Calf Skin; one of these Rolls I was told by Dr. Touro was presented from Amsterdam & is Two Hundred years old; the Letters have the Rabbinical Flourishes.

A Gallery for the Women runs round the whole Inside, except the East End supported by Columns of Ionic order, over which are placed correspondent Columns of the Corinthian order supporting the Cieling of the Roof. The Depth of the Corinthian Pedestal is the height of the Balustrade which runs round the Gallery. The Pulpit for Reading the Law, is a raised Pew with an extended front table; this placed about the center of the Synagogue or nearer the West End, being a Square embalustraded Comporting with the Length of the indented Chancel before & at the Foot of the Ark.

On the middle of the North Side & affixed to the ·Wall is a raised Seat for the Parnas or Ruler, & for the Elders; the Breast and Back interlaid with Chinese Mosaic Work. A Wainscotted Seat runs round the Sides of the Synagogue below, & another in the Gallery. There are no other Seats or pews. There may be Eighty Souls of Jews or 15 families now in Town. The Synagogue has already cost Fifteen Hundred Pounds Sterling. There are to be five Lamps pendant from a lofty Ceiling.4

 

The lamps were subsequently imported and installed.

In 1946, in recognition of its architectural and historical significance, an act of Congress made the Touro Synagogue a National Historic Site, and it became part of the National Park System. “The synagogue is the fourth church edifice to be designated as a national historic site, not federally owned.” In 2001 the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated Touro Synagogue a historic site.

The synagogue was closed in 2005 to services and regularly scheduled tours for a major restoration of the building. On May 28, 2006, it was formally rededicated and visitors were once again able to experience the beauty of the edifice much the way members of the congregation had over 200 years earlier.5

 

1 “History of Touro Synagogue” by Rabbi Dr. Theodore Lewis, Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society, number 159, Summer 1975, 48, part 3, page 282.

2 Ibid., page 283.

3 For information regarding Stiles’s interest in the Jewish community of Newport, see “Ezra Stiles and the Jews of Newport,” The Jewish Press, February 5, 2010, pages 31 & 80.

4 Ezra Stiles and the Jews, Selected Passages from his Literary Diary Concerning Jews and Judaism with Critical and Explanatory Notes, by George Alexander Kohut, Philip Cowen Publisher, New York 1902, pages 58-59. This book may be downloaded from http://books.google.com/ at no cost.

5 See http://www.tourosynagogue.org/default.asp

 

            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.

Ezra Stiles And The Jews Of Newport

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

The Rev. Ezra Stiles was born on November 29, 1727 in Connecticut and graduated from Yale University in 1746. He then studied theology at Yale and was ordained in 1749. After working as a tutor at Yale for a year, he began some mission work among the Indians. In 1752 he was forced to give this up due to ill health. He turned to the study of law and in 1753 took the attorney’s oath. He practiced law in New Haven until 1755, whereupon he returned to the ministry, accepting the position of pastor of the Second Congregational Church in Newport, Rhode Island, serving there from 1755 until 1777.

Stiles was an avid supporter of the American Revolution. Thus, when the British captured Newport in late 1776, he left the city and became pastor of the Congregational Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1777. The following year he became president of Yale, serving in this capacity until his death on May 12, 1795.

Hebrew Studies

 

After settling in Newport Stiles became interested in the Jews residing there as well as in the Hebrew language.

Proceeding in the study of the Scriptures and of divinity, he felt the necessity of the knowledge of the Hebrew. His frequent attendance at the Jews’ synagogue increased his wish to possess at least as much of it as to see a little into their books and service. On receiving a diploma from Edinburgh [March, 1765] his ambition was touched, or rather a sense of shame excited, that a Doctor of Divinity should not understand a language; so important and so easily acquired.1

In May, 1767, Dr. Stiles knew ten letters of the Hebrew alphabet; he therefore requested one of his Jewish friends to teach him the others. Unlike some modern students of that ancient tongue, he determined, before beginning to translate from it into English, to read the language fluently, and henceforth read ten pages of the Psalter every day before breakfast. On the last of January of the next year, he began to translate Genesis, and by May 12 had finished it and Exodus. By the end of the year he had read Ezra and some of the Chaldee in Daniel, reading one chapter of the Bible and a little Arabic daily except Sundays. Thus he finished the Bible in October, 1770.

He now continued his Hebrew studies and became so proficient that in 1773 – the year he met Rabbi Hayim Isaac Carigal – he wrote a Hebrew letter of 22 pages in 1774, he read Onkelos and Jonathan in the original, and in 1777, we find him, according to his biographer, reading “Chaldee and Targum with Eben Ezra and Ishaki.”2 In July 1778, when he was inducted into his office as President of Yale, he delivered a Hebrew oration.3

Despite all this, one should not make the mistake of thinking Dr. Stiles became an accomplished Hebraist. In a footnote to the quote above, the author writes, “This sounds very nice, to be sure, nevertheless we may doubt whether he understood everything he read in his ‘Ishaki.’” He then goes on to point out a number of translation errors that Stiles made in his notes to a siddur.

Interest In Newport Jewry

 

On January 1, 1769 Dr. Stiles began keeping a diary, making regular entries until shortly before his death.

