Judaism in Greater Boston


1649    Solomon Franco, a SephardicSephardic is an adjective used to refer to the Jewish culture which developed in Spain and the Mediterranean, in contradistinction to Ashkenazic Jewry, which has its distinctive roots in Germany and Eastern Europe. The culture and practices of Sephardic J... Jew, arrives in the Boston area and, as a stranger without money, is warned out of town. Three months after his arrival, Boston’s first Jew of record leaves the colony for Holland.

 1674    Rowland Gideon, a Jew of Portuguese ancestry, settles in Boston and establishes himself as a merchant.

1695    A list of Boston inhabitants includes a person by the name of “Samuel the Jew.”

1720    An Italian Jew named Judah Monis lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

April 30, 1722 The officers of Harvard Corporation vote that Judah Monis be approved as an instructor of the HebrewHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written. language at the College, under the condition that he convert to ChristianityChristianity is the religious tradition of Christians: those who confesses faith in Jesus Christ, follow the path Christ taught, and gather together in the community of the church.. One month before assuming his post at Harvard, Monis converts before a large assembly in College Hall.

1735    One thousand copies of Judah Monis’s A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue are published, and for the next twenty-five years the book is a required text for Harvard students. It is the first Hebrew grammar guide, and the first book to use Hebrew type, to be published in America.

1763    Jews in Newport, Rhode Island dedicate New England’s first synagogueSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ..., later known as the Touro Synagogue, to serve the area’s Sephardic community.

1812    Hannah Adams, a fifth-generation New Englander and Christian missionary, publishes History of the Jews, which provides a thorough account of Jewish history and beliefs.

1840s  The first wave of Jewish immigrants begins arriving from Central Europe throughout the 1840s and 50s.

1842    Mr. and Mrs. Peter Spitz invite families to worship together on Rosh HashanahRosh Hashanah is the day of the Jewish New Year, falling on the first day of the autumn month of Tishri. and Yom KippurYom Kippur is the “Day of Atonement,” the holiest day of the Jewish year, a day of fasting and atonement. Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur are called the High Holy Days, ordinarily falling in early autumn. in their home on Wendell Street.

1843    The approximately eighteen worshippers present to celebrate the circumcision of Mr. and Mrs. Spitz’s first-born son decide to form a permanent congregation. They call themselves Congregation “Ohabei Shalom,” (Lovers of Peace), and become Boston’s first Jewish congregation.

1844    The first Jewish burial place in Massachusetts is established in East Boston.

March 14, 1845 Congregation Ohabei Shalom is granted a charter of incorporation by Massachusetts, giving formal possession of land to the Jewish community.

March 26, 1852 The congregation of Ohabei Shalom dedicates its own synagogue building on Warren Street, the first synagogue in Boston and the second in New England.

1854    A cultural divide leads a group of German Jews to withdraw from the congregation at Ohabei Shalom, and later take the name Adath IsraelLiterally “Wrestler with God”, Israel is the name given to the Jewish patriarch Jacob and came to refer to the entire nation, bound in an eternal covenant to God. Historically, Jews have continued to regard themselves as the continuation of the ancien..., known today as TempleA temple is a house of worship, a sacred space housing the deity or central symbol of the tradition. The Temple in Jerusalem was the holy place of the Jewish people until its destruction by the Romans in 70 CE; now the term “temple” is used by th. Ref... Israel. The stay-behind Polish congregation is granted rights to the Ohabei Shalom name and the Warren Street synagogue.

1858    A cultural divide again leads to division within Ohabei Shalom. This time, a group of newer East Prussian members form Die Israelitische Gemeinde Mishkan Israel, the successor of which is today’s Conservative synagogue, Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill.

1870    Ohabei Shalom inaugurates confirmation of boys and girls, the first in a series of changes influenced by the Reform movement in JudaismJudaism is the worldview, the way of life, and the religious practice of the Jewish people, living in covenant with God and in response to Torah, the laws and ethics which guide the pattern of Jewish life. Jews today interpret their three thousand year ol....

1874    Solomon Schindler is elected as rabbiRabbi means “my master,” an authorized teacher or master of the Torah and the classical Jewish tradition. After the fall of the second Temple in 70 CE and the scattering of the Jewish people in exile, the role of the rabbi became very important in gat... of Temple (Adath) Israel. He becomes a pioneer in the process of innovation and liberalization characteristic of Reform JudaismReform Judaism is one of the major modern Jewish movements, originating in 19th century Europe and coming to flower in the United States. It emphasizes the legitimacy of change, the commanding importance of ethical monotheism, and the liberal Jewish commi.... Schindler’s changes include mixed seating of men and women, a choir and organ, English language worship, and Sunday worship. Both Ohabei Shalom and Adath Israel eventually adopt these changes, demonstrating the increasing influence of both ProtestantismProtestant is a term used for the range of reform movements that broke with the Roman Catholic Church during the period called the Reformation. There are many branches of Protestantism, including the Lutherans, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists... and Reform Judaism at that time. This period also witnesses the beginning of a new wave of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe, primarily from Lithuania.

