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The Jewish Congregation of Charleston

By N. L. (continued from issue #7)

In the year 1791, the congregation having increased to fifty-three families, numbering upwards of 400 souls, were desirous of procuring an act of incorporation, and to secure this object the following petition was presented to the legislature:

"The petition of the wardens and elders of the Jewish Congregation in Charleston, called בית אלהים (or house of God) on behalf of the said congregation, humbly showeth:

"That the said congregation conceive that it will be conducive to the decent and regular exercise of their religion and public worship of the Almighty God, Ruler of the universe, to the proper maintenance of the poor, and to the support and education of the orphans of their society, as well as to other pious purposes, to have the said congregation legally incorporated, and with privileges and powers similar to those which have been heretofore granted to other religious sects. That as by the first section of the eighth article of our new constitution, it is declared that 'The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, with discrimination or preference, shall hereafter be allowed within this state to all members, provided that the liberty of conscience thereby ordained shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state, they therefore humbly pray this honourable house to grant that they may be legally incorporated, with privileges and powers as above-mentioned, and they hope, that their religious and political conduct will tend to exemplify the true wisdom, genuine charity, and sound policy of the said article of the constitution, which entitles them, as they presume, to that equal participation of religious freedom and immunities.

"And as in duty bound, they will ever pray," &c.

The congregation was incorporated in February 5551 [1791], being the fifteenth year of the American Independence. The seal of the corporation is a representation of their Synagogue, with its corporate name in Hebrew characters surrounding it. The liberal and charitable feelings of the congregation, which were extended to all denominations, are manifested by the following circumstance. The city authorities projected a plan for erecting an orphan asylum, to nurture and educate destitute orphans. The different religious denominations were called upon to aid this laudable and praiseworthy undertaking. The congregation complied with this request, and on the 21st August, 1791, an invitation was extended to the city authorities, the commissioners, and children of the Orphan House, and to the citizens, to attend at the Synagogue. After divine service by the Rev. Abraham Azubee, an excellent discourse was delivered by Mr. Joseph Myers, and the following communication will show the result:

"To the Vestry of the Jewish Congregation.

"Gentlemen,—I am directed by the commissioners of the Orphan House to present you their warmest acknowledgements for the very excellent discourse delivered this morning in behalf of their infant institution, and which will contribute much towards forwarding that benevolent design, (the sum collected amounting to £58 5s.,) also for the very polite and agreeable reception they met with, and for the handsome donation presented by you. I have embraced the earliest moment to fulfil my duty, by enclosing you their unanimous vote of thanks, and which I entreat you to believe is done with sincere pleasure, and a grateful heart. With every sentiment of respect and esteem, I have the honour to be your most humble servant,

"A. Vanderhost.

"Resolved, unanimously, that the warmest thanks of the commissioners of the Orphan House be tendered to the Rev. Mr. Azubee, Mr. Joseph Myers, and the rest of the gentlemen who compose the vestry and wardens of the Hebrew Congregation, for the very excellent discourse delivered this day in behalf of their infant institution, for the very polite and agreeable reception the board received from them, and for the handsome donation presented by them towards erecting an Orphan House; and that the chairman transmit the same.

"A. Vanderhost."

