The Narragansett Historical Register
p. 300, preface to address in pp. 301 - 327.
The meeting of the Association -- being its regular monthly session -- was held in Franklin Lyceum Hall, No. 62, Westminster Street, Providence, December 7, 1885. After the usual opening and reading of records, on motion of Hon. J. N. Arnold, it was
Resolved, That the President be requested to appoint a committee to
inquire into the introduction of the first steam engine into the State
-- who was its builder, who purchased it, and to what uses it was put;
said committee to report at the next meeting.
The Hon. Elisha Dyer was so appointed.
President Hammon then made the following ADDRESS.
'Ladies and Gentlemen:
Through the courtesy of the Rev. Frederic Denison and Mr. Myer Noot, Acting Rabbi of the Israelites in this city, you are to-day to hear somewhat of the Hebrews in this State, and witness an illustration of a portion of their religious service as conducted in their synagogues. These people 'outwardly are the descendants of Jacob and professors of the Jewish religion, but inwardly they are believers in, and the servants of God.' The very name of Jew has been associated in our minds with the idea of 'wanderer' - a people away from home - scattered among many nations - not mixing with any, but ever preserving their distinctive characteristics, and maintaining with unexampled faithfulness the faith and worship of their fathers in all lands and under all circumstances. Anciently honored, as the chosen people of God, they have ever appeared as his champions, bearing on their banners the mystic words - talismanic with them every where - 'Hear, O Israel : The Lord our God is one Lord.'
To-day we shall hear these words as they were once uttered in their solemn assemblies; and as we listen, may we catch some of the atmosphere and inspiration that once filled their temples and proclaimed their God 'the God and Father of us all.'
The President then called upon the Secretary, Rev. Frederic Denison,
who read the following paper prepared by him on
While for thousands of years the world has been variously endeavoring to exterminate the descendants of Abraham, that remarkable people still preserve their identity and in both flesh and spirit manifest even a nationality, and are evidently reserved by Divine Providence for some important mission in the great economy of the ages. They present a historic problem to be devoutly studied. By them the history of the world has been greatly colored. Whatever relates to their career, of old or of late, is invested with large interest.
They have a good record on our continent and in our republic. We here seek to present a part of that story. We propose what, singularly enough, with the exception of a small monograph on the Jews in Newport, by Mr. Mason of that city, never before has been undertaken, namely, to collect and put together all obtainable facts, from their widely scattered sources, for a chapter of their life and doings in Rhode Island.
By the Jewish Cemetery and the Jewish Synagogue in Newport, so reverently cherished and studied in that 'queen of summer resorts', large historical and religious credit are reflected upon the city and indeed upon the whole State. These preserve strange and rich memories of a people whose large commercial activities and sacred assemblies once gave importance to our colony and great honor to our religious freedom.
From fragmentary notices gleaned from various quarters, from all known personal records and incidental allusions, we have aimed to reproduce that by-gone and influential life. Unfortunately the records proper of the Newport Jews, particularly those of the Synagogue, have in main perished, having been lost probably with other valuable Newport papers in the disasters of that city during the Revolution. The Scrolls of the Law belonging to the Synagogue were however finally entrusted to the keeping of the Portuguese Synagogue in New York City.
The persecutions of the Middle Ages, often animated by race-hatred, bore so heavily upon the children of Israel that they were driven to whatever refuges could be found. The exiles from the Spanish Peninsula, driven out by the cruel expulsion of 1492, turned their feet to all lands where sympathy might be found.
Many of them were afterwards found in Holland. Not a few of those were distinguished for wealth, culture and intelligence. In deed the Portuguese Jews regarded themselves and were regarded by others as the aristocracy of their race.
Soon after the unique colony founded by Roger Williams and John Clarke became known as a sanctuary for persecuted consciences, certain Jews from Holland, whose ancestors were from Spain, sought refuge and abode on these, then the only religiously free, shores of the world. Some it is thought came from Curacoa. And some, it is known came by the way of New Amsterdam (New York) having been expelled in 1654 by Governor Stuyvesant. It is thought that the first Jews reached New York near 1650.
It seems evident that some reached Newport while John Clarke was in England securing the second charter of the colony. Of the names of the most of these who first came, or the exact dates of their coming we are not positively informed.
As with the other settlers, their worship for a long time was in their private dwellings and was somewhat informal. Entering into trade, which of late centuries has been the passion of their race, they steadily increased in numbers and in resources, and thereby added both to the reputation and wealth of the colony.
When death invaded their ranks they sought a Machpelah all their own where they might lay their dead. Two of their number, Mordecai Campannall and Moses Peckeckoe, Dec., 28, 1677, bought of Nathaniel Dickens the ground, since enlarged and improved, now so well known as the Jewish Cemetery, at the junction of Kay and Touro streets. The early graves in their place of sepulture present no inscribed stones, and, like the graves of other early settlers, are now indistinguishable.
That these children of Abraham were kindly received in Rhode Island is shown by the action of the General Assembly under date of June 24, 1684, reading as follows:
'Voted: In answer to the petition of Simon Medus, David Brown, and associates, being Jews, presented to this Assembly, bearing date June the 24th, 1684: We declare that they may expect as good protection here as any strangers, being not of our nation residing among us in this his Majesty's Collony [sic], ought to have, being obedient to his Majesty's laws.'
When they qualified themselves and sought the privilege, they were admitted freemen of the colony, like others, by vote of the General Assembly. (See Colony Records.) Their enjoyment of civil and religious freedom, so rigidly and bitterly refused them throughout the world, but so freely granted in this cradle of soul-liberty, and their unrestrained participation in commercial and civil affairs, were a happy illustration of the spirit and principles of the colony, and constitute a pleasing chapter in the history of the State. Indeed they were here always treated according to their manhood and their worth.
Prior to 1750 some distinguished Spanish Jews by the name of Lopez appear in the affairs of Newport, and soon we find associated with them a number of their kindred. All these, in intelligence as in estate, were of a superior class, as their after career testified. Here they entered largely upon marine and mercantile pursuits and were greatly prospered in their enterprises. Their learning and skill in practical sciences became an aid and adornment to the life of the colony. Moses Lopez effectively served the colony as a translator of the Spanish language, for which service he received certain legislative favors. In 1750 the Colonial Assembly granted him 'a patent', or exclusive right, for 'the art and mystery' of making potash, a process then ''known to very few in the kingdom' of Great Britain. At the same time the colony forbade the sale of ashes beyond its limits that Mr. Lopez might have the more advantage.
