Gershom Mendes Seixas

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Gershom Mendes Seixas (1745–1816) was the first native-born Jewish minister in the United States. He was the minister of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of New York from 1768 to 1776 and again from 1784 to 1816. Although not an ordained Rabbi, he served as Hazzan and Minister to the Congregation and was among the first Jewish communal leaders who was born and educated in the United States. He was also the first American Jewish clergyman to give a sermon in English.

Biography[edit]

Seixas was an ardent patriot during the American Revolution. He moved the congregation to Philadelphia's Congregation Mikveh Israel and was the Hazzan there for the duration of the war.

In 1783, he successfully sought revisions in a constitutional clause newly adopted by the Pennsylvania State Legislature, which required a religious examination for seekers of public office.

Seixas was one of the fourteen recognized ministers in New York in 1789 who participated in George Washington's first inauguration at Federal Hall in New York City.

He delivered the first Thanksgiving address in an American synagogue following the adoption of the United States Constitution. [1]

He was one of the most vigorous defenders of the much-maligned James Madison administration during the War of 1812.

Although Seixas was an opponent of the War of 1812, he advocated to his congregation that it was the responsibility of all Americans to support their country in a time of war, regardless of their faith. Known as the "Patriot Preacher", he stated "They, the ruling powers, have declared war, and it is our bounded duty to act as true and faithful citizens, to support and preserve the honor, dignity, and the independence of the United States of America, that they may bear equal rank among the nations of the earth".

Seixas was one of the incorporators of Columbia University and served as a member of the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York.

In 1956, the actor Vincent Price portrayed Seixas in the episode "The Rebel" of the religion anthology series, Crossroads.[2]

The Seixas family[edit]

The Seixas family has contributed many prominent Americans - Gershom's brother, Abraham Mendes (1751-1799), was an officer in the Continental Army. Another brother, Benjamin Mendes (1748-1817), was one of the founders of the New York Stock Exchange. A third brother, Moses Mendes (1744-1809), was among the organizers of the Bank of Rhode Island and the president of the historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. Gershom's son, David, established the Pennsylvania Institution for the Deaf and Dumb in Philadelphia, and was among the first to discover efficient ways of burning anthracite coal. Today, members of the Seixas family are still leaders of the American Sephardic community.

References[edit]

  1. ^ God Delivered the Pilgrims—and My People. Op Ed piece authored by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, Wall Street Journal, November 21, 2013. Retrieved January 18, 2014
  2. ^ "Vincent Price". Internet Movie Data Base. Retrieved February 18, 2013.