Oldest Synagogues in the United States

8 Oldest Synagogues in the United States

Jewish communities have been migrating to the United States since the colonial era. Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin, known as the Sephardi Jews, began to settle in the US cities as early as the 17th century. As the number grew, they started to set up their congregations and synagogues, which are central to their community life.

In this article, we will talk about 8 of the oldest surviving buildings in the US that served as synagogues at some point in time.

Some of these buildings continue to be used as synagogues, while others are converted for different purposes.

8. Sherith Israel Temple

Year established: 1860
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Current status: Houses condominiums

Sherith Israel Templephoto source: wikipedia.org

Sherith Israel Temple was an Orthodox Jewish synagogue that was built in 1860. It is the oldest synagogue in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is located at 624 Ruth Lyons Lane in the backstage entertainment district. 

In 1855, the congregation was founded, opposing the Rockdale Temple’s (then Kahal Kadosh Bene Israel, the oldest congregation in Ohio) Reform tendencies. In 1906, the congregation was merged with Congregation Ahabeth Achim.

The building at Ruth Lyons Lane served as a synagogue only for 22 years, from 1860 to 1882. After that, it was used for different purposes, including as a warehouse, plumbing supply house, and machine shop. 

In 1998, the City of Cincinnati officially decided not to declare it a historic building. Debated went on for over a year about whether to save the building from demolition. Finally, it was renovated and now houses condominiums.

Did You Know?

Synagogue has three Hebrew synonyms, bet ha-tefilla (“house of prayer”), bet ha-kneset (“house of assembly”), and bet ha-midrash (“house of study”). 

7. Congregation Beth Israel

Year established: 1856
Location: Honesdale, Pennsylvania
Current status: Occupied by the original congregation

Congregation Beth Israelphoto source: images.squarespace-cdn.com

In the 1830s, a small number of German Jews began to settle in Honesdale. In 1849, they came together to form the first congregation in the area called Congregation Beth Israel

The first meetings of the congregation were held in one of the member’s homes, with borrowed Torah. The synagogues building was constructed in 1856. For many years it was the smallest synagogues in the United States. The building could accommodate 50 to 85 people. In 1962, an annex was added to the building, and in 1985, it underwent restoration.

The congregation began as Orthodox but moved quickly to German or Classical Reform. In the 1930s and 1940s, the area saw an influx of traditional Jews of Eastern European backgrounds, and the congregation began to transform from Classical reform to a more mainstream Reform.

Did You Know?

The land and money for the synagogue were donated by a non-Jew. The building was constructed by the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company, which wanted to attract Jewish merchants. Pews and kneelers were installed in the building without realizing Jew usually do not kneel while praying. 

6. Congregation Rodeph Sholom

Year established: 1853
Location: Manhattan, New York
Current status: Occupied by Congregation Chasm Sopher

Congregation Rodeph Sholomphoto source: mapio.net

It is the second-oldest surviving synagogue building in New York, located at 8 Clinton Street on the Lower East Side. Congregation Rodeph Sholom is a Reform congregation that was formed in 1842 by immigrants from German lands. The congregation used to gather at 156 Attorney Street from 1845 to 1853 before the synagogue building was erected.

In 1872-73, Rodeph Sholom moved to a new Victorian Romanesque building at Lexington Avenue and 63rd Street. Currently, the congregation meets at 7 West 83rd Street on the Upper West Side. 

The synagogue at Clinton Street is now used by Congregation Chasm Sopher, an Orthodox congregation formed in 1892 by the immigrants of Poland. The building was renovated in 2006. New stained-glass windows were installed, and conservation of the Torah ark was included. Moreover, the interior paint was stripped off to expose the original woodwork, and the outside was landscaped.     

Did You Know?

This historic Romanesque Revival synagogue building is the oldest synagogue building in New York that is still in use.

5. Angel Orensanz Center

Year established: 1849
Location: Manhattan, New York
Current status: Used as a performance space

Angel Orensanz Centerphoto source: wikipedia.org

photo source: www.orensanzevents.com

Angel Orensanz Center is the oldest surviving synagogue building in New York. This Gothic Revival style building was constructed in 1849 by Norfolk Street Congregation. 

This congregation, also known as Ansche Chased, was formed in 1825 by immigrants from Germany, Netherland, and Poland. It was the third Jewish congregation in the state of New York.

