The Jews of Charleston
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Original year of publication: 1950
The small group of Jewish inhabitants of Charles Town, in the Colony of South Carolina, met in 1750 to organize themselves permanently into a religious community. This book tells that community’s story down to the present day. It describes the process of adjustment both of the Jews and their religion. It recounts the participation of the Jews in the fortunes of the wider Charleston community and in the events which constitute the history of the South. It places before the reader a two-hundred-year record of loyalty to Jewish tradition and service to South Carolina as colony and state.
Of special interest is the fact that Charleston’s was the first Jewish community in the United States to begin experimenting with reform in the Jewish ritual. The authors raise the questions why religious experimentation should have begun there rather than in other cities and to what extent the American Reform movement rose out of the American environment rather than in imitation of Reform in Europe. The subsequent history of Judaism in Charleston is, in view of these early tendencies, equally instructive for Jews and for all students of cultural survival. No less important is the evidence presented throughout the volume of the friendly relations which have obtained between the Jews of Charleston and their Christian neighbors.
The spirit of freedom and equality inherent in the American tradition has made for the development of unusual individuals whose activities have transcended their community. Among such men and women connected with the Jews of Charleston were: Moses Lindo, an early example of the supersalesman; Francis Salvador, the Revolutionary her who died all to soon; Isaac Harby, who was born to soon to succeed as a journalist; Penniah Moise, the blind poetess.
In the preparation of The Jews of Charleston, the Bicentennial Committee, for the celebration of the community’s two-hundredth anniversary, had the cooperation of a number of notable historians who formed an Editorial Board under the chairmanship of Professor Salo W. Baron. They selected two men of known ability in the field of historical writing and research and commissioned them to prepare the volume. Charles Reznikoff will be remembered for his novels, By The Waters of Manhattan, and The Lionhearted, and for the poetry and essays which he has contributed to various periodicals. His collaborator, Dr. Uriah Z. Engelman, is the author of The Rise of The Jew in Western World. He has done a great deal of research in Jewish community life in the United States and was a Director of the Department of Research of the American Association for Jewish Education. The two authors, under the general supervision of the Editorial Board, produced this readable and reliable history of one of the most interesting Jewish communities in the United States. It is a contribution to Jewish as well as American history, to the study of acculturation as well as of the survival powers of Judaism. The scholar and the layman alike will find it interesting and instructive.
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several companies of men... upon duty at or about” the city.95 Myer (or Meyer) Moses (d. 1787) was also a merchant in Charles Town during the British occupation: according to General Thomas Sumter, he was “friendly and attached to the American cause during the Revolution.” He made use of his stay in the city after its fall to relieve the distress of the American wounded and of the prisoners sent to the city, spending “on these occasions,” according to General Sumter, “a considerable sum,” and
According to the “observations” of a “learned member” of the Jewish community, quoted by John L.E.W. Shecut, in his Medical and Philosophical Essays,101 1819, there were not many Jews in the city during the Revolution and these, for the most part, from Great Britain and Germany. In the marriage notices of Jews that began to appear in the local newspapers in the last quarter of the 18th century, they refer to themselves as “of the Jewish nation” or “of the Portuguese Jewish nation,” and to their
chanted; moreover, Yizkor (“May [God] remember”), a prayer for the dead of one’s family, a prayer important to Ashkenazim, is not in the Sephardic ritual. Isaac Leeser (b. Westphalia, Germany, 1806; d. Philadelphia, 1868) has this to say of the first Jewish settlers generally: “The early Israelitish settlers in America... were conforming to the Portuguese ritual, the... Minhag Sephardim... and the German Jews, or those acquainted with the Minhag Ashkenaz, who happened to be among them, likewise
returned the gift: although the congregation, hewrote, entertained “a deep sensibility” of the donor’s good intentions, yet they could not accept the gift under any circumstances “as it may be suggested at some future period that the members of our community were to be bought.” Jacob Cohen (1741–1808), who had been a prisoner of the British on the prison-ship Torbay, was the son of Moses Cohen, haham of Beth Elohim at its organization in 1750. A portrait shows him wearing a neat white neckcloth
to Charleston for burial on the 7th of Ab, 5616 (August 8, 1856). The second grave was that of the president of the congregation, N. Rosenband, who died that year of yellow fever.212 The Hebrew Benevolent Society—originally for the relief of sick immigrants, victims “to a climate less hospitable Seal of the Hebrew Benevolent Society organized 1784 and still active than ourselves”—was founded in 1784213 under the “Authority and Jurisdiction of Beth Elohim” and reorganized in 1824, when the