Jews of New Zealand
יהודיי ניו זילנד
Star of David hot cross buns for sale at the Kosher Deli, Auckland Hebrew Congregation, Remuera, Auckland
Total population
7,500 – 10,000
Regions with significant populations
Auckland, Wellington
English, Hebrew, Yiddish
Related ethnic groups
Israeli New Zealanders
South African New Zealanders

New Zealand Jews, whether by culture, ethnicity, or religion, form with Hawaii (8,000–10,000), the joint-second largest (7,500–10,000) Jewish community in Oceania, behind Australia (118,000).

The Jewish community in New Zealand is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews. Other Jewish ethnic divisions are also represented and include Sephardi Jews, Mizrahi Jews, and Bene Israel. A number of converts to Judaism make up the New Zealand Jewish community, which manifests a wide range of Jewish cultural traditions and the full spectrum of Jewish religious observance. Though they are a small minority, they have had an open presence in the country since the first Jewish immigrants began arriving in 1829. New Zealand has had three Jewish Prime Ministers or premiers, Julius Vogel (1873–1875), Francis Bell and John Key (2008–2016).[1]

The first Jewish settlers in New Zealand were Anglo-Jewish traders. Small numbers of Anglo-Jewish immigrants followed, some subsidized by a Jewish charity in London which had a mission of caring for the poor and orphaned young people in the community. These "subsidised" Jewish immigrants were also intended by their benefactors to be devout members of the fledgling Jewish community in Wellington, to which the respected English business leader Abraham Hort, Senior, was sent from London to organise along London religious lines. The difficulties of life in early colonial New Zealand, together with historically high rates of intermarriage, made it hard to maintain strict religious observation in any of the new congregations.

Following news of gold rushes, Jewish immigrants poured in from new lands such as Germany, and then moved on when the boom was over. These immigrants, and others from Eastern Europe faced an increasingly stringent immigration policy throughout the end of the 19th and mid 20th century, but Jewish New Zealanders and their descendants have continued to contribute in business, medicine, politics, and other areas of New Zealand life, at the highest levels, and the spectrum of Jewish religious observance continues in communities throughout the country.

The New Zealand Jewish Council, established in 1981, acts as the representative body of Jewish communities in New Zealand. It responds to antisemitism in New Zealand and the New Zealand government's foreign policy and attitudes towards the State of Israel and the Middle East.[2] A 2022 survey of antisemitism in New Zealand focussed attention on several areas of concern such as Holocaust denial and left-wing antisemitism.[3]

Settlement (1829–1849)

Joel Samuel Polack's trade advertisement
Solomon Levy, 1817–1883, Wellington New Zealand. Levy arrived from London with his brother Benjamin in 1840. He helped to found the Jewish synagogue in Wellington, taught Hebrew to Wellington's Jewish children for many years, but was himself married to his sister's Christian shipmate, and their children were raised Christian.

Anglo-Jewish traders were among the early immigrants from the 1830s onwards.[4]

Joel Samuel Polack, the best known and most influential of them, arrived in New Zealand in 1831.[5] Polack, an English-born Jew, opened a general store at Kororāreka in the Bay of Islands, where, following the tradition of centuries of European "Port Jews", his respect for the Māori people's culture earned him unique access and insights as a trader.

John Israel Montefiore, also an English-born Jew, left Sydney, Australia for New Zealand in October 1831. He became a merchant in Tauranga and Kororareka, and later, Auckland, where he featured prominently in civic affairs.[6]

Returning briefly to England in 1837, Polack wrote two popular books about his 1831–37 travels in New Zealand. In addition to being entertaining travel guides to new tastes (hearts of palm, for example), sights and sounds (Māori tattoos, exotic birds), etc., his books were a rallying cry for commercial development, specifically for flax production which he believed was possible on a lucrative scale.[5]

In 1838, in testimony to a House of Lords inquiry into the state of the islands of New Zealand, Polack warned that unorganised European settlement would destroy Māori culture, and advocated planned colonisation.[5] With the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840, the way was cleared for colonisation and the first legitimate immigrants. The British government and the speculative New Zealand Company,[7] among whose financial backers was the wealthy Anglo-Jewish Goldsmid family[8] anticipated (wrongly, as it turned out, at least in the next few decades) that land would increase in value, and encouraged a flood of subsidised mostly English and Scottish emigrants.

Abraham Hort, Jr, related by family and business ties[9] to the Mocatta & Goldsmid bank, arrived in Wellington on the barque Oriental on 31 January 1840[10] accompanied by two brothers he employed as cabinet makers, Solomon and Benjamin Levy. These were the first recognisably Jewish names in this early wave of post-Treaty settlement.

