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Board of Delegates of American Israelites Records

 Collection
Identifier: I-2

Scope and Content Note

The Records of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites documents the life cycle of the first successful national and international relief and civil rights organization in the United States geared toward the Jewish people. Founded by reformist New York Jews, the Board worked with the newly created Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris, and the older, more established organization, the London Committee of Deputies of British Jews to further the political and religious right of Jews in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. The collection documents the Board of Delegates communications with these organizations, the Board's work in protecting U.S. Constitutional rights against a one-religion state and the Board's determination to defend the equal rights of Jews in the United States. In addition, the collection contains surveys and correspondence documenting the founding, location, and membership constituency of synagogues from the dues-paying congregations of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites.

Dates

  • 1859-1881, 1887, 1932

Language of Materials

The collection is in English, Yiddish, French, German, Hebrew, Romanian, and Spanish.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open to all researchers, except items that may be restricted due to their fragility, or privacy.

Use Restrictions

No permission is required to quote, reproduce or otherwise publish manuscript materials found in this collection, as long as the usage is scholarly, educational, and non-commercial. For inquiries about other usage, please contact the Director of Collections and Engagement at mmeyers@ajhs.org.

For reference questions, please email: inquiries@cjh.org

Historical Note

Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859-1878)

Board of Delegates of Civil (and Religious) Rights (1878-1925)

The Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859-1878) was formed partly in response to the 1858 case of six-year old Italian Jew Edgar Mortara. During an illness, Mortara's Christian nursemaid baptized him and as the result of information provided by the nursemaid, the child was whisked from his family by papal authorities. Mortara's parents attempted to recover their son, but the papacy determined that he was no longer a Jew and could not be returned to the Jewish community. The young boy remained apart from his parents, eventually entering the priesthood. Though British Jews had established the Committee of Deputies of British Jews in 1760 to safeguard the interests of Jews as a religious and political community, the United States did not have such an organization. As a result of the Mortara case and other incidents, Jews from the United States and France founded separate organizations that worked in tandem with the Committee of Deputies to uphold the civil and communal rights of Jews throughout Europe, North America, North Africa, and the Middle East. These organizations were the Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859) and the Alliance Israélite Universelle.

The Alliance Israélite Universelle was formed in 1860 as a central clearinghouse of information and action based in Paris to keep track of the plight of Jews and promote their civil rights. In conjunction with the Anglo-Jewish Association in London (created by the Board of Deputies), a Central Committee composed of constituent members from various countries and committees was formed, including delegates from major European cities, Curacao, Turkey, the United States, and other locales. The Central Committee communicated the needs and appeals of Jews through local and territorial committees such as the Board of Delegates. As a dues and alms constituent of the Alliance Universelle, the goals and aims of the Board of Delegates converged greatly with those of the Alliance, the Anglo-Jewish Association, the Roumanian Committee, the Israelitisch Allianz zu Wien, and the Board of Deputies. All of these organizations strove to emancipate the Jewish population at home and abroad.

The Board of Delegates also served as a unifying and surveying vehicle for Jewish congregations in the States. To this end, constituent, dues-paying members regularly submitted questionnaires and surveys regarding the founding, facilities, and size of their congregations throughout the U.S. The Board of Delegates was the first successful American attempt at uniting the Jewish population in furthering the civil and political rights of the world's Jews.

Some of the first members of the Delegates included Henry Hart, owner of New York's Third Avenue Railroad Company, financier Isaac Seligman, and one of two elected vice-presidents included the prominent Rabbi Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia. Myer S. Isaacs, Secretary of the Board and son of prominent New York Rabbi Samuel M. Isaacs, was a driving force behind the formation of the Board. As valedictorian of the graduating class of the University of New York (later New York University), in 1859, Isaacs delivered a commencement speech alluding to the case of Edgar Mortara. The Isaacs family, particularly Myer and Samuel, spearheaded the establishment of many Jewish-oriented relief and betterment organizations and published the New York-based newspaper The Jewish Messenger. Myer served as Secretary of the Board of Delegates until 1876, whereupon he became President of the organization when it merged with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, and later served as the first President of the Baron de Hirsch Fund.

