Newport, Rhode Island

 

General

    Newport was founded in 1639, and its Jewish settlement is documented there in 1677, although the first settlement of Jews is said to have occurred in 1658.  However, it was not until the 1740's that the Jewish community started to prosper when New York Jews were attracted to Newport by reason of its growing economic promise.  Around 1760, the Jewish community hired Issac Touro to be its hazzan.

Synagogue

    At the same time, construction began on the synagogue known as the Touro Synagogue.  The synagogue was designed at no fee by Peter Harrison.  As constructed, the synagogue is brick two-story Georgian structure 48 feet high on a foundation of sandstone.  The building is at an angle to the street so that the Ark could be on a wall facing due east.  To the north of the synagogue is another two-story structure which housed the school and sexton's quarters.  The interior features a balcony extending on all but the eastern wall supported by 12 Ionic columns which was intended to symbolize the 12 tribes of Israel.  Rather than the traditional Baroque style, the Ark is of a simple classical design.  Consistent with a common American architectural feature of the time, a secret staircase leads from the Tebah (reading table) to the basement.  After four years of construction, the synagogue was dedicated during Hanukah, on December 2, 1763.

    Between 1750 and 1776, Newport and her Jewish community enjoyed substantial economic prosperity.  However, the Revolutionary War ruined Newport's trade and resulted in the departure of many of its Jewish citizens.  By 1800, only a few Jewish families remained, and in 1818, the Torah scrolls were sent to New York for safekeeping.  The deterioration of the synagogue was halted by a bequest from the will of Abraham Touro, the son of Issac Touro.  His will left $10,000 to the State for the repair and maintenance of the Newport synagogue.  In addition, he left $5,000 for repair of the street leading to the Jewish cemetery.  In the late 19th century, Newport had a new wave of Jewish settlement, and in 1883, the synagogue was reconsecrated.  In 1946, the synagogue was designated a National Historical Site as the oldest existing synagogue building in the United States.

Washington Visit

    In 1790, President George Washington visited Newport and was presented with an address by the leader of the Newport Congregation in which the affection and esteem of the Jewish community was extended to the President.  The President responded with a message which included the following:

"The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation.  All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.  It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.  For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live in under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

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May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own Vine and Figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.  May the Father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy."

Washington Letter

    President Washington's letter to the Newport Congregation dated August 17, 1790, is reproduced below.

Stamp

    On August 22, 1982, the United States issued the below stamp commemorating the Touro Synagogue.  The stamp contains the quotation from George Washington's letter to the Newport Congregation that: "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

First Day Cover

Israel Postcard

    In 1958, Israel issued an official postcard depicting the Touro Synagogue.

References

Encyclopedia Judaica, CD-Rom Edition, Keter Publishing

Judaica Philatelic Journal Vol 18, No. 3, p. 2317-23

Welcome to the Touro Synagogue

Touro Synagogue Home Page

Copyright 2005 Edward Victor