List of the oldest synagogues in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Touro Synagogue, (founded c. 1658) Newport, Rhode Island, 1759 building
Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Synagogue,(founded 1740s) Charleston, South Carolina, 1840 building
Congregation Shearith Israel, (founded 1655) New York, 1897 building

The designation of the oldest synagogue in the United States requires careful use of definitions, and must be divided into two parts, the oldest in the sense of oldest surviving building, and the oldest in the sense of oldest congregation. Even here, there is the distinction between old synagogue buildings that have been in continuous use as synagogues, and those that have been converted to other purposes, between buildings that have been in continuous use as synagogues and those, such as the Touro, that were shuttered for many decades, and between early established congregations that have been in continuous existence and early congregations that ceased to exist.

Oldest congregations[edit]

Sephardi congregations[edit]

All of the oldest congregations in the new world were founded by Sephardi Jews and followed the Sephardic liturgy.

Congregation Mickve Israel, Savannah, Georgia, 1874 building

Ashkenazi congregations[edit]

Until 1795, all congregations in the United States were Sephardic, although many or even most of the members of these congregations were descended from Eastern European Jews.[3]

Oldest existing buildings[edit]

This list includes only buildings that are still standing. Some are still in use as synagogues, others have been repurposed.

Adas Israel, Washington, D.C., 1876

By state[edit]

B'nai Israel, Galveston, Texas (1870)
Temple Beth-El, Pensacola, Florida (1876)
Plum Street Temple, Cincinnati, Ohio (1866)


  • Congregation Sha'arai Shomayim, located in Mobile, the oldest congregation in Alabama, was formally organized on January 25, 1844. Their first synagogue was Emanuel Street Synagogue, dedicated on December 27, 1846. The current Springhill Avenue Temple is their fifth location.[6]


  • Congregation Beth Sholom was first organized on September 5, 1958, in Anchorage.[7]



  • Emanu-El dedicated the first synagogue in the Arizona Territory on October 3, 1910, in Tucson. The congregation stopped holding services there in 1949. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and currently houses the Jewish Heritage Center of the Southwest.[10]



  • Temple Israel, Leadville, Colorado, 1884 building restored as a synagogue and Jewish pioneer museum in 2008. The original congregation dissolved before 1914. The Hebrew Cemetery was established in 1880.



  • Adas Kodesch Shel Emeth in Wilmington, Delaware, is the oldest congregation in the state. It was formed from the merger in 1957 of the Orthodox Adas Kodesch Congregation, which was established in 1885, and the Chesed Shel Emeth Congregation. It is usually referred to simply as Adas Kodesch and is billed as "The First Synagogue in the First State".[14]

District of Columbia[edit]

  • Washington Hebrew Congregation, congregation founded in 1852.[15]
  • Adas Israel, the building, now known as the Lilian and Albert Small Jewish Museum, is located at the corner of Third and G streets NW. It was built in 1876, after the congregation split from Washington Hebrew Congregation over the issue of organ music during services. Originally located at 6th and G streets, the dedication was attended by President Ulysses S. Grant on June 9, 1876.[15]


  • Ahavath Chesed in Jacksonville, and Temple Beth-El in Pensacola each has claims to being the oldest Jewish congregation in Florida. The Jacksonville congregation was meeting for prayer by 1867, but appears to have incorporated later than Pensacola which dedicated its first building in 1876, well before Jacksonville's 1882 building.[16]
  • The United Hebrews of Ocala building was built in 1888. It may be the oldest Florida synagogue building still standing.


  • Congregation Mickve Israel of Savannah, Georgia, was organized in 1733.
  • Temple Beth Tefilloh of Brunswick, Georgia, was established in 1886, and designed by renowned Jewish architect Alfred S. Eichberg, Beth Tefilloh remains rich in its history, beauty and spirit and has been continuously active since its founding.


  • Temple Emanu-El dates back to 1938 when 35 Jewish families on Oahu formed the Honolulu Jewish Community. In 1939, in cooperation with the Jewish Welfare Board, a small chapel on Young Street was leased and converted into a Jewish Community Center (JCC), which also served as Honolulu's first permanent synagogue.[17]


  • Ahavath Beth Israel, Boise, Idaho (1896).[5] The synagogue was built for Beth Israel, founded in 1895. In the 1980s, the congregation was formed as a merger of Congregation Beth Israel and Ahavath Israel, founded in 1912.