According to the Constitution of the Board of Delegates, the organization had five primary objectives. The first consisted of obtaining and collecting statistical information regarding the Jews of the United States for reference purposes. The second objective was the appointment of a Committee of Arbitration for the purpose of settling disputes arising between Congregations, individuals, or public bodies belonging to the Delegates in lieu of resorting to the law. The object of the Arbitration Committee was "simply the preservation of peace, nothing further than the offering of advice is contemplated." The third objective was to promote religious education by encouraging local Congregational schools and to establish a High School for the training of men as ministers and teachers. To this end, Myer and several members of the Board of Delegates established the Education Alliance and Hebrew Technical Institute on the Lower East Side of New York and Maimonides College (1867-1873) in Philadelphia. The fourth objective was '"to keep a watchful eye on occurrences at home and abroad, and see that the civil and religious rights of Israelites are not encroached on, and call attention of the proper authorities to the fact, should any such violation occur." The fifth objective was to establish and continue communication with other like-minded Jewish organizations throughout the world and especially to establish a "thorough union among all the Israelites of the United States."

The fourth and fifth objectives became the driving force behind the Board's actions, and they consistently strove to 'keep a watchful eye on occurrences at home and abroad.' In the U.S., the Board confronted issues of Jewish immigration and the granting of refugee status of Jewish immigrants. The Board of Delegates spoke out against General Ulysses S. Grant's 1862 Order No. 11 expelling Jews from his jurisdiction due to supposed looting as well as Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler's accusations of Jews as being looters and liars. Grant's order was immediately rescinded (a little prior to the Board's push for its dismissal) and Butler issued a public apology for his comments.

It was partially through the efforts of the Delegates that the first Jewish Chaplain was appointed during the Civil War. In 1861, Congress ordered military regiments to appoint Chaplains who were specifically of the Christian faith. The Board of Delegates responded in protest along with New York District Attorney E. Delafield Smith, both giving letters of introduction to the Rev. Dr. Arnold Fischel, who had been acting as an unofficial military chaplain to Union soldiers in the field at the behest of the Board. It fell upon Fischel to procure a meeting with President Lincoln and persuade Lincoln to seek a reversal of the Congressional order. Rev. Dr. Fischel obtained such a meeting in December 1861, leading to the rescinding of the order and the appointment of the first official Jewish military chaplain, Rabbi Jacob Frankel of the Philadelphia Congregation Rodeph Shalom, on September 18, 1862.

Though the Board had some success in the States, due to conflicts between Jewish factions at home, the primary thrust of the Board's work became the civil rights and emancipation of Jews in such places as Morocco, Turkey, Romania, and Palestine. A particularly strong connection between the Board and the plight of Roumania Jews emerged through Myer Isaacs' friendship with the lawyer and journalist Benjamin Franklin Peixotto. Romania had revolted against the Ottomans in 1821 and the Russians in 1848, eventually obtaining independence under the Treaty of Paris in 1856. As part of the treaty, Jews were legally entitled to religious and civil liberties, but not political or citizenship rights.

In 1859, Alexandru Ioan Cuza became the first ruler of the united principalities of Romania. Cuza planned to grant political rights to both the Jewish and Armenian populations of Romania based on a fee. Some in the Jewish community believed that the Romanians would not keep their part of the bargain while others saw no need to obtain political and citizenship rights and the plan was rejected. Cuza's government was overthrown in 1866 and replaced by Carol of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen. Prince Carol submitted a new Constitution, granting citizenship rights to all residents of Romania regardless of religion. This plan created tension in Bucharest and violence erupted between the Jewish and Christian communities, leaving many Jews dead and the city's large Temple destroyed. Prince Carol withdrew the planned Constitution and declared that only Christians could obtain citizenship. In 1867, Jews and other non-Christian residents were expelled from Romania.9

