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The arrival of some 23 *Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews on the French privateer St. Catherine early in September 1654 marked the end of a tortuous journey that began earlier in the year when they left Recife, Brazil, after helping in the unsuccessful defense of the Dutch possession from Portuguese attack, rather than stay and face the Inquisition. The director general of New Netherland, Peter Stuyvesant, and the dominie Johannes Megapolensis tried to refuse haven to the penniless and tired refugees. They protested to the Dutch West India Company against the possible settlement of a "deceitful race" who professed an "abominable religion" and whose worship at the "feet of Mammon" would threaten and limit the profit of loyal subjects of the company. While Stuyvesant's plea was under consideration, other Jews including David de Ferrara and Abraham de *Lucena arrived in the spring of 1655. The population as a whole accepted the group. Instructions from the Dutch West India Company followed letters written by the Jews to their coreligionists in the company, which directed that newcomers be permitted to live, trade, and travel in New Netherland, and, in effect, to have the same privileges enjoyed in the Netherlands. Probably in deference to Stuyvesant, and because of the small size of the Jewish colony, the Jews, although permitted a burial ground, were not allowed to build a synagogue.

Despite the orders of the company, the newcomers faced other obstacles. The right to trade with some areas, including Albany, was denied as were rights to serve in the militia in lieu of paying a special tax, to own land, and to engage in retail trades like baking. These restrictions were all put forth by Stuyvesant. The Jews' response was twofold. The first took the form of a series of petitions drawn by Abraham de Lucena, Salvador d'Andrada, and Jacob Cohen Henriques addressed to the company in 1655 and 1656. The answers were affirmative. Burgher right, the right to conduct retail and wholesale trade in New Amsterdam, was extended to Jews in 1657, and the right to hold property was also upheld. Some Jews fought Stuyvesant on his own ground. Asser *Levy and Jacob *Barsimon (who had arrived with Solomon Pietersen in August 1654, prior to the main body of settlers) began a successful court action in November 1655 to permit Jews to serve in the militia in lieu of the payment of a special derogatory tax. Thus the Jews gained primary civil rights within a few years of settlement.

Having secured a foothold, the first Jews began the task of sustaining themselves. While economic opportunity was quite limited compared with those in the more stable, secure, and richer markets of Europe and the Caribbean, the average Jew managed well. In 1655 Jewish taxpayers paid 8% of the cost of the Palisade or "Waal," later the site of Wall Street, while they made up only about 2% of the assessed population. Asser Levy became the most prominent and successful merchant. He built a prosperous real estate business, had a kosher butcher shop, and won the right to participate in the citizens' guard. Another member of the founding group, Levy, a butcher and tanner by trade, carried on his business just outside the city's wall. He expanded his interests to real estate and trade within the city, as well as in communities along the Hudson River. Levy was one of the few pioneer Jews who remained and died in the province and whose descendants could be traced to 18th-century New York.


The surrender of New Amsterdam to the British in 1664 brought a number of changes to the Jewish settlement. Generally, civil and religious rights were widened. Jews were permitted to hold and be elected to public office and restrictions on the building of a synagogue were lifted. While there is some evidence that a synagogue existed as early as 1695, it was undoubtedly a private home used for this purpose by the Jewish community. Shearith Israel, the first congregation in New York, was probably organized in about 1706. Between 1729 and 1730 the congregation erected the first synagogue, a small building on Mill Lane – known also as Mud Lane – the site of present South William Street. This event occurred some 75 years after the original settlement and was an indication of its permanence as well as of the acceptance by English authority of the Jewish economic and social position. Interestingly, the London and Curaçao communities, which were also founded in 1654, had built synagogues within a few years of their founding. The hesitancy of New York Jews was probably due to the smallness of their numbers, as well as to the transient nature of their status and to governmental opposition.

