English fortified seaport on the coast of Hampshire. The Portsmouth (Portsea) congregation is one of the oldest in the English provinces, having been founded in 1747 with a rabbinate of its own. During the Napoleonic wars the commercial activity of Portsmouth as a garrison and naval town attracted a large number of Jews; and at that time there were two synagogues. After the peace of 1815, the Jewish inhabitants having diminished in numbers, the newly built edifice ceased to be used, and was finally transferred to a dry-goods dealer. The present synagogue is the earlier building, which was constructed in the style of the Great Synagogue, in Duke's place, London. At one time the entrance to the place of worship was gained through the slums of the town. More than fifty years ago this entrance fell into disuse, and a handsome new approach on the opposite side of the synagogue, in Queen street, was constructed. Following a medieval Jewish custom, the Portsmouth synagogue had at one time its hall and cooking-utensils for the celebration of Jewish weddings.
The social position of the Portsmouth Jews at the commencement of the nineteenth century may be inferred from the unfavorable estimate given in Marryat's novels; and there was formerly an inscription on one of the local places of amusement which read: "Jews and dogs not admitted."
The Portsmouth congregation was one of the first in connection with which religious classes were held for the instruction of the young. The Hebrew Benevolent Institution is one of the oldest Jewish charities, having been founded 100 years ago. Portsmouth has other Hebrew charities, but its most important institution is an educational one. In 1855 the late Lewis Aria, a native of Hampshire, bequeathed a large portion of his property to be applied, in the case of certain eventualities, to the establishment of a college for the support and education of young men desirous of being trained as Jewis ministers. The college was to be established at Portsea, and its advantages were to be restricted to natives of Hampshire. Nearly twenty years elapsed before this bequest became available. In 1874 the Aria College was established at Portsea in accordance with the testator's wishes; but the clause restricting its benefits to natives of Hampshire not being found practicable, the institution was thrown open to students for the Jewish ministry irrespective of birthplace. Several occupants of ministerial posts in England and America have graduated at this institution. The college has had two principals, the late A. F. Ornstein and I. S. Meisels. Isaac Phillips has ministered to the Portsmouth community for upward of thirty years.
At one time Portsmouth possessed a large convict prison which contained a number of Jewish prisoners; and Alderman A. L. Emanuel acted as honorary Jewish prison-visitor. Alderman Emanuel has been twice elected mayor of Portsmouth. The Jewish inhabitants of the town are estimated at 500, in a total population of 189,160.
- Jew. World. Dec. 2, 1887;
- Jew. Chron. March 22, 29, 1872;
- Jewish Year Book, 1903.