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בס"ד

The Jewish Congregation of Charleston.

(Continued from issue #8)

By N. L.

In March 1812, his Excellency, Governor Middleton, set apart a day of thanksgiving, calling upon "all Christian denominations to have service in their respective churches." This proclamation was viewed with great displeasure by the members of the congregation, who considered it an indignity offered to the whole Jewish nation. The congregation addressed the governor upon this subject, and pointed out that portion of his proclamation, in which he called upon Christian ministers only, having passed over the Hebrew congregation, whose members and consequence in society constituted them no unimportant portion of the community. The governor, in his reply,

"Hoped that the members of the congregation would not think him capable of excluding any portion of his fellow-citizens from a participation in the religious observance of the day recommended by him as a day of public thanksgiving. It was an oversight, and thus unintentionally the mistake occurred. He hoped the respectable members of the Hebrew congregation would acquit him of any intentional slight, and consent to unite with the other religious societies in the state in a devotional act that would assuredly be most acceptable to the Almighty. He should learn with great satisfaction that the Hebrew congregation had determined to observe Wednesday next as a day of humiliation, religious reflection and prayer, and requested that this wish might be made known to every member of the congregation.

Signed, "Henry Middleton."

In accordance with the expressed wishes of the governor, the congregation, on the day appointed, assembled for divine worship in the Synagogue, after which an excellent discourse was pronounced by Mr. Myer Moses.

By the resignation of Mr. Carvalho in 1814, the congregation was again without a religious teacher, and for four years were compelled to rely upon the voluntary aid of several of the members. In 1818 Mr. Hartwig Cohen was appointed permanent Hazan, and officiated for several years, and was succeeded by Mr. Solomon Cohen Peixotto, who died in 1835.

At a meeting of the vestry in 1821, the following correspondence is recorded in the minutes:

Nathan Hart, Esq., President of the Congregation K. K. B. E.

Charleston, Feb, 1st, 1821.

RESPECTED SIR,

A charitable institution was established in the year 1813, for the relief of the sick and poor, by name, "The Ladies' Benevolent Society." From its formation the Society has entered into a resolution that upon the third Sabbath in February, application should be made annually to some one of the different churches in this city to assist the members in their undertaking by a discourse from the pulpit; and a collection made in aid of their funds afterwards. Every year application has been made for this purpose to someone of the religious societies, and the request has always been granted. By the desire of the superintendent, I this year solicit the aid of the congregation over which you preside, and request that you will have the goodness to further our charitable design by allowing a discourse to be delivered in the Synagogue, and a collection made in aid of our funds on the third Sabbath in this month. Your compliance will be esteemed a favour by the members of the Ladies' Benevolent Society. With sentiments of respect, I remain your obedient servant,

S. M. Drayton.

Secretary of the Ladies' Benevolent Society.

Respected Madam,

I have the pleasure to acknowledge your favour under date of the 1st inst., which I laid before the vestry of our congregation last evening, who unanimously resolved to comply with the request of the superintendent and members composing your benevolent institution. It is a source of regret that in consequence of our having no regular minister at present, an English discourse cannot be delivered, nor can a collection be made on our Sabbath, without violating our ancient customs, which forbid the handling of money on that day. An appropriate appeal will, however, be made to our congregation on Saturday, the 17th inst., when free-will offerings will be introduced, and the proceeds transmitted to you. I am, madam, with great respect, your obedient servant,

Nathan Hart,

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

The following letter shows the result of the appeal to the charitable feelings of the congregation:

Respected Madam,

I have the pleasure to transmit to you the free-will offerings of the congregation, amounting to $250. To aid in the cause of charity is ever a pleasing duty, but on this occasion the pleasure is enhanced when we reflect on the comforts and attention the unfortunate receive from your laudable association, an association that has for its object the relief of all sects, and whose actions are founded upon the purest principles of benevolence and philanthropy, and must ensure approbation to its members. To you, madam, as one of the founders of this benevolent association, is due, (and I sincerely hope you may meet) the reward which your zeal in the cause of humanity so justly entitles you to. With considerations of profound respect, I remain your obedient servant,