The roots of the colony depended upon its economic viability. Jewish merchants took a major interest in overseas trade, partly because ocean traffic negated somewhat onerous local control and requirements and partly because it provided a measure of freedom that allowed them to use their special skills. Movement from place to place was its own protection: investments were widespread and thus less vulnerable. The transient, wandering Jew was an answer to the ghetto and enclosing walls, for he was more difficult to tax and to ghettoize. He carried his wealth with him, and he had knowledge of languages – Hebrew, Yiddish, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch. In the correspondence of Nathan Simson, there are letters written in three and sometimes four languages. Simson had knowledge of the international market, and his kinsmen were in the Caribbean, Italy, Spain, the Near East, and India. This provided an opportunity not usually afforded the restricted Catholic or Protestant. Certain markets were specialties. When in 1699 Governor Bellomont wanted a bag of jewels that had been seized from an accused pirate appraised, he "ordered a Jew in town to be present, he understanding Jewells well."

Jews concentrated on such commodities as conditions required. They were among the first to introduce cocoa and chocolate to England and were heavily engaged in the coral, textile, and slave trades, and at times had virtual monopolies in the ginger trade. They are also said to have introduced whaleoil spermaceti candles to the colonies. In 1701 Jewish merchants accounted for 12% of those engaged in overseas trade, though they represented only about 2% of the general population. In 1776 they were less than 1% of the population and less than 1% of the overseas merchants. The decline of the overseas trade indicated not only that New York Jews had become rooted but also that they had found other means of earning a living. The colonial transience gave way to permanence.

During this process Jews struggled to obtain full citizenship, especially as it applied to trade. The Jew who wished to engage in overseas or wholesale trade had to face the question of his status, whether he was a citizen or an alien. As a citizen, except for some ambiguity with respect to his right to vote or hold office, he was allowed most rights including the right to trade. Since the English accepted Dutch citizenship equally with English, Jews who were burghers of New Amsterdam, as well as native-born colonists, continued to be citizens under British rule. The problems facing aliens, the status of the majority of Jews, were clearly set forth in the Trade and Navigation Acts passed between 1650 and 1663. This central body of British law applying to the colonies was intended not only to foster mercantilism but also to prevent the encroachment upon trade by "Jews, French and other foreigners." Under these acts aliens could not engage in British commerce without severe penalty.

The necessity for some form of citizenship became obvious by the Rabba Couty affair. In November 1671 Couty's ship Trial was condemned by the Jamaica Vice-Admiralty Court on the ground that Couty, a Jew, was by definition a foreigner. In appealing the decision in England to the Council of Trade and Plantations, Couty obtained certificates from Governor Lovelace of New York indicating that he had been a free burgher of New York for several years. On this evidence and the fact that the ship and crew were English, the council held the sentence illegal. Those Jews, therefore, who could prove native birth did not need to bother with naturalization proceedings, but the alien Jew had to become a citizen if he was to engage in foreign trade. In general, however, the Jews in New York found that the procurement of naturalization, the right to trade and hold property, and the right of inheritance were not too difficult to obtain. Merchants in England were rarely naturalized; mostly they were endenizened – i.e., they could trade, but not hold real estate. In New York, on the other hand, 46 Jews were naturalized but only six endenizened. Freemanship, the right to engage in retail trade, was also relatively easy to obtain, despite instances of prohibition. Forty-seven Jews were made freemen between 1688 and 1770.

The decline of the overseas trade brought a corresponding increase in the numbers of Jews who were local retailers and craftsmen. They sold a wide range of goods, such as guns (especially during war), rum, wine, ironware, glass, furs, and foodstuff. Such merchants as Jacob Franks, Rodrigo *Pacheco , Judah *Hays , and Sampson *Simson often advertised their wares in newspapers. They were frequently in partnership with non-Jews, including members of the Livingston, Cuyler, and Alexander families. In some instances such partnerships developed into long friendships, as was the case of Rodrigo Pacheco with James Alexander. Myer *Myers , made freeman in 1746, became a noted silversmith and goldsmith whose work was much in demand and is displayed today in many museums. Benjamin *Etting , also a goldsmith, was made a freeman in 1769; Michael Solomon *Hays in 1769 was a watchmaker; and Abraham Isaacs in 1770, a tailor. These occupations were not found in the period of initial settlement, and there were few Jews in the professions during this period. Dr. Elias Woolin was in the city in 1744, but there were no Jewish members of the bar, though Jews represented about 10% of the litigants in the various courts. In addition, some Jews were not successful financially. A number, including Isaac Levy, Moses Hart, and Michael Jacobs, became insolvent debtors. Some were jailed and others, like Aaron Machado and Abraham Myers Cohen, were written off as bad debts.

