History of the Jews in Pittsburgh

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Jewish history of Pittsburgh, the second largest city in the state of Pennsylvania, USA and the chief city of Western Pennsylvania. According to the 2002 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study, "Jewish households represent 3.8% of the total number of households living in Allegheny County."[1] In 2012, Pittsburgh's Jewish community will celebrate its 100th year of federated giving[clarification needed] through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.[2] The city's Jewish federation is one of the oldest in the country, marking the deep historical roots of Jews in Pittsburgh.


There are no reliable records of the beginnings of the Jewish community; but it has been ascertained that between 1838 and 1844 a small number of Jews, mostly from Baden, Bavaria, and Württemberg, settled in and around Pittsburgh. These were joined by others in 1847 and by still others in 1852, who included in their numbers the founders of Jewish communal life. The first Jewish service was held in the autumn of 1844, while the first attempt at organization was made in 1847, when a mere handful of men combined with the hope of forming a congregation. They worshiped in a room on Penn street near Walnut (now 13th) street, having engaged the Rev. Mannheimer as cantor. They formed also a Bes Almon Society, and purchased a cemetery at Troy Hill. The congregational body finally became known as "Ez Hajjim." It lacked homogeneity on account of the varying religious views of its members; and divisions and reunions took place from time to time until about 1853, when a united congregation was formed under the name "Rodeph Shalom". In 1864 a further division occurred, the seceders chartering a congregation under the name "Ez Hajjim" in 1865, and purchasing a cemetery at Sharpsburg.

Former synagogue on Miller Street near downtown Pittsburgh

At the turn of the century, two or three synagogues were established in or on the fringe of the area which is now called the Lower Hill District. One old building near Elm Street (called "The Old Jewish Church" by some people) was demolished and replaced. A group called Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob Congregation meets in the new synagogue. At least one old building has survived on nearby Miller Street in the area which had at one time been called the colloquialism "Jews Hill"[citation needed] Christians worship there now.

Philanthropic associations

Pittsburgh is notable in American Jewish history on account of the conference (see Jew. Encyc. iv. 215, s.v. Conferences, Rabbinical) held there in 1885, and is also well known as a generous supporter of all national Jewish movements, notably the Hebrew Union College and the Denver Hospital. Among the more prominent local philanthropic and charitable institutions may be mentioned the following:

  • J. M. Gusky Orphanage and Home, with the Bertha Rauh Cohen Annex. The Home was founded in 1890 by Esther Gusky, in memory of her husband, Jacob Mark Gusky. The Annex was the gift in 1889 of Aaron Cohen in memory of his wife, Bertha Rauh Cohen, the only daughter of Rosalia Rauh and the late Solomon Rauh. The Home has 62 inmates, an annual income of about $10,000, and an endowment fund of $67,000.
  • The United Hebrew Relief Association, a union of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and the Hebrew Ladies' Aid Society. It dispenses $10,000 yearly, and has a sinking-fund of $29,000.
  • The Columbian Council School, a social settlement. It conducts a large number of classes, public lectures, a library, public baths, a gymnasium, etc. The bath-house was the gift of Alexander Peacock. The disbursements are about $6,000 annually.
  • The Ladies' Hospital Aid secures and pays for hospital attention for the sick poor. It has an annual income of about $8,000, and is at present endeavoring to erect a Jewish hospital.
  • The Young Ladies' Sewing Society, which dispenses clothing to the poor; income about $2,000 annually.

The Concordia Club fosters Jewish social life in Pittsburgh. The Council of Jewish Women is represented by the Columbian Council. The Y.M.H.A. has been reorganized, and gives promise of great activity. The Independent Order of B'nai B'rith has five lodges; and the Independent Order of the Free Sons of Israel, the Sons of Benjamin, Sons of Israel, and Sons of Abraham have two each. There are two weekly papers, one in English. "The Jewish Criterion," of which Rabbi Levy and Charles H. Joseph are the editors, and one in Judæo-German, the "Volksfreund."

Prominent Jews

The Jews of Pittsburgh are prominent in the professions and in commerce. Donors to non-sectarian charities include J. D. Bernd and Isaac Kaufmann, the latter of whom in 1895 gave the Emma Kaufmann Free Clinic to the medical department of the University of Pittsburgh. Among those who have held positions in public life are Emanuel Wertheimer, select councilman and member of the state house of representatives; Morris Einstein, select councilman (15 years); Josiah Cohen, judge of the Orphans' Court; E. E. Mayer, city physician; L. S. Levin, assistant city attorney. Isaac W. Frank is president of the National Founders' Association, and A. Leo Weil is a member of the executive committee of the Voters' Civic League.

Since 1882 there has been a steady increase in the number of Jews in Pittsburgh, the new settlers coming mostly from eastern Europe. Russian, Romanian, and Hungarian Jews came in large numbers, and began to display an appreciable interest in public affairs. They had six synagogues in 1906 (whose rabbis include Aaron M. Ashinsky and M. S. Sivitz), many ḥebras, and a number of small religious societies. The Pittsburgh Jewry strongly sympathized with the Zionistic movement, having a large number of Zionistic societies. The number of Jewish inhabitants in 1906 is estimated at between 15,000 and 25,000, in a total population of about 322,000.

Squirrel Hill

Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood is considered to be the city's primary Jewish hub. Squirrel Hill has had a large Jewish population since the 1920s, when Jews began to move to the neighborhood in large numbers from Oakland and the Hill District. According to a 2002 study by the United Jewish Federation, 33% of the Jewish population of greater Pittsburgh live in Squirrel Hill, and another 14% in the surrounding area. The report states that "The stability of Squirrel Hill, a geographic hub of the Jewish community located within the city limits, is unique in North America." Squirrel Hill contains three Jewish day schools, catering to the Lubavich, Orthodox, and Conservative movements. There are over twenty synagogues. The Jewish community also offers four restaurants, a Jewish Community Center and an annual festival. It is estimated that one-fifth of the population of Squirrel Hill is Jewish.

See also

Media related to Judaism in Pittsburgh at Wikimedia Commons


  • History of Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 1899
  • articles in the Jewish Criterion, 1901
  • American Israelite, 1893


  1. http://www.ujfpittsburgh.org/getfile.asp?id=3869 |url= missing title (help). Retrieved April 6, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Centennial celebration for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh". The Jewish Chronicle. February 10, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Pittsburg". Pittsburg. Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>