Congregation Mikveh Israel

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Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel
Kahal Kadosh Mikveh Israel.jpg
Mikveh Israel, 44 N 4th Street, Philadelphia (April 21, 2013)
RiteSpanish & Portuguese
Location44 North Fourth Street,
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
 United States
Geographic coordinates39°56′57″N 75°08′51″W / 39.949224°N 75.14750°W / 39.949224; -75.14750Coordinates: 39°56′57″N 75°08′51″W / 39.949224°N 75.14750°W / 39.949224; -75.14750

The Congregation Mikveh Israel, (Hebrew: קהל קדוש מקוה ישראל‬), "Holy Community of the Hope of Israel", is a synagogue founded in the 1740s in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[1] Established by Spanish and Portuguese Jews, the congregation practices according to the Spanish and Portuguese rite. The congregation conducts daily, Sabbath, and Jewish holy day services. The congregation is also responsible for Mikveh Israel Cemetery, the second oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the United States.

Early history[edit]

The congregation traces its history to 1740 when a number of Jews organized themselves for services meeting in private homes. The congregation came to acquire a Torah scroll in 1761 and met in a private residence on Sterling Alley. The congregation moved to a building on Cherry Street in 1771, chartered itself as an organization in 1773,[2] and 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.[3] Benjamin Franklin was an earlier contributor to its building fund.

Among the oldest Jewish congregations in Philadelphia, Mikveh Israel has counted among its members prominent revolutionary patriots, such as Jonas Phillips, the Gratz family, and Haym Solomon, who financed the war. Congregant Rebecca Gratz founded and managed philanthropic and educational institutions devoted to the needs of women and children, Jewish and gentile; she is reputed to be the model for Rebecca of York, heroine of Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott.


Rabbi Emanuel Nunes Carvalho emigrated from Britain to Barbados to Charleston, South Carolina before being called to lead this synagogue for about three years until his death (1814-1817). He published A Key to the Hebrew Tongue (Philadelphia, 1815) and his A Sermon, preached on Sunday, July 7, 1816, on Occasion of the Death of the Rev. Mr. Gershom Mendes Seixas (Philadelphia, 1816) became the first Jewish sermon printed in the United States. In 1829, Isaac Leeser became the synagogue's leader and held that position until 1850. Another prominent hazzan, Sabato Morais, succeeded Leeser. Morais served as minister for forty-six years and was an outspoken opponent of slavery prior to and during the Civil War. Dr. Abraham Neuman was rabbi from 1927 to 1943.[4] Dr. Neuman was succeeded by David Jessurun Cardozo.[5]

Rabbi Albert E. Gabbai has served as congregation minister since 1988.

Charles Garson of Gibraltar served as Hazzan[6] from 2010 through 2014.


Third building of Mikveh Israel at 7th and Arch Streets from 1860 to 1909 (circa 1901)

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.[7]

Third and Cherry Streets, 1782-1825
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.[8] In September 1782, the congregation dedicated the new building on Cherry Street near Third Street. The building seated 200 persons and had accommodations for the clergy adjoining it.[9]

Cherry Street, 1825-1860
The congregation laid the cornerstone for its second building on September 26, 1822 on Cherry Street.[10] It completed the Egyptian Revival synagogue in 1825. William Strickland designed the building which was the first Egyptian Revival in the United States.[11][12]

117 North Seventh Street, 1860-1909
The Cherry Street synagogue was replaced in 1860 by a building at 117 N. 7th Street. This building was designed by architect John McArthur Jr., (who later would design Philadelphia City Hall).[13]

2321 North Broad Street, 1909-1976
Pilcher and Tachau designed the fourth building which Mikveh Israel constructed in 1909 at Broad and York Strerets. Mikveh Israel worshipped at the building until 1976. The building was most recently sold for $825,000 in 2015, and is open to the public as a retail clothing store in 2017.[14]

44 North Fourth Street, 1976–present

44 N 4th Street, Philadelphia (July 2014)

The Congregation announced in 1961 that it would return to Center City, where it would construct a new building.[15] 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 designs for the building between 1961 and 1972.[16] However, the Congregation decided that construction and maintenance costs were too high, and the synagogue was never built.