During the period of British control Jewish merchants were able to hold many positions of responsibility. Jacob *Franks and his son David were provision agents for the Crown during the French and Indian War. Sampson Simson was a member of the group that received the charter for the Chamber of Commerce in 1770. Perhaps the highest position held by a Jew in colonial New York was that of colonial agent representing the colony's interests in Parliament. This post was given to Rodrigo Pacheco in 1731. Daniel and Mordecai Gomez served as Spanish interpreters to the Supreme Court in New York. A number of Jews were elected to office, generally as constables or assessors. Members of the Hays family made the constabulary something of a tradition. For Jewish citizens, Christian oaths necessary for office, voting, and naturalization were often modified or eliminated. It was quite unusual for Jews to hold office in the other colonies, and the fact that they did in New York was an indication of the cosmopolitan nature of the colony and its general acceptance of the Jewish community. There was no ghetto and little overt anti-Jewish feeling. Most of the Jewish population lived in the area below Wall Street, generally in the Dock and South wards facing the East River, mixed among their Christian neighbors. Jacob Franks lived off Coenties Slip and Asser Levy on Stone Street, as did Jacob Acosta. The burial ground off present-day Chatham Square was also on the East Side, at the end of Pearl Street, the main road through that part of town. In 1748 the Swedish naturalist Peter Kalm, then residing in the colony, wrote that Jews "enjoyed all the privileges common to the other inhabitants of the town or the province."

Precise census figures are not generally available, but for most of the 17th and 18th centuries Jews represented 1% to 2% of the total New York City population. In 1700 there were 17 households listed in the assessment rolls; estimating this at six per family, there were about 100 individuals, or 2% of the general population of 4,500. In 1722, 20 households are named, or about 1½%. A peak of 31 families was recorded in 1728, about 2.3% of the general population of 8,000. This was followed by a gradual decline to 19 families in 1734, or 1.2%. In that year Jews paid 1.9% of the city's taxes; in 1722 they had paid 2%. As a group they were seemingly slightly more affluent than their neighbors. After 1734 there are no extant assessment lists for New York City, so population figures are questionable, but it is fairly safe to rely on the 1% figure for the remaining period, although it may have been more.

Congregation Shearith Israel provided a cohesive force. Not the least of its functions was to provide a secular education, for there were no public schools. Religious subjects, as well as arithmetic and English, were taught by itinerant teachers. Moses Fonseca, for example, was brought in from Curaçao to be a ḥazzan as well as teacher. There were strong pressures for intermarriage. The limited number of Jews and hostility between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, plus a basic tolerance, created an atmosphere conducive for intermarriage. In 1742 Phila Franks, daughter of Jacob and Abigail Franks, one of the most noted Jewish families, married Oliver Delancey, an aristocrat and an Episcopalian. A few months later her brother David married Margaret Evans of Philadelphia; their children were baptized. By the eve of the American Revolution the pioneer Jewish citizens – the Pinheiros, De Mesquitas, Asser Levys, and their descendants – had all but disappeared from the New York scene.