In 1867, Adolph Crémieux of the Alliance Israélite Universelle and Sir Moses Montefiore of the Board of Deputies of British Jews traveled to Bucharest to demand the emancipation of Romanian Jews. Regardless of the exhortations of Crémieux, Montefiore, and the governments of Germany and Holland, the persecution of Jews in Romania did not desist. With the help of the Delegates, in particular Isaac Seligman's lobbying of government, Peixotto was appointed as the first permanent American Consul to the new country of Romania. During Peixotto's time in Bucharest (1870-1876), his attempt to emancipate the Jews of Romania had little or no affect. His well-publicized tenure, however, lessened anti-Semitic legislation and pogroms.10

The Board of Delegates attempted to handle the tricky question of Jewish immigration to the United States, arguing at times for increased immigration and at other times for limited immigration of qualified persons only. In Oct. 1872, the Delegates became involved in its first international conference concerning the Jewish people. The Berlin Rumanian Committee arranged a large-scale meeting in Brussels to discuss the plight and possible immigration of Romanian Jews. The Board of Delegates sent two representatives to the Brussels meeting, Isaac Seligman and Benjamin Peixotto.11 Peixotto strongly advocated for increased immigration of Romanian Jews, and it was rumored that he practically guaranteed immigration to the United States for all Jews in Romania. Peixotto was ridiculed in the European and American press, and admonished by the U.S. government. In a private letter from to Myer Isaacs, Peixotto writes: "In no time what I had never conceived to be a serious thing was so regarded by all the world and about my ears came noises enough to crush an ordinary being."12

The Delegates also supported Jews in Ottoman Palestine. In conjunction with the Alliance, the Delegates contributed funds to establish the Mikve-Israel Agricultural School in Jaffa, provided funding to the Jewish Hospital in Jerusalem, and intervened on behalf of Jews to Turkish and American authorities. In Persia, the Delegates helped with famine conditions by donating money through Montefiore. In 1873, the Board provided statistical information to the Alliance for the Russian government on various aspects of Jewish life in America, particularly the integration of Jewish citizens. The report noted the population of Jews who fought during the Civil War, the various occupations that Jews practiced in the states, and gave an overview of famous Jewish-Americans.13

In New York City, the Board of Delegates tackled two issues specifically dealing with the city. In 1866, the Board spoke out against the changing of Jew's Hospital to Mt. Sinai. The hospital had treated non-Jews during the Civil War and by reverting to a 'Jews only' policy would lose state funding. Financially in peril, the hospital decided to change its name and keep its services opened to the wider New York community. The Board felt that the city needed to keep a hospital specifically for Jews, but were unsuccessful in their bid; Jew's Hospital was official changed to Mt. Sinai Hospital. In 1872, the Board protested a City College of New York policy of scheduling examinations on the Shabbat. Writing to the President of the college, the Board was told that it was impossible to schedule examinations according to the rules of every religion represented at the college. The Board contacted Sam A. Lewis, the U.S. Commissioner of Education, who brought the matter before the Trustees of City College, and the policy was rescinded.

Toward 1876, the activity of the Delegates waned, though the Board continued to keep track of events in Romania, Jerusalem, and Turkey. Monies were still collected from the constituent Congregations and alms sent abroad, but 1877 brought the first inklings of the Board's impending merger into the Seminary Association of America, which would later become the reform organization, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC). In 1878, the Board name was changed to the Board of Delegates on Civil and Religious Rights (though usually being called Board of Delegates on Civil Rights) and worked with the UAHC to further the aims of emancipation and civil rights of Jews in the United States and abroad. The Board of Delegates ultimately disbanded under the UAHC in 1925.

