Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, New York, NY records

  • Dates: 1825-1993
  • Size: 49 linear ft.
  • Number of Containers: 52 boxes; 81 unboxed volumes; seven packages; loose sheet music; one box of glass stereoscopic slides with viewer
  • Languages:
    • English
    • German
    • Hebrew
  • Location: Special Collections Reading Room, Jewish Theological Seminary Library.
  • Restrictions: Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the archivist about literary rights.
  • Gift Of: Congregation B'nai Jeshurun
  • Date: November, 1995

JM, revised by MS, 6/95; addition, JM, 2/98.

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way on the left side of each folder: Name of Collection, box #/folder#, as in Ben Zion Bokser Papers, 4/22. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.


The records of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun were given by the synagogue to the Ratner Center in two installments. The first group arrived in 1986, and an additional group of records was picked up by Ratner Center staff from the synagogue in May, 1994.

Historical Note

Congregation B'nai Jeshurun was founded in New York City in 1825 by a group of Ashkenazic Jews who broke off from New York's first synagogue, the Sephardic Shearith Israel. B'nai Jeshurun was only the second synagogue to be founded in New York, and the first in the city to use the Ashkenazic ritual. At the time of its founding it was only the ninth synagogue to be founded in the United States.

Reflecting the northward growth of New York City and the corresponding movement of New York's Jewish community, B'nai Jeshurun has occupied five different sites. The congregation's first building, originally occupied by the First Colored Presbyterian Church, was located on Elm Street and was dedicated on June 29th, 1825. In 1850, B'nai Jeshurun moved to Greene Street between Houston and Bleecker.

From 1850 to 1865, while in the Greene Street building, the congregation's membership increased from 150 to 250 families and the center of Jewish population once again shifted. Accordingly, in 1865 B'nai Jeshurun moved again, this time to Thirty-fourth Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, the site now occupied by Macy's department store. The B'nai Jeshurun's congregants continued moving north, and in 1885 the congregation relocated to Madison Avenue between Sixty-fourth and Sixty-fifth Streets. In 1917 B'nai Jeshurun settled at its current location at West Eighty-eighth Street between Broadway and West End Avenue. In 1928, the congregation added the B'nai Jeshurun community center.

Since 1839, B'nai Jeshurun has been served by the following rabbis: Samuel M. Isaacs, 1839-1844; Morris J. Raphall, 1850-1868; Henry Vidaver, 1867-1874; Henry S. Jacobs, 1876- 1893; Stephen S. Wise, 1893-1900; Joseph Mayor Asher, 1901-1907; Benjamin Tintner, 1909- 1911; Judah L. Magnes, 1911-1912; Joel Blau, 1913-1917; Israel Goldstein, 1918-1960; David H. Panitz, Associate Rabbi, 1946-1951; William Berkowitz, Associate Rabbi, 1951-1960, and rabbi, 1960-1984; Marshall Meyer, 1984-1993; and Jose Rolando Matalon, 1993-present.

Collection Description

The records of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun are arranged and described in two groups: the original records, received by the Ratner Center in1986, and the additional records received in 1994. There are further subdivisions within each group.

1986 Donation: This material dates from the synagogue's founding in 1825 up through the early 1980s; the bulk is from the twentieth century. It consists of: correspondence of rabbis and cantors as well as general business correspondence; minutes of the board of trustees; building contracts and correspondence; marriage records; cemetery records; lists of congregants; records of synagogue organizations including the men's club, sisterhood, youth group, and religious school; financial records; legal files; and material documenting holiday observances and celebrations of the synagogue's anniversaries.

Approximately half of these records consist of loose material stored in boxes, while the rest is in the form of volumes. Some types of records, such as trustees' minutes, can be found both boxed and in bound volumes.

Also included are audio tapes (reel to reel), including some containing sermons of Rabbi Israel Goldstein, ca.1957-1961, and a few of annual meetings, 1960-1963. Since the tapes are fragile, they will not be available for listening until archival copies have been made.