The advent of the American Revolution found the Jewish community divided. In the past Jews had expressed their fealty to the Crown by word and deed. Numbers of Jews served in the colonial wars. Samuel Myers Cohen, Jacob Franks, and others were in the militia during the King George War, Abraham Solomon died in service during the French and Indian War, and others had served aboard privateers. Some, like members of the Franks family, were commissary agents for the British government. New York Jews, however, along with many others, sensed the emancipatory action of the Revolution and the possibility of full civil and political rights. Between 1768 and 1770 some 11 Jewish merchants, including Samuel *Judah , Hayman *Levy , and Jonas *Phillips , signed Non-Importation Articles that sought repeal of the Townshend Acts, which placed duties on the importation of tea, paper, lead and paint among other articles. The conquest of the city by the British in 1776 caused many Jews to flee to unoccupied places, such as Philadelphia and several locations in Connecticut. One supporter of the American cause was Haym *Solomon , who for a time was imprisoned by the British as a spy. Ḥazzan Gershom Mendes *Seixas fled to Philadelphia and helped found Congregation Mikveh Israel there. Others, confident of British justice, chose to stay, and the congregation carried on services during the occupation. Among the Loyalists was Abraham Wagg, who left for England in 1779 and attempted reconciliation between the contending factions. Uriah *Hendricks , a noted merchant, remained loyal. David Franks was accused by Congress of being a Loyalist and relieved of his commissary rights with the American government. He held a similar post under the British. He also left for England, but returned after the war for a time. The majority of Jews preferred a neutral position in the conflict, partly in fear of the consequences of a wrong guess. Jews sympathetic with the British cause knew what to expect from England but did not know what their status would be under the new government. Patriotic Jews, on the other hand, looked forward to a new freedom.


The end of the Revolution brought many distinct changes. Civil liberties, often a matter of governmental whim under the English, became part of the New York State constitution. Opportunities were expanded and new fields opened. Within a decade after the Revolution, Judah Zuntz and Solomon *Simson were admitted to the bar. In 1792 Benjamin *Seixas and Ephraim *Hart were among the founders of the New York Stock Exchange. Gershom Mendes Seixas served as a trustee of Columbia College from 1784 to 1814, and was one of 14 ministers who participated at George *Washington 's first inaugural in April 1789, and Col. David M. Franks was one of the marshals in charge of the processional at the inaugural. Among the first Jewish graduates of Columbia College was Sampson Simson in 1800. Walter Judah, admitted to the college in 1795, also attended the medical school. He died while treating the sick during the yellow fever epidemic of 1798. In 1818 Governor De Witt Clinton attended the opening of Shearith Israel when the congregation rebuilt the synagogue on the Mill Street site. No colonial governor is known to have ever shown such deference to the community.

The Revolution reduced the Jewish population to less than 1% of the population. It remained at that level until the 1830s and 1840s, when an influx of German and Polish Jews caused a sudden rise to perhaps 15,000 in 1847 and to some 40,000, or approximately 4%, on the eve of the Civil War. Replacing the old and for the most part extinct pioneer generation were mostly German Jews, such as Harmon *Hendricks , son of Uriah, a mid-18th-century immigrant, who established possibly the first copper-rolling mill in the country in 1813. One of the distinctive changes in postwar New York was Jewish involvement in the political life of the community, perhaps best seen in the career of Mordecai Manuel *Noah . Born in Philadelphia in 1785, he entered public service as consul to Tunis in 1813. He became a member of the Democratic Party and was elected high sheriff of New York in 1821, surveyor of the port from 1829 to 1833, and judge of the Court of Sessions in 1841. In 1825 he started the unsuccessful Jewish settlement of Ararat on the Niagara River. As editor of the newspaper The Evening Star during the 1830s, he broke with Andrew Jackson and became a founder of the Whig and Nativist parties. His espousal of Jewish causes and his involvement with politics reflected a distinct example of the interests of the community. His funeral in 1851 was attended with the most elaborate ceremony by the Jewish settlement. The publishers Naphtali *Phillips and Naphtali *Judah were powers in the Tammany Society in the first two decades of the 19th century. Mordecai *Myers was elected to the state assembly in 1829 and 1831, while Emanuel B. *Hart was elected to the House of Representatives in 1851. He also held the posts of surveyor of the port and president of the Board of Aldermen. Greater social mobility of the Jews after the Revolution could be seen in their movement uptown from the area below Wall Street into other parts of the city. Sampson *Isaacs and Naphtali and Benjamin Judah lived in the Third Ward, the present-day Greenwich Village. The residences of Jacob B. *Seixas and Asher Marx were located on the newly burgeoning East Side. The lower midtown area was the residence of Henry Hyman, Isaac *Moses , and Hayman *Seixas . The wealthiest Jews and non-Jews resided a little below and a little above Wall Street. Harmon Hendricks, probably the richest Jew of early 19th-century New York, lived at 61 Greenwich Street. Near him, on this "quality lane," resided the almost equally wealthy Solomon J. *Isaacs , Lewis Marks, and Mrs. Isaac Moses.