In January 1792, the Synagogue being too small to contain the increased number of members, the congregation purchased the adjoining lot from the heirs of Nicholas Trott, former chief justice of the province, and determined to erect a larger and more suitable place of worship. A subscription was opened for this purpose, to which the members most liberally subscribed. The necessary amount was soon raised, proposals issued, and the contract made with Messrs. Steedman and Horlback. The building, with the ornamental work and cupola, cost $20,000. The committee who raised the subscription and superintended the building of the Synagogue, were Messrs. Jacob Cohen, Gershom Cohen, and Philip Hart. To the active and indefatigable exertions of these gentlemen, who frequently advanced large sums of money from their individual purses, and to their untiring diligence and prudence, was the congregation indebted for the beautiful building they afterwards possessed. Friday, the 14th day of September, 1792, was the day appointed for the ceremony of laying the corner-stone of the sacred edifice they were about to erect. On that day the congregation assembled in the "old Synagogue," and after solemn prayers had been offered up to the Most High, they proceeded in procession to the spot where the new building was to be erected. Eight marble stones were laid; one at each corner of the building, and one at each corner of the porch. Each stone bore the name of the person laying it, also the date and an appropriate inscription in Hebrew and English. The first stone was placed towards the east by Mr. Israel Joseph; the second placed in a westerly direction by Mr. Philip Hart. These two gentlemen having contributed largely towards the building, the congregation awarded to them this honour. The privilege of laying the other six was disposed of at auction privately, and were secured by the following gentlemen at the annexed prices: Mr. Lyon Moses, the third, £15; Mr. Isaac Moses, the fourth, £13; Mr. Emanuel Abrahams, the fifth, £18; Mr. Mark Tongues, the sixth, £9 6s.; the seventh, Mr. Hart Moses, £8 10s.; and the eighth, Mr. Abraham Moses, Senr., £5 7s. Messrs. Daniel Hart, Gershom Cohen, and Moses C. Levy, were the committee of arrangements at this ceremony, which must have been highly imposing, as those gentlemen in their report to the vestry speak of it in glowing terms, as having been conducted "by the rules and regulations of the ancient and honourable fraternity of Freemasons."

In 1794 the Synagogue was completed, and on Friday, the 19th of September of that year, the consecration too place, at which solemn ceremony his excellency, Governor Moultrie, the lieutenant-governor, the civil and military officers of the state, the municipal authorities, the reverend clergy and citizens generally attended, and expressed themselves highly delighted and edified. At the consecration, and at every succeeding anniversary, the highest honours were paid to Israel Joseph and Philip Hart, as the principal benefactors in promoting the building; to Lyon Moses, for presenting a set of brass chandeliers in behalf of himself and family; and to Mr. Jacob Cohen and Gershom Cohen, for their zeal and energy in superintending the business until its completion. A "Kaaren Kayamet," or permanent fund, was now established, by offerings, donations, and bequests for that especial purpose, the principal of which was ever to be regarded as permanent and sacred, and the interest only to be used in cases of emergency. Mr. Moses C. Levy, who contributed very liberally to this fund, was elected first treasurer, and under his stewardship a very large amount was realized. This gentleman was remarkable for his piety and learning, and was afterwards president of the congregation. In 1799 the congregation, at the suggestion of Mr. David Lopez, opened a subscription for the purpose of erecting a היכל; the amount was soon realized, and a chaste and beautiful ark erected, the material and construction of which, with its rich and graceful drapery, added greatly to the general beauty of the Synagogue. The ceremony of the erection of the ark was similar to that of laying the corner stones of the building. Eight stones were deposited, one under each column of the ark. The one under the southwest column contained the following inscription:

"This marble was laid under the S. W. column of the Achal of 'Bet Elohim,' on the 9th of Elul, 5559, by David Lopez, member of the Adjunta, and one of the committee under whose superintendence this Achal and platform were planned, built, and erected, by the liberal contribution of the members. In perpetuam rei memoriam."

In 1802 the congregation received from General Gadsden two very valuable works in the Hebrew language, accompanied with the following letter:

"General Gadsden presents his respectful compliments to Mr. David Lopez, and the members of the Hebrew Congregation of Charleston, for whom he has long had a particular regard, and begs their acceptance of the five valuable books mentioned at the foot hereof, long since out of print, and difficult to be obtained. Should he live to see this day month, he will then enter his 79th year, the next door to fourscore, a period that cannot be far distant from that which is allotted for us all sooner or later to come to. What he intended to offer by will, he feels himself happier in having so favourable an opportunity, by his son, to present while living.

"Leges Mishnace, 3 vols.; Moses Maimonides, 2 vols.

"January 27th, 1802."