Hort's business[11] and civic leadership[12] was quickly recognised in the new colony. Within months of his arrival he was elected one of the two constables for Wellington's fledgling police force.[13] Hort was a promoter of early Wellington civic affairs, Jewish and non-Jewish.[14]

David Nathan was an important Auckland businessman and benefactor, who is perhaps best known for establishing the firm L.D. Nathan and Company. He left Sydney for the Bay of Islands on the Achilles on 21 February 1840.[15]

Nathaniel William Levin was another early immigrant, who became a notable merchant in Wellington and a politician. He arrived in Wellington on 30 May 1841 on the Arachne.[16]

Economic and religious factors in early Anglo-Jewish emigration

Annotated Birman map
Esther Solomon Levy 1824–1911

Hort's father, Abraham Hort Senior[17] saw New Zealand as a possible haven for impoverished English Jews and a potential refuge for oppressed Jews of eastern Europe and elsewhere.[18] The Jews' Hospital (Neveh zedak), which was largely funded by the Goldsmid family,[19] sponsored two Jewish women to emigrate in 1841 on the barque Birman: Elizabeth Levy, (sister of the Levy brothers), and Esther Solomon, who was being sent to marry one of the brothers.

Bills allowing Jews more civil rights in England had been introduced and repeatedly voted down, and Jews in the 19th century continued to be portrayed with racist stereotypes.[20] Among the promises of emigration for Jews was that the lack of manpower would level the ethnic playing field[4]

Early Jewish ceremonies

Benjamin Levy 1818–1853
Marriage Contract of Esther Solomon and Benjamin Levy, Wellington, 1 June 1842.
Bris 13 June 1843

The first Jewish ceremony in New Zealand was the marriage of businessman David Nathan to Rosetta Aarons, the widow of Captain Michael Aarons, on 31 October 1841.[21] Their daughter, Sarah Nathan, born 10 January 1843, was the first known Jewish birth in New Zealand. The second ceremony, the marriage of Esther Solomon and Benjamin Levy was on 1 June 1842 in Wellington, according to the ketubah contract in Hebrew, witnessed by Alfred Hort (another of Abraham Hort Senior's sons)[22] and another early Jewish emigrant Nathaniel William Levin. Levin, for whom the town of Levin was later named, soon married Hort Senior's daughter, Jessy, further connecting the small group of early Wellington Jews.[23]

In early 1843, Abraham Hort, Sr. arrived in Wellington, where he organised and promoted the Jewish community, with the approval of London's Chief Rabbi. Hort brought with him David Isaacs, also an alumnus of the Jews' Hospital. Isaacs served as Mohel (to perform circumcisions), shochet (kosher butcher) and chazan (Cantor/lay leader for services). The first religious service was performed soon after, on 7 January 1843. A few months later, the new community celebrated the birth of Benjamin's and Esther's first child, Henry Emanuel Levy,[24] which Hort documented in a series of letters sent to The Jewish Chronicle (the premier London Jewish newspaper of the time).

Acting on behalf of the community, Hort requested a plot of land for a synagogue and a plot of land for Jewish burials, offering himself as one of the trustees. The request was originally denied, the government responding that it didn't have the authority.[25]

The death of the Levy's second son, aged 8 months in 1845 was, Hort wrote to the Chronicle, "our first Jewish corpse" and the "first Jewish burial" in the new Jewish cemetery.[26] Throughout the early 1840s, Hort's letters to the London Jewish Chronicle and the Voice of Jacob reveal the difficulty of maintaining a Jewish community that could barely muster a minyan, owing to the demands of making a living, and complaining how few Jewish shopkeepers respected the sabbath by closing their doors, let alone celebrating Jewish holidays properly. A Māori massacre,[27] the threat of forced militia service for all, and the extreme difficulty of making a living, took their toll on the small community. Isolation rapidly gave way to intermarriage. Solomon Levy quickly married Jane Harvey, the 14-year-old Christian shipmate of Esther Solomon and Elizabeth Levy. Although only one of his eight surviving children chose Judaism as a religion, Levy helped found the first Wellington synagogue and taught Hebrew to Jewish children for many years.[28]

Mid-1800s gold rushes

A Jewish cemetery in Auckland, founded in the mid-nineteenth century.

