Capital of Hamilton county, Ohio, U. S. A. Its Jewish community is the oldest west of the Alleghany Mountains. In March, 1817, Joseph Jonas, a young English Jew, a native of Exeter, arrived at the metropolis of the Ohio valley. He had left his English home with the avowed intention of settling in Cincinnati. Friends in Philadelphia endeavored to induce him to relinquish his purpose of going to a spot so far removed from all association with his coreligionists, and saidto him: "In the wilds of America, and entirely among Gentiles, you will forget your religion and your God." However, the young man remained deaf to the persuasions of his friends, and persevered in his original purpose. For two years he was the only Jew in the Western town. In 1819 he was joined by three others, Lewis Cohen of London, Barnet Levi of Liverpool, and Jonas Levy of Exeter. These four with David Israel Johnson of Brookville, Ind., a frontier trading-station, conducted on the holidays in the autumn of 1819 the first Jewish service in the western portion of the United States. Similar services were held in the three succeeding falls. Newcomers continued to arrive, the early settlers being mostly Englishmen.
The first Jewish child born in Cincinnati (June 2, 1821) was Frederick A., son of the above-mentioned David Israel Johnson and his wife Eliza. This couple, also English, had removed to Cincinnati from Brookville, where they had first settled. The first couple to be joined in wedlock were Morris Symonds and Rebekah Hyams, who were married Sept. 15, 1824. The first death in the community was that of Benjamin Leib or Lape, in 1821. This man, who had not been known as a Jew, when he felt death to be approaching, asked that three of the Jewish residents of the town be called. He disclosed to them that he was a Jew. He had married a Christian wife, and had reared his children as Christians, but he begged to be buried as a Jew. There was no Jewish burial-ground in the town. The few Jews living in the city at once proceeded to acquire a small plot of ground to be used as a cemetery. Here they buried their repentant coreligionist. This plot, which was afterward enlarged, was used as the cemetery of the Jewish community till the year 1850. At present it is situated in the heart of the city, on the corner of Central avenue and Chestnut street.
There were not enough settlers to form a congregation till the year 1824, when the number of Jewish inhabitants of the town had reached about twenty. On Jan. 4 of that year a preliminary meeting was held to consider the advisability of organizing a congregation; and two weeks later, on Jan. 18, the Congregation B'ne Israel was formally organized; those in attendance were Solomon Buckingham, David I. Johnson, Joseph Jonas, Samuel Jonas, Jonas Levy, Morris Moses, Phineas Moses, Simeon Moses, Solomon Moses, and Morris Symonds. On Jan. 8, 1830, the General Assembly of Ohio granted the congregation a charter whereby it was incorporated under the laws of the state.
For twelve years the congregation worshiped in a room rented for the purpose; but during all this time the small congregation was exerting itself to secure a permanent home. Appeals were made to the Jewish congregations in various parts of the country. Philadelphia, Charleston, S. C., and New Orleans lent a helping hand. Contributions were even received from Portsmouth, England, whence a number of Cincinnatians had emigrated, and from Barbados in the West Indies. On June 11, 1835, the corner-stone of the first synagogue was laid; and on Sept. 9, 1836, the synagogue was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies. The members of the congregation had conducted the services up to this time. The first official reader was Joseph Samuels. He served a very short time, and was succeeded by Henry Harris, who was followed in 1838 by Hart Judah.
The first benevolent association was organized in 1838 with Phineas Moses as president: its object was to assist needy coreligionists. The first religious school was established in 1842, Mrs. Louisa Symonds becoming its first superintendent. This school was short-lived. In 1845 a Talmud Torah school was established, which gave way the following year to the Hebrew Institute, established by James K. Gutheim. This also flourished but a short time; for with the departure of Gutheim for New Orleans the career of the institute closed.Becomes a Jewish Center.
During the fourth decade of the century quite a number of Germans arrived in the city. These were not in sympathy with their English coreligionists, and determined to form another congregation. On Sept. 19, 1841, the B'ne Yeshurun congregation was organized by these Germans, and was incorporated under the laws of the state Feb. 28, 1842. The first reader was Simon Bamberger. In 1847 James K. Gutheim was elected lecturer and reader of the congregation. He served till 1848, and was succeeded by H. A. Henry and A. Rosenfeld. The assumption of the office of rabbi in the B'ne Yeshurun congregation by Isaac M. Wise in April, 1854, and in the B'ne Israel congregation by Max Lilienthal in June, 1855, gave the Jewish community of Cincinnati a commanding position. Owing to their efforts in the cause of Judaism, Cincinnati became a Jewish center indeed and the seat of a number of movements that were national in scope. The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Hebrew Union College, the Hebrew Sabbath-School Union, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis have their seat in Cincinnati.