The new building was instead designed by architectural firm Harbeson, Hough, Livingston & Larson[17] on a more modest scale, and shared with the nascent Museum of Jewish History. The fifth building was dedicated and opened on July 4, 1976 [18][19] The synagogue is located at 44 North Fourth Street in the Old City neighborhood, just north of Market Street and in close proximity to Christ Church.[20]

The NMAJH moved to its own building on the southeast corner of 5th and Market Streets on November 15, 2010 [21]

Active Community Synagogue[edit]

Mikveh Israel is an active synagogue with weekly Shabbat and holiday services which serves the local Center City Jewish community, and greater Delaware Valley. It is a member of the Center City Kehilla[22] and regularly hosts Sephardic heritage cultural and educational events. The synagogue hosted the 2017 annual world conference of the Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies.[23]

Mikveh Israel and 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.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Sarna, Jonathan, American Judaism, Yale University Press, 2004, p. 19.
  2. ^ Olitsky, Kerry M. The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Greenwood Publishing Group. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  3. ^ Hirschfeld, Fritz (2005). George Washington and the Jews. Published by University of Delaware Press. p. 50. ISBN 0-87413-927-9. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  4. ^ "Dr. Abraham A. Neuman, Jewish Historian, Dies". The New York Times. 1970-11-21. p. 33.
  5. ^ "RABBI CARDOZO DIES; A SEPHARDIC LEADER". The New York Times. 1972-09-05. p. 40.
  6. ^ Elkin, Michael (January 21, 2013). "Live Music, and So Much More, This Sunday Afternoon". Jewish Exponent. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  7. ^ Dubin, Murray (1996). South Philadelphia: Mummers, Memories, and the Melrose Diner. Temple University Press. p. 143. ISBN 1-56639-429-5. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  8. ^ Hannah Lee (12 October 2011). "An Odyssey From Amsterdam to Philadelphia". Philadelphia Jewish Voice. Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  9. ^ Markens, Isaac (1888). The Hebrews in America: A Series of Historical and Biographical Sketches. New York: Isaac Markens. p. 63. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  10. ^ "The Jews are building a new synagogue at Philadelphia". Niles' Weekly Register. Baltimore, Maryland. January 4, 1823.
  11. ^ Diana Muir Appelbaum, "Jewish Identity and Egyptian Revival Architecture", Journal of Jewish Identities, 2012 (5(2) p. 7.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Congregation Mikveh Israel. "Our History." 2011. Accessed February 2, 2015.
  14. ^ "Official Unlimited is officially one of the sweetest stores in town". Naked Philly. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  15. ^ "Synagogue Moves Philadelphia Site". The New York Times. 1961-11-12. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ "American Database by Architect". Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  18. ^ Shenker, Israel (1976-07-19). "Jewish Museum Opening Has a Colonial Theme". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-06-01.
  19. ^ "Our History". Retrieved 23 November 2016.
  20. ^ Gast, Klaus-Peter; Louis I. Kahn (1999). Louis I. Kahn. Birkhäuser. p. 88. ISBN 3-7643-5964-1. Retrieved 2009-05-15.
  21. ^ "Biden among notables attending opening ceremony of National Museum of American Jewish History". Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. November 15, 2010.
  22. ^ "Participating Organizations". Center City Kehillah. Retrieved December 23, 2017. Congregation Mikveh Israel
  23. ^ Feinstein, Skip (December 20, 2017). "On contact with Orthodoxy". Jewish News. Phoenix, Arizona. Retrieved December 23, 2017.
  24. ^ "CATHOLICS OPENING FIRST BIBLE WEEK; Daily Scriptural Readings to Be Instituted -- Approval of Popes, Is Recalled". The New York Times. 1952-02-09. p. 14. Retrieved 2009-10-27.

Further reading

  • Sabato Morais (1892). "Mickve Israel Congregation of Philadelphia". Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society (1): 13–24.
  • Marvin D. Schwartz (1976). The Role of the Jew in the Forging of the Nation: the Inaugural Exhibition of the Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Museum of American Jewish History.
  • Susan G. Solomon (2009). Louis I. Kahn's Jewish Architecture: Mikveh Israel and the Midcentury American Synagogue. UPNE.

External links[edit]