Please consult the PJAC Collections in Special Collections Research center at Temple University Libraries for extensive history of Historic Congregation B’nai Abraham and other historical Jewish artifacts.

Historic Congregation B'nai Abraham

Russian Jews fleeing from Czar Alexander II arrive in Philadelphia, PA, settling in Society Hill and Queens Village, and informally establish Congregation B’nai Abraham as “the Russian Synagogue”, as distinct from the then existing “German congregations” /reform congregations and Mikvah Israel (a Sephardic orthodox congregation).

1882 | October 1st
Congregation formally established and later incorporated.

Congregation secured first place of worship. The Congregants incorporated Congregation B’nai Abraham as CHEVRA B’NAI AVROHOM MI RUSSE although it would continue to be known as Congregation B’nai Abraham or the B’nai Abraham Congregation, and later as Historic Congregation B’nai Abraham.

Rabbi I. M. Sacks called to serve as first official Rabbi of the Congregation.

Rabbi Levinthal received his first Rabbinical diploma from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spector, who was recognized as the greatest Rabbi of his generation, and from Rabbi Samuel Mohilever. Rabbi Levinthal also served as the Chief Ashkenazi Orthodox Rabbi of Philadelphia, and later as the Chief Ashkenazi Orthodox Rabbi of the USA, thereby establishing the Congregation as the preeminent Ashkenazi Orthodox congregation in the City of Philadelphia and indeed in the USA.

Chief Rabbi Jacob Joseph of New York called the Dyan Rabbi Eliazar Kleinberg, judge or Chief Rabbi of Vilna to assume the pulpit of the Congregation in Philadelphia, although he passed this life only three years or so after assuming the pulpit.

1891 | September
Rabbi Levinthal assumed the pulpit at age 27, having succeeded his father-in-law Rabbi Eleazar Kleinberg as the third Rabbi of the Congregation, and continued to serve as Rabbi of the Congregation until 1952. Rabbi Bernard L. Levinthal, born on Lag B’Omer (the Scholars’ Festival) on May 12, 1864 in Lithuania (then Srednick, Kovono Russia 5/12/1865)/Iyyar 18, Rabbi Levinthal was born into a well-known rabbinical family, that could trace itself back for at least 17 generations, counting among his ancestors the author of Beth Hillel and the Masse Hashem, written in the 17th century.

The Congregation via Rabbi Levinthal contributed to the establishment of the first Talmud Torah, Communal Hebrew School, predecessor to the United Hebrew Schools and Yeshivots.

1892 | September
Congregation’s Rabbi lead the effort in the establishment of the first Chevra Kaddisha to make sure one had a proper Jewish Burial, which lead to purchase of a burial lot in Lower Merion, a suburb of Philadelphia, now known as Har Hazaitim Cemetery, located on Greaves Lane off Conshohocken State Road in Gladwyne, which is now Lower Merion’s only Jewish burial ground.

For the sum of $3,000.00 the Congregation acquired the land on which the present building stands.

The Congregation’s Rabbi recognized the need to train rabbis in America and helped found the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Seminary, now part of Yeshiva University

Unlike many orthodox congregations of the day, who thought that one should not support return to the Holy Land until the coming of the Messiah, the Congregation’s active support of Zionism is evidenced by Rabbi Levinthal’s writing read at the First World Zionist Congress at Basle, Switzerland.

Early 1900’s
One of five members from Philadelphia selected to be a member of the American Jewish Committee, an organization established to safeguard Jews in Russia and later worldwide. Congregation’s Rabbi founded the Council of Jewish Clubs of Philadelphia. The Congregation’s Rabbi lead the effort in uniting 18 synagogues to organize the Vaad Hakashruth to supervise kosher food in the City.

Congregation mourns the assassination of President McKinley.

Congregation’s prominence among Orthodox Congregations leads Rabbi Levinthal to co-found the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada also known as the Agudath Harabonim (“Union of Rabbis”), and sometimes as the UOR.

