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Boston, Massachusetts

BOSTON, capital and principal city of Massachusetts. Boston represents the fourth largest Jewish community in the United States, with 248,000 Jews making up 7% of the city's population (as of 2016). The Brandeis and Combined Jewish Philanthropies study, which asked questions of 5,000 Greater-Boston area Jews and was published in November 2016, found that approximately half of the Jews in the Greater Boston area do not identify with a particular denomination of Judaism. This is significantly higher than the national average of 30%.

Boston was an early stronghold of the Zionist movement. Partly under the influence of Jacob de Haas, who edited the Jewish Advocate from 1908 to 1918, Louis D. Brandeis assumed a leading role in the movement, and his prestige had considerable influence in gaining support for it. By World War II, more than 90 per cent of Boston and New England Jews supported Zionism, a record unmatched anywhere in the United States.

In 2000, the Greater Boston metropolitan area, embracing large sections of New England, was the sixth largest Jewish metropolitan area in the United States, including some 10,500 Jews from the former Soviet Union, most of whom arrived after 1985. More than half of the community's Jews were engaged in professional and technical work, and 40 per cent of Jewish adults held advanced degrees.

In August 2017 the Boston Holocaust Memorial was vandalized and destroyed when a rock was thrown at the memorial, shattering the glass.  This came less than two months after a similar incident, which caused less significant damage to the memorial.

Early History

Though Boston is one of the oldest cities in North America, having been first settled in 1628, it was not until the mid-19th century that an organized Jewish community took shape. The records of the Great and General Court of Massachusetts Bay show that in 1649 Solomon Franco, a Jew, arrived in Boston, was "warned out" by the court, and was supported for ten weeks until he could return to Holland. A 1674 tax list discloses the presence of two Jews. In 1720 Isaac Lopez was elected town constable; he paid a fine rather than serve. Judah Monis, who later became a Christian and taught Hebrew at Harvard College, arrived in Boston by 1720. Moses Michael Hays (1739–1805) arrived there around 1776 and was a well-known citizen. He was among the Bank of Boston's original stockholders and was instrumental in establishing Masonry in New England. There is a tradition that some Algerian Jews arrived about 1830 but did not remain.

The first congregation was Ohabei Shalom, which formally organized in 1843. It followed Minhag Polin, since a preponderance of local Jews came from East and West Prussia, Poland, Posen, and Pomerania. In 1844 the Boston City Council, reversing an earlier refusal, permitted the congregation to purchase land for a cemetery. That same year, the congregation held services in a house and in 1852 its first synagogue was dedicated. In 1854 a secession, apparently of the Southwestern German element in Ohabei Shalom, led to the formation of a second congregation, Adath Israel (generally known as Temple Israel). A third congregation, Mishkan Israel (later Mishkan Tefilla), was formed in 1858 largely by immigrants from Krotoszyn. Boston Jewry was small and more Polish than German, unlike the communities of the Midwest. In 1875, the Jewish population was estimated to number only 3,000. By 1900, thanks to immigrants from Eastern Europe, it had reached 40,000. East European Jews dominated the community by World War I, when some 80,000–90,000 Jews lived in Boston, mostly recent immigrants or their children.

Population Trends

The earliest settlers resided in the South End, but from the early 1880s growing numbers of East European Jews settled in the North End. As the immigration from Eastern Europe increased, the Jewish community spread over to the West End. Both these areas stood at the tip of the peninsula forming the oldest part of the city. Subsequently, the Jewish community spread southward to Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and later to Sharon, westward to Brookline and later to Newton, and northward, across Boston Harbor to Chelsea and Malden. These movements were followed by further dispersion to the outer suburbs and along the shores of Massachusetts Bay, and synagogues were established in those areas. In 2004, the core of the Jewish community was in Brookline, Newton, and Sharon, but the community was rapidly dispersing to remote suburbs north, south, and west of the city.

The substantial immigration and the subsequent dispersal of the community produced a wide variety of organizations. Late 19th-and 20th-century Boston was divided between the Yankees who controlled its social, cultural, and financial institutions, and the Irish who dominated its politics, and this did not make it easy for the largely immigrant Jewish group to find a recognized place. Anti-Jewish violence peaked in Boston during the depression and World War II, partly inspired by Father Charles E. Coughlin and his Christian Front movement. The city was known as one of the most antisemitic in the United States. This changed in the postwar era as Catholic-Jewish relations improved and Jews departed to safer suburbs. Whereas at the beginning of the 20th century there was a substantial proletarian element, particularly in the garment industry, by 1969 71% of heads of families were in white-collar occupations. For a time, in the 1960s and 1970s, the largest group of Jews consisted of transient students, but by 2000 the community had aged. It nevertheless continues to boast the highest proportion of Jewish academics and students of any American community.