The changing character of the community was also evident in the changing religious organization. In 1825 a group of Ashkenazi Jews, led by Barrow E. Cohen and Isaac B. *Kursheedt , complaining of its formality and control, broke away from the parent body, Shearith Israel, and formed the Bnai Jeshurun Congregation. In 1828 another dissenting group of Dutch, German, and Polish Jews broke from Bnai Jeshurun and formed the Congregation Anshe Chesed. In 1839, Polish members of these two groups formed Congregation Shaarey Zedek. Other German Jews formed Shaarey Hashamayim in 1839, Rodeph Shalom in 1842, and Temple Emanu-El in 1845. Dutch Jews established Bnai Israel in 1847 and French, Shaarey Brocho in 1851. The proliferation of congregational organizations and divisions of the Jewish community were due partly to the new freedom resulting from the Revolution. At first, these new congregations used a number of privately owned buildings before erecting their own synagogue buildings in what became a period of synagogue construction. The old Mill Street synagogue was sold by Shearith Israel in 1833 and a new building was erected on Crosby Street. In addition, there were five major synagogue structures in New York by 1860: Bnai Jeshurun on Greene Street, Shaarey Tefilah on Wooster, Anshe Chesed on Norfolk Street, Temple Beth El on 33rd Street, and Rodeph Shalom on Clinton Street. In the 1850s Anshe Chesed was the largest congregation in the United States. By the Civil War, Temple Emanu-El and Shearith Israel were the wealthiest and most influential of the congregations.

Religious organizations produced a number of distinguished leaders. Samuel M. *Isaacs , an English Jew who arrived in New York in 1839, was ḥazzan and possibly the first regular preacher in New York City. He was engaged as ḥazzan by Bnai Jeshurun and Shaarey Tefilah. From 1859 he edited the Jewish Messenger, one of the most influential Jewish periodicals. Jacques Judah *Lyons , the ḥazzan of Shearith Israel in the 1840s, compiled material for a proposed history of Jews in America, a task he did not complete. The first ordained rabbis arrived in the 1840s from Europe. Among them was Leo Merzbacher who ministered to Anshe Chesed and Rodeph Shalom and helped in establishing the Reform Temple Emanu-El, where he delivered sermons, attended official functions, and assisted in the education of the children. Others included Dr. Max *Lilienthal , considered the most capable preacher in German, and Dr. Morris J. *Raphall , who had a distinguished career with generally German congregations. Ḥazzanim with excellent singing voices who enhanced the synagogue services included Leon Sternberger of Warsaw and Ignatius Ritterman of krakow.

The period after the Revolutionary War also saw the start of mutual-aid societies and landsmanshaften, which generally began as burial societies (ḥevra kaddisha). The Hebrah Gemilut Hasadim, organized at Shearith Israel in 1786, disbanded in 1790. As a successor, Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas founded Hebrah Hesed Vaemet in 1802, an organization still in existence. In 1826 Bnai Jeshurun formed the Hebrah Gemilut Hesed, known as the Hebrew Mutual Benefit Society, the forerunner of many such societies. The first president of this important group was Isaac B. Kursheedt. Anshe Chesed helped organize several societies, including the Montefiore Society in 1841.

Numerous fraternal orders began, the most important being the Independent Order *B'nai B'rith , founded in 1843 by 12 men, including Henry Jones, Isaac Rosenberg, and R.M. Roadacher. It combined mutual aid and fraternal features in an effort to bring harmony and peace among Jews. The groups spread rapidly with lodges and memberships throughout the country. Another such society was the Hebrew Benevolent Society, established in 1822 with Daniel Jackson as its first president. He was succeeded by John I. Hart and Roland M. Mitchell. (These names are an indication of the difficulty of identifying Jews during this period.) In 1820 women of Shearith Israel had organized a Female Hebrew Benevolent Society. In 1844 the German Hebrew Benevolent Society, a more narrowly based Landsleute group, was formed. These groups worked so well that by the eve of the Civil War few, if any, Jews had to apply to city institutions for aid. The Hebrew Benevolent Society and German Hebrew Benevolent Society united just prior to the Civil War, but other groups continued to maintain independence. Under the urging of Rev. Samuel Isaacs in the Jewish Messenger and Dr. Samuel *Adler of Temple Emanu-El, the Hebrew and German societies formed the Hebrew Orphan Asylum in 1859.