Nathan Hart,

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

The congregation continued to progress in prosperity and usefulness, until the year 1825, when a spirit of innovation raised its "miscreated front," among our people. Several of the members of the congregation became dissatisfied with the established mode of service, and were desirous of curtailing and altering our ritual. They rejected the oral law, and all rabbinical authority, and desiring to take the Bible alone as the rule and guide of their faith and acitons, were diametricaly opposed to the views of the "Caraites," who construe it literally, and conform rigidly to all its requisitions. Desirous of consummating their plans, they presented to the vestry a petition, from which the following extracts will show their aim and desires:

"Your memorialists seek no other end than the future welfare and respectability of the nation. As members of the great family of Israel, they cannot consent to place before their children examples which are only calculated to darken the mind, and withold from the rising generation the more rational means of worshipping the true God. It is to this, therefore, your memorialists would in the first place invite the serious attention of your honourable body. By causing the Hazan to repeat in English such part of the Hebrew prayers as may be deemed necessary, it is confidently believed that the congregation would be more forcibly impressed with the necessity of divine worship, and the moral obligations which they owe to themselves and their Creator, while such a course would lead to more decency and decorum during the time they are engaged in the performance of religious duties.

"With regard to such parts as it is desired should undergo change, your memorialists would strenuously recommend that the most solemn portions be retained, and every thing superfluous rejected; and if possible all that is read in Hebrew should also be read in English, so as to enable every member of the congregation fully to understand every part of the service.

"Your memorialists would next call the particular attention of your honourable body to the absolute necessity of abridging the service generally. They have reflected seriously upon its present length, and are confident that this is one of the principal causes why so much of it is hastily and improperly hurried over.

"According to the present mode of reading the 'Parasa,' it affords to the hearer neither instruction nor entertainment, unless he be competent to read as well as to comprehend the Hebrew language. But if, like all other ministers, our reader would make a chapter or verse the subject of an English discourse once a week, at the expiration of the year the people would, at all events, know something of that religion which at present they so little regard."

This petition, signed by forty-seven Israelites, was presented to the vestry of the congregation, and rejected by them without discussion, and ordered to be laid on the table. If censure is to be attached to the vestry for not discussing the merits of this petition, nor for allowing an appeal from their decision, it must be remembered that they acted conscientiously. They had sworn "to protect, guard, and defend the constitution" of the congregation, which prescribed a certain fixed mode of service, established at the destruction of the second temple, and since that period recognised by every Jewish congregation, throughout the world. This sacred inheritance of their forefathers the vestry wished to preserve intact and inviolate, and thence their apparently arbitrary action. Several members withdrew from the congregation, and joining a larger number who were not members, established a new place of worship, and denominated themselves "The Reformed Society of Israelites." They printed a form of prayer in the English language, to which were attached English hymns. The Sabbath morning service, as adopted by this society, was opened with an English hymn by the choir, followed with an English prayer by the "minister." The choir then chaunted another hymn, and the "minister" offered up another prayer. He then read the 33rd Psalm in Hebrew, and afterwards in English, which was responded to by the members of the society. The "sanctification of the Sabbath" and the "Shemang" were then read in English, in both of which were responses. A prayer for government followed, after which another hymn was sung by the choir. The "minister" then read a portion of the Pentateuch, and delivered a discourse from the same; at the conclusion of the discourse another hymn was sung, and a benediction by the "minister" closed the service. The most peculiar part of their ritual is the ten articles of faith adopted by the society, which emanated from enlarged, liberal, and enlightened views, for it was optional with any member of the society, either to believe, or reject them; for in the preface to their volume is this remarkable passage: "Let each one believe or reject what his heart and understanding (at once humbled and enlightened by divine goodness) may rationally dictate to be believed or rejected." Their creed embraced but ten articles, differing in almost every point with the creed of the great Maimonides. We have selected three of the articles for the perusal of our readers, which are as follows. Article 7. reads thus:

"I believe with perfect faith that the laws of God as delivered by Moses in the Ten Commandments are the only true foundation of piety towards the Almighty, and of morality among men."