Aaron Lopez, also eminent for ability, seems to have here introduced important trade with foreign parts. At the opening of the Revolution, Aaron and Moses Lopez owned not less that twenty-seven square-rigged vessels engaged in foreign voyages and in the whale fishery. For that day this was an immense business for two men. Nearly if not quite all these vessels were lost during the war. Moses had a brother Jacob, whose record we are now unable to trace. Certainly Newport's early advantages from trade with distant lands were derived largely from these Israelites.
Jacob Rodrigues Riviera introduced into Newport, and so into our country, the process of manufacturing spermaceti.
On account of the terrible earthquake at Lisbon, in Portugal, Nov. 1, 1755, other Jews of that country were scattered abroad. Among these was a regular orthodox Hebrew Rabbi named Isaac Touro. He reached Newport, R. I., as early as 1758; probably a little earlier. Here he found enough of his countrymen to be gathered into a regular orthodox congregation. Being a man of talents, broad education and ardent Hebrew devotion, he became a leader among his people and thoroughly organized them for established worship. The congregation appears in regular form in 1758, and was named Yeshuat Israel, signifying the 'Strength of Israel,' the name ever after found in all the notices of the assembly and even on some of the tombstones of the members. The Rev. Mr. Touro then proceeded to secure a house of worship for his flock. With the generous contributions of his people and of their friends he finally raised the necessary funds for the erection of the solid and beautiful Synagogue now so valued in Newport, located midway on the north side of Touro street. The builder was the famous Peter Harrison, who was assistant architect of Blenheim House, England, and builder of the Colony House -- now the State House -- in Newport, in 1742, as also of the Redwood Library Building, in 1748-50. The wealthy Jews were resolved upon a house worthy of their ancient faith and of their large pecuniary resources. The edifice was begun in 1762, and was 'consecrated Dec. 3, 1763, (Tebet, A. M. 5524, in Hebrew chronology), being the Feast of Dedication in the Jewish calender. The Ritual (Minhag) was in the Portuguese tongue, but the Scrolls and reading of the Law, were, as always, in Hebrew. The day of dedication (called Hanneah) was the Jewish festival in commemoration of the rededication of the Temple at Jerusalem by Judas Maccabees, B. C. 163, (see 1. Maccabees IV. 59). That was a historic day in Newport when for the first time, under Rhode Island's aegis of religious liberty, was devoutly and fully celebrated that ancient Jewish feast, and the children of Abraham joyfully entered their new and elegant Synagogue. Then 'was there very great gladness among the people'.
The structure is of brick and stone, measuring 48 by 40 feet on the ground, and has a wing on the north side; both parts two stories in height; a fine portico on its front to the west; the whole, both exterior and interior, in chaste Roman Doric style of architecture; a really superb edifice for its day, and still justly admired. Its front is not to the street but to the west, as all regular synagogues are built, that the worshippers may turn their faces directly toward Jerusalem. The assembly room has galleries on the north, west, and south. Near the front entrance is the large, square reading desk that faces eastward. On the east wall is the cabinet to contain the Scrolls of the Law and other precious articles. No permanent seats were ever provided; only chairs and benches were occasionally introduced. Usually the worshippers stood, all with their heads covered, and in acts of worship turned their faces to the east. In the lower story of the wing were the means for preparing the unleavened bread for the Passover. The women enter the wing and ascend by stairs to the galleries, the only part of the building assigned to them. Among the Orthodox Jews the men and women are apart in the synagogue service. This custom is not followed by the Reformed Jews.
In this sanctuary in Newport the Hebrews, while they grew in numbers and opulence, joyfully met to celebrate their rites and festivals with holy chantings. For thirteen years, undisturbed, they kept their Sabbaths, the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Pentecost, the Feast of the New Year, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of the Eighth Day of Solemn Convocation, and the Feast of the Day of Atonement. The synagogue had a Minister, a President, a Board of Directors, a Treasurer and a Secretary.
That some youths of the stock of Abraham studied in Brown University is concluded from the fact that the college authorities instituted a regulation excusing Jews from attending collegiate duties on their Sabbaths (Saturdays).
Among the Newport worshipers were some wealthy Spanish and Portuguese families from the adjacent colonies, as Newport, then having a population of about six thousand, was the leading commercial port in this country, and in culture was deemed 'the Athens of America'.
Among the notable Hebrew families were found such names as Benjamin, Elizar, Hart, Hays, Lucena, Levy, Lopez, Oliveyra, Polok, Riviera, Seixas, and Touro.
These were Orthodox Israelites (Sephardim), in distinction from what are known as Reformed Israelites (Ashkenarim). As an indication of their learning it may be mentioned that Dr. Ezra Stiles, then a preacher in Newport and afterwards President of Yale College, took lessons in the Hebrew tongue of these Israelites.
In 1760 these Jews reported above sixty families. When Dr. Stiles reported 'seventy souls' as constituting the church he must have meant heads of families, a Jewish mode of counting. Prior to the Revolution, says a Newport annalist, 'upwards of three hundred attended the synagogue.' As they were religiously opposed to a 'numbering of the people' they did not give their names and numbers when the families of Newport were counted in 1774.
'The able and faithful Rabbi,' Isaac Touro, married Reyna Hays, a sister of Moses Hays then of Newport, and afterwards a resident of Boston. Isaac and Reyna had three children: Abraham, born in 1773; Judah, born in 1775; Rebecca, born in 1779. Occasion will appear hereafter for speaking of Abraham and Judah. Rebecca married Josiah Lopez who lived on the north side of the Parade, a part of Newport containing numerous Jewish dwellings.
Just as Newport was reaching a wonderful pitch of commercial prosperity the storm of the Revolution gathered and broke. It swept sea and land. Ships and shops, merchandise and merchants were scattered. Rabbi Touro and his people were obliged to flee. He finally went to the West Indies, where at Kingston, Jamaica, while laboring for his people, he died Dec. 8, 1783, aged forty-six years. We infer that he was buried where he died. Rhode Island, in view of his character and labors owes him an enduring record.