  • KAM Isaiah Israel merged several older congregations in Chicago. The oldest congregation of these was Kehillat Anshe Maarav, which was founded in 1847.
  • Anshai Emeth, Peoria, Reform congregation founded in 1859, continuing to present.[18]



  • Temple Emanuel of Davenport was formed as B'Nai Israel Congregation on October 21, 1861.[20]
  • B'nai Israel Congregation, Keokuk, Iowa. First permanent Jewish house of worship in Iowa, 1877.[21]




Shaare Tefilah building, New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Touro Synagogue in New Orleans, Louisiana, is the oldest congregation in the state. Touro Synagogue traces its origins back to Shanarai-Chasset (Congregation Gates of Mercy), which was founded in New Orleans in 1828.[2][23]
  • Shaare Tefilah (Gates of Prayer) in New Orleans, Louisiana, is the oldest surviving synagogue building in the state. Architect J. Thiele designed the brick structure to replace an earlier building, but construction was delayed by the Civil War. The cornerstone was laid in 1865 and the synagogue was dedicated in 1867. The building is located at 709 Jackson Avenue in the Lower Garden District. The former synagogue had been converted to use as a storage facility; however, it was recently purchased and will be converted to a 12-unit apartment building.[24][25]







  • B'nai Israel was organized in Natchez in 1843, making it the oldest congregation in Mississippi.[27][28]
  • An historic marker on the corner of South Street and South Main Street in Jackson marks the site of the first synagogue built in the state, Beth Israel, built in 1867. The building was destroyed by fire on July 10, 1874.[29][30]



Temple Emanu-El, Helena, MT


  • Temple Israel of Omaha, the oldest synagogue in Nebraska (1871).[33]

New Hampshire[edit]

  • Temple Adath Yeshurun of Manchester, founded in 1891, is the oldest synagogue in New Hampshire.
  • Temple Israel, first permanent Jewish house of worship in New Hampshire, Portsmouth, 1910.[34]

New Jersey[edit]

  • Congregation Adas Emuno (New Jersey)'s 1883 building is the oldest surviving synagogue building in New Jersey.
  • Congregation B'nai Jeshurun was founded in 1848. Originally located in Newark, it is currently located in Short Hills, NJ.[35]
  • Har Sinai Temple was founded in 1857. Originally located in Trenton, it is currently located in Pennington, NJ.

New Mexico[edit]

  • Congregation Albert, founded in 1897, is the oldest continuing Jewish organization in New Mexico.[36][37]
  • Congregation Montefiore, Las Vegas, N.M., first Jewish congregation in N.M. 1884 [38]

New York[edit]


  • Temple Emanu-El, Reno, Nevada, founded in 1922.
  • Temple Beth Sholom, Las Vegas, Nevada, founded in 1931.

North Carolina[edit]

North Dakota[edit]





Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel is the sixth oldest Reform Jewish synagogue in the United States. It began in Philadelphia in 1847, and was at a number of locations in the city before building a massive structure on North Broad Street in 1891. In 1900 KI, as the Congregation is known, was one of the largest Reform Congregations in the United States. In 1957 the congregation completed the move to Elkins Park, a suburb north of Philadelphia. The new building incorporated many of the stained glass windows that had been in the Broad street building, including the commemorative window installed under the leadership of Rabbi Krauskopf after the death of his friend Theodore Roosevelt. The building also included a newly created series of windows by the well known artist Jacob Landau (which are discussed below). The move to Elkins Park reflected the growing suburbanization of American Jews in the post-War period.

In 1847 Julius Stern led in the creation of Keneseth Israel as a traditional German –Jewish Congregation. Stern and 47 other men seceded from an existing synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Shalom (the 3rd oldest in Philadelphia), to create the new congregation. Until the 1880s business meetings were conducted in German, and services were in both German and Hebrew. The new Congregation's ritual was initially based on traditional, Orthodox Jewish customs and practice. When first organized the synagogue hired a lay "reader," B.H. Gotthelf, rented space, and made plans to have burial plots in a local cemetery. The congregation established its first religious school 1849, with about 75 children learning Hebrew and Jewish ritual. In 1852 the congregation began to have sermons, which was a step away from traditional Orthodox Jewish ritual, but reflected the common Protestant worship that dominated the United States. At about this time the congregation also adopted the recently published Hamburg Prayer Book, which came out of the new Reform Movement in Germany. In 1854 KI purchased its first building, a former church on New Market Street, which was rededicated and consecrated as a synagogue. The re-purposing of religious edifices is common in America, as new immigrants acquire buildings that were built by other faiths. While KI did not yet have an ordained rabbi, Orthodox rabbis from other Congregations in Philadelphia participated in the re-consecration of the building.

Puerto Rico[edit]

  • Sha'are Zedeck, built in 1952, is the oldest synagogue in Puerto Rico.