One is struck at once upon taking up the Diary by the large number of references to Jews and to Jewish affairs, although they are almost all confined to the period of his residence at Newport. The first entry about the Jews occurs as early as March 16, 1769, which day, he tells us, he spent mostly with the “Jew priest,” Isaac de Abraham Touro, [chazzan of the Newport Synagogue] in a discussion on biblical prophecies. From that time until the outbreak of the Revolution, which, when it began, absorbed almost all his thoughts, scarcely a month passes without some entry referring either to conversations or to correspondence with Jews, or to discussions on religious questions with them, or to items of interest regarding Jews.4

On December 2, 1763 Dr. Stiles attended the dedication of what is today known as the Touro Synagogue, and among his papers there is an elaborate description of the services as well as of the building. He often attended services at the synagogue on special occasions such as Jewish holidays and describes in detail what he saw. These writings provide us with a fascinating description of the religious life of Newport Jewry during the middle of the 18th century.

Stiles was particularly interested in discussing theological and religious matters with the various rabbis who from time to time visited Newport. He writes that he met six rabbis: Rabbi Moses Malki in 1759, Rabbi Moses Bar David [Ashkenazi] in 1772, Rabbi Chaim Isaac Karigal [Carigal] in 1773, Rabbi Tobiah ben Jehudah in 1773, Rabbi Bosquila in either 1773 or 1774, and Rabbi Samuel Cohen in 1775.

Dr. Stiles found Rabbi Raphael Chaim Yitzchok Karigal by far the most interesting of his rabbinical acquaintances. Rabbi Karigal was a unique visitor to America in that he was a true talmid chacham who was ordained in 1750 at his birthplace, Hebron, and then went to Jerusalem to continue his studies. He was appointed a shliach of the Hebron community in 1754. In this capacity he became a world traveler visiting Jewish communities in Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Persia, Italy, Germany, Prague, Vienna, London, and Amsterdam.

In 1762 the rabbi of the Sephardi Jewish Community of Cura?ao passed away. Since Cura?ao was a Dutch colony, the Jews of Cura?ao had close ties with the Amsterdam Jewish community. The leaders of the Jewish community of Amsterdam asked Rav Karigal to become the rabbi of Cura?ao Jewish community. He agreed and served in this capacity for two years, returning to Hebron in 1764.

In 1768 he again took up his travels going to France and then London. After visiting Jamaica, he set sail for North America, visiting Philadelphia and New York. On March 3, 1773 he arrived in Newport, where he stayed until July 21.5

When on March 5 the Rev. Stiles learned of Rabbi Karigal’s arrival in Newport, he wanted to meet him. And so on March 8 Stiles attended Purim night services at the Newport Synagogue because he knew the rabbi would be there. This led to numerous meetings between Rabbi Karigal and Dr. Stiles while the rabbi stayed in Newport.

In a diary entry dated April 8, Dr. Stiles provides us with a fascinating description of the appearance of Rabbi Karigal. Below is a direct quote that preserves his spelling, grammar and syntax.

The Rabbi’s Dress or Aparrel: Common English Shoes, black leather, Silver flowered Buckles, White Stockings. His general Habit was Turkish. A green Silk Vest or long under Garment reaching down more than half way the Legs or within 3 Inches of the Ankles, the ends of the Sleeves of this Vest appeared on the Wrists in a foliage Turn-up of 3 inches, & the Opening little larger than that the hand might pass freely. A Girdle or Sash of different Colors red and green girt the Vest around his Body. It appeared not to be open at the bottom but to come down like a petticoat; and no Breeches could be discovered. This Vest however had an opening above the Girdle – and he put in his Handkerchief, and Snuff-box, and Watch. Under this was an inner Vest of Calico, besides other Jewish Talismans. Upon the vest first mentioned was a scarlet outer Garment of Cloth, one side of it was Blue, the outside scarlet; it reached down about an Inch lower than the Vest, or near the Ankles. It was open before, no range of Buttons &c. along the Edge, but like a Scholars Gown in the Body but plain and without many gatherings at the Neck, the sleeves strait or narrow and slit open 4 or 5 Inches at the End, and turned up with a blue silk Quarter Cuff, higher up than at the End of the sleeve of the Vest. When he came into the Synoguge he put over all, the usual Alb or white Surplice, which was like that of other Jews, except that its Edge was striped with Blue straiks, and had more Fringe. He had a White Cravat round his Neck. He had a long black Beard, the upper Lip partly shaven-his Head shaved all over. On his Head a high Fur [Sable] Cap, exactly like a Woman’s Muff, and about 9 or 10 Inches high, the Aperture atop was closed with green cloth. He behaved modestly and reverently.6

 

Dr. Stiles was so taken with the personality and wisdom of this genuine talmid chacham that he commissioned the painting of his portrait.7

 

1 Ezra Stiles and the Jews, Selected Passages from his Literary Diary Concerning Jews and Judaism with Critical and Explanatory Notes, by George Alexander Kohut, Philip Cowen Publisher, New York 1902, page 14. This book may be downloaded from http://books.google.com at no cost.

2 From Willner (see next reference) it seems that Ishaki refers to a Sephardic siddur Stiles owned.

3 “Ezra Stiles and the Jews” by Reverend W. Willner, Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1893-1961); 1900; 8, AJHS Journal.

4 Ibid.

5 For more about the unusual career of Rabbi Karigal see “The Chacham for the Colonies” by Rabbi Shmuel Singer, available at www.tzemachdovid.org/gedolim/jo/tpersonality/rkarigal.html.

6 Kohut, pages 116-117.

7 See www.jewishencyclopedia.com/volume3/V03p592003.jpg.

 

 

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/magazine/glimpses-ajh/ezra-stiles-and-the-jews-of-newport/2010/02/03/

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