Dr. Lilienthal died in office April 5, 1882. He was succeeded as rabbi of the Congregation B'ne Israel by Raphael Benjamin, who served till Nov., 1888, when the present incumbent, Dr. David Philipson, took charge of the congregation. Dr. Wise served as rabbi of the B'ne Yeshurun congregation till the day of his death, March 26, 1900; being succeeded by his associate, Dr. Louis Grossman. Dr. Grossman had been preceded as associate rabbi by Rabbi Charles S. Levi, who served from Sept., 1889, to Sept., 1898.Educational Work.
The other congregations of the city are the Adath Israel, organized in 1847; the Ahabath Achim, organized in 1848; and the Sherith Israel, organized in 1855. There are also a number of small congregations. Each of these congregations conducts its own religious school, and there are also two free religious schools; one holding its sessions in the schoolrooms of the Mound street temple (B'ne Israel), and the other, conducted under the auspices of the local branch of the Council of Jewish Women, meeting at the Jewish Settlement. A large Talmud Torah school is conducted by the Talmud Torah Association on Barr street. The Hebrew Union College is located in Cincinnati. Night classes for various English and industrial branches of study are a feature of the work of the Jewish Settlement. The Jewish Kitchen Garden Association conducts a large school for girls in the building of the United Jewish Charities every Sunday morning, where instruction is given in dressmaking, millinery, housekeeping, cooking, stenography, typewriting, and allied subjects. An industrial school for girls is conducted during the summer months in the vestry-rooms of the Plum street temple (B'ne Yeshurun), and one for boys during the school year in the Ohio Mechanics Institute building. There is a training-school for nurses in connection with the Jewish Hospital.
The Jewish charities of Cincinnati are exceptionally well organized. All the relief and educational agencies joined their forces in April, 1896, and formed the United Jewish Charities. This body comprises the following federated societies: Hebrew General Relief Association, Jewish Ladies' Sewing Society, Jewish Foster Home, Jewish Kitchen Garden Association, Boys' Industrial School, Girls' Industrial School, and Society for the Relief of Jewish Sick Poor. The United Charities also grants an annual subvention to the Denver Hospital for Consumptives and to the local Jewish Settlement Association. The seat of the National Jewish Charities is also in Cincinnati, where the national organization was called into being in May, 1899. Besides the United Jewish Charities, Cincinnati supports the Jewish Hospital and the Home for the Jewish Aged and Infirm, and is one of the largest contributors to the Jewish Orphan Asylum at Cleveland.
The Jews of Cincinnati have always shown great public spirit and have filled many local positions of trust, as well as state, judicial, and governmental offices. Henry Mack, Charles Fleischmann, James Brown, and Alfred M. Cohen have been members of the Ohio senate, and Joseph Jonas, Jacob Wolf, Daniel Wolf, and Harry M. Hoffheimer have been members of the legislature. Jacob Shroder was judge of the court of common pleas for a number of years, and Frederick S. Spiegel now holds (1902) the same position. Julius Fleischmann is the present mayor of the city. Nathaniel Newburgh was appointed appraiser of merchandise by President Cleveland during his first administration, and Bernhard Bettmann has been collector of internal revenue since 1897.
The Jewish newspapers published in Cincinnati are "The American Israelite," established 1854, and "Die Deborah," established 1855; "The Sabbath Visitor," established 1874, was discontinued in 1892.
The Jews of the city were estimated in 1900 at 15,000, in a total population of 325,902.
- The Jews of Ohio, by J[oseph] J[onas], in Leeser's Occident. i. 547-550; ii. 29-31, 143-147, 244-247;
- David Philipson, The Oldest Jewish Congregation in the West, Cincinnati, 1894;
- History of the Congregation B'ne Yeshurun (by a committee of the board of trustees), Cincinnati, 1894;
- David Philipson, The Jewish Pioneers of the Ohio Valley, in Publications Am. Jew. Hist. Soc. ix. 43-57;
- the files of The American Israelite, 1854.