For years after the Revolution there were demands for a Jewish hospital. It was not until 1852, however, that Sampson Simson, with the assistance of Shearith Israel and Shaarey Tefilah and a group of native and English Jews, founded "Jews' Hospital in the City of New York." This became known as Mount Sinai in 1866. Contributions from Judah *Touro of New Orleans and N.K. Rosenfeld of Temple Emanu-El, among others, helped in the construction of the building in 1853. Poor patients were given free treatment. The staff, as well as patients, were Jewish and non-Jewish.

Young men's Jewish groups also became part of the social scene of 19th-century New York and reflected a universal interest in education and its dissemination, so much a part of Jacksonian America. In 1852 a Hebrew Young Men's Literary Society was founded. A splinter group formed the Philodocean Society, and in 1854 another group formed the Touro Literary Institute. Other groups included the Montefiore Literary Association and the Washington Social Club. In 1858 the Young Men's and Touro groups merged to form the Hebrew Young Men's Literary Society. Jews also organized military organizations that had strong social overtones. These included Troop K, Empire Hussars, and the Young Men's Lafayette Association. Most of these social organizations, which included the Cultur Verein and Sange Verein, were formed as landsmanshaften, i.e., Young Men of Germany, Polish Young Men, etc. The Harmonie Club of German Jews is still in existence. Various members of these socially and culturally conscious organizations joined B'nai Brith before the Civil War and in 1850 also founded the Maimonides Library Association. This was a large library, housed on Orchard Street, and it was open to the public. Elaborate balls, dinners, and charity concerts did much to enliven New York Jewish society. The annual ball of the Young Men's Hebrew Benevolent Society was first held in 1842, and the annual dinners of the Hebrew and German Hebrew Benevolent Societies were highlights of the social season.

The flourishing of New York Jewish society found expression in the rise not only of community organizations but also of the press. The late 18th-century bookseller and publisher Benjamin Gomez was joined in his profession by Naphtali Phillips, publisher of the National Advocate, and Solomon Jackson, publisher of the first Jewish periodical in the United States, a monthly entitled The Jew (issued from 1823 to 1825). The first successful Jewish periodical was Robert Lyon's The Asmonean (1848–58), which published the debates between Jewish leaders over the necessity of a union of American Jews. In 1857 Rabbi Samuel Isaacs' Jewish Messenger became the voice of Orthodox Judaism and called for a union of Jewish charities, while championing a Jewish free school. There were printers skilled in German type, including Henry Franks, who printed a holiday prayer book, Maḥzor mi-Kol ha-Shanah, among other items. Isaac Bondi, rabbi of Anshe Chesed, edited the Hebrew Leader from 1859 to 1874. Among the works of Jewish authors published during this period were Mordecai Noah's imaginative Book of Yashar and Rev. Raphall's Post-Biblical History of the Jews. Despite an interest in literature and the arts, few scholarly works were produced by Jews during this time. Highly skilled Jewish artisans in the tradition of Myer Myers were few, an exception being Jacob R. *Lazarus , a painter and student of Henry Inman, whose works are today in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Jewish education varied little from the 18th century, except that free public schools, which were Protestant in tone, were available from 1805. These schools were extensively used by the Jewish population, especially after they came under governmental control in 1842, slowly gave up sectarianism, and greatly expanded, thus lessening the demand for synagogal day schools. In 1842 Rabbi Samuel Isaacs of Bnai Jeshurun converted an afternoon school to the New York Talmud Torah and Hebrew Institute. It lasted until 1847. Other congregations such as Anshe Chesed and Rodeph Shalom also started short-lived Hebrew and English schools. Jews generally objected to the teaching of Christian ethics and the use of Christian textbooks in public schools. Such objections helped trigger the expansion of Hebrew schools in the 1850s. Bnai Jeshurun, Temple Emanu-El, Shaarey Zedek, and Shearith Israel all started parochial day schools combining secular and religious education. By 1854 there were seven such schools but there was great debate over their necessity. As in the colonial period, the education of Jewish girls was not considered too important; they were either sent to public schools or taught by private tutors. A few unsuccessful attempts were made to establish institutions of higher education. Sampson Simson organized the Jewish Theological Seminary and Scientific Institution, but there was little else. Jews of New York did not support Isaac Wise's Zion Collegiate Institute in Cincinnati and little was done for Samuel M. Isaacs' Hebrew high school founded in the 1850s.