1875    Boston’s Jewish population is reported to be around 3,000.

 1880s  The largely German Reform population, well on its way to assimilationAssimilation refers to the process of “making similar,” a process by which people lose their national, cultural, or even religious identity through absorption in the wider society. In the history of American immigration, it has usually meant the absor... in Boston, meets a major challenge. The PogromsPogrom, from the Russian word for “devastation,” refers to the attacks, riots and rampages against Jewish communities, especially in Eastern Europe and Russia. in Russia and Poland send a second great movement of Jewish immigrants to the United States. The Eastern European Jews who arrive in the United States in the late nineteenth century scarcely recognize as Jewish the Reform Judaism that they encounter in America.

1881    Ohabei Shalom joins the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the national organization of Reform synagoguesSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ....

1886    Harvard College celebrates its 250th anniversary. An estimated one dozen Jewish students graduate.

1892    The legislature of Massachusetts passes an act granting Jewish clergyClergy are the body of ordained men (and in some cases women) who are authorized to perform the priestly, pastoral, or rabbinical duties of the community—as distinct from the laity whom they serve. the right to perform marriage ceremonies.

April 25, 1895 Boston’s German-Jewish population establishes the Federation of Jewish Charities of Boston to help the Russian-Jewish immigrants adjust to life in America. Member organizations include the United Hebrew Benevolent Society, the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Society, the Leopold Morse Home for the Aged and Infirm HebrewsHebrew is the ancient language of the Israelites in which the Bible and most of Jewish liturgy is written. and Orphanage, the Free Employment Bureau, and the Charitable Burial Association. Boston’s Jewish population is estimated at 20,000, including 14,000 new immigrants.

1898    A group of OrthodoxIn general, orthodox means having a “correct opinion or outlook” and is a term used by people in many religions who claim authority for traditional views and forms of their religion. Jews from the city of Vilna, Lithuania purchase a former BaptistThe Baptist tradition includes a variety of Christian churches which trace their beginnings to the Anabaptist reform movement that rejected infant baptism insisting on the importance of baptizing only those who are able to profess the faith as believers. churchThe term church has come to wide use to refer to the organized and gathered religious community. In the Christian tradition, church refers to the organic, interdependent “body” of Christ’s followers, the community of Christians. Secondarily, church ... for a meeting house.

1900    About 7% of the freshman class at Harvard College is Jewish. Fifty-three synagogues exist in Boston at this time.

1902    The Jewish Advocate is founded, a publication which continues today. Boston’s Jewish population grows to 40,000.

1906    The Harvard MenorahA menorah is a candelabrum originally used in the ancient Temple. The seven-branched candelabrum is used in Jewish synagogues as a symbol of the state of Israel. The nine-branched candelabrum used during the eight-day festival of Hanukkah, often referred ... Society is formed. One of its founders, Horace Kallen, becomes well known for his incisive writings on cultural pluralism.

1907    Boston’s Jewish population grows to 60,000.

1908    Adath Jeshurun, the first synagogue of the Roxbury Jewish community, known as the “Blue Hill Avenue ShulSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but ...,” hires an English-speaking rabbiRebbe is the title of the spiritual leader of the Hasidim, the pietist Jewish movement which began in 18th century Poland and continues today, with its honoring of holy teachers and its emphasis on prayer and devotion., Phineas Israeli, who introduces innovations later associated with Conservative JudaismConservative Judaism is an American Jewish movement, reacting to early Jewish Reform movements by attempting to retain clearer links to Jewish law and tradition, while at the same time adapting to modern situations. Its scholarly center in the US is the J..., such as junior congregation and late Friday night services. In effect, the congregation splits between old and young; those who seat men and women separately and those who mix them together; those who attend SabbathShabbat or sabbath is the day of rest, the seventh day, recalling the Biblical creation narrative in which God rested from the labors of creation on the seventh day. In the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday and runs through sundown... morning services and those who attend on Friday evening. Israeli loses his job in 1918. There are roughly 1,700 permanently established Jewish congregations in the United States at this time.

1910    There are an estimated 80,000 Jews in Boston and seven YiddishYiddish is the language of Ashkenazic or Eastern European Jews, based primarily on German with words taken from Hebrew and many Slavic languages, and written in the Hebrew alphabet. newspapers.

1913    The Intercollegiate Menorah Association (IMA) is established, which expands the objectives of the Harvard Menorah Society to a national scale.

1916    Justice Louis Brandeis, a Boston lawyer, becomes the first Jew appointed to the bench of the United States Supreme Court. In total, there have been seven Jewish Justices appointed to the Supreme Court, including current justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer.

1917    Thirty-six founders incorporate Congregation Kehillath Israel as the (Orthodox) Jewish Congregation of Brookline. Shortly after its inception, the Congregation affiliates with the United Synagogue of America (now the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism).

 1918    At the end of the war, there are an estimated 1,900 permanently established Jewish congregations in the United States.

1919    Orthodox Jews from Lithuania purchase the Phillips Street property and build what will later become known as the Vilna ShulSynagogue, shul in Yiddish, is the most widely used term for a Jewish house of worship. Meaning a “place of gathering,” it is the central institution of Jewish communal life. The structure and role of synagogues has changed through the centuries, but .... It remains a fine example of a small working class Orthodox synagogue from the early twentieth century.

