Shaarai Torah Synagogue (Worcester, Massachusetts)

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Shaarai Torah Synagogue
Shaarai Torah Worcester.jpg
Shaarai Torah in 2011
Shaarai Torah Synagogue (Worcester, Massachusetts) is located in Massachusetts
Shaarai Torah Synagogue (Worcester, Massachusetts)
Shaarai Torah Synagogue (Worcester, Massachusetts) is located in the US
Shaarai Torah Synagogue (Worcester, Massachusetts)
Location 32 Providence St., Worcester, Massachusetts
Coordinates 42°15′21″N 71°47′38″W / 42.25583°N 71.79389°W / 42.25583; -71.79389Coordinates: 42°15′21″N 71°47′38″W / 42.25583°N 71.79389°W / 42.25583; -71.79389
Architect Edwin T. Chapin
Architectural style Classical Revival
MPS Worcester MRA
NRHP reference # 90000729 [1]
Added to NRHP May 07, 1990

Shaarai Torah Synagogue (Hebrew: שַׁעֲרֵי תּוֹרָה, "Gates of Learning") is an historic synagogue building at 32 Providence Street in Worcester, Massachusetts. Worcester's first Modern Orthodox "shul" (and 6th overall), Shaarai Torah was considered the city's "Mother Synagogue" for many years.


The congregation, which was incorporated on January 1, 1904, held daily worship services for two years in a cottage they had purchased at 32 Providence Street in the heart of Worcester's east side Union Hill neighborhood, where most Jewish immigrants to Worcester lived. High Holiday services in 1904 and 1905 were held at A.O.H. (Ancient Order of Hibernians) Hall at 26 Trumbull Street while the present structure was being built. At a final cost of $30,000 ($800,000 in current dollar terms), the new building, designed by Edwin T. Chapin in a Classical Revival style, and modeled after Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City,[2] opened on September 14, 1906.[3]


Former Sons of Abraham Synagogue at 23 Coral Street

Most of the charter members of Shaarai Torah had left Congregation Sons of Abraham, Worcester's second-oldest synagogue, because they felt it did not meet the needs of the younger generation. One of the major issues was the use of English in the synagogue.[4] As early as 1907, Sons of Abraham leaders discussed implementing changes to make merging with Shaarai Torah possible. The merger finally took place in 1948. From then on, the synagogue was officially known as Congregation Shaarai Torah Sons of Abraham.

West Side branch[edit]

Shaarai Torah West

By 1957, roughly 74% of Worcester's 9,333 Jews lived on the tonier west side of the city, leaving less than 1,600 living on the east side.[5] Additionally, most west side Jews, who were generally younger and more assimilated than those who remained on the east side, attended Reform Temple Emanuel or Conservative Congregation Beth Israel as Orthodoxy fell out of favor with most upwardly mobile American Jews. On September 10, 1959, Shaarai Torah purchased the former home of Beth Israel at 835 Pleasant Street as a west side branch, naming it Shaarai Torah West. The original building became known as Shaarai Torah East. Shaarai Torah West, affiliated with the Orthodox Union, became an independent congregation on November 9, 1964[3] and continues to operate to this day.

Final days[edit]

The Providence Street building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1990. The synagogue stopped functioning in 1996 and finally closed shortly after a devastating arson fire in 1999.[6] Once one of at least 12 neighborhood Orthodox synagogues, when it closed Shaarai Torah was the last remaining functioning synagogue on the east side of Worcester. The building had been sold in 1997 to Al Tapper, a Worcester native and philanthropist who had plans to turn it into a Jewish museum or multi-ethnic community center, but those plans were scrapped after the fire.[7] Tapper was able to get the developer to agree to keep the Hebrew inscriptions on the facade of the building intact.[8]


Abandoned and in disrepair, the synagogue was added to the Worcester Preservation Society's list of endangered properties. In 2003, the building was finally sold to developer Selim LaHoud who hired Kopec Contracting to convert it into 13 apartments known as Red Oak Condominiums.[9]

