Congregation Shearith Israel

The Congregation Shearith Israel (Hebrew: קהילת שארית ישראל Kehilat She'arit Yisra'el "Congregation Remnant of Israel") – often called The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue – is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. It was established in 1654 in New Amsterdam by Jews who arrived from Dutch Brazil.[1] Until 1825, when Jewish immigrants from Germany established a congregation, it was the only Jewish congregation in New York City.

Congregation Shearith Israel
Congregation Shearith Israel 001.JPG
Congregation Shearith Israel at Central Park West
AffiliationOrthodox Judaism
Location2 West 70th Street
MunicipalityNew York City
StateNew York
CountryUnited States
Congregation Shearith Israel is located in Manhattan
Congregation Shearith Israel
Location within Manhattan
Geographic coordinates40°46′29.5″N 73°58′38.3″W / 40.774861°N 73.977306°W / 40.774861; -73.977306Coordinates: 40°46′29.5″N 73°58′38.3″W / 40.774861°N 73.977306°W / 40.774861; -73.977306
Architect(s)Arnold Brunner
Date established1654
Direction of façadeEast
The synagogue's third cemetery (1829–1851) is on West 21st Street near the Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue)

The Orthodox synagogue, which follows the Sephardic liturgy, is located on Central Park West at 70th Street, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The congregation has occupied its current Neoclassical building since 1897.[2]

Founding and synagogue buildingsEdit

The Mill Street synagogue, detail from the section "Religious Buildings of New York" in A Plan of the City and Environs of New York by David Grim
Temple Shearith Israel, 5 West 19th Street, 1893

The first group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews were twenty-three refugees from Dutch Brazil, who arrived in New Amsterdam in September 1654. After being initially rebuffed by anti-Semitic Director of New Netherland Peter Stuyvesant, Jews were given official permission to settle in the colony in 1655. This year marks the founding of the Congregation Shearith Israel. Although they were allowed to stay in New Amsterdam, they faced discrimination and were not given permission to worship in a public synagogue for some time (throughout the Dutch period and into the British). The Congregation did, however, make arrangements for a cemetery beginning in 1656.

It was not until 1730 that the Congregation was able to build a synagogue of its own; it was built on Mill Street (now William Street) in lower Manhattan. The Mill Street synagogue was said to have had access to a nearby spring which it used as a mikveh for ritual baths.[3] Before 1730, as noted on a 1695 map of New York, the congregation worshipped in rented quarters on Beaver Street and subsequently on Mill Street. Since 1730 the Congregation has worshipped in five synagogue buildings:

  1. Mill Street, 1730
  2. Mill Street re-built and expanded, 1818
  3. 60 Crosby Street, 1834
  4. 19th Street, 1860
  5. West 70th Street, 1897 (present building)

The current building was extensively refurbished in 1921.[4]

Founding major Jewish institutionsEdit

As the American Reform Judaism made headway in the late 19th century, many rabbis critical of the Reform movement looked for ways to strengthen traditional synagogues. Shearith Israel, and its rabbi, Henry Pereira Mendes, were at the fore of these efforts. Rabbi Mendes cofounded the American Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 1886, in order to train traditional rabbis. The school held its first classes at Shearith Israel. In JTS' earliest days, it taught and researched rabbinics similarly as was done in traditional yeshivas, in contrast to the Reform Hebrew Union College.

Twelve years later, in 1896, Mendes was acting president of JTS. He promoted the formation[5] of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (commonly known as the OU, the Orthodox Union). This synagogue umbrella group provided an alternative to the Reform movement's Union of American Hebrew Congregations.

As JTS grew, it needed better financing and a full-time head. The seminary moved to its own building, and Mendes was replaced by Solomon Schechter. However, Schechter developed a less traditional approach, which became the basis for Conservative Judaism (called Masorti outside North America). Initially there was considerable cooperation between the Orthodox and Conservative groups but, over time, the divide became clearer.

Schechter formed the United Synagogue of America (now the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, or USCJ) to promote synagogue affiliation with his conservative ideology.[6]

Shearith Israel remained aligned with the Orthodox tradition. It eventually repudiated its association with JTS. In a sense, Shearith Israel helped create three of the largest and most significant Jewish religious organizations in the United States: JTS, the OU, and USCJ. Shearith Israel remains a member only of the Orthodox Union.

