Thursday, September 13, 2012

America's First Sofer

While researching the biography of Jacob Ezekiel Hyneman I came across a reference to his maternal great grandfather, Eleazar Joseph Israel (aka R. Isaac Eleazar b. Joseph Hacohen). Eleazar, a sofer stam (ritual scribe), immigrated to America from Amsterdam ca. 1810 along with his son and his son's family. He died in 1817 and was buried in the the Spruce St. Cemetery of Philadelphia's Cong. Mikveh Israel, but some time during the intervening years he donated to the congregation a Torah he had written. Although he may not have been the first sofer in America--I don't recall offhand either way--, I'm pretty sure (?) that he was the first to write Sifrei Torah and his scroll in Mikveh Israel was the first written by an American sofer. (Sifrei Torah were previously obtained from established congregations or from foreign sources, including mother congregations in London and Amsterdam.)

According to Sarna the image above (click on it to enlarge) may depict the interior of Mikveh Israel's mid-century synagogue; if true, then I imagine that one of the Sifrei Torah displayed in the open ark could be the one executed by Eleazar.

Two of Elazar's sons were also active religiously in the public sphere, one as a ba'al toke'a (shofar blower) and the other as a shamash (sexton), both in Miveh Israel

(Source here. For the record, the source isn't clear and it is possible that he wrote this scroll while yet in Amsterdam.)
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1 comment:

Pragmatician said...

Interesting anecdote as well as image.

I love depictions of Jewish life of years ago.