In order to serve the Jewish educational needs of the Jewish Community, the Congregation’s Rabbi established Yeshiva Mishkan Yisroel (Tabernacle of Israel), where Rabbi Levinthal taught. The Congregation actively supported religious Zionism via its Rabbi, who co-founded in the US Mizrachi (now Religious Zionists of America (RZA), the American branch of World Mizrachi – Hapoel Hamizrachi movement). This is in stark contrast to the then general trend among orthodox Jews to not support the establishment of a Jewish state in the Holy Land until the arrival of the Messiah.

1902 | July
Congregation’s Rabbi selected to serve as Vice President of the American Jewish Orthodox Society of Rabbis of the United States.

1902 | August 4th
Congregation’s prominence continues to rise as its Rabbi was selected to succeed Chief Rabbi Jacob Joseph of New York as the head of Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews in the United States.

1903 | August 16th
Second annual Conference of the United Orthodox Rabbis of American held at Congregation. Matters discussed included drawing up a plan for education of Jewish children, financial aid in the establishment of Talmud Torahs, recommending of Hebrew schools for girls, establishing Hebrew High Schools. A committee was established to address making Yeshivah Rabbi Isaac Elchanan the official institution of the United Orthodox Rabbis of America. Also addressed were methods of connecting Sabbath observant employees with Sabbath observant employers, not granting a certificate (hekshar) to food dealers that violate the Sabbath; to advocate that labor unions include in their platforms the privilege of Sabbath observance. Also, discussed were methods of ensuring that marriages were properly preformed, that divorces only be granted once a civil court had granted a decree of divorce, that records be kept in regards to the foregoing. Support for Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish state in the Holy Land was adopted as part of the conference. Rabbi Levinthal was elected to the executive board.

Congregation mourns the death of Theodore Herzl, despite the fact that Zionism at the time was not part of mainstream Orthodox Judaism.

The Congregation’s Rabbi helped establish The Independent Order Brith Sholom (Hebrew: “Covenant of Peace”), and established the first lodge in Philadelphia, which served as a Jewish fraternal organization, and was headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

1908 | November
Yeshiba Mishkan Israel dedication exercises were brought to a close at the Congregation, and the meeting then adjourned to be followed by a reception at the Yeshiva, then located at 526 Wharton Street, Philadelphia PA.

1908 | July 18th-1909
Anna Rosenblatt lays cornerstone of Congregation’s current building.

Congregation’s building still under construction-Congregation recognized as the oldest Jewish congregation of the southern section of the City of Philadelphia
1910 The Congregation moved into the current building, designed by Philadelphia Architect Charles Lewis Bolton, making it the oldest building built in Philadelphia for use as a synagogue in continuous use as such.

1910 | April
Congregation’s new building at its present location is dedicated.

1910 | August
Congregation hires Moses Ganapolsky as cantor.

Congregation’s Rabbi and his wife attended the silver wedding anniversary of President Taft and his wife.

WWI The Congregation actively participated in the war, and its Rabbi met with Reform Rabbis and the Roman Catholic Archbishop in Rabbi Levinthal’s house to raise money via the sale of US Liberty Bonds.

1914 | February
After the destruction by fire of Ahavath Chesed Syngagouge at 322 Bainbridge Street, the Torah Scrolls were taken to B’nai Abraham Congregation, which was filled to capacity as a memorial service for the destroyed scrolls, which were later buried in a clay casket in Har Nebo cemetery (in the Oxford Circle neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA). In a memorial speech, Rabbi Levinthal noted that the fire was the punishment of G-d for failure to keep the law, especially the Sabbath.

1915 | May 2nd
Fiftieth anniversary of Congregation’s Rabbi’s birth celebrated by Congregation.

1916 | October 16th
Congregation celebrates the 25th anniversary of Rabbi Levinthal’s coming to America.

1917 | September
The Congregation’s Rabbi addressed the Philadelphia Jews of the Army and Navy, which was considered admirable and authoritative exposition of the Jewish religious law on the subject, supported allies efforts in WWI, and offered his blessings and encouraged soldiers.

Congregation’s Rabbi co-founded the American Jewish Congress in Philadelphia’s historic Independence Hall, to lay the groundwork for a national democratic organization of Jewish leaders from all over the country, to rally for equal rights for all Americans regardless of race, religion or national ancestry, and to present a unified American Jewish position at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919.