The Board of Delegates fought many uphill battles, both on the homefront and in foreign affairs. Due to conflicts between varying Jewish bodies in the United States, the Board could not accomplish many of its goals, particularly in establishing Jewish educational facilities. In foreign affairs, the Board rarely initiated plans of its own, except in the case of calling for an 1878 international conference at Paris. The Board generally worked through the Board of British Deputies and the Alliance Israélite Universelle, with the Board's activity revolving around appealing to the U.S. government, collecting donations and sending funds to American counsels or foreign agencies. They rarely solved problems, but their activity aided in crucial situations. According to a 1932 thesis by Allan Tarshish, the Board was characterized by "caution, and a little timidity, and expressed itself primarily through temporary means. Though it often did make plans for permanent aid and a definite program, these were all blocked either by the apathy of American Jews or the inability of the Board to arouse them in these instances." 14

CHRONOLOGY

1859
The Board of Delegates of American Israelites was formed, though several Jewish organizations opposed its creation.
1860
Protested against the forced removal of Italian Jew Edgar Mortara.
Provided alms for Jews fleeing from Morocco to Gibraltar.
1860-1866
With the Alliance Israélite Universelle, lobbied the Swiss government to grant equal rights to Jewish foreigners resident in Switzerland.
1861
Lobbied the U.S. government, through the Rev. Dr. Arnold Fischel, to revoke an order mandating military Chaplains be of the Christian faith.
1862
Objected to Order No. 11, issued by General Ulysses S. Grant expelling Jews from Tennessee. According to documentation within the collection, General Halleck immediately revoked the order prior to the lobbying effort of the Board.
1864
Asked the United States government to intervene on the behalf of Jews in Morocco. The U.S. instructed the Counsel to aid Sir Moses Montefiore, who was investigating conditions in Morocco.
Published a memorial against the Presbyterian Conference, which had attempted to amend the U.S. Constitution to recognize Christianity as the country's official religion.
1865
Supported Jews in Palestine during a cholera outbreak.
Participated in memorial services held after the death of President Abraham Lincoln.
1866
Protested constitutional changes in Maryland denying the right of citizens to hold office unless they professed a belief in the New Testament. Protested Reconstruction laws requiring oaths to be taken unto the Holy Evangelists; lobbied to change Sunday store closure laws.
1866-1878
Consistently fought for the rights of Jews in the Danube principalities, particularly Romania.
1867
After a visit and report by Sir Moses Montefiore to Palestine, established a permanent fund for Jewish interests.
Helped Galician Jews at Brody (Poland) when a fire destroyed the town.
First attempt at establishing a Jewish Publication Society.
Established Maimonides College in Philadelphia, with Isaac Leeser as head of school.
1868
Helped famine survivors in Tunis, though the famine was short-lived.
Contributed to the Mikve-Israel Agricultural School at Jaffa.
1869
Sent a memorial to the King of Spain thanking him for rescinding the Edict of 1492 expelling Jews from Spain.
Intervened to the Russian government on behalf of 2,000 Jewish families driven out of the frontier district of Bessarabia (Moldova).
Established a Jewish hospital fund in Jerusalem.
1870
Aided flood victims in Rome.
528 Russian immigrants were helped into the U.S. by the Board, who maintained that only those able and capable of an occupation be allowed into the country.
A committee was formed to establish the American Jewish Publication Society, offering books to subscribers.
1870-1876
Provided assistance and resources to Benjamin F. Peixotto, United States Consul to Romania.
1871
Sent a congratulatory address to the Jews of Rome at their liberation from the Papacy in 1870.
1872
Distributed aid to Jews in Persia
Took part in the International Jewish Conference in Brussels at the invitation of the Berlin Romanian Committee. Isaac Seligman and Benjamin Peixotto were elected to represent the Board of Delegates.
Appealed to the Trustees of the City College of New York to refrain from assigning examinations on Shabbat.
1873
Maimonides College closes partially due to the death of Isaac Leeser in 1868.
1875
American Jewish Publication Society disbanded.
1876
Took part in a second international conference held in Paris. Delegates were William Seligman and Arthur Levy. Conference objective was equal rights for Romanian Jews.
Issued a decree to Congregations to observe the 100th anniversary of the founding of the United States.
1877
Sent a memorial to Spain in protest of a new Constitution threatening disenfranchisement of Jews.
Worked with the American Counsel in Jerusalem to aid Russian and American Jews during the Russo-Turkish War.
In collaboration with the UAHC, published congregational statistics for the first time. Though the Board had regularly obtained statistics, they had been unable until this time to publish results.
1878
Urged the Alliance to convene a third international meeting to present to world governments plans for the equality of Jews.
Merged with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, becoming the Board of Delegates of Civil (and Religious) Rights.
1925
Dissolved as part of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
References