Religious Developments

Religious reform came late to Boston owing to its small German-Jewish population. It developed only in the 1870s when Ohabei Shalom and Temple Israel shortened their services and introduced choirs and organs. Reform of a more radical kind found expression in Temple Israel during the ministry of Solomon Schindler (1874–93) and was carried further by his successor Charles *Fleischer (1894–1911), who eventually left Judaism entirely. Under Harry Levi (1911–39) the congregation, while continuing Sunday services, returned to the Reform pattern usual in its day and embraced Zionism. Under the leadership of Rabbi Herman Rubenovitz, who served during 1910–45, Congregation Mishkan Tefilla became the standard-bearer of Conservative Judaism. Rabbi Louis M. Epstein, who served Kehillath Israel in Brookline during 1925–48, was among the most distinguished scholars in the Conservative movement. The immigration from Eastern Europe produced many Orthodox congregations, great and small. Among the more important were Beth Israel in the North End, Beth Jacob and Shaare Jerusalem, both in the West End, and Adath Israel (the Blue Hill Avenue Shul) in Roxbury. Among the leading Orthodox rabbis were Morris S. Margolies, who served during 1889–1906, and Gabriel *Margolis , 1907–10. From 1932 to 1993, Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. *Soloveitchik , one of the leading figures in American Orthodoxy, was identified with the Boston community. Levi I. Horowitz (1920– ), reputedly the first American-born ḥasidic rebbe, returned to Boston in 1944, succeeding his father, Pinchas Dovid, who established the Bostoner ḥasidic line in 1915.

Of some 174 congregations in the Greater Boston area and its environs, 53 were Orthodox, 37 Conservative, 34 Reform, 5 Reconstructionist, and 45 other (2001). A survey of religious preferences indicated that 3 per cent of the Jewish population considered itself Orthodox, 33 per cent Conservative, 41 per cent Reform, 2 per cent Reconstructionist, and 20 per cent "other" or no preference. (1995). The Vaad Harabonim of Massachusetts provides kashrut supervision, while the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts, created in 1981, seeks to "promote and strengthen the synagogue, and to nurture a respect for diversity" within the community.

Charitable Institutions

The first specifically charitable institution was the United Hebrew Benevolent Association, founded in 1864. To this were added the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Society (organized in 1869 and revived in 1878), the Hebrew Industrial School (1890), the Free Burial Association (1891), and the Hebrew Sheltering Home (1891). By 1895 demand far exceeded income, resulting in the creation of the Federation of Jewish Charities of Boston, the first Jewish federation in the United States, later known as the Association of Jewish Philanthropies, later changed to Combined Jewish Philanthropies. At first the Federation and organized philanthropy made slow headway. Under the leadership of Louis E. Kirstein (1867–1942) the Federation developed considerably and became more comprehensive in its appeal. In 1902, against considerable opposition from some sections of the Jewish community, the Mt. Sinai Hospital, an outpatient clinic, was established in the West End. This was replaced in 1917 by the Beth Israel Hospital in Roxbury, which in 1928 moved to Brookline Avenue. In 1996, Beth Israel merged with New England Deaconess Hospital.

Schools and Colleges

In 1858 Congregation Ohabei Shalom established a day school for secular and religious subjects, which closed, however, in 1863. As the community grew, many congregational and other schools were founded. A Jewish Education Society was established in 1915. This organization promoted the association of Boston Hebrew Schools (1917) and the Bureau of Jewish Religious Schools (1918), which merged in 1920 to form the Bureau of Jewish Education. By 2000, it served as the central educational service agency for more than 140 Jewish schools, youth groups, summer camps, and adult education programs throughout the region, including 14 independent Jewish day schools under Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and "transdenominational" auspices.

In 1921 the Bureau established Hebrew Teachers College (later *Hebrew College ), and in 1927 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts granted the college a charter enabling it to confer degrees. At first established in Roxbury, it moved to Brookline in 1951 and to Newton in 2001.

The support given to the Bureau of Jewish Education and Hebrew College reflects an interest in Jewish education and culture far more extensive than in most communities. Seeking to "vastly expand Jewish literacy and learning and facilitate a Jewish cultural renaissance," Boston beginning in 1998 pioneered highly innovative programs in Jewish education, and became a national center for Jewish educational initiatives of every sort. Indeed, education – "quality educational programming for children, adults, and families" – became one of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies' top priorities. The engine underlying many of the Jewish educational advances in Boston is the area's remarkable community of academics who constitute, per capita, the largest number of Jewish scholars anywhere outside of Israel. In 2004, there were approximately 90 dedicated staff positions in Jewish studies at seven major private universities in the Boston area, with over 30 more similar positions at the colleges in Worcester and the Amherst area.


M. Axelrod, et al., Community Survey for Long Range Planning: A Study of the Jewish Population of Greater Boston (1967); S. Broches, Jews in New England, 1 (1942); A. Ehrenfried, Chronicle of Boston Jewry from the Colonial Settlement to 1900 (1963); A. Mann (ed.), Growth and Achievement: Temple Israel, 1854–1954 (1954); Neusner, in: AJHSQ, 46 (1956), 71–85; Reznikoff, in: Commentary, 15 (1963), 490–9; B.M. Solomon, Pioneers in Service (1956); A.A. Wieder, Early Jewish Community of Boston's North End (1962); A. Libman Lebeson, Jewish Pioneers in America (1931), incl. bibliography. Various essays by L.M. Friedman are collected in Early American Jews (1934), Jewish Pioneers and Patriots (1942), and Pilgrims in a New Land (1948). Descriptions of the life of the immigrant community are given in novels by M. Antin: From Polotzk to Boston (1899), The Promised Land (1912), and They Who Knock at Our Gates (1914); and in the novels of C. Angoff: Journey to the Dawn (1951), In the Morning Light (1952), and Between Day and Dark (1959). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.D. Sarna and E. Smith (eds.), The Jews of Boston (1995, 2005)

[Sefton D. Temkin /

Jonathan D. Sarna (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.