Congregation’s Rabbi attended the Peace Conference at Versailles as a representative of Orthodox Jewry-one of 9 Jews present representing Jews. While there he appeared before President Wilson, Prime Minister Lloyd George, Ministers Clemeneau and Orlando, and was active in having passed resolutions regarding religious freedom and protection of the civil rights of Jews in Europe, including a standing secretariat under the League of Nations in Geneva to look after the interests of Jews in Europe.

1919 | January 19th
American Jewish Congress meets to elect the official Jewish representatives to the Peace Conference at Versailles, which included Rabbi Levinthal, Rev. Dr. Stephen S. Wise and seven other Jews chosen as delegates.

1919 | May
Congregation’s Rabbi returns from Versailles conference and expresses his view that he supported the British Mandate of Palestine. Congregation’s Rabbi stated his intent that he would move to Palestine when it is made into a real Jewish state, that he “would like to aide in the reconstruction of a great Jewish state, and I would be glad to spend my last days in the Holy land”

1919 | July 21st
Due to the activity of the Congregation’s Rabbi, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania made it a misdemeanor to sell non-kosher meat as kosher meat, a statute that is still in effect as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania continues to have a statute that makes a misdemeanor to engage in deception relating to kosher food products. 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 4107.1

1920 | April 1st
Congregation’s Rabbi play’s critical role in obtaining permits for purchase of sacramental wine.

Rabbi Levinthal considered on his then 60th birthday, to be “Hamelitz Benosum” “the interpreter between them”, interpreting to the old the philosophy of the new age, as well as to the young the teachings of days gone by. Brooklyn Jewish Center Review, October 8, 1952.

Congregation’s Rabbi oversaw substantial Kashrut issues with various businesses to insure that Congregation had a supply of Kosher food and that food advertised as Kosher in the Philadelphia area was in fact Kosher.

1926 | June 14th
Congregation’s Rabbi appointed to committee to determine how to honor Rabbi Ezekiel Lifshitz, visiting head Rabbi of Poland.

1926 | October 3rd
Congregation’s Rabbi elected as Honorary Vice-Chairman United Palestine Appeal.

1926 | July 25th
Shortly after the completion of the building, lighting struck the building, but Samuel Parker, a neighbor braved the fire and rescued the Torah scrolls, as did Emmanuel Uram, Abe Zeliznik and Louis Simon. At this time the Congregation had 23 Torahs. The newspapers of the era noted that the Congregation, with exception of Mikva Israel, was the only Orthodox congregation when it was founded.

1927 | April 3rd
Repaired building dedicated.

1927 | November 18th
Congregation’s Rabbi negotiated with the Treasury Dept Bureau of Prohibition so that it would only use Orthodox Rabbis to authentic sacramental wine exempt from prohibition, with Congregation’s Rabbi to oversee selection of said rabbis.

1928 | February 10th
Congregation’s Rabbi invited to attend and serve on Committee regarding the founding of the American Jewish Committee.

1929 | May 29th
Congregation’s Rabbi endorsed a letter to raise funds by the American Relief Society for the Yemenite Jews of Jerusalem.

1929 | June 22nd
Rabbi’s wife Mimie Levinthal died age 65 of a cerebral hemorrhage.

1929 | September 23rd
Congregation’s Rabbi wrote to Board of Pardons re clemency for Jewish inmates

1929 | September 30th
Congregation’s Rabbi wrote to postmaster general and other government officials seeking exemption from work so Congregation members could attend services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

1930 | August 1st
Congregation supported non-religious activities by Jews such as supporting the immigration and admission to the USA of the Hakoah Soccer Football Team.

1930 | December 2nd
Congregation’s Rabbi actively worked with the poorer members, such as intervening on their behalf for admission of their children to the Downtown Jewish Orphans’ Home so that poor Jewish children with no parents or just one parent would receive a Jewish education.

1930 | December 8th
Congregation’s enforced Jewish dietary restrictions and false advertising of kosher food by notifying businesses and lawyers including a then legal aide society, including informing them of Pennsylvania law on the matter.

