City and port, situated on the Elbe, adjoining Hamburg, in Holstein, which was formerly a Danish duchy, but is now a part of the province of Sleswick-Holstein, Prussia. The Jewish community of this city was founded, under the jurisdiction of the counts of Schaumburg, at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The earliest tombstone in the old cemetery bears the date 1621. On August 1, 1641, the community received its charter from King Christian IV. of Denmark (see page preceding); and in 1671 it united with the congregation of Hamburg—then unimportant—and afterward with that of Wandsbeck, making one congregation known as the Three Communities (א Altona, ה Hamburg, ו Wandsbeck). Their joint chief rabbi had his seat at Altona; and he exercised jurisdiction over the whole German-Jewish population of those communities as well as over that of the duchy of Holstein. These conditions continued until 1811, when, under the French occupation, Hamburg was ordered to form a Jewish community by itself. The union was dissolved; and the Altona community has since then been officially known as Hochdeutsche Israeliten-Gemeinde zu Altona (High-German Jewish Community of Altona). From the beginning of the eighteenth century until 1885, there existed also a Portuguese-Jewish community, known as Bet Jacob ha-Ḳaṭan, and later as Neweh Shalom, which was, however, but a branch of the Portuguese congregation of Hamburg.
The economic conditions of Altona were much improved by the settlement of Jews, on whom King Christian IV. bestowed the privilege of engaging in shipbuilding. The Hamburg Jews, who had no such privilege, turned their activities to Altona; and the growth of the Altona whale-fishery in the eighteenth century was due largely to their efforts.
The Three Communities had the following chief rabbis: Solomon Mirels of Neumark, 1678-1706; Ẓebi Ashkenazi (Ḥakam Ẓebi), and Moses ben Süsskind of Rothenburg (died 1712); Ezekiel Katzenellenbogen, known by his responsa "Keneset Ezekiel," 1712-49; Jonathan Eibenschütz, born 1690, formerly rabbi at Prague and Metz, well known for his keen intellect and vast knowledge, author of "Kreti u-Pleti," "Urim we-Tummim," and other works (died 1764); Jacob Emden (1745), who had for a short time been rabbi of Emden, but who afterward lived privately in Altona: it was he who accused R. Jonathan of being a secret follower of Shabbethai Ẓebi, and attacked him in various pamphlets; Isaac Horowitz, 1767: David ben Loeb, Berlin(died 1771); and Raphael ha-Kohen (grandfather of Gabriel Riesser), 1776-99, who was particularly learned in Jewish civil law, and resigned his office on account of a conflict with the Danish government, which disputed his right of excommunication. Raphael intended to go to Palestine, but was prevented by the Napoleonic wars. He died in 1803. His successors were Ḥayyim Ẓebi, Berlin (1799-1802), and Ẓebi Hirsch Zamosz (1803-7), author of "Tiferet Ẓebi."
Among the chief rabbis who held office after the dissolution of the union were: Akiba Wertheimer, (1815-35); Jacob Ettlinger (1835-71), who, by his halakic writings and his activity as a teacher, greatly promoted the study of the Talmud, and upheld the rabbinical reputation of Altona; Dr. Loeb (1873-92), a scholar and eloquent preacher; and, finally, Dr. M. Lerner, who was elected in 1894. Besides the chief rabbi there were two rabbinical assistants (dayyanim, whose special function it was to render ritual decisions), Jacob Cohen and Elijah Munk (died 1899). Subject to the jurisdiction of the chief rabbi are several communities of Holstein: Kiel, Rendsburg, and Friedrichstadt; also the neighboring community, Wandsbeck, which, however, has its own rabbi.
The community of Altona possesses a synagogue, erected after the fire of 1713; a lecture-hall, founded by Ḥakam Ẓebi; an orphan asylum; a home for the aged; a school for boys and girls; and a society for the promotion of Jewish knowledge. The present cemetery is situated in the suburb of Bahrenfeld. In Altona itself there are, side by side, the old German-Jewish cemetery, in which Chief Rabbi Ettlinger was the last person interred, and the very interesting cemetery of the Portuguese Jews of Hamburg, which was purchased in 1611 and closed in 1871 (see illustration).
The Jewish population in 1900 numbered about 2,000, in a total of 150,000; whereas soon after the end of the Danish rule, in 1867, it numbered 2,350, in a total population of 50,000.
- Zeit. f. d. Gesch. d. Juden in Deutschland, i. 281, ii. 33 et seq., 282;
- Baasch, Beiträge zur Geschichte des Deutschen Seeschiffbaues, p. 30, Hamburg, 1899.