Touro Synagogue Turns 250 With ‘Order and Decorum'

Oldest U.S. Shul Marks Major Milestone in Newport

On the Block: A 1790 reprint of Moses Seixas’s letter to George Washington will be auctioned on December 10.
Forward Montage
On the Block: A 1790 reprint of Moses Seixas’s letter to George Washington will be auctioned on December 10.

By Paul Berger

Published November 29, 2013, issue of December 06, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

On December 2, 1763, the first day of Hanukkah, a procession wound through Newport, R.I., carrying three Torah scrolls bound for their new home in a synagogue that would quickly establish its place in American Jewish lore.

When the scrolls entered the newly built Touro Synagogue, their arrival was celebrated with music and prayer that moved even the non-Jews among those assembled.

“The Order and Decorum, the Harmony & Solemnity of the Musick, together with a handsome Assembly of People, in an Edifice the most perfect of the Temple kind perhaps in America… could not but raise in the Mind a faint Idea of the Majesty & Grandeur of the Ancient Jewish Worship mentioned in Scripture,” the Rev. Ezra Stiles wrote in his diary of that day.

Two hundred and fifty years later, on December 1, the congregation that worships at that same synagogue will celebrate this historic occasion with its own procession through Newport and a rededication ceremony that will hew as closely as possible to the original.

“We have a record of what took place 250 years ago that makes it relatively easy for us,” Rabbi Marc Mandel of Touro Synagogue said, referring to Stiles’s diaries. “We don’t have to guess.”

Touro, the oldest synagogue in America and a classic of colonial architecture, is best known for its links to George Washington’s famous letter to the Hebrew Congregation, in Newport.

Washington visited Newport three decades after Touro’s dedication ceremony, in August 1790.

Washington’s letter to the Newport congregation, in which he pledged that the fledgling government of the United States would “give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance,” is generally regarded as his most eloquent treatise on religious liberty.

Documents associated with the letter are much sought after by collectors today, not least because contemporary printings of Washington’s letter in Rhode Island newspapers, the Newport Mercury and the Providence Journal, have gone missing from the Newport Historical Society and other local collections. “Someone went around town stealing these pages out of libraries and archives,” said Ruth Taylor, executive director of Newport Historical Society.

Moses Seixas, the warden of Touro Synagogue, was responsible for corresponding with Washington on behalf of the congregation.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.