His sons, Abraham and Judah, were placed with their uncle, Moses Hays, in Boston, with whom they learned to be wise and successful importing merchants. Their mother, at her death, was laid with solemn service in the Newport cemetery.
While the British occupied Newport, confiscation and plunder, camp fires and army exactions, left but little of the large Hebrew property. 'The north side of the Parade was once covered with Jewish residences which were destroyed.' The Synagogue was spared though its doors were closed. For half a century thereafter, except for certain funerals of Jews, no reading of the Law, no intoning of the Prophets, no chanting of the Psalms, were officially performed within the sacred walls. It was a veritable dispersion. The harps were on the willows hung. And but few of the old congregation ever returned to Newport to remain.
By a custom among the Orthodox Jews, it requires ten persons present on any given occasion in the synagogue to form the proper number to offer acceptable prayer; a usage suggested by the mention in Moses' writings of the 'ten righteous men' required to effectually intercede for Sodom. Obedience to this custom explains in part the long closing of the Newport Synagogue.
The Jews were friends of the colonies in the Revolutionary struggle. They gave liberally of their means to sustain the patriot cause. In some cases they served in the continental armies. The address they delivered to Gen. Washington on his accession to the Presidency of our nation was one of great beauty of expression and pertinency of sentiment. The reply they received was equally complimentary, felicitous and just. Always the Jews have stood on the side of liberty.
Abraham Touro, educated and established in Boston, became a man of high reputation, large trade and enviable fortune. He acquired his wealth as an importer, trading particularly with ports on the shores of the Mediterranean. At his death in October, 1822, in the forty-eighth year of his age, his direct bequests amounted to more than sixty-thousand dollars, not including goods, stores, merchandise and a balance to his brother Judah and his sister Rebecca.
We may mention the chief these bequests:
'$10,000 to the Legislature of Rhode Island for the purpose of supporting the Jewish Synagogue in that State, in special trust, to be appropriated to that object in such manner as the said Legislature together with the municipal authority of the town of Newport from time to time may direct and appoint.'
'$10,000 to the Trustees of the Jewish Synagogue in New York.'
'$10,000 to the Massachusetts General Hospital'
'$5,000 to the Trustees of the Asylum for Indigent Boys in Boston.'
'$5,000 to the Female Asylum for orphans in Boston.'
'$5,000 to the municipal authorities of Newport' 'for repairing and preserving the street leading from the burying ground (Jewish Cemetery) to the main street.'
'$5,000 to a Humane Society.'
'$5,000 to Moses Myers in trust.'
'$2,000 to Moses L. Moses.'
'$2,000 to Miss Juliet Lopez of New York.'
$1,000 to Miss Frances Bruner.'
'$500 to Nathan Cobb, a yellow servant.'
'$500 to William B. Proctor.'
From the avails of one of his bequests, in 1843, the Synagogue grounds were enclosed with heavy, cut granite walls and massive iron palings, and adorned with a beautiful Quincy granite gateway, the cap of which bears his name and the Jewish date of erection A. M. 5603.
His body was brought and devoutly laid in the cemetery that was so dear
to him; and in view of his active, enterprising life and his many and large
benevolences, it is no wonder that his name here
'Smells sweet and blossoms from the dust.'
Judah Touro, educated in like manner to trade, also became a man of opulence and of very wide reputation. He pursued his business career chiefly in the south, particularly in New Orleans, where he settled before Louisiana was purchased, in 1803, by the United States. While an eminent merchant he was alive to all benevolences and all patriotic endeavors. In the last war with England he served with Gen. Jackson in the defense of New Orleans and received Jan. 1, 1815, a severe wound in battle. He became famous by his deeds of kindness and his munificent gifts. His wealth became immense.
In 1843, at an expense of about $12,000, he erected heavy cut granite walls and strong iron palings around the Newport Jewish Cemetery, where his kindred sleep, and adorned the entrance with a superb Quincy granite gateway in pure Egyptian style of architecture, a style particularly rich in memorial associations. The cap of this gateway is embellished with a winged globe while the posts bear inverted torches.
Judah died in New Orleans Jan. 4, 1854, in his seventy-ninth year, leaving bequests to institutions and persons to the amount of $459,000, not including large gifts of real estate and property to the Hebrew congregation in New Orleans and to found a Hebrew hospital in that city, with a residue to his 'dear old friend, Rafer Davis Shepherd, of Virginia, 'to whom, under Divine Providence he was indebted for the preservation of his life when he was wounded' in battle.
We may mention the principal bequests:
$80,000 for establishing an Alms House in New Orleans.
$50,000 to Per Moses Montefiore, of London, to be used for the relief of Jews in the Holy Land.
$20,000 to the Hebrew Education Society, Philadelphia, Penn.
$20,000 to the Jews Hospital Society of the city and state of New York.
$13,000 to the Talmuth Torah School Fund of the city New York.
$10,000 to the city of Newport, R. I., for the purchase of the Old Stone Mill property as a Public Park and promenade ground.
$10,000 to the North American Relief Society for indigent Jews of Jerusalem and Palestine, in the state and city of New York.
$10,000 to the Massachusetts Female Hospital.
$10,000 to pay the salary of a reader or minister to officiate in the Synagogue in Newport, R. I., and to endow the ministry of the same, as well as to keep in repair and embellish the Jewish Cemetery in Newport aforesaid.
$10,000 to Aaron Repell Josephs, of New Orleans.
$10,000 to Gershom Kurshudt, of New Orleans.
$10,000 to Pierre Andre Destrae Carenaoe, of New Orleans.
$7,000 to the three daughters of Moses M. Myers, of Richmond, Va.
$7,000 to the surviving children of the late Samuel Myers, of Richmond, Va.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Benevolent Association, of New Orleans.
$5,000 to the Congregation Shangaria Chased, of New Orleans.
$5,000 to the Ladies Benevolent Society, of New Orleans.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Foreign Society, of New Orleans.
$5,000 to the Orphan Home Asylum, of New Orleans.
$5,000 to the Society for the Relief of Destitute Orphan Boys in the Fourth District of New Orleans.