Rhode Island[edit]

  • The Touro Synagogue in Newport, founded in 1658, is the oldest Jewish house of worship in North America that is still standing. (1759)

South Carolina[edit]

South Dakota[edit]

  • Mount Zion Congregation, Sioux Falls, possibly the oldest congregation, ca. 1903


  • The 1882 building of Temple Adas Israel, Brownsville, is thought to be the oldest synagogue building in Tennessee.
  • First permanent Jewish congregation in Tennessee, Children of Israel, 1858 in Memphis. Originally known as Congregation B'nai Israel-Children of Israel, Temple Israel (Memphis) was formed by 36 German Jewish families in 1853 and chartered by the state of Tennessee on March 2, 1854.[43]
  • Congregation Ohabai Sholom (The Temple) in Nashville, had its beginnings in the late 1840s when a group of Jewish residents met for religious services. The synagogue lists its beginning year as 1851, when a benevolent society purchased cemetery property. It began as Khal Kodesh Mogen David and received a charter on March 2, 1854.[44]





Gates of Heaven Synagogue, Madison, Wisconsin (1863)


  • The state's first synagogue was Temple Emamu-El (Spokane, September 12, 1892, demolished). The congregation later merged with Keneseth Israel to form the present-day Temple Beth Shalom.[47][48]
  • In 1914, Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation was established. It is open for three daily prayers, on every Sabbath and all Holidays. The congregation's original members hail from the country of Turkey.

West Virginia[edit]



  • Mt. Sinai Congregation, in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the oldest synagogue in Wyoming, built in 1910.[53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Sarna, Jonathan. American Judaism. Yale University Press, 2004. p. 19.
  2. ^ a b c "The History of Our Congregation". Touro Synagogue.
  3. ^ Sarna, Jonathan. American Judaism. Yale University Press, 2004. pp. 18ff, 56ff.
  4. ^ a b Gordon, Mark. Rediscovering Jewish Infrastructure: Update on United States Nineteenth Century Synagogues. American Jewish History, 84, 1. 1996. p. 20–27
  5. ^ a b Stolzman, Henry; Stolzman, Daniel Synagogue Architecture in America: Faith, Spirit & Identity. The Images Publishing Group Pty Ltd. 2004.
  6. ^ "Shaarai Shomayim (Gates of Heaven)". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  7. ^ "About Us". Congregation Beth Sholom. Archived from the original on July 26, 2011.
  8. ^ Adler, Cyrus; Currick, M. C. "Arkansas". Jewish Encyclopedia. 1906.
  9. ^ 'Arkansas Jewish History". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  10. ^ "Stone Avenue Temple: Tucson AZ". Jewish Postcards. National Museum of American Jewish History.
  11. ^ Sarna, Jonathan. American Judaism. Yale University Press, 2004. p. 73
  12. ^ Panneton, Judie. "History - How Beautiful is Our Heritage: 160 years and Still Going Strong". Congregation B'nai Israel. Archived from the original on September 2, 2012.
  13. ^ Olitzky, Kerry M.; Raphael, Marc Lee. The American Synagogue: A Historical Dictionary and Sourcebook, Greenwood Press. June 30, 1996. pp. 76–80.
  14. ^ "Ohabe Shalom - Lovers of Peace". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  15. ^ a b "Illustrated History of 1876 Synagogue". Lilian and Albert Small Jewish Museum. Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington.
  16. ^ "Pensacola, Florida". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  17. ^ "A History of Jews in Hawaii & the Kalakaua Torah". Temple Emanu-El.
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Oldest Synagogue in Indiana Celebrates 100th Anniversary; Special Sermons Scheduled". Jewish News Archives. February 27, 1948. Archived from the original on April 19, 2013.
  20. ^ Baker, Deirdre Cox. "Temple Emanuel celebrates 150 years". The Quad City Times. April 14, 2011.
  21. ^ "B'nai Israel Congregation - First Permanent Jewish House of Worship in Iowa". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  22. ^ "Temple B'Nai Jeshurun". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  23. ^ "Shangarai Chasset: Gates of Mercy Synagogue: First permanent Jewish House of Worship in the State of Louisiana". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  24. ^ Wilson, Samuel and Bernard Lemann. New Orleans Architecture, Volume 1: The Lower Garden District. (New Orleans: Pelican Publishing, 1990): 129.
  25. ^ Ponchartrain, Blake. "New Orleans Know-It-All: Where is the Oldest Synagogue in New Orleans?" Gambit. February 8, 2010.
  26. ^ Bangor, Maine: Congregation Beth Israel 1897". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  27. ^ "B'Nai Israel to Unveil Historical Marker". The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, Mississippi). April 28, 2006. Archived from the original on May 8, 2012.
  28. ^ "Temple B'Nai Israel: Natchez, Mississippi". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  29. ^ "Site of Mississippi's First Synagogue Dedicated". Goldring-Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life. 2006. Archived from the original on May 8, 2012.
  30. ^ "Temple Beth Israel - Jackson, Mississippi". Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation.
  31. ^ [1]
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^ TBJ website accessdate=2011-05-17
  36. ^ [2]
  37. ^ [3]
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^ a b c
  42. ^ Jewish Synagogues in Oklahoma City
  43. ^ History | Temple Israel
  44. ^ A Short History of Congregation Ohabai Sholom
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^ WSJHS (2006), The Jewish Experience in Washington State: A Chronology 1845–2005, Washington State Jewish Historical Society (WSJHS), p. 14–15.
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^ Jewish Federation Madison
  51. ^ Gates of Heaven
  52. ^ History | Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun
  53. ^