Capital of the British colony of Victoria. Attempts were made to hold services in Melbourne in the house of M. Lazarus in 1839 and in that of Solomon Benjamin in 1841; but the first congregation of the city was that entitled "The Holy Congregation of a Remnant of Israel," which was formed in 1844 with A. H. Hart as president. A synagogue, under the presidency of the above-mentioned Solomon Benjamin, was built on land granted by the government in 1847. The first minister was the Rev. Moses Rintel, a native of Edinburgh, who was called from Sydney to fill the position. In 1858 a trivial difference split the community and led to the formation of a so-called "Polish" section in opposition to the English congregation. The division was led by Rabbi Rintel himself, with whom the president had quarreled because the former had not been robed in his canonicals when attending the funeral of the wife of a leading member of the congregation. Rabbi Rintel began to hold services in a small hall in Lonsdale street, which was afterward abandoned for a new location in Stephen (Exhibition) street.
The existence of the second congregation, called the "Miḳra Yisrael," had the good effect of stimulating Judaism in Melbourne through the spirit of rivalry which was created between the two sections. In 1875 the "foreign," now known as the East Melbourne, congregation built a synagogue in Albert street, where it still continues to hold well-attended services. Rabbi Rintel arrived in Melbourne in 1847, and he continued in his work there till his death in 1880. During his later years he exercised a considerable influence over the community. In 1865 he utilized the hall in Lonsdale street for a Jewish denominational school, which was placed under the control of a Mr. Curtis. The school had a shortlife, owing to the suppression of denominational by secular education.
The original congregation with its synagogue in Bourke street was looked upon for many years, and indeed is still regarded, as the leading Jewish religious organization. It was ministered to successively by the Revs. M. Rintel, A. Marks, A. F. Ornstein, Raphael Benjamin, and Dattnar Jacobson. Joseph Abrahams, present (1904) incumbent, arrived from London in 1884, and has helped in the establishment of the United Jewish Education Board, of which he is president as well as of the bet din of Victoria. In the latter position Abrahams has taken a firm stand on the admission of proselytes. In East Melbourne Rintel was succeeded by Revs. M. Grünbaum, A. D. Wolinski, I. Myers, and J. Lenzer. In 1873 the Bourke street congregation established a Hebrew denominational school, where both Hebrew and English subjects were taught. It was carried on with great success for about twenty years, after which time the congregation was compelled to close it on account of an insufficiency of funds.
Intimately connected with the Bourke street congregation and for many years regarded as the leading representative Jew of Victoria was the late Hon. Edward Cohen. Mayor of Melbourne on three occasions, he was elected by East Melbourne to the Legislative Assembly, continuing to represent this constituency till his death in 1877. His successor in Parliament was the late E. L. Zox, who also took a keen interest in synagogal and communal affairs, being at different times the president and treasurer of the Bourke street Congregation. Among the living public men who maintain an interested connection with the synagogue is Sir Benjamin Benjamin.
The highest official position hitherto occupied by a Jew in Victoria was the attorney-generalship, held by the Hon. I. A. Isaacs during the Turner ministry from 1894 to 1899. His brother, J. I. Isaacs, was a member of Parliament, having been elected by the district of Owen in 1894. In addition to the above-named Jews who have sat or are still sitting in the Victorian Parliament, there are the Hon. N. Steinfeld of Ballarat, the Hon. Joseph Steinberg of Bendigo (ex-president of the Bendigo congregation), the Hon. F. J. Levien (whose parliamentary career has extended over a longer period than that of any other Jewish member and who was the first president of the Geelong congregation), Theo. Fink, B. J. Fink, and D. B. Lazarus, the last-named of whom was at one time an ardent supporter of the Jewish community in Bendigo.
The congregation of St. Kilda, a suburb of Melbourne, came into existence in the sixth decade of the nineteenth century. The synagogue was erected in 1872. For many years past the congregation has been composed for the most part of members of middle-class families in easy circumstances. The Michaelis family was for a long period among its chief supporters. The post of minister has been held by the Rev. E. Blaubaum since 1873. He is joint editor of the "Jewish Herald," a fortnightly publication which chronicles the doings of Australian Judaism generally. In communal matters the St. Kilda congregation, as a rule, cooperates with the Melbourne institutions. In its district are situated the almshouses and Montefiore Hall. There is a federated board, appointed from the Bourke street, Albert street, and St. Kilda congregations, to deal with the question of mixed marriages—the most difficult of all the problems engaging the attention of the Melbourne community.
The oldest charitable institution in Melbourne is the Philanthropic Society, founded in 1856. In 1863 the Jewish Friendly Society was formed; it still does good work. A very useful society, founded in 1888, is known as the "Jewish Mutual Aid." It was the parent of the Sydney Mutual Aid, the object of both being to grant substantial loans without interest. The founders of the Melbourne society were P. Blashki, J. P., and the Rev. I. Myers; the son of the latter founded the Sydney society.