$5,000 to St. Armas Asylum for the Relief of Destitute Females and Children.
$5,000 to the New Orleans Female Orphan Asylum.
$5,000 to St. Mary's Catholic Boys' Asylum.
$5,000 to Milsie Asylum, of New Orleans.
$5,000 to the Fireman's Charitable Association, of New Orleans.
$5,000 to the Seaman's House in the First District of New Orleans.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Congregation Chachay Shalome, Boston, Mass.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Hartford, Conn.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, New Haven, Conn.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Benevolent Society, Mashebat Nafesh, of New York.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Benevolent Society, Gimeleet Chased, of New York.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Beth Shalome, of Richmond, Va.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Sheareth Israel, of Charleston, S. C.
$5,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Mikoe Israel, of Savannah, Ga.
$5,00 to the Jews Hospital, of Cincinnati, Ohio.
$5,000 to the Asylum of Orphan Boys, Boston, Mass.
$5,000 to the Female Orphan Asylum, Boston, Mass.
$5,000 to Miss Catherine Hays (his cousin), of Richmond, Va.
$5,000 to supply Clapp Twing, of Boston, Mass.
$5,000 to Mistress Ellen Brooks, wife of Gorham Brooks, of Boston, Mass.
$5,000 to Rev. Theodore Clapp, of New Orleans.
$3,000 to the Redwood Library, of Newport, R. I., for books or repairs.
$3,000 to Educational Institute of the Hebrew Congregation, Briai Jeshurum, of New York.
$3,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Shangarai Tefila, of New York.
$3,000 to the Ladies' Benevolent Society, New York city.
$3,000 to the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society, of Philadelphia, Pa.
$3,000 to the United Hebrew Benevolent Society, of Philadelphia, Pa.
$3,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Ashabat Israel, of Fells Point, Baltimore, Md.
$3,000 to Hebrew Congregation, Adas Israel, of Louisville, Ky.
$3,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Briai Israel, of Cincinnati, Ohio.
$3,000 to the Hebrew School, Talmud Yeladin, Cincinnati, Ohio.
$3,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Tifereth Israel, Cleveland, Ohio.
$3,000 to Hebrew Congregation, Briai el Israel, St. Louis, Mo.
$3,000 to Hebrew Congregation, Beth el Israel, Buffalo, N. Y.
$3,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Beth el Israel, Albany, N. Y.
$3,000 to the Rev. Isaac Lesser, of Philadelphia, Penn.
$3,000 to the Rev. Moses N. Nathan, and his wife, of London.
$2,500 to Mrs. M. D. Josephs, of New Orleans.
$2,500 to Mrs. Rebecca Kurshudt, of New Orleans.
$2,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, of Memphis, Tenn.
$2,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, of Montgomery, Ala.
$2,000 to the Hebrew Congregation, Shangarai Shamoyen, of Mobile, Ala.
Surely Judah was a princely giver. His remains were brought to Newport and with fitting solemnity and ceremony, June 6, 1854, [should be January??] laid in the cemetery that he had adorned. Over his remains stands a substantial granite monument. At his burial there was placed with his remains a small portion of earth that had been brought from Palestine.
In this last named particular, we meet with an old custom, followed as far as possible by the Orthodox Israelites. Persons have been known to give $20 for a handful of such earth to be used in a burial service. Many Hebrews, on visiting the Holy Land, bring home with them portions of earth to be thus used on burial occasions. This usage is not so generally observed by the Reformed Jews. Both Orthodox and Reformed have a custom of putting earth of some kind into the pillow under the head of the deceased when the body is laid in the grave, thus signifying 'dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return'; at the same time placing the hands of the deceased by the sides of the body with open palms, to express the truth that we 'brought nothing into the world and can carry nothing out.'
It is traditionally told of Judah Touro that he cherished a special affection for his cousin, Catharine Hays, of Richmond, Va., mentioned in his will with a bequest of $5,0000, 'as an expression of the kind remembrance in which that esteemed friend' was held by him. She reciprocated the tender regard and, it is said, remembered him in her will for a like amount and in similar language of esteem. Forbidden to marry by Jewish law, they both lived single, but always mindful of each other's welfare. Judah annually sent a trusted agent from New Orleans to Richmond to inquire after Catharine's happiness. She responded through the same confidential lips. They did not trust their pulsing hearts to paper. While Judah gave his hands to trade and to all good causes, his inner heart was with Catharine. She also was devoted to all good deeds. Singularly, she died two days before him -- Jan. 2, 1854 -- at the age of seventy-seven, two years younger than he. Tradition further says 'his name was the last word she uttered,' and of him it is said 'in his delirium, before death called him, he talked of walking in a beautiful garden with Catharine Hays, his first and only love.' They both rest together in the Jewish Cemetery in Newport. On Judah's monument we read: 'The last of his name, he inscribed it in the book of philanthropy, to be remembered forever.' Surely, in view of his many and great deeds of beneficence, his name survives 'like sweet perfume.' He and his brother Abraham left funds in the keeping of the State of Rhode Island that now amount to about thirty-nine thousand dollars.
Let us now visit the Jewish Cemetery. Entering by the beautiful granite gateway, passing through the well kept walks, among the solemn pines, the wreathing vines, the love-planted shrubs and rare flowers, -- all like a sacred garden -- we tenderly study the pious records carved on large headstones, broad horizontal slabs and variously shaped monuments. The memorials are of slate, marble and granite. The inscriptions are in both Hebrew and English. We have indicated some of the names here found. Let us read a few others.
'Moses Michael Hayes, died May 9, 1805, aged 66 years.' He was born in New York, but resided in Boston the last twenty-four years of his life, and was distinguished 'for the probity of his dealings, the philanthropy of his nature, and the noble frankness of his manners.' Said the Boston Centinel, 'He walked abroad fearing no man, but loving all. Under his roof dwelt hospitality; -- it was an asylum for friendship, the mansion of peace. He was without guile, detesting hypocrisy as he detested meanness.' Having a dispensation from the Masonic Order in New York, he founded, near 1790, King David's Lodge in Newport, a Lodge that was afterwards incorporated with St. John's Lodge.
'Moses Lopez died 1767.'
'Aaron Lopez died May 28, 1782, in his 51st year.' Aaron was 'a man of eminent probity and benevolence', ''whose bounties were widely diffused' and 'not confined to creed or sect.' He and his nephew, Moses Lopez, on the breaking out of the Revolution, moved to Providence and afterwards to Leicester, Mass. He built in East Greenwich, a two-storied gambrel-roofed brick house, with a store in one corner below. The edifice is still standing (1882) on the corner of Main and Long streets. This was probably one of his branch trading houses. He was drowned May 28, 1783, being thrown from his sulky into Scott's Pond, a few miles north of Providence.
'Isaac Polok died May 23, 1764, aged 63 ys. 9 mo. 6 days..'
'Moses Seixas died Nov. 28, 1809, aged 66 years..' He was the first cashier of the Bank of Rhode Island, the first bank established in Newport, in 1805.
Perhaps it may suffice to simply mention some of the remaining names: David Lopez, Abraham Lopez, Rebecca Lopez, Benjamin Levy, Judith Levy, Moses Levy, Myer Benjamin, Isaac Jacobs Polok, Isaac Mendes Seixas. These and others are worthy of long remembrance.
The Rivieras removed to Boston.
Joseph Lopez, son of Aaron, returned to Newport after the war resumed business.
Jacob Rodrigues Riviera, after the war, returned, but did not re-enter upon business.
Abraham Rodrigues Riviera, an importer of dry goods before the war, won the title of 'the honest man', because after all his heavy losses, having no underwriters in that day, he at last paid all his creditors, principal and interest. He finally died in possession of a fortune.
Between 1810 and 1820, two Jewish youth, Samuel and Jacob Lopez, were in Providence and attended the school on Meeting street. Jacob lived with Mr. Knight Dexter. Samuel became a jeweller and married the daughter of Benjamin Tallman, Jr.
Newport now counts none of the old Jewish families of Portuguese and Spanish blood. Samuel Lopez, who lived on Pelham street, moved to New York, near 1820. The last of the old stock and faith, living on the north of the Parade, removed to New York in the spring of 1822. When some of these sold their residences, they made a reservation in the deeds that they should have the privilege, on occasion of bringing their dead to Newport for burial in their cemetery, of occupying their old homes for a few hours in the performance of funeral ceremonies. Instances of such re-occupancy occurred.
Except for rare funeral occasions the doors of the Synagogue were not ceremonially reopened until 1850, when a few Jews from New York and other cities, in official robes and with covered heads, re-entered the sacred walls and repeated the ancient ritual. Another similar service was observed in the autumn of 1877. Still another kindred service was conducted in 1881. Latterly the worshippers represent remnants of the old families and some families of later immigration. Of the ancient stock we recognize members of the Hays and Lopez families.
The Synagogue was again opened for the Portuguese ritual (Minhag) August 4th and 5th, 1882, and a full Jewish Sabbath was observed, the services beginning on Friday evening. The officiating Rabbi was the Rev. H. P. Mendez, the minster of the Nineteenth Street Portuguese Synagogue of New York City. He was assisted by the President of his synagogue, Mr. J. Blumenthall. Many visitors of rank were present, and some clergymen of other denominations. During the evening service, while the old candelabra threw over the room its 'dim religious light', it seemed as if a by-gone age had returned. The reading, the chanting, all the associations of the service seemed to reach back more than two thousand years. The scene was exceedingly impressive and suggestive. The chants however were recited in Spanish melodies or tones arranged more than four centuries ago, but the reading was from texts dating back more than three thousand years. Rabbi Mendez delivered an appropriate and forcible address from the words, 'Ye are my witnesses.'
Since 1882 a Jewish school, called The Touro Institute, has been conducted in Newport, by an Orthodox Rabbi, A. P. Mendes, who also leads weekly services in the Synagogue for about a dozen Hebrew families.
After the Spanish and Portuguese Jews were driven from Newport by the British army, a few of them came to Providence, but not a sufficient number to organize public worship and establish a synagogue.
In the present century, and within the past fifty years, with the growth of the trade of Providence appeared a number of Hebrews from central and northern Europe. These German, Polish and Russian Jews, with some from other regions, have at last become quite a factor in certain kinds of trade and in some crafts in the city.
The Russian and Polish Jews claim to be Orthodox, holding the old forms of ritual, remaining covered in worship, and requiring the separation of the sexes in the place of worship. To them the Hebrew tongue is pre-eminently sacred. Their prayers are in Hebrew; their discourses in German. In 1875 they organized a small Congregation, named 'Sons of Zion', meeting at first on Canal street. Their minister was the Rev. Lazarus Finsilever. They afterwards leased rooms in the Wayland Building. They next removed to No. 42 Canal street.
The German Jews, in main, count themselves Reformed, taking greater liberty than the Orthodox, in ritual, dress, discourse, and in allowing females to sit with the males in their public assemblies. Their prayers are in both Hebrew and German. Like the Orthodox, however, they worship with their faces toward Jerusalem. But, in general, they are more free, open and progressive than the old school, endeavoring to be in harmony with the spirit of our age. Their discourses are in English.
They organized their Congregation, named 'Sons of Israel', in 1878. For four years they had their synagogue - a leased building - on the corner of Pine and Page streets. They then removed to No. 98 Weybosset street.
The Jewish Cemetery in Providence was opened in 1857, but not ceremonially dedicated till Sept. 14, 1882. It is on Reservoir avenue. The ministers for the 'Sons of Israel' have been, Rev. Dr. Jacob Vorrrsanger, Rev. M. Moses, Rev. M. Rottenberg, and Mr. Myer Noot. This congregation numbering perhaps fifty active members (1882) and an assembly of perhaps two hundred, sustains quite a vigorous Sabbath School.
At the expense of being episodical, I shall here venture to present some historical facts, gleaned in my researches, that have never been put in print, relative to the first settlement of Israelites in three other important cities of our country where they have acted a conspicuous and effective part in trade and in society.
They first appear in the city of New York near 1650, where their first Congregation, named 'Shearith Israel,' was organized near 1700, as its records reach back clearly to 1706. These records are in the Spanish language, and they contain certain names that afterwards appear in Newport, such as Levy and Riviera. These New York Hebrews secured their first burying ground in 1681, and built their first Synagogue in 1729, and consecrated it in 1730 on Mill street. Their second house was erected, on the same street, in 1817, and consecrated in 1819. In 1833 they removed to Crosby street and consecrated their third house in 1834. In 1860 they removed to their present location on Nineteenth street. 'There was but a single synagogue in 1825, when the first synagogue of the German Jews was erected.' That city now (1882) reports about a dozen able Jewish preachers.
In Philadelphia the first Orthodox Synagogue was dedicated Sept. 13, 1782, and bore the name of the previously existing Congregation, 'Mikve Israel' - Hope of Israel. This congregation was composed of Portuguese whose ancestors had been exiled from their county. Among the organizers of their worship was the Rev. Gersham Mendes Seixas, from New York, who became their first Rabbi. He afterwards became Rabbi of the Synagogue, Shearith Israel, in New York, in 1816. Their next Rabbi in Philadelphia was the Rev. Jacob Raphael Cohen, who died in 1811.
Of the worship of the Israelites in Boston, the Rev. Alexis Alexander says: 'The first Jewish prayer meeting met in Warrenton street, opposite Bennett street, in 1852, and consisted of about fifteen members. Two years later they bought a house on Warrenton street and converted it into a synagogue. The Congregation was named Ohabei Shalom -- Love of Peace. The first Rabbi was names Socks.' From this, other congregations have gone out; some of them being of the Reformed school. There are now (1882) eight congregations in the city, having about five hundred members.
Perhaps we shall be pardoned for one more digression, as the facts have fallen under out notice and are not in print, though they are of importance to the Jews and to all our people.
In this country the Israelites organize themselves into great friendly societies, such as B'nai Berith (Sons of the Covenant), Free Sons of Israel, Kisher shel Barzel (Iron Link), and Improved Order Free Sons of Israel. They have a 'Union of American Congregations' that counts one hundred and eighteen bodies in its membership. These congregations have differing ways of interpreting Scripture. Some keep Sabbath on Sunday. The Orthodox however adhere to the old Jewish Sabbath. Some pray in English, asserting this to be a right in their Reformed practice. At present (1882) it is claimed that there are in the United States two hundred and seventy-eight congregations with twelve thousand five hundred and forty-six members.
We cannot close these brief notes and notices of the Hebrews in Rhode Island and this country without thinking of the almost miraculous tenacity of life manifested in that nation, and recalling the vast indebtedness of the world to this divinely chosen and defended people for the great part they have acted in receiving and preserving that richest of volumes - the Old Testament - the Law and the Promises of Almighty God. In themselves they are a historic proof of the Bible - a bulwark that no infidelity can destroy.
And as we look upon the guarded Jewish Cemetery and the solid, well preserved Synagogue in Newport, we almost feel that they, with the Jerusalem in Palestine, are a prophecy of the day when, the fullness of the Gentiles having come in, 'All Israel shall be saved.'
Acting Rabbi, Myer Noot, of the Reformed Synagogue, 'Sons of Israel', in Providence, then made the following:
'Mr. President, Members of the Rhode Island Veteran Citizens Historical Association:
Ladies and Gentlemen. -- It having pleased your society to set apart this day devoted to the Israelites of this State, and being cognizant of the appreciation of the same, I have prepared a short essay to speak upon this subject, although I feel that this task might have been placed in better and more competent hands in order to do justice to the occasion.
When I look around and see in this assemblage men of intelligence, men of character and prominence, I feel that my People in Judaism, should feel themselves highly flattered that this society should have so far given us an opportunity to show what the Israelites have done towards furthering the social and commercial interests of little Rhode Island. As far as the social interests are concerned we as Israelites claim we are contributing our share in this respect. We are law abiding people, ever willing and ready to stand by any and all laws which have been promulgated from time to time for the good government of all classes. And while we do not aspire to seeking for public offices we contribute our mite in giving evidence of our willingness to co-operate with our Christian brethren in matters relating to the interest of our city and State.
Commercially speaking we have been engaged in various pursuits and have endeavored to become with our sister merchants men who are toiling in various branches of industry striving hard to gain a livelihood.
The question though of to-day's gathering, my friends, does not give me full scope to speak at any great length on the purpose that has brought us here, and if I deviate from that particular point in order to speak on a subject which will view with the other, I hope I am not be considered out of order, for it is done with a view of showing what progress we have made, how much is Judaism understood both by Jew and Gentile, and to what extent we Israelites have worked towards commanding the respect as a religious sect from those who do not believe as we do. I have only to go back ten years to rehearse before you how things were in this city as far as the mode or worship was concerned. A mere handful of people composed the congregation at that time; the service was entirely in the Hebrew language, and to have introduced English into the synagogue at that time would have been considered an innovation, so to speak. It was a rare thing to see children or young men attend the synagogue. If a non-Israelite happened to enter the synagogue it was so much Greek to him, to comprehend what was going on. Then the additional days which were observed, which were however contrary to the Mosaic command, neither to add or diminish from the tenor of the Law.
How we as Israelites have been benefited by this great turn in affairs of our religion words cannot express. Our doors are open now to any one who is desirous of hearing our service. The young and old of people congregate there to hear the Word of God expounded in language suited to the present time; they can readily follow the reader or minister and understand what they are saying.
Our Christian brethren have access to our place of worship, can understand what we are doing and may perchance become interested in what might be termed a Jewish worship. While reform in the mode of worship is no thing of a recent date still we as Israelites of this city have only come to our senses within the last eight years, and have realized the dire necessity of establishing for ourselves such recompense in this respect, so that the younger element may have the benefit therefrom, and that they may find in the synagogue a place where they may supplicate to their Father in Heaven in a language best suited to their present condition and the land that gives them the right to worship as they may best see fit.
In this direction, my friends, we have done much to diffuse among our people and the community at large a certain amount of respect which must ultimately give rise to a better feeling for the Israelites of this city.
I fear in my remarks I may have merged too much on religious matters, but the opportunity has presented itself and our people have not been understood during the past twenty-five years, that a few words touching upon this subject will not be out of place.
