Congregation Shearith Israel (Atlanta, Ga.) records
Scope and Contents
Researchers studying the records of Congregation Shearith Israel will gain insight into orthodox and conservative Judaism in Atlanta during the 20th century. All material is arranged in alphabetical order by subject and chronologically within each folder. The records are divided into two series: Series I, Administrative Records; Series II, Membership Records
- Majority of material found within 1910 - 1990
- Congregation Shearith Israel (Atlanta, Ga.) (Organization)
Conditions Governing Access
There are no restrictions on accessing material in this collection.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright restrictions may apply. Unpublished manuscripts are protected by copyright. Permission to publish, quote, or reproduce must be secured from the repository and the copyright holder.
Biographical / Historical
Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1904 by a segment of Atlanta’s East European Jewish community. When Jews first came to Atlanta from Eastern Europe, in the 1880s, they established Ahavath Achim Congregation for their Orthodox worship. However, as a second generation of immigrants arrived at the turn of the century, they became uncomfortable at Ahavath Achim, because it had become a congregation for second generation East Europeans who wished to Americanize. These new immigrants founded “Shearith Israel,” which literally means “the remnant of Israel;” this is what these founders considered themselves, the only true Jews left in Atlanta. Congregation Shearith Israel’s first rabbi, Rabbi Zvi Elchanan Gutterman, stayed with the congregation from 1904 to 1906. In 1907, the members invited Rabbi Tobias Geffen to serve the congregation as its spiritual leader. Rabbi Geffen was educated and ordained in Kovno, Lithuania, and he came to Atlanta by way of New York and Ohio. He would remain as the congregation’s rabbi, and later rabbi emeritus, until his death in 1970. Under Rabbi Geffen’s leadership, the congregation grew as an orthodox congregation that upheld traditional Old World values and rites. At various times, it was affiliated and unaffiliated with the Union of Orthodox Congregations of America. As the members of this congregation became Americanized over time, they began to develop their own Americanized Judaism that would eventually challenge the orthodox stance. As early as 1952, the congregation rejected one rabbinical applicant, Rabbi Maurice Lamm, because he was “too orthodox.” From the late 1940s, when the collection begins, the congregation was served by an assistant rabbi who controlled the daily life in the synagogue. Eventually, Rabbi Geffen became the rabbi emeritus as the congregation appointed a Rabbi Heisler to be its head rabbi. In 1956, the congregation elected Rabbi Sydney Mossman, who led the congregation towards a more modern orthodoxy. He soon authorized the use of a microphone during services on the Sabbath, and he authorized the congregation to introduce family seating if the desired. This decision regarding seating continued to divide the congregation throughout the 1960s, as certain services were conducted with family seating, while others were conducted with separate seating and a mechitza (divider). In 1969, the Religious Committee recommended that the congregation join the United Synagogue of America (Conservative), but that decision was tabled and eventually dropped. Since Rabbi Mossman, the congregation was served by four different rabbis. The Synagogue has been housed in three different buildings. The first, on Hunter Street, was destroyed by the great fire of 1917. The congregation was housed in its second home, on Washington Street, until 1958. When the population of the synagogue shifted to the north side of town, the congregation again moved to its present location, on University Drive in DeKalb County. In 1969, the congregation purchased a tract of land off Highpoint Road in north Fulton County, but the tract was sold in 1981 as the decision was made to stay on University Drive. In 2002, the Synagogue finally became affiliated with the Conservative movement. Separate seating remains an option if preferred. As of 2020, the congregation serves more than 420 families, mostly residing in the cities of Atlanta and Decatur, and is led by Rabbi Ari Kaiman.
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Language of Materials
Congregation Shearith Israel was founded in 1904 by a segment of Atlanta’s Eastern European Jewish community. Under Rabbi Geffen’s leadership, the congregation grew as an orthodox congregation that upheld traditional Old World values and rites. The congregation later moved toward conservative Judaism. The largest piece of the collection consists of congregational minutes from 1947-1974. Many of these are in great detail, and they highlight congregational business, as well as discussion and dispute for that period. The collection also contains synagogue bulletins from 1959-1990, correspondence beginning in 1956 and various membership rosters from throughout the period. Other sections of the collection include Sisterhood minutes, Religious School publications, Passover manuals, and High Holy Day materials.
All material is arranged in alphabetical order by subject and chronologically within each folder.
Photographs removed to visual arts collection and oversized material removed to oversized collection.
Processed by Michael Safra in June 1996 and Joshua Waldrop in 2018.
- Atlanta (Ga.) Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Congregation Shearith Israel (Atlanta, Ga.) Subject Source: Local sources
- Congregation Shearith Israel. Sisterhood (Atlanta, Ga.) Subject Source: Local sources
- Conservative Judaism Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Orthodox Judaism Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Synagogues -- Georgia -- Atlanta Subject Source: Library of Congress Subject Headings
- Congregation Shearith Israel (Atlanta, Ga.) Records
- Michael Safra (June 1996), Josh Waldrop (2018)
- June 1996
- Language of description
- Script of description
Part of the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum Repository
1440 Spring St. NW
Atlanta Georgia 30309 United States