Of particular note in the collection are documents dating from B'nai Jeshurun's earliest years. These include minutes of the first meeting of the board of trustees, 1825, and congregational minutes, a charter, a letter book and a subscription book of original members from the same year; marriage certificates, 1826; a deed for the congregation's first building on Elm Street, 1827; and a list of loan subscribers to the first building. Also of note are programs from dedications and cornerstone layings of B'nai Jeshurun's several buildings.

A group of musical scores, uncataloged, presumably used by the synagogue's music program, is also included.

Additional Records, 1994 Donation: Because of the fragmentary and miscellaneous nature of much of this material, a series arrangement was imposed upon it by the Ratner Center. In some cases - such as religious school records and marriage records - similar material is available in the main body of the collection.

Included here are some significant items in the history of B'nai Jeshurun. The most important item in this series is the trustees' first minute book. It contains a manuscript copy of B'nai Jeshurun's charter, 5586 (1825), and minutes of the trustees from October 25, 1826 (5587) until August 29, 1847 (5607).

Rabbi Israel Goldstein, who was at B'nai Jeshurun from 1918 until his retirement in 1960, kept index cards for rites performed. Included here are his cards documenting bar mitzvahs, weddings, eulogies (the largest group) and yarzheits. These date from the twenties until Rabbi Goldstein's retirement. Subsequent rabbis, including William Berkowitz, whose initials are on some of the cards, took up the practice; later cards are from them. Unfortunately, the card files are not complete. Some loose notes and clippings are also included. Since many of these are fragile, they have been photocopied. Please use the photocopies instead of the fragile originals.

Also of note is a photograph album and scrapbook documenting the synagogue sisterhood's performance of "The Belle of New York" in 1905 in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria hotel. The sisterhood hoped to raise enough funds at this event to finance the construction of a separate building for their charitable work among the city's poor.

Some of this material documents the lives of a few individual congregants. The charitable activities of Louis Bierhoff, presumably a congregant, from the mid-nineteenth century are documented here. Personal items from congregants dating from the 1940s to the 1990s - consisting of photographs, invitations, and other material - were solicited by the synagogue in an effort to document its history.

Please consult the box list (below) for a more complete guide to this extremely miscellaneous group of records.

Series List

1986 Donation,

Boxed Files:

  • I. Anniversaries, 1924-1955
  • II. Annual Meetings, 1921-1981
  • III. Board of Trustees, 1924-1953
  • IV. Building Contracts and Correspondence, 1917-1918
  • V. Business Matters, 1940-1954
  • VI. Cemetery Records, 1942-1978
  • VII. Congregational Name and Address Lists, 1928-1957
  • VIII. Congregational Organizations, ca.1895; 1933-1961
  • IX. Congregational Correspondence, 1931-1955
  • X. Donations and Contributions, 1918-1954
  • XI. Early Documents, 1825-1925
  • XII. Estates and Burial Plots, n.d.
  • XIII. Facilities Usage, 1938-1952
  • XIV. Finances, 1930-1974
  • XV. Goldstein, Israel, 1939-1960
  • XVI. Holiday Events, 1937-1954
  • XVII. Jewish Organizations, 1920-1955
  • XVIII. Miscellaneous Subjects, 1917-1970s
  • XIX. Officers, Congregational, 1931-1956
  • XX. Publications, 1921-1950
  • XXI. Rabbis' and Cantors' Correspondence, 1939-1955
  • XXII. Religious School, 1939-1956
  • XXIII. Testimonial Dinners and Luncheons, 1945-1955
  • XXIV. Audio Tapes, 1957-1969
  • XXV. Construction and Financial Records, 1916-1958
  • XXVI. Oversized Documents

Bound Volumes, 1825-1973

1994 Donation:
  • XXVII. Odd Items, 1844-1993
  • XXVIII. Minutes, 1825-1966
  • XXIX. Bar Mitzvahs, Weddings, Eulogies, Yarzheits, 1926-1982
  • XX. Boxed Volumes, 1853-1975 and Packages, 1936-1975

Box List

This Box List is available in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format. Download it now.