The following reply was addressed to the liberal donor for his valuable gift:

Respected Sir—I had the pleasure of laying before the congregation, at their late meeting, your esteemed letter of the 27th inst, together with the ancient and valuable books which accompanied the same; and now feel myself particularly happy, in obedience to their commands, to transmit you herewith a copy of their resolutions, entered on their records, and to express to you the high esteem and consideration of one to whom the congregation confess themselves particularly indebted in repeated instances, and for whom they will ever retain the most lively respect and veneration. Be pleased, worthy sir, to receive through this medium the unfeigned and hearty thanks of the vestry and congregation of "Beth Elohim," who unite in a respectful tender of their sincere esteem, and a supplication to that God whom they all adore, that your days may be with happiness uninterruptedly extended to the limits conceded to man; and when that eventful period arrives beyond which no man can pass, that you, like the patriarchs of ancient days, may be translated with peace and in fulness of years, to partake in the mansions of the just, those tranquil enjoyments allotted as the reward of all, whose lives, like yours, have been employed in deeds of virtue and charity. Permit me, venerable sir, to offer you the tribute of my personal acknowledgements, and subscribe myself with sentiments of respect, your obedient servant.

President of the Congregation K. K. B. E.

The complimentary resolutions passed at a general meeting of the congregation were enclosed in the above letter, which called forth the following reply from General Gadsden:


Dear Sir—Your much esteemed favour, enclosing a copy of the respectable and worthy vestry of "Beth Elohim," in behalf of the congregation, I received yesterday. The very kind acceptance and honourable notice of so small an offering of the great and real respect I have long entertained for the Congregation of "Beth Elohim" cannot but occasion the most pleasing and heartfelt sensations. The very feeling and polite manner in which you have, good sir, transferred their resolutions, is also extremely obliging and acceptable. May the Almighty, the all-merciful God of the universe, bless, protect, and prosper the Congregation of Beth Elohim, is the sincere prayer of your most obedient servant,


In February 1805, the congregation sustained a severe loss by the death of the Rev. Abraham Azubee, who had officiated as Hazan of this congregation for nearly twenty years with great ability and satisfaction. Every mark of respect was paid to the memory of their beloved and much lamented "Saliach Zibbure," and in order to testify still more their grateful feelings to his memory, they provided for the future comfort and support of his widow. The same salary that had been paid to their late worthy Hazan was tendered to his widow, with the free rent of the house she lived in, until after a permanent Hazan should be elected, after which election she received an annual sum of $300, and the free rent of the house. This conduct shows that the feelings of the congregation have ever been characterized by benevolence and humanity; that their philanthropy always prompted them to dry the weeping eye of the widow, and to comfort and protect the fatherless.

The congregation having been deprived of their revered pastor, felt his loss the more sensibly, as there was no one among them qualified to assume this important station. In this emergency they resolved to write to Europe for a Hazan, and addressed a letter to the "Mahamad" of the congregation "Shaar Ashamaim" of London. Our congregation then stood first in this country in point of numbers, and on the score of talent and respectability inferior to none. They possessed a large and elegant place of worship, were made a corporate body by the legislature of the state, and therefore felt anxious of obtaining a fit person to fill the dignified office of Hazan. They looked for a man of respectability and approved morals, a finished Hebrew and classical scholar.

They use the following language in their letter addressed to the congregation in London:

"In a free and independent country like America, where civil and religious freedom go hand in hand, where no distinctions exist between the clergy of different denominations, where we are incorporated and known in law; freely tolerated; where, in short, we enjoy all the blessings of freedom in common with our fellow-citizens, you may readily conceive we pride ourselves under the happy situation which makes us feel that we are men, susceptible of that dignity which belongs to human nature, by participating in all the rights and blessings of this happy country; to which nothing could add more than having a Hazan of merit and classical education, who would reflect honour on himself and stamp an additional degree of dignity and respectability upon our congregation."

The "Mahamad" to whom this letter was addressed was empowered to select a suitable person for the vacant situation. They elected and sent out Mr. Benjamin Cohen D'Azavedo, son of the Portuguese חכם of London, who, after having arrived here, was found incompetent to fulfil the duties of Hazan from a physical debility, and not possessing the necessary qualifications. Mr. D'Azavedo was very liberally remunerated for the trouble and expense he had incurred, and returned to Europe. During the time that the congregation were deprived of the services of a regular Hazan, Mr. Emanuel Delamotta, Mr. Ralph Musqueta, Mr. Moses C. Levy, and Mr. Jacob Suares, kindly volunteered their services; the latter gentleman was elected permanent Hazan, and officiated until March 1811, when the Rev. Emanuel Nunez Carvalho succeeded him.

(To be Continued.)