Article 8.—"I believe with a perfect faith, that morality is essentially connected with religion, and that good faith towards all mankind is among the most acceptable offerings to the Deity."

Article 10.—"I believe with a perfect faith that the Creator (blessed be his name) is the only true Redeemer of all his children, and that he will spread the worship of his name over the whole earth."

Although it was predicted "that their cause was too good to be long resisted," yet the prophecy was never fulfilled; for their society did not increase in numbers, and "after a few years of sickly existence,'' became extinct, and the "simple Doric column" they wished to "adorn and beautify" became broken, and crumbled prostrate in the dust.

After this division in the congregation, the vestry experienced much inconvenience and perplexity in managing their financial affairs, and for several years were unable to employ a permanent Hazan, from the impoverished condition of their funds. They still adhered firmly to their ancient usages, and relied upon the "Giver of all good" for that aid which He never withholds from those who call upon him in truth and sincerity. In 1835 the affairs of the congregation assumed a more favourable aspect and in October, 1836, they were enabled to elect the Rev. G. Poznanski as permanent Hazan. This gentleman was first elected for two years, but possessing every requisite qualification, and affording general satisfaction, he was elected in, May, 1838, for life, some months before his first term had expired.

On the night of April 27th, 1838, an awful conflagration, which devastated our city, laid our beautiful place of worship in ruins. The venerable Moses C. Levy hastened to the spot for the purpose of saving the sacred rolls. No language can describe the deep emotion he betrayed as he beheld the sacred edifice (in which for forty years he had poured forth his spirit in prayer and thanksgiving) wrapt in flames, crumbling into ruins, and mingling with the elements. The pious and learned Jehudah, contemplating the sacred ruins of our holy temple, could not have experienced more deep and lively emotions of sorrow and humiliation, than this devout and worthy elder of our congregation. The congregation now, deprived of their place of worship, knew not where to obtain a temporary one, when the Hebrew Orphan Society generously offered them the use of their beautiful hall in Broad Street for that purpose. This kind offer was gladly accepted, and the hall was properly arranged, and by the ensuing Sabbath, the arrangements of their temporary place of worship were completed, on which day service was performed, and continued each succeeding Sabbath and festival until September, when was completed a neat brick tabernacle, its dimensions 25 by 80 feet, and 12 feet high. This building is erected on the Synagogue lot, and cost, $3000, and was used as a Synagogue until the present place of worship was rebuilt. The congregation determined to rebuild the Synagogue, and a subscription was immediately opened for this sacred purpose, and an earnest appeal made to the different congregations in this country and Europe. We regret to state that the only response to this appeal was heard from the Congregation of Cincinnati, Ohio, enclosing $119.50. Letters were received from the congregations of London, Amsterdam, Barbadoes, Curaçoa, and other places, sympathizing with us in the loss of our Synagogue, but excusing themselves, under various pretexts, from affording us the necessary aid. All these letters are recorded, to show to posterity that this congregation rebuilt their present Synagogue by the aid of their own members,* the individual contributions of Israelites residing in this state, and the amount recovered from insurance on the building destroyed; although, whenever applied to, they never on any occasion withheld their aid.

* A few contributions, small enough, it is true, were nevertheless sent from Philadelphia; and one of our societies offered fifty dollars for the relief of the distressed poor; who had lost by the fire, which aid was declined, because there were none who needed such assistance.—Ed. Oc.  

At this period a school for the instruction of Jewish youth was established under the superintendence of Miss S. Lopez and Miss Sarah C. Moise, aided by the valuable services of the ladies of the congregation. The inestimable benefits arising from this excellent institution are too well known and appreciated to require a more formal notice. Great credit is due to the talented and amiable founders of this school, and we trust they will receive the reward due to those whose zeal, energy, and labour, have been instrumental in advancing the sacred cause of religion and morality.

(To be continued.)