Landmark plaques



Parnasim (Presidents)Edit

  • Luis Moises Gomez
  • Moses Raphael Levi (1665–1728)
  • Lyon (Leon) Nathan
  • Dennis Freilich
Signatures of Michael Michaels and Gershom Mendes Seixas on Shearith Israel's "Shechita book", today Penn Libraries BM522 .W45 1702[10].


  • Saul Moreno d. 1682[7]
  • Saul Pardo (1657–1702)
  • Abraham Haim de Lucena (1703?–1725)
  • Moses Lopez de Fonseca (??–1736)
  • David Mendes Machado (1736–1746)
  • Benjamin Pereira (1748–1757)
  • Isaac Cohen da Silva (1757–1758 and 1766–1768)
  • Joseph Jessurun Pinto (1758–1766)
  • Gershom Mendes Seixas (1768–1776 and 1784–1816)
  • Isaac Touro (1780)
  • Jacob Raphael Cohen (1782–1784)
  • Eleazar S. Lazarus (1816-1820)
  • Moses Levy Maduro Peixotto(1816–1828)
  • Isaac Benjamin Seixas (1828–1839)
  • Jacques Judah Lyons (1839–1877)
  • David Haim Nieto (1878–1886)
  • Abraham Haim Nieto (1886–1901)
  • Isaac A. H. de la Penha (1902–1907)
  • Isaac A. Hadad (1911–1913)
  • Joseph M. Corcos (1919–1922)
  • James Mesod Wahnon (1921–1941)
  • Abraham Lopes Cardozo (1946–1986)[12]
  • Albert Gabbai (1983-1986) [13]
  • Phil Sherman
  • Ira Rohde


Prominent membersEdit

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ Marcus, Jacob R. "Early American Jewry: The Jews of New York, New England, and Canada, 1649–1794." Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1951. Vol. I, pp. 3, 20–23
  2. ^ Congregation Shearith Israel Archived February 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, Building Report, International Survey of Jewish Monuments. Retrieved April 3, 2007.
  3. ^ Dyer, Albion Morris (1895). "Points in the First Chapter of New York Jewish History". Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society. American Jewish Historical Society. pp. 54–55.
  4. ^ a b "New York Happenings". The American Israelite. October 6, 1921. pp. P2. Retrieved August 13, 2020 – via  .
  5. ^ "The Orthodox Union Story, chs. 5–6". Archived from the original on August 21, 2011. Retrieved October 15, 2011.
  6. ^ From the Beginning... Archived January 13, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ a b Phillips, N. Taylor (1897). "The Congregation Shearith Israel An Historical Review". American Jewish Historical Quarterly. American Jewish Historical Society. pp. 126–129.
  8. ^ a b "SEIXAS -". Retrieved August 14, 2020.
  9. ^ "The Rev. Dr. Herbert S. Goldstein has been called the to Spanish and Portuguese Synagog..." The American Israelite. November 24, 1921. pp. P2. Retrieved August 14, 2020 – via  .
  10. ^ "Footprints Written Work: Shehitot u-vedikot". Footprints. Retrieved March 30, 2022.
  11. ^ "ALVIN DEUTSCH Obituary (1932 - 2021) New York Times". Retrieved April 12, 2022.
  12. ^ De Sola Pool, David and Tamar (1955). An Old Faith in the New World: Portrait of Shearith Israel, 1654–1954. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. pp. 158–186.
  13. ^[bare URL PDF]
  14. ^ "Items Relating to Congregation Shearith Israel, New York". Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (27): 262–278. 1920. ISSN 0146-5511. JSTOR 43058012.
  15. ^ Malone, Scott (May 16, 2016) "Rhode Island Congregation Wins $7M Shul vs. Shul Legal Battle Over Shearith Israel", The Forward
  16. ^ "Nation's oldest synagogue wins property battle". The Washington Post. Chattanooga Times Free Press. Associated Press. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved February 16, 2018.
  17. ^ Congregation Jeshuat Israel v. Congregation Shearith Israel, No. 18-530 (S.Ct. March 2, 2019).Text


External linksEdit