Gustavus Poznanski
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Gustavus Poznanski
Gustavus Poznanski
Born 1804
Storchnest, South Prussia.
Died 1879
Residence Charleston, South Carolina
Nationality American
Occupation Rabbi
Esther G. (Hetty) Barrett
Children Isaac Barrett, Joseph, Gustavus Jr., Sarah

Gustavus Poznanski (1804-1879) was cantor and religious leader in Congregation Beth Elohim, Charleston, a pioneer of Reform Judaism in the Antebellum South.


Early life

Gustavus Poznanski was born in 1804 in Storchnest, South Prussia.[1][2][3][4] He left Poland in 1824.[5] He then spent time in Hamburg and Bremen, where he learned about Reform, before emigrating to the United States.[1][3]


He served as a shochet and hazzan at the Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City in 1832.[1][5]

In 1836, he joined Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston, South Carolina, home to a traditionalist congregation.[1] The building burned down in 1838.[3] As it was rebuilt in 1839, Poznanski suggested adding an organ to the new synagogue building.[3][6] The idea was rejected by the traditionalist rabbis, but after a petition in favor of it was presented to him, the organ was built nonetheless.[1][3] As a result, the traditionalist rabbi left for the Shearith Israel synagogue and Poznanski became the rabbi of the newly constructed Beth Elohim synagogue.[3][6] In 1841, after the new synagogue was constructed, he famously said, "This synagogue is our temple, this city our Jerusalem, this happy land our Palestine, and as our fathers defended with their lives that temple, that city and that land, so will their sons defend this temple, this city and this land."[3][7] He added, "America is our Zion and Washington our Jerusalem."[4][8] Thus, he saw America as the Jewish promised land.

In 1843, he suggested not observing the second days of Passover, leading to a court case.[3] The matter was only resolved in 1846, when his Reform position won.[3] He also carried out his services in English rather than Hebrew.[1][3] Additionally, he implemented a three-year reading cycle of the Torah, the removal of the reading of the Haftarah, and the recital of only one kaddish during funerals.[3] These changes were supported by Abraham Moise (1799-1869), the former President of the Reformed Society of Israelites, who served on the Board of Trustees of the Congregation Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim.[3]

Personal life

He married Esther G. (Hetty) Barrett, the daughter of Isaac Barrett, the former President of the Hebrew Benevolent Society and Rachel Barrett.[5] They had four children:


He died in 1879.[2]

Further reading

  • Breitbart, Solomon. The Rev. Mr. Gustavus Poznanski: First American Jewish Reform Minister. Charleston, South Carolina: Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim, 1979. 8 pages.[13]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Encyclopedia of Southern Jewish Communities - Charleston, South Carolina, Institute of Southern Jewish Life
  2. ^ a b American Jewish Archives: Gustavus Poznanski biography.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Michael A. Meyer, Response to Modernity: A History of the Reform Movement in Judaism, Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1995, p. 233-234 [1]
  4. ^ a b Robert Laurence Moore, Religious outsiders and the making of American, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1986, p. 79 [2]
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Solomon Breitbart, Explorations in Charleston's Jewish History, The History Press, 2005, Volume 1, pp. 55-60 [3]
  6. ^ a b David B. Green, This Day in Jewish History / Shul rebels found Reform Judaism in U.S., Haaretz, November 21, 2013
  7. ^ Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim: History
  8. ^ A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Jewish Southern Life: This Happy Land, Chapel Hill, North Carolina: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, June 21, 2006
  9. ^ FindAGrave: Isaac B. Poznanski
  10. ^ The Music Dictionary: POZNANSKI, BARRETT ISAAC
  11. ^ FindAGrave:
  12. ^ FindAGrave: Sarah Poznanski Barrett
  13. ^ Google Books

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