On March 8, 1772, the Reverend Ezra Stiles, then
Minister of the Second Congregational Church of Newport, Rhode Island
(later, president of Yale University), attended a Purim service in the local synagogue. He recorded the occasion in his diary:
There I saw Rabbi [Haim Isaac] Carigal I judge aet. 45.
lately from the city of Hebron, the Cave of the Macpelah in the Holy
Land. He was one of the two persons that stood by the Chusan at the Taubauh
or Reading Desk while the Book of Esther was read. He was dressed in a red garment with the usual Phylacteries and habiliments, the white silk Surplice; he wore a high brown furr Cap,
had a long Beard. He has the appearance of an ingenious & sensible Man.
The Holy Land visitor so colorfully described by Stiles
was no stranger to the New World. A native of Hebron — he
was born in 1733 and ordained as a rabbi twenty years later — Carigal had traveled widely in the Near East, Europe, and the
Americas, acting on occasion as an itinerant rabbinic functionary. He had
spent two years in Curacao before returning to Hebron in 1764. In 1768, he
once again resumed his travels. For two and a half years, he served as a
teacher in London and then spent a year in Jamaica. In the summer of 1772
he made his way to Philadelphia, then New York, and arrived in Newport in
1773 in time to celebrate the Purim holiday and to make the acquaintance of
This, the first American
Jewish sermon to be published, was preached by an emissary from the Holy
Land, Haim Isaac Carigal-"the venerable hocham, the learned rabbi, of
the city of Hebron, near Jerusalem, in the Holy Land," as he is
described on the title page-on the festival of Shavuot, May 28, 1773, in
Newport's beautiful synagogue, which is now a national shrine. The sermon,
preached in Ladino (Judeo- Spanish), the language of Sefardi Jewry, was
translated into English by Abraham Lopez and published contrary to
Haim Isaac Carigal, A Sermon Preached at the Synagogue, in Newport,
Rhode island, 1773. General Collection.
The Reverend Mr. Stiles had great curiosity about Jews
and Judaism, and from his voluminous
diaries we learn that between 1759 and 1775 no less than six rabbis visited
Newport. Stiles sought them out, conversed with them and described them and
their conversations. Rabbi Carigal impressed him most, and they spent much
time together. Carigal supplied information about the Jews in other lands,
in particular the Holy Land, noting that "in all Judea or Holy Land
A.D. 1773" there were about one thousand families of Jews and twelve synagogues.
From him Stiles also learned that there were three rabbis "settled in
America, one in Jamaica, one in Surinam and one in Curacao,'' but "none on the Continent of North
On May 28, the festival of Shavuot,
Stiles was again in the synagogue, and this time he had the pleasure of
hearing a sermon preached by Carigal in "Spanish" (Ladino?) which
lasted for forty-seven minutes. Though few present were able to understand
any part of the lengthy discourse, whose theme was "the Salvation of
Israel," the occasion was auspicious for the twenty-five families who
formed the Jewish community of Newport. Dignitaries from the community at
large had been invited-Stiles noted Governor Wantan, Judge Oliver, and
Judge Auchmuty — and all listened respectfully to
the exotically garbed preacher speaking in a strange yet impressive tongue.
"There was a Dignity and Authority about him, mixt with modesty,"
It was a moment that demanded preservation for
posterity. Abraham Lopez, a native of Portugal and a former Marrano who had entered the Covenant of Abraham six years
earlier, was entrusted with the task of translating the sermon into
English. It was published later that year, the first Jewish sermon in
America accorded that honor. Its title page reads: A Sermon Preached at
the Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island, Called "The Salvation of
Israel, " on the Day of Pentecost, or Feast of Weeks, the 6th Day of
the Month of Sivan, the year of Creation 5533, or, May 28, 1773. Being the
Anniversary of giving the Law at Mount Sinai: By the Venerable Hocham, the
Learned Rabbi, Haijim Isaac Carigal, of the City of Hebron, near Jerusalem
in the Holy Land.
Sixty years later, another emissary, Rabbi Enoch Zundel
of Jerusalem, went to America
seeking aid for his impoverished brethren. With him he brought a letter to Mordecai
M. Noah signed by a half dozen rabbis of the Holy Land beseeching aid.
Translated by the Christian Hebraist William L. Roy, it reads in part:
The voice of Zion speaks weeping and lamenting, for the
wretched state of her children: For their faces are black with hunger ...
We are hungry, thirsty and naked. Our children ask for bread and we have
none to give them.-And in addition to this, the Turks have laid us under a
contribution of fifty thousand dollars, which if not paid will be the ruin
of all the Jews here ... and [we] have sent on the Rabbi Enoch Zindal [sic]
... son of the great Rabbi Hersh, one of the most learned men in the world.
He will fully explain to you our afflictions ... Help him by any way and
means in your power, by obtaining donations, and forming societies among
all denominations. And we will pray for you in all the holy places ... and
we hope with all the scattered tribes and the Messiah at their head, to
meet you soon in the Holy City, the desire of all nations.
The first published American
engraving of a contemporary Jew is this of an emissary from the Holy Land,
Enoch Zundel. Arriving in New York in 1832, seeking aid for his
impoverished countrymen, he met with Christian clergymen who pledged their
help, as did Jewish congregations and individual Jews. His exotic figure
made such an impression that an engraving by A. A. Hoffay of the rabbi in
full regalia-turbanlike head covering, fringed prayer shawl, and open
Hebrew book in hand-was published by N. M. Fried in 1833.
Portrait of the Rabbi Enoch Zundel, New York, 1833. Prints and Photographs
The full text of the letter and an account of a meeting
of Rabbi Zundel with the leading clergy of New York was published in the New
York Christian Intelligencer and other newspapers.
The evening was spent in hearing the Rabbi, who is a
truly polite and accomplished man, detail many interesting things relative
to Jerusalem, the holy city and the condition of the Jews there ... He gave
replies to many difficult questions proposed to him on various passages of
the Hebrew Bible ...
He is fully in the belief of the Jews being recalled to
their own land. And by the calculations he makes ... it is to commence in
the year 1841 — only nine years hence.
The Rabbi's people at Jerusalem had heard of the
exceeding benevolence and charity of the Americans. These are his own
words: "You did much for the Greeks; and will you not admit, even
as Christians, lovers of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets, that
you owe at least as much, nay, much more, TO US THE JEWS?"
And as this is the first appeal made to us as
Christians, by the Jews, direct from Jerusalem, we should, by responding to
the voice of suffering humanity, give them an evidence that we are, as
Christians, their true and sincere friends.
Four ministers volunteered to receive any funds
"which benevolent Christians may condescend to give."
Rabbi Enoch Zundel made such an impression that an
engraving of him by A. A. Hoffay was published by N. M. Fried in 1833,
showing the Rabbi wrapped in a prayer shawl and wearing a turbanlike head
covering. He holds an open book in his hands. The first published American
engraving of a contemporary Jew, the Library's copy of this rare print is
in pristine condition.
*There were Jewish religious
functionaries in North America at that time, called hazzan or minister, but
no ordained rabbis.
Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From
the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress,
(DC: Library of Congress,