There are in this city over one hundred and fifty Jewish families numbering probably five hundred people, employed in various kinds of mercantile pursuits. We have also two synagogues, one strictly Orthodox and the other Moderate Reform. The former are composed chiefly of Russian Jews, and the latter principally Germans, and a few who claim this country as their birthplace. The Orthodox Jews in this city adhere strictly to all the forms and ceremonies as practised years ago. The Reformers, however, have always believed that a change in the mode of worship was necessary (for reasons stated before) and the result has been that from a congregation of eighteen we number to-day sixty members of the male sex.
As we do not believe as they do as regards the old forms and ceremonies in the synagogue, we respect them as Israelites, and are at all times willing and ready to affiliate with them on all occasions. When God said to Moses we shall be a peculiar people, and that peculiarity has been manifest in all these years. We admit being a distinct people, and therefore hold together as such as far as our religious identity is concerned.
There are in this city three Jewish Orders, the various Grand Lodges of which are in New York. The aims and objects are alike in all and are strictly Jewish so far as not to admit any but Israelites, as the name would denote -- Sons of Covenant. The inconsistency of admitting non-Israelites is self-evident to any fair-minded person. There is also a Jewish Benevolent Association composed of females only. They administer to the wants of those who need aid and consequently there is no need of going out of our precincts in that direction. In fact, my friends, we Israelites of this city and State are alike all our other cities, ever willing and ready to dispense charity and benevolence to our own people and to others who do not believe as we do.
We cannot boast of having a synagogue of our own, but a fund has been established for that purpose, and it is to be hoped the time is not far distant when this worthy project will have been made a success.
When I look back but a short time and see how we Israelites have been blessed in this country with the right of Religious Liberty; when in this very State our people have been honored at least by one Israelite who has held the position of Representative in the General Assembly, a distinction that would have been laughed at years ago, I feel, my friends, that we must have done something, or at least our people who have lived here years ago, to merit such an act.
'And to what can we attribute the kindly feeling that is slowly being made manifest towards our people? The Israelites lived in this city in oblivion, our Christian brethren could not find out anything about them. If in years gone by the question was asked, Where is your synagogue or house of worship? they would shrink from telling you, and under some pretense or other would evade the question. But how different are things now. Ask our people that you would like to hear our services, they will only be too glad to take you to our synagogue. Is this not, my friends, an improvement? Should we not feel proud to think that time has wrought for us a miracle in this enlightened age of progress, and that we can be good Israelites if we do not believe as our Orthodox brethren do.
Another change which has worked wonders in our mode of worship was the introduction of music in the synagogue, something which the Orthodox Jews do not tolerate. And right here I desire to place myself on a right footing in regard to this question. I hope, however, it will not be taken amiss if I am expressing myself in terms Orthodox too much. My sole aim is, and will be in this discussion, to show to what extent Judaism has fared much better than in the days of Orthodoxy especially in this city, and when I mention this city I mean the State of Rhode Island.
Before, however, I quote my authority on the question of music in the synagogue, I feel as though the time has arrived that our Christian brethren should know something more of my people than they do. We have for the past fifteen years been in darkness, and our people have only of late years endeavored to come to the front and show their willingness to co-operate with other cities as to what was actually necessary in this city to give them prominence as a religious denomination. We as Israelites of Providence and vicinity have felt that in order to command the respect of our fellow man, we must give evidence of something tangible as to our distinctive religious identity. Everybody is aware that there are Israelites living here, have lived here for many years, but how have they lived? In obscurity, so to speak.
What has time wrought for our people, however, during the past ten years? Wonders, if I may use the term. Miracles. You may ask in what manner; in what particular? I will answer thus wise.
The Israelites of Rhode Island to-day as a religious class are respected. We have proved that there is material in our midst that can be utilized, and if given the opportunity in the right direction have the intelligence to hold positions of honor, provided they are aspirants for the same.
There is a bright future in this city for our people. Although few in numbers compared with other cities, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we command the respect due from one to the other notwithstanding what his belief may be.'
'Judaism to-day stands on a solid foundation. Judaism is the same as it always was, and like the unchangeableness of God, was, is, and ever will be a beacon light to all who may walk the path thereof, illuminated by the rays of Divine light, spreading in all directions.
While we have at all times believed in a reform as to the service in the synagogue we have never deviated from the spirit of the Mosaic Law. This is our stronghold, our banner, which has been carried through thousands of years. We cannot be assailed although fanatics, so to speak, have tried to tamper with the same, but the results will not have benefited them to any great extent. The very most important question which the so-called conference of radical Rabbis in Pittsburgh endeavored to embody in their platform the question of the regulation of diet. This important matter is sufficient to show their unfitness in attacking a question of the sanitary laws of the Jews, -- a question which is conceded by men of all creeds to be a matter which cannot be excelled.
We Israelites of the 19th century, and especially in this city, have known for some years the need of a proper service. Our people have fallen into error on this question, and we have endeavored to rectify this evil as far as it relates to our religious worship. That we have considered it a duty we owe ourselves and to our brethren at large, to declare that it is not our desire for innovation, not a want of respect for those institutions which our more immediate ancestors obeyed, but an obligation, a deep sense of right, which nothing can weaken; a conviction resulting from long, cool, and serious reflection, that impelled us to those measures which in our hearts we considered the only means of arousing our people in this city from that state of indifference and erroneous thoughts into which they were sinking, and to save our religion from criticism and self-respect from other denominations.
When we consider how things have changed among our own people it is hardly possible to recognize it ourselves.
The time in years gone by that it was necessary to hold divine services on the Sabbath's was such to keep them from attending the synagogue. Imagine 4.30 P.M. as an hour to gather people in the synagogue. Imagine a multiplicity of prayers entirely in the Hebrew, and an occasional Chaldiaic poem, which I question was not understood by any of the congregation. Again the observance of double festivals, a practice which originated before the astronomical calculations of the calender was introduced, has nevertheless been rigorously upheld in days when we were enabled to determine the months, even to the fraction of a minute.
It was, my friends, to remedy these great evils that we Israelites of this city brought about a reform in our service, and which up to the present time has proved a blessing to our people. The time appointed now for divine service is such as to enable the entire congregation, men, women and children to assemble prior to the commencement of prayer.
