Congregation Shearith Israel, often called The Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, is the oldest Jewish congregation in the United States. It was established in 1654. The Orthodox synagogue is located on Central Park West at 70th Street on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The congregation's current Neoclassical building was occupied in 1897.
Foundations And Synagogue Buildings:
The first group of Spanish and Portuguese Jews arrived in New York (New Amsterdam) in September 1654. After being initially rebuffed by anti-Semitic Governor Peter Stuyvesant, Jews were given official permission to settle in the colony in 1655. This marks the founding of the Congregation Shearith Israel. Despite their permission to stay in New Amsterdam they continued to face discrimination and were not given permission to worship in a public synagogue for some time (throughout the Dutch period and even into the British).
The Congregation did, however, make arrangements for a cemetery beginning in 1656. It was not until 1730 that the Congregation was able to build a synagogue of its own; it was built on Mill Street in Lower Manhattan. Before 1730, as is evidenced from a map of New York from 1695, the congregation worshipped in rented quarters on Beaver Street and subsequently on Mill Street. Since 1730 the Congregation has worshipped in five synagogues:Mill Street, 1730
Birthing of Major Jewish Institutions:
- Mill Street re-built and expanded, 1818
- Crosby Street, 1834
- 19th Street, 1860
- West 70th Street, 1897 (present building.)
As the American Reform Judaism made headway and changes on the synagogue scene in the late 19th century, many rabbis critical of the Reform movement looked for ways to strengthen traditional synagogues. Shearith Israel, and its rabbi, Henry Pereira Mendes, was at the fore of these efforts. Rabbi Mendes cofounded the American Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 1886, in order to train traditional rabbis. Shearith Israel was the first home to the school.
In JTS's earliest days, it taught and researched rabbinics similarly to traditional yeshivas, in contrast to the Reform Hebrew Union College. It is not certain whether at the time JTS hewed very closely to existing yeshiva-style, but significant deviations would be out of character with Shearith Israel and Rabbi Mendes.