The building, located at 172 Norfolk Street on the Lower East Side of New York City, was opened on May 16, 1850. At the time of its opening, it was the largest synagogue in the United States, occupying a 7,000 square feet area. 

After Ansche Chased moved to Lexington Avenue and East 63rd Street in 1874, the building was used as a synagogue by Congregation Shaari Rachmim. Subsequently, the building was used by other congregations until 1974. 

In 1986, Spanish sculptor and painter Angel Orensanz purchased the building and converted it into a performance center and art gallery. However, the space is still used as a synagogue occasionally.

Did You Know?

The interior of the building is very similar to that of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

4. Llyod Street Synagogue

Year established: 1845
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Current status: Houses Jewish Museum of Maryland

Llyod Street Synagoguephoto source: wikipedia.org

Llyod Street Synagoguephoto source: commons.wikimedia.org

Llyod Street Synagogue was the first synagogue building in Maryland. It was built by Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, then affiliated with Orthodox Judaism. The congregation was founded in 1830, and the synagogue was constructed in 1845.

The building was handed over to St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church In 1889. In 1905, the building was purchased by Congregation Shomrei Mishmeres HaKodesh, a congregation formed by East European immigrants. In 1963, as the building was threatened with demolition, the Jewish Historical Society was formed to preserve this historical site. Later, the society turned into the Jewish Museum of Maryland.

Did You Know?

In 2011, a mikveh, a bath used for ritual immersion in Judaism, was found under this synagogue. Historians believe this was the oldest mikveh in the United States. 

3. Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim

Year established: 1840
Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Current status: Occupied by the original congregation

photo source: wikipedia.org

Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim is the oldest synagogue in the United States that is in continuous use. The Beth Elohim congregation was founded in 1749 by Sephardi Jews who immigrated from London to be employed in the slave trade and mercantile freight.  

The congregation’s first synagogue was destroyed in the Charleston fire of 1838. The present Greek Revival-style building was erected in 1841 on the same site.

The congregation began as an Orthodox community, but by the time the new synagogue building was opened, the majority of its members embraced Reform Judaism. This congregation is often considered the originator of Reform Judaism in the United States.

Did You Know?

The current building of the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim was built by enslaved Africans owned by Davis Lopez Jr.   

2. St. Thomas Synagogue

Year established: 1833
Location: Charlotte Amalie, Island of St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands
Current status: Continues to be used as a synagogue

St. Thomas Synagoguephoto source: wikipedia.org

photo source: www.beyondships3.com

St. Thomas Synagogue, formally known as the Congregation Beracha Veshalom Vegmiluth Hasadim, was built in 1833 by Sephardic Jews. The congregation was founded in 1796 by this community, who came to Caribbean Basin. They were primarily involved in the trade between Europe and the New World. 

The building is located at 2116 Crystal Gade, Queens Quarters, north of Charlotte Amalie’s central business quarter. It is a single-storied building made with rubble stone. The building survived significant damage by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in September 2017.

Did You Know?

The word synagogue has its root in the Greek word synagein, meaning a place of assembly. Currently, the word temple is more commonly used to describe a synagogue by Reform and Conservative Congregations. 

1.Tuoro Synagogue

Year established: 1763
Location: New Port, Rhode Island
Current status: Still used as a synagogue

Tuoro Synagoguephoto source: wikipedia.org

photo source: tourosynagogue.org

Tuoro Synagogue in New Port, Rhode Island, is the oldest synagogue building in the US. It is the only surviving synagogue building from the colonial era. 

During the mid to late 17th century, the first Jewish immigrants of Spanish and Portuguese origin arrived in Rhode Island from Barbados. This small community formed Congregation Nephuse Israel, the second oldest Jewish congregation in the US.

The present building was constructed from 1759 to 1763 under the leadership of Isaac Touro, a Dutch-born American Rabbi. It is located at 85 Touro Street and continues to be a thriving Orthodox synagogue.

Did You Know?

The Touro Synagogue was closed down for regular services in the early 19th century as most Jewish families left New Port. They were mainly engaged in trade and commerce. As the New Port lost its former glory after the Revolutionary War, it became difficult for them to continue their business activities. During the late 19th century, Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe began to come to New Port, and the synagogue was reopened in 1881.  

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