The prayers are said by the minister aloud. Appropriate psalms and hymns are chanted by the choir, and responses made by the congregation.
And now, my friends, to go back as to the question of organ music in our synagogue. A fondness for music and melody is clearly traceable amongst the Israelites as early as the times of Samuel, (x. 5,) and no one can attentively read the biblical records of that age without noting the idea then taking root that music tends to kindle the imagination, to warm the heart, and to awaken the liveliest sentiments of piety. Abundant evidences exist to establish the fact that music was employed during the administration of Samuel in connection with some of the most important offices of religion.'
'We find in Is. vi.; Chron. XXV., 5th and 6th verses, after the recovery of the possessions which the Philistines and other enemies had wrested from the Hebrews, and when Israel found itself in the enjoyment of peace and prosperity, David, the reigning sovereign, brought the public worship into unison with the improved social condition of the people, and introduced into the sanctuary instrumental music on a most extensive scale. He instituted twenty-four classes of musicians and singers, and placed them under the direction of two hundred and eighty-eight leaders, the most renowned of whom are Asaph, Heman and Jeduthum. And they did not consist of males only, since the three daughters of Heman are mentioned in the list of performers.
I have merely brought this matter before your notice to show that the reform in this respect was based upon a usage which had its origin thousands of years ago. Hence the introduction of organ or instrumental music into the synagogue at the present day is not an innovation, so called, as pronounced by our Orthodox brethren. Anything that would in a measure tend to improve the services, have been adopted in this country in all the synagogues of the Moderate Reform Platform.
Thus, my friends, have I as time would permit, endeavored to explain the motives that have brought me before your honorable society, and have given evidence to what extent we, as Israelites of this city, have progressed in our religious workings. If I have not spoken at length on the question of commerce and manufacturing interests among our brethren, and if I have not adhered closely to the subject for which this meeting was called together, it is because my Brother Denison has exhausted the subject and has been better informed on this question than I have been, and has left no room for me to dwell upon. I have considered the true objects of this meeting and the sentiments of both the Israelites and my Christian brethren. I have long examined into the question of how little Judaism and our people in this city have been understood as a religious creed, and have therefore endeavored to place them on a proper footing.
That henceforth this exposition will fully exonerate us from the imputation of entertaining the wild speculations which have attributed to us that of having our services held in private, and we feared non-Israelites being present at our synagogue, I trust will be removed from the minds of those who have the intelligence to know better.
Every effort we have made for the improvement in our devotion to Almighty God we have striven to confine strictly to the spirit of the immutable law of God, and before closing my remarks I desire to give this assemblage a little information which no doubt will interest you all, on the question that has so often been asked, Why we Israelites do not uncover our heads when attending divine worship, or when engaged in prayer? It appears, my friends, to be nothing more than an original custom, for in Asia this day, it is a mark of respect toward a superior to keep his head covered in his presence, whereas in western countries our customs are just the reverse of all this, since the recognized mark of social intercourse and to superiors, is to keep the head uncovered, and there can be no doubt but that the deepest marks of reverence and respect that any human being can pay are due to God.'
'But the fact is that this keeping our heads covered is not because of any custom in any part of the world, but because of a positive commandment which renders it a duty incumbent upon us of the House of Israel. According to the thirteen articles of the creeds, we Israelites believe that the Creator is one, and that he alone is God, who was, who is, and who will be, everlastingly. While the third art declares that God is not corporeal, or material, and not subject to accidents of bodies or matter, He consequently is altogether independent of time, place or custom; and as God's law and precepts are the spiritual food or sustenance of the soul, it follows that they must also be immutable and that our intercourse with God is, or should be, the embodiment and practical carrying out of this law, and therefore unaltered whether it be in the East or in the West. Now the command of God, through Moses, His servant, in Leviticus 16th chapter, 3d and 4th verses directs: Thus shall Aaron come into the holy place, a holy linen coat shall be put on, and with a linen mytre (called in Hebrew Mitznefes,) turban or head covering, he shall be attired. Thus God commanded the Priest to perform divine service with his head covered. So long as the Temple of Jerusalem and the Levitical record remained in their glory this precept was always observed; but now that we have no altar, and the Priest can offer no sacrifices, sacred Scripture instructs us to compensate for the offering of bullocks, 'with our lips'. Or, in other words, that prayer is to replace sacrifice, (Hosea xiv. 2). Accordingly, every Israelite during divine worship officiates as a Priest, offering in lieu of sacrifice, his prayers in his place of worship, which Scripture declares to be Mikdosh, Holy Place of minor holiness, but still Holy and which replaces the altar in the Temple. And as each Israelite thus performs the function and service of the Priest, and as he must in all things and to the utmost of his power conform to the law of God, he is bound to keep his head covered during divine worship even as the Priest was commanded to do when engaged in the sacred service appertaining to his office.
This, then, concludes my remarks to-day. If what I have said has in any way interested you I am pleased to think that in my humble capacity as a private individual, that I have added something that may reflect with credit upon the Israelites of Providence and vicinity. Our people will ever remember this day as something never to be forgotten in the history of this State, that we should have been allowed this privilege and honor of having a special day set apart whereon to give them prominence as a religious sect. God grant that such feelings of brotherly love may at all times be evinced towards us, and that we may merit at all times what has been advanced here this day. The Israelites of this city will have the satisfaction of knowing one thing, that they have entered upon a new era of usefulness, and the ultimate results thereof must be beneficial to them and the community at large. With my best wishes for the future prosperity of this venerable and honorable institution, accept my thanks and those of the Israelites of this city for the honor conferred.'
Mr. Noot then proceeded, with the aid of members of the synagogue, to explain and exemplify portions of both Orthodox and Reformed Hebrew service. The Rabbi wore his cap, and the voices were supported by an organ. The recitations and chantings by the Rabbi, and the psalms and songs of the responding choir, were rendered with admirable pathos and purity, holding the assembly in rapt attention, and awakening a truly catholic religious spirit, alike among Gentiles and Jews. Altogether, the day was emphatically historic in our State, giving prominence to a peculiar and valuable portion of Rhode Island records, and cultivating in an unusual manner that charity and brotherhood which should be felt by the children of the Great All-Father.