1920    About 21.5% of the freshman class at Harvard is Jewish.

1921    Hebrew Teachers Training School, the antecedent of Hebrew College, is founded.

1922    Faculty and student debate rages over a proposal by President Abbott Lawrence Lowell to limit the number of Jews at Harvard. The faculty soundly rejects the plan, but a new admissions form, more explicit about ethnicity, is introduced and results in a de facto quota.

1924    The wave of Russian-Jewish immigration slows as the United States adopts strict immigration laws.

1925    Members of Congregation Kehillath Israel build a new synagogue on Harvard Street. In the new building, the women of the congregation are permitted to join the men on the same level of the sanctuary.

1930    Boston’s Jewish population begins moving from the South End, West End, and East Boston to Dorchester and Mattapan.

1940s Harvard Hillel has its first informal meetings in Phillips Brooks House.

1944    The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC) is founded to improve interreligious and intergroup relations in Boston. The JCRC combats anti-SemitismAnti-Semitism means literally “opposed to Semites” although it has always referred specifically to Jews. Modern anti-Semitism arose in Europe toward the end of the 19th century, coalescing social, racial, and religious theories that denigrated the Jew... and promotes social and economic justice and civil rights for all.

1946    Boston’s Jewish population continues to move out of the city and begins to relocate to places such as Brookline and Newton.

1948    Brandeis University, the first Jewish-sponsored nonsectarian university in the country, is founded and named in memory of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. An estimated 137,000 Jews live in Boston.

1951    Israel’s Prime MinisterMinister is a general term for a member of the clergy in the Christian church. The term has also come to use in other religious traditions to designate a member of the clergy (as in the Jodo Shinshu tradition and the Nation of Islam)., DavidDavid was the King of Israel (c. 1000 BCE) credited with uniting the many tribes of Israel into a centralized kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital. David is said to have planned for the Temple in Jerusalem, which was subsequently built by his son Solomon... Ben-Gurion, arrives in Boston for a rally at Boston Garden.

1953    The congregation at Young Israel of Brookline is founded and early services are held in a small house on Fuller Street. Today, the Young Israel synagogue is one of the largest Orthodox congregations in New England.

1965    Boston’s Jewish population numbers 176,000. The intermarriage rate for Boston Jews is estimated at around 7%.

1968    Leaders of the HavurahA havurah is a Jewish community in which roles, leadership, and responsibility for worship and study are shared among members as opposed to hiring a rabbi, hazzan, or other trained leaders. movement in Boston, part of a larger Jewish student movement in the city, found Havurat Shalom in Somerville. The movement is known for egalitarian and lay-led worship, and for sparking a period of Jewish religious and spiritual renewal.

1975    The intermarriage rate for Boston Jews is estimated at around 13%.

1980    Congregation Beth El of the Sudbury River Valley publishes Vetaher Libenu II, the first gender-inclusive Jewish prayerPrayer is the vocal or silent address to the Divine. It may consist of fixed words, spontaneous words, or rest in silence with no words at all. Some forms of prayer are accompanied with specific postures or gestures, while others are not. book. The congregation refrains from using traditionally accepted masculine pronouns in reference to GodGod is a term used to refer to the Divine, the Supreme being, Transcendent deity, or Ultimate reality..

1985    An estimated 170,000 Jews live in Greater Boston. A demographic survey shows that Jews are more geographically dispersed than before and that intermarriage, estimated at a rate of about 18% for Boston Jews, is increasing.

1994    Harvard University, the old PuritanThe Puritans were Christians who, in the sixteenth century, called for the purification of the Church of England from what they considered the vestiges of Roman Catholic hierarchy and practice. Like other Reformers, they stressed the authority of the Bibl... university where Judah Monis needed to convert to Christianity in order to teach, sees the dedication of a striking new center for Jewish life: the Rosovsky Center, named for Harvard’s eminent Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Henry Rosovsky.

October 12, 2002 Boston College installs a copy of the TorahThe Old Testament is the term Christians often use for the body of writings that comprise the Hebrew Bible which Jews call Tanakh. in the worship center, where it is expected to be used for future Friday and Saturday services.

2003    Hebrew College opens the first full-time transdenominational rabbinical program at an accredited college.

2004    There are reported to be over 200,000 Jews living in Boston.

September 22, 2005 Boston College launches a program that allows students to minor in Jewish studies, a rarity in Catholic higher education.

February 28, 2009 According to Reform Judaism magazine, Brandeis University, Harvard University and Radcliffe College, Tufts University, Boston University, and Northeastern University are among the “Top 60 Schools Jews Choose.”


Works Cited

Hertzberg, Arthur. The Jews in America: four centuries of an uneasy encounter: a history. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.

Olitzky, Kerry M. The American Synagogue: A historical dictionary and sourcebook. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Sarna, Jonathan D., Ellen Smith and Scott-Martin Kosofsky, eds. The Jews of Boston. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.