The Hebrews Among Us 1870

Israelites from a Religious Standpoint: The Increase of Jews, Synagogues and Temples
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It was a very quiet but none the less comical episode in the City Court the other day, when a counsel asked a Hebrew witness, "What is your Christian name?" The Jew winced, hesitated and replied, "My first name is Aaron," "Oh__ah," said the lawyer, and there was dissatisfaction all around.

This little bit of ignorance is a fair specimen of that of the general run of men well informed on most subjects. And it is not a little remarkable that in this age of reason and investigation so little is actually known of the present condition of the Jews in this country. We know, certainly, that in the great City of Brooklyn there are Jews as well as all other religious denominations; that many of our prominent citizens belong to the ancient faith; that the Jewish Church is divided into the contending Reform and Orthodox schools; but beyond this very superficial knowledge and that obtained from an occasional article in our journals, we know nothing.

Of the principles, doctrines and ideas held by the conflicting sects the general public know as little as of the religion of the Hindus, the Chinese, or the people of the Sandwich Islands. People seem content to accept the specimens of the Hebrew as shown in the shops of Chatham street and Myrtle avenue as representative Israelites. Their affinity for old cloths, for bargains in jewelry, for itinerant trade, well known and generally acknowledged, seem to content the irreverent Gentile, who has no respect for the ancient and chosen people. They are nicknamed "Sheeney," and although free to worship here suffer more or less of insult, consumedly and personal abuse.

The Early Jewish People  in America

And yet they have always been in America ever since the country was settled. Apart from the religious tendencies of our Jewish friends, much new and interesting matter can be given as to the history of the Hebrews in this country. How few persons know, for example, that the first settlement of Jews in America took place in New Amsterdam, when it was under the Dutch Government, about the year 1650; that a regularly organized congregation was in existence in 1706; that the first synagogue erected was in New York in 1729; that Jews came over from England with General Oglethorpe in 1733, and assisted in settling the city of Savannah, in the State of Georgia; that in 1750 a congregation was established in Charleston, S.C.; that in 1731 the first synagogue in Philadelphia was erected; that as late as 1827 the number of Hebrews in New York was so small that but one synagogue was needed; that in 1844 there were but four congregations in the City of New York, and not more than thirty in the entire country; that ten years later the number in New York City and Brooklyn had increased to twenty-five, and in the States to nearly one hundred; that at the present day there are about forty-eight congregations in the two cities, and over 220 throughout the country.

Early Hebrew Worship

During the first thirty and forty years of this century many Jews emigrated from Germany, and among these were several who enjoyed a certain amount of education, and possessed a clear perception of religious matters. But these being small in number, and with very limited means at their command, were unable to organize an independent association. In the year 1843, however, Dr. Ludwig Merzbacher, of Furth, arrived in New York, and preached occasionally to the three German congregations which were then in existence. But when it was proposed to engage him as the spiritual leader of these congregations, decided objections were raised, because many of his sermons savored strongly of reform. This was the incentive to those anxious for progress, and so, on the 19th of November, 1843, fifteen gentlemen united together and founded a society for Divine worship. In the preface of the statutes which were then framed for the government of the society, the following resolution was expressed, which clearly sets forth the great object these gentlemen had in view:

"That we can undertake no work more acceptable in the eyes of God and more advantageous for the spiritual welfare of our co-religionists, of our children and of our children's children, in this world and the next, than by striving to introduce an improved form of Divine service, and thus to influence the religious and moral cultivation of the members of the Hebrew persuasion."

Progress in Twenty-Five Years

Notwithstanding the immense difficulties which these gentlemen had to encounter, they zealously continued their exertions for a year and a half, until, on April 6, 1845, their number having been increased to thirty-three, a general meeting was held, at which the Emanu-El congregation was regularly organized under that name__Emanu-El meaning "God is with us." Dr. Merzbacher was then engaged as the rabbi and lecturer, and Rev. G.M. Cohn as reader, each with a salary of $200 per annum, and Mr. W. Renau was engaged as secretary and sexton, with an annual salary of $150, while a room in a private dwelling house, at the corner of Grand and Clinton streets, was hired and fitted up for a synagogue, the front seats being not apart for the men, and the back seats for the women. Such was the commencement of a congregation that now numbers 400 members, possesses the grandest church in America, maintains two preachers at the annual salary of $6,000 each, besides supporting liberally the reader, clerk, organist, choir, sexton and other officials, and incurs an expenditure congregational and charitable purposes tot he amount of $50,000 per annum.

Their Finest Temple

The finest, largest, and most costly of all the Jewish temples in this country is most certainly the Temple Emanu-El, on the corner of Fifth avenue and Forty-third street, New York. Erected at an expense of nearly three-quarters of a million of dollars, on the most fashionable and commanding avenue in the city, it becomes a worthy monument of the wealth, social position, and religious activity of its members. The congregation itself ranks among the first in the world, and is of considerable importance in the history of Judaism in America, because it was the first to stand forward before the world, and proclaim the dominion of reason over blind and bigoted faith. It is not asserting too much when we claim for the Emanu-El congregation the honor of having given the impetus to Jewish reform and progress in this country. Through its untiring efforts, and through the many and heavy sacrifices made on behalf of Judaism, the great reform movement which now numbers under its banners thousands of Jews, was inaugurated, nourished and developed. In the erection and dedication of the Fifth avenue Temple, it was not only the congregation that was triumphant; it was Judaism that triumphed, the Judaism of the heart, the Judaism which proclaims the spirit of religion as being of more importance than the letter. In Brooklyn there are eight synagogues.

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Website: The History
Article Name: The Hebrews Among Us 1870
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


Brooklyn Eagle Dec 30 1870
Time & Date Stamp: