Congregation Mikveh Israel

Congregation Mikveh Israel
A former home of the Mikveh Israel Synagogue, Philadelphia

Congregation Mikveh Israel, Mikveh Israel synagogue, officially called Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel (Hebrew: קהל קדוש מקוה ישראל‎, which translates as "Holy Community of the Hope of Israel) is a synagogue located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was founded in the 1740s.[1] It is one of the Oldest synagogues in the United States. Currently home to a Sephardic community originally established by Spanish and Portuguese Jews, the congregation continues to practice according to the Spanish and Portuguese Sephardic rite.

The oldest formal Jewish congregation in Philadelphia, Mikveh Israel counted among its members prominent revolutionary patriots, such as Jonas Phillips, Haym Solomon and the illustrious Gratz family. The gracious Rebecca Gratz, who founded and managed philanthropic and educational institutions devoted to the needs of women and children, Jewish and Gentile, and who is reputed to be the model for Rebecca of York, heroine of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott, was also a congregant.


Early history

The congregation dedicated its first building in 1782. It is estimated that in 1775, the city of Philadelphia had a population of approximately 35,000 of whom 300 were Jewish.[2] Benjamin Franklin was an earlier contributor to its building fund.


In 1829, the preeminent Isaac Leeser became the leader of the synagogue and held that position until 1850. Another prominent hazzan, Sabato Morais, took over after Leeser. Morais was minister for forty-six years and an outspoken opponent of slavery prior to and during the Civil War. Dr. Abraham Neuman was rabbi from 1927 to 1943.[3] Dr. Neuman was succeeded by David Jessurun Cardozo.[4] The current incumbent is Rabbi Albert E. Gabbai who was elected in 1988.


The congregation that became Mikveh Israel first gathered for services at a private home on Stirling Alley which was then between Cherry and Race Streets and Third and Fourth Streets in Philadelphia.[5] When Mikveh Israel built its first synagogue in 1782, its location was moved because of protest that its proposed site next to a church would offend the Dutch Reform Protestant congregants. Prominent Philadelphians such as Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris contributed to its building fund. [6] In September 1782, the congregation dedicated the new building on Cherry Street near Third Street. The building sat 200 persons and had accommodations for the clergy adjoining it.[7]

In 1829 the congregation built an Egyptian Revival synagogue on Cherry Street. Designed by William Strickland it is notable for having been one of the earliest Egyptian Revival buildings in the United States.[8]

The Congregation announced in 1961 that it would return to Center City where it would construct a new building.[9] Dr. Bernard J. Alpers, vice-president of the synagogue, persuaded his friend the Philadelphia architect Louis Kahn to engage in the planning of the new synagogue building. Kahn produced ten design versions between 1961 and 1972 of the new building.[10] However, the Congregation decided that construction and maintenance costs were too high, and the synagogue was never built. A more modest building, shared with the Museum of Jewish History, was dedicated and opened in August 1976.[11] The museum moved to a new building at 5th and Market streets on November 15, 2010.[12] The synagogue is located at 44 North Fourth Street in Center City, Philadelphia, just north of Market Street.[13]

The congregation is also responsible for Mikveh Israel Cemetery, the second oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the United States.

Relationship with Christ Church

Mikveh Israel and Philadelphia's Christ Church have a long-standing relationship dating from the founding of the synagogue to the present day. The present location of Mikveh Israel places the two congregations as close neighbors.

Christ Church was supportive of Mikveh Israel's first plan to construct a building in the 18th-century. When Mikveh Israel's synagogue burned in 1872, Christ Church contributed funds to the construction of the new building. The congregations have a long standing custom of sharing a fellowship-dinner once a year which alternates between the buildings of the two congregations.[14]


  1. ^ Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism, Yale University Press, 2004, p. 19.
  2. ^ Hirschfeld, Fritz (2005). George Washington and the Jews. Published by University of Delaware Press. p. 50. ISBN 0-874139-279. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  3. ^ "Dr. Abraham A. Neuman, Jewish Historian, Dies". New York Times: p. 33. 1970-11-21. 
  4. ^ "RABBI CARDOZO DIES; A SEPHARDIC LEADER". New York Times: p. 40. 1972-09-05. 
  5. ^ Dubin, Murray (1996). South Philadelphia: Mummers, Memories, and the Melrose Diner. Temple University Press. p. 143. ISBN 1-566394-295. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  6. ^ Hannah Lee (12 October 2011). "An Odyssey From Amsterdam to Philadelphia". Philadelphia Jewish Voice. Retrieved 24 October 2011. 
  7. ^ Markens, Isaac (1888). The Hebrews in America: A Series of Historical and Biographical Sketches. New York: Isaac Markens. p. 63. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  8. ^ Thomas U. Walter's Crown Street Synagogue, 1848-49, by Rachel Wischnitzer, The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 13, No. 4 (Dec., 1954), pp. 29-31
  9. ^ "Synagogue Moves Philadelphia Site". New York Times. 1961-11-12. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  10. ^ There is a drawing of the proposed building in the New York Museum of Modern Art, and a reproduction of this drawing in Encyclopaedia Judaica, volume 10, column 691. Kahn's form concept for the synagogue is quoted in Encyclopaedia Judaica, volume 15, column 624.
  11. ^ Shenker, Israel (1976-07-19). "Jewish Museum Opening Has a Colonial Theme". New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-01. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Gast, Klaus-Peter; Louis I. Kahn (1999). Louis I. Kahn. Birkhäuser. p. 88. ISBN 3-764359-641.,M1. Retrieved 2009-05-15. 
  14. ^ "CATHOLICS OPENING FIRST BIBLE WEEK; Daily Scriptural Readings to Be Instituted -- Approval of Popes, Is Recalled". New York Times: p. 14. 1952-02-09. Retrieved 2009-10-27. 

Further reading

See also

External links

Coordinates: 39°56′57″N 75°08′51″W / 39.949224°N 75.147501°W / 39.949224; -75.147501

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