History of Jewish Congregations in Tennessee

History of Jewish Congregations in Tennessee

From History of Tennessee From the Earliest Time to The Present
Goodspeed Publishing Co.
Nashville, TN

Retyped for the page by Diane Payne & Danene Vincent, 1998.

The oldest Jewish congregation in Tennessee is the "Children of Israel," organized in Memphis in 1852. In October 1851, a benevolent society was organized in Nashville at the house of Isaac Cershon, with Henry Harris as president. A room was rented for a synagogue on North Market Street, near the Louisville depot, and divine worship was held, the president officiating as reader. Two years later the first rabbi, Alexander Iser, was engaged, and soon after the first Hebrew congregation in Nashville was formed under the name of Magen David, "Shield of David." The next year, 1854, the organization was chartered by the Legislature.

In 1862 the first reform congregation was organized under the same Benij Jioshren, with Rabbi Labshiner in charge. After an existence of about six years the two congregations united, in 1868 under the name of K. K. Ahavah Shoelem, "Lovers of Peace." Soon after the Rev. Dr. Isedor Kaleish was elected as rabbi. The congregation then, as they had done for several years, worshiped in Douglass Hall, on Market Street, at the corner of the public square. After three years Dr. Kaleish was succeeded by Dr. Alexander Rosenspitz, who remained in charge of the congregation about the same length of time as his predecessor. In 1876 a lot on Vine Street between Church and Broad, was purchased, and the erection of the present handsome temple was begun. It was completed the following year and dedicated by Dr. Rosenspitz. In 1878 Dr. Rosenspitz was succeeded by Dr. J. S. Goldamar, a native of Vienna and a graduate of the university of that city; also a graduate in philosophy and Jewish theology at the Rabbinical College, at Preszburg. He is eminent as a Hebrew scholar, and previous to his coming to Nashville was in charge of a congregation in Cincinnati for twelve years. He succeeded in introducing the American ritual and mode of worship in the place of the old Polish form, in conformity with the free institutions of this country and the progressive spirit of the age. A choir was also organized. It is recognized as one of the best in the city, and renders in an excellent manner the Jewish sacred music.

The adoption of the new ritual was displeasing to a small portion of the congregation, who under the name of K. K. Adath Israel formed a new society by electing I. B. Cohen, president and L. Rosenheim, vice president. The organization remains much the same at the present time, and continues to worship according to the orthodox mode. In 1885, at a cost of $12,000 a chapel and vault was erected, which is considered the finest structure of the kind in the United States.

In 1864 a congregation was organized at Knoxville, under the name Beth El, or "House of God." The membership has never been very large, and now embraces about twelve families, with E. Samuel as president and E. Heart as secretary.

A congregation was organized at Chattanooga in 1867, and now numbers about twenty-seven families, under the care of Rabbi Julius Ochs. Dr. M. Bloch is president of the society; and Joseph Simpson, secretary. The church property is valued at $5,000. At Murfreesboro a few years ago a congregation was organized with a membership of sixteen or seventeen families, but owing to the removal of a large number from the town, only three or four families remain, and the organization is not maintained. Columbia and several other towns have small organizations but no rabbis are employed. Almost every town in the State has one or more Jewish families; nearly all of whom upon the most important days especially, New Year's day and the Day of Atonement, attend services in the larger cities, as Memphis, Nashville or Chattanooga.

The Jewish Church throughout the State is in a very prosperous condition, and is pervaded with spirit of liberalty and toleration in keeping with the age. The congregation at Nashville under the care of Rabbi Goldamer, during the past eight years has increased from fifty-four to 135 families. The Sabbath-school children number 108. The annual expenses of the church are about $5,500. Its property is valued at &25,000. The president of the society is L. J. Loewenthal; the secretary, M. Wertham. The congregation at Memphis numbers 110 families under the care of Dr. M. Samfield. Its property is valued at $40,000. Its annual expenses are $6,500. The Sabbath-school children number 120. The president of the congregation is E. Lowenstein; the secretary, Samuel Hirsch.

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