Bigart, Jacques. "Alliance Israélite Universelle." Jewish Encyclopedia Online. Accessed April 25, 2003. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=1264=A

Deutsch, Gotthard. "Mortara Case." Jewish Encyclopedia Online. Accessed April 25, 2003. http://www. jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=809=M

Jacobs, Joseph. "London Committee of Deputies of British Jews." Jewish Encyclopedia Online. Accessed April 25, 2003. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=534=L

"Peixotto, U.S."; "Rumania." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Jerusalem: MacMillan Co., 1971, v. 13. "Rumania." Jewish Enclyclopedia. New York: Funk and Wagnalls, 1905, v. x.

Tarshish, Allan. Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859-1878). Rabbinical Thesis, 1932.

Footnotes

  1. Gotthard Deutsch. "Mortara Case." Jewish Encyclopedia. Accessed April 25, 2003. jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=809=M
  2. Joseph Jacobs, "London Committee of Deputies of British Jews." Jewish Encyclopedia. Accessed April 25, 2003. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=534=L
  3. Jacques Bigart. "Alliance Israélite Universelle." Jewish Encyclopedia. Accessed April 25, 2003. http://www.jewishencyclopedia. com/view.jsp?artid=1264=A
  4. Allan Tarshish. Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859-1878). Rabbinical Thesis, March 1932, pg. 1. According to this very useful thesis, the first attempt at unification occurred in 1841 in an unsuccessful bid led by Isaac Leeser, William Hackenberg, and several other Philadelphian Jews. Tarshish says that this attempt failed primarily due to a conflict between New York Sephardic Jews who felt that Philadelphian German Jews would attain too much power from unification under German Jewish auspices. The animosities between Sephardic and German Jews also seeped into talks concerning the Board of Delegates. Allan Tarshish thesis, March 1932, Board of Delegates of American Israelites, 1-2, Box 4/Folder 10, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY.
  5. For more information on Myer Isaacs and the Isaacs Family, see AJHS collection P-22, Myer Isaacs Collection.
  6. See also Myer Isaacs Collection, P-22 for more information concerning the Education Alliance and Hebrew Technical Institute. Maimonides College was the first rabbinical theology school in the United States. The first provost was Isaac Leeser, and the school opened in 1867. Leeser died in 1868, and the College lost its most well known supporter. Maimonides folded in 1873 due to the death of Leeser and lack of communal support.
  7. Constitution and By-Laws of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites. New York: Joseph Davis, Printer, 25 Howard Street, 1860, pgs. 2-3. Board of Delegates of American Israelites, 1-2, Box 1/Folder 3, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY.
  8. Solomons to Henry Hart and Solomons to Myer Isaacs, Correspondence, S, 1863, Board of Delegates of American Israelites, 1-2, Box 3/Folder 2, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY.
  9. Peixotto, U.S."; "Rumania." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Jerusalem: MacMillan Co., 1971, v. 13, p. 214 ; v14, pgs. 387-388. "Rumania." Jewish Encyclopedia. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=475=R=rumania#1382
  10. ibid.
  11. The Delegates were involved in two other international conferences: Paris, 1873, with William Seligman and Arthur Levy as its representatives with a focus on Jews in the Danube principalities, and an 1878 Paris conference convened by the Alliance at the Board suggestion of presenting to world legislative bodies a plan of Jewish equality and united Jewish cooperation on affairs of education. Tarshish, p. 86.
  12. Peixotto to Isaacs, Dec. 3, 1872, Board of Delegates of American Israelites, 1-2, Box 2/Folder 8, Collection of the American Jewish Historical Society, Newton Centre, MA, and New York, NY.
  13. Tarshish, pg. 55-56.
  14. Tarshish, pg. 87.
  15. Based on material found in Tarshish's dissertation, pages 81-92.

