Today in Jewish History – 24 Tammuz

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Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Jacob Joseph (1840-1902), the first and only Chief Rabbi of New York City. A revered leader in Lithuania, Rabbi Joseph was invited to come to America and lead a fledging group of Eastern European immigrants — at a time when America had little infrastructure for Jewish education, kashrut, and other keys to Jewish continuity. Rabbi Joseph fought vigorously to uphold Jewish tradition, but it was an uphill battle against a Jewish community that was assimilating, and against a government that was not yet fully supportive of religious rights. Tragically, Rabbi Joseph often bore the brunt of mockery and scorn from Jews who saw him as clinging to the “old ways,” and he withdrew from public life after suffering a debilitating stroke. A crowd estimated at 100,000 lined the route of his funeral; as the procession passed through an Irish neighborhood, the mourners were attacked by a barrage of bottles and buckets of water. The police were called in and over 300 Jews required medical attention. After Rabbi Joseph’s death, a dispute ensued who should be his successor; it went unresolved and the office of Chief Rabbi ended.

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