Close up of Hebrew inscription over front entrance

Prominent alumni and members[edit]

East Side Synagogue history[edit]

Hebrew Name Transliteration English Translation Address(es) Years Open Notes[12]
בני ישראל B'nai Yisrael Sons of Israel 79 Green Street, 24 Providence Street 1875-1957 also known as the Balbirishocker Shul, Torn down for construction of I-290 in 1957
בני אברהם B'nai Avraham Sons of Abraham 10 Plymouth Street (1888-1913), 23 Coral Street 1886-1948[13] Merged with Shaarai Torah in 1948
שערי צדק Shaarei Tzedek Gates of Righteousness 8 Beach Street, 16 Gold Street, 3 Summit Street 1892-? also known as Tower of Truth
אגודת אחים Agudas Achim Union of Brothers 19 Brown Street, 9 Pond Street 1897-?[14] also known as Good Brothers
(צמח צדק (אנשי סמוליאן Tzemach Tzedek (Anshe Smolian) Plant of Justice (People of Smolyan) 10 Plymouth Street 1900-1923 Changed name to Sons of Jacob in 1923
שערי תורה Shaarai Torah Gates of Learning 32 Providence Street 1904-1999
(אגודת ישראל (אנשי ספרד Agudas Israel (Anshe Safard) Union of Israel (Sephardic) 66 Harrison Street 1913-1972 (demolished by crane 3/24/72)
בני יעקב B'nai Yaakov Sons of Jacob 104 Harrison Street[15] 1923-1965 Merged with Tifereth Israel (West Side) in 1965
תפארת ישראל Tifereth Israel Pride of Israel 42 Harrison Street 19??-1957 Torn down for construction of I-290 in 1957
בני ציון B'nai Tzion Sons of Zion 50 Granite Street 1938-1986[16]
קדימה Kadimah Forward
אנשי ראקישוק Anshe Rakishok People of Rokiškis

See also[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2008-04-15). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 
  2. ^ Kaufman, David. Shul with a pool: the "synagogue-center" in American Jewish history. Published by UPNE, 1999.
  3. ^ a b Feingold, Norma. Shaarai Torah: Life Cycle of a Synagogue. Published by Worcester Historical Museum, 30 Elm Street, Worcester, Mass. 1991.
  4. ^ Albert B. Southwick. "Shaarai Torah's 1906 birth is remembered." Telegram & Gazette 3 Oct. 1999.
  5. ^
  6. ^ James Dempsey. "Synagogue last working on East Side Temple has haggard look of place whose time gone. " Telegram & Gazette 22 Sep. 1999.
  7. ^ Shaun Sutner. "Fire hits East Side synagogue Two teens charged; landmark had been set for renovation :[ALL Edition]." Telegram & Gazette 17 Sep. 1999.
  8. ^ Polan, Judy. "Presenting the Phenomenal Al Tapper, Peabody Award Winner (and so much more)." Jewish Ledger (Western Massachusetts Edition) 19 Jun 2014.
  9. ^ Bronislaus B. Kush. "Homes mark Oak Hill revival ; First-time owner open house held :[FINAL Edition]. " Telegram & Gazette 24 Feb. 2003
  10. ^ Behrman, S.N. "The Worcester Account." Random House, 1954.
  11. ^ a b Williamson, Chet. "J23: The Tin Pan Alley Tobias Brothers" JazzSphere, November 11, 2007.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Former synagogue is now history :[ALL Edition]. " Telegram & Gazette 30 Dec. 1993.
  14. ^ Adler, Cyrus & Szold, Henrietta. American Jewish Year Book, Volume 9. American Jewish Committee, 1907.
  15. ^ Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Corporations Division: Business Entity Summary. Summary for: AGUDAS SONS OF JACOB SYNAGOGUE, ID Number: 000083446.
  16. ^ Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Corporations Division: Business Entity Summary. Summary for: SONS OF ZION, OF WORCESTER, ID Number: 000004478.

External links[edit]