Extent

1.75 Linear Feet (3 manuscript boxes, 1 .25 manuscript box and 2 oversized folders)

Abstract

The Records of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites (1859-1878) documents the life cycle of the Board of Delegates, a Jewish civil rights organization located in New York City. The Board served in a two-fold function: acting as a central organization for American Jews and working on behalf of Jews abroad. To the latter end, the Delegates collaborated with the Committee of Deputies of British Jews and the French Alliance Israélite Universelle to provide for the relief and aid, civil, and religious rights of Jews throughout the Americas, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, particularly Romania, Ottoman Palestine including Jerusalem, and Morocco.

In the U.S., the Delegates were partially responsible for the appointment of the first Jewish Military Chaplain and surveyed member synagogues concerning the history and size of their congregation, the first organization to systematically record this type of information in the States. The Delegates merged with the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC) in 1878 and dissolved in 1925. Correspondents include Adolph Crémieux, Sir Moses Montefiore, Benjamin Franklin Peixotto, Isaacs S. Myer, the Rev. Dr. Arnold Fischel, and Maj. General Benjamin Butler. Documents include correspondence, minutes, committee reports, memorials, announcements, surveys, some printed material including clippings, and a 1932 Rabbinical thesis on the Delegates by Allan Tarshish.

Arrangement

The collection is arranged in five series and one oversized material series as follows:
  1. Series I: Records, 1859-1877
  2. Series II: Correspondence, undated, 1859-1880
  3. Series III: Congregations and Organizations (By City), 1859-1878
  4. Series IV: Relief and Aid Campaigns, 1863-1881, 1887
  5. Series V: Clippings, Publications, Thesis, and Misc., undated, 1859-1881, 1932
  6. Oversized Materials

Provenance

The Family of Myer S. Isaacs donated the material in two accessions: April 1917, acc #1917.005; May 1923, acc #1923.004; E. Delafield Smith correspondence to Abraham Lincoln, gift of Sang Foundation, 1979.

Related Material

I-3, Mount Sinai Hospital (New York, NY); I-14, North American Relief Society for the Indigent Jew in Jerusalem, Palestine; I-80 Baron de Hirsch Fund; P-22, Myer Isaacs Collection; P-7, Max Kohler Papers; P-195 Papers of Benjamin Franklin Pexiotto; Microfilm, Jewish Messenger, 1857-1902. American Jewish Archives: Maimonides College Records; Union of American Hebrew Congregations Records.
Title
Guide to the Records of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites, undated, 1859-1881, 1887, 1932, I-2
Status
Completed
Author
Processed by Tanya Elder
Date
© 2003
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin
Language of description note
Description is in English.
Sponsor
National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) Grant, Center for Jewish History/American Jewish Historical Society
Edition statement
This version was derived from Delegates02-01.xml

Revision Statements

  • January 2004.: Added Access Points (Subject Headings). New finding aid renamed "Delegates2."
  • April 22, 2005.: Removed boilerplate entities, etc. by Tanya Elder.
  • April 2020: TElder: post-ASpace migration cleanup
  • December 2020: EHyman: post-ASpace migration cleanup 2.0

Repository Details

Part of the American Jewish Historical Society Repository

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