1932 | April 4th
Congregation’s Rabbi answered various religious questions from Jews across the USA, including from non-orthodox congregations, such as whether a rabbi, who was also a Cohen, hired by a congregation, was permitted to serve as a rabbi and conduct funeral services at a cemetery because as a Cohen he could not enter a cemetery.

1932 | August 1st
During the depths of the Depression, there was limited funding for the City’s Talmud Torah, specifically Yeshiva Mishkan Israel and Centeral Talmud Torah would close their doors due to lack of funds, with two others the Yeshiva and Talmud Torah of Strawberry Mansion about to close, too, because the Rosh Hayshiva and teachers had not received their salary for 25 weeks. Rabbi Levinthal gave a speech at the Congregation pointing out the adage of our sages that “Eem Ain Kema ain Torah” “if there be no bread-there is no Torah”. The Congregation recognized the importance of a Jewish education and its Rabbi suggested that the agency supervising kosher food and meat, the Vaad Hakashruth, impose a tax of one cent each chicken killed, with a then estimated 50,000 chickens killed kosher a week, with the additional revenue used to support the schools to provide for the Jewish education of the City’s Children.

1933 | February 9th
An attempt was made by the NY “racketeers” to “organize” kosher meat butchers/suppliers which was broken up by the police, which action was supported by the Congregation’s Rabbi

Book Honoring Rabbi published-כבוד חכמים : יוצא לאור … לרגלי חג יובל השיבעים שנה לכבוד … דוב אריה הכהן לעווינטהאל, ל״ג בעמר, ח״י אייר, התרצ״ה.
Kevod ḥakhamim : yotse le-or le-ragle ḥag yovel ha-shivʻim shanah li-khevod … Dov Aryeh ha-Kohen Leṿinṭhal, Lag ba-ʻomer, Ḥai Iyar, 695.

1935 | September 4th
Congregation’s Rabbi married Sarah Samson of Brooklyn, NY.

1936 | September 2nd
Congregation’s Rabbi and his wife returned from a trip to the Holy Land and from attending the World Jewish Congress in Geneva.

1936 | November 27th
Congregation’s Rabbi gave a presentation in Yiddish on the conditions in Holy Land, while his son Louis E. Levinthal ( a judge on the Court of Common Pleas) in English.

200,000+ Jews in the City & County of Philadelphia and at least 130 recognized congregations.

1938 | January 12th
Congregation’s Rabbi provided advice to the PA Liquor Control Board regarding sacramental wine sales by congregations.

1938 | June 12th
Congregation celebrates 55th Anniversary.

1939 | May 11th
Congregation’s Rabbi was elected one of 3 new Presidents (directors?) of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the US and Canada, which he had previously co-founded.

1939 | July 2nd
With problems occurring in Europe for Jews, and news beginning to leak out to the West, Congregation’s Rabbi wrote a letter sent to Orthodox congregations throughout the US at the request of the United Jewish Appeal for Refugees and Overseas Needs to encourage Orthodox congregations to raise funds for relief and reconstructive aid in Europe and resettlement in the Holy Land of Jews from Europe.

Congregation was active in supporting Jews in the Holy Land and its Rabbi served as an honorary vice president of the Federation of American Zionists (now the Zionist Organization of America), with fellow congregant and son Judge Louis C. Levinthal serving as its President in the early 1940’s.

1940 | August 15th
Congregation was represented by its Rabbi at a conference in NY regarding the problems facing Yeshivas in Lithuania…unfortunately not until 1943 and the later allied liberation of France and Germany and the West’s discovery of concentration camps does the extent of the Holocaust become clear or mentioned in any detail.

1940 | September
Congregation’s Rabbi prepared a speech to be sent to other Orthodox congregations regarding the “destruction in Europe” at the urging of FDR, yet no mention is made of the extent of the Holocaust, which was apparently not known by ordinary citizens in the US, such knowledge apparently being withheld at this point by the government.