Several world events stirred the community. The *Mortara case in Italy in 1859, in which a Jewish boy was converted to Christianity despite family objections, led S.M. Isaacs to form the *Board of Delegates of the American Israelites ; it was intended to protect and secure civil and religious rights of Jews in the U.S. and abroad. An earlier episode, the *Damascus Affair (an accusation of ritual murder against the Jews of Damascus), led to several mass meetings in 1840 calling for President Van Buren to protest this accusation.

There was tremendous diversity to Jewish business interests during this period. Generally, however, the latter centered on small retail shops and small handicraft businesses. Some Jews held posts in civil service, generally of a minor nature, an exception being Albert *Cardozo , justice of the Supreme Court of New York. There were a few men of prominence in business. Hayman *Levy , one of the largest fur traders in the colonies, employed John Jacob Astor in his business after the Revolution. Another was Eli Hart, who was in the wheat and flour business. Daniel Jackson was a noted broker and banker. Bernhard *Hart was honorary secretary of the New York Stock Exchange from 1831 to 1853. August *Belmont represented Rothschild interests in New York after he replaced Joseph L. and J. Josephs in 1836.


The Civil War found the Jewish community, like the rest of the country, divided over slavery. New York City in many ways resembled a Southern city. Though slavery was prohibited after 1827, schools and theaters were segregated. Many Jews, including members of the Manumission Society of New York City, had freed their slaves, others retained them until forced to set them free. Mordecai M. Noah supported the pro-slavery position, as did Dr. Morris J. Raphall, who observed that the Ten Commandments condoned slavery. This position was attacked by Michael *Heilprin , writing in the Tribune, and he was joined by Rev. Samuel M. Isaacs as well as many others. With the start of the war the Jewish response was overwhelmingly in favor of the Union. On April 20, 1861, Joseph *Seligman was vice president of a Union meeting held at Union Square. His firm, J. and J. Seligman & Co., sold federal bonds in the astonishing sum of $200,000,000. Although Jews enlisted quickly, there was strong anti-Jewish bias in the army. At first Jewish chaplains were not permitted to serve, but Samuel M. Isaacs and his son Myer were among the leaders of the successful struggle to change the restrictive terms of the law. Jewish soldiers were dispersed throughout the army, and there were few Jewish enclaves, except for Company D of the 8th, New York, National Guard.

Jews also supported the war effort by aiding the United States Sanitary Commission, and held numerous Purim balls or Feasts of Esther to help the sick and wounded. Shearith Israel, Anshe Chesed, and Temple Emanu-El were in the forefront of the effort to raise money for the war effort. The 1864 Sanitary Fair in New York, the largest held during the war, found Benjamin Nathan and Moses Lazarus on the executive committee and Moses Schloss and Lewis May on the general committee. The Jews Hospital opened its wards to the wounded and between 1862 and 1865 treated hundreds of soldiers of all faiths. Judge Albert Cardozo and Col. E.B. Hart were on the Advisory Committee of the New York State Soldiers Committee. By the end of the war the Jewish community was numerous, well-represented, and established. It had prepared the ground for future, more massive immigration. Newcomers after 1865 found a community with a history and a background of accomplishment that proved receptive to them.


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