1941 | February 27th, 28th
On the night of 2/27/41 Congregation’s Rabbi lead a Seeyum of Mishna and on Friday 2/28/1941, on the 50th anniversary of the passing of his father-in-law and prior Rabbi of the Congregation, Rabbi Elazar Kleinberg

1941 | May 20th
Congregation’s Rabbi endorsed the nomination/confirmation of Cordell Hull as Secretary of State and wrote to the Senate in this regard.

1941 | May 28th
Congregation’s Rabbi, despite his advanced age, was elected to the Board of Yeshiva and Yeshiva College (later Yeshiva University and Rabbinical Seminary); he had previously served as its President.

Congregation’s Rabbi celebrates 50 years as Rabbi of the Congregation.

1943 | October 6th
Congregation’s Rabbi attends march in Washington DC regarding the plight of the Jews in Europe, as news of the extent of the mass murders begins to leak to the general public.

1944 | March 7th
Congregation was active in War Bond drive and its Rabbi frequently with leaders of other congregations, including non-Jewish leaders such as the Roman Catholic Archbishop raised money for the war effort.

1949 | December
Nathan Silverman, President of the Congregation honored at a Hanukkah Party for his 25 years of service to the Congregation
Early 20th Century to WWII The Congregation was large enough to have a shamos/shammes or shamash, an official caretaker of the Congregation’s building, a position of great trust and importance. Pesach Wapner was the shamos at B’nai Abraham during this time period and also taught Hebrew lessons to children in the neighborhood a few days each week. His son Leon Wapner eventually served as President of the Congregation in 1971.

1952 | September 23rd
Congregation’s Rabbi passed away.

Congregation’s Rabbi passed away, and with his passing many Jews who had not left for other neighborhoods left the area, particularly once tenements began to be gentrified under the leadership of Mayor Dilworth in the late 1950s. Almost 50 years would pass before the Congregation hired another official Rabbi. In an effort to keep the Congregation active, the Congregation departed from the Orthodox practice of separate seating for men and women, and allowed mixed seating on the High Holidays, although most daily services continued to have separate seating for men and women.1952 | September 23rd
Congregation’s Rabbi passed away.

1952 | March 9th
Congregation’s Ladies Auxiliary presented a Purim dinner at the Congregation.

1952 | November 14th
Philadelphia Chapter of Hadassah established scholarship fund in memory of Rabbi Levinthal to support an Israeli child at the Brandeis Vocational Center in Jerusalem

1953 | March 8th
Congregation celebrates the 70th anniversary of its incorporation

1953 | November
Rabbi H. Zvi Gottesman, national field director of Mizachi Organization of America conducted memorial service and plaque dedication in memory of Rabbi Levinthal

1954 | July
Congregation serves as the parent body of the first synagogue sponsored baseball team in Philadelphia, as part of a larger effort undertaken by members of the Congregation to revive Jewish communal interest in their area, which they felt had been written off by the community too soon. At the time Rabbi H. Zvi Gottesman served informally as the spiritual leader of the Congregation and Harry Block served as the President of Congregation

Jack Dickstein, uncle of the Steve Dickstein, served as President of the Congregation until his death in 1971.

Leon Wapner retired and later became president of the Congregation

In 1976, synagogue membership consisted of 92 members whose dues were $25 per year.

By 1978 dues increased to $50 per year.

The Congregation continued to barely be able to maintain the building as most Jews had moved from Center City Philadelphia, with there being great difficulty in obtaining a daily minyan (10 men needed for certain prayers), with even high Holiday services not well attended

The Congregation’s building, now well over 70 years old, began to show its age, needing constant repairs for which there was no funds, but with the help of private funds and the Historic Religious Properties Program of the Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia the Congregation repaired some windows and part of the Sanctuary

Rabbi Musleah served as the rabbi of the Congregation in an unofficial capacity

Rabbi Shraga Sherman served as the rabbi of the Congregation in an unofficial capacity

Rabbi Goldman became the Rabbi of the Congregation, and on an experimental basis the Congregation returned to the Orthodox practice of separate seating for men and women, and has since seen an increase in attendance.

The Congregation is the site of a preschool program, directed by Rebbetzin Leah Goldman, and now has over 50 students. While the preschool is independent of the Congregation, it is based at the Congregation.

The Congregation provides adult education courses, holiday meals, and guest lecturers