In 1849–1850 the California Gold Rush led to an exodus of early New Zealand Jewish settlers, including Joel Samuel Polack, Benjamin Levy, and Abraham Hort.[29] For those who remained, gold rushes in New Zealand in the 1860s, the Central Otago Gold Rush from 1861 and the West Coast Gold Rush from 1864 shifted their businesses from centres like Auckland and Wellington to new towns and (like Sir Julius Vogel) to Dunedin in the South Island. In 1862, the congregation in Dunedin had 43 members.[30] Those drawn to gold strikes in the 1860s and after, were instrumental in founding businesses and helping to erect the many synagogues that were established at this time.[4]

Late 19th century

Restrictions were instituted in 1881 that effectively closed off immigration to immigrants who were not from England, Ireland, or Scotland, who were Asian, or any other culture deemed too foreign (a category which also included eastern European Jews). New Zealand, like Australia, had struggled with its white, Christian identity.[31] Some have attributed this attitude to New Zealand's geographic isolation at the time, to fear of economic competition, to the dilution of a perceived "white" culture.[32][33][34]

20th century

As a result of the restrictions put into place earlier, few Jews were granted refuge in New Zealand before, during or after the Holocaust.[35] First called "enemy aliens" because of their German nationality, popular sentiment suggested that they leave as soon as the war was over, as they were competing with New Zealanders for work.[36] The major veterans group, the Returned Services' Association, in 1945 suggested that not only should the "enemy aliens" go back where they came from, but that any money they had made during their stay should be turned over to the wives and children of the soldiers, who had risked their lives while the Jews had allegedly stayed safely in New Zealand.[35]

In reality, dozens of Jewish men and women from New Zealand had joined British Commonwealth forces during World War II, mainly serving in the RAF. [citation needed]

More recently, Jewish immigrants have come from South Africa, Israel, and the former Soviet Union.

Role in leadership

Three Prime Ministers have Jewish ancestry, although only Julius Vogel, who served twice during the 1870s, practised Judaism. Francis Bell was PM very briefly in 1925. Former Prime Minister John Key was born to an Austrian Jewish mother[37][38] and is thus considered Jewish under Halakha, though he is not practising.

21st century

Religious and cultural developments

Moriah School, Wellington's only Jewish day school opened in 1985. It closed in December 2012, citing a lack of resources and fewer than 20 pupils.[39]

In 2010 the practice of shechita, the ritual slaughter of kosher animals such as cows, sheep and chickens attracted controversy when the Minister of Agriculture reversed a decision that had banned it. The issue was about to be heard in the High Court but pressure from Jewish community members who wanted to slaughter poultry in the traditional manner promoted the move.[40]

In recent years a small but growing Chabad movement has been established in several cities, including Otago and Auckland. The Chabad house in Christchurch was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake that hit New Zealand. International Jewish fundraising efforts helped the Chabad community to rebuild.[41]

In 2019, with the assistance of the Woolf Fisher Trust, the Auckland Hebrew Congregation purchased the campus of Saint Kentigern Girls' School in Remuera.[42] Kadimah relocated from Grey's Avenue to the Remuera campus in 2023.[43] Other Jewish organisations and the Kosher café/deli are also in the process of relocating to the site, creating the main hub for Jewish life in Auckland.[44] The city's Reform congregation, Beth Shalom has also been invited to relocate to the campus.[45]

In October 2023, a Moishe House home opened in Auckland, joining the international network of homes that serve as a Jewish communal hub for young adults.[46]


Main article: Antisemitism in New Zealand

Founding of synagogues

Three early synagogues at Nelson,[47] Hokitika,[48] and Timaru[49] are no longer in existence.[50] Hokitika's synagogue, which served the boom and bust Gold Rush Jewish population, was virtually abandoned for the last decades of the 19th century and was known as "the Ghost Synagogue."[51]

The Dunedin Synagogue was established at Dunedin in September 1863 and lay claims to be the southernmost permanent synagogue in the world.[52]

The Canterbury Hebrew Congregation obtained funds in 1863 to build a small wooden synagogue[53] on a block of land in Gloucester Street (between Cambridge Terrace and Montreal Street) in Christchurch.[54] The next synagogue, called Beth El Synagogue, was built on the same site and opened in 1881.[55]

The first synagogue in Wellington was Beth El, established in 1870 at 222 The Terrace. By the 1920s, this wooden building with a capacity of 200 was too small for the city's 1400 participants and a new brick building was built on the same site and opened in 1929. The site was required to be vacated for motorway construction in 1963, and a new Wellington Jewish Community Centre was opened at 74–80 Webb Street in 1977.[56]

In Auckland, a synagogue building was designed in 1884–85 and opened on 9 November 1885.[57] The building still stands at 19A Princes Street, has heritage protection, and is now known as University House. The community moved to larger premises at Greys Avenue in 1967.[58]

As of 2023, the AHC (Auckland Hebrew Congregation) which has the largest Jewish community in New Zealand, has moved to a new location in Remuera. After 50 years in the iconic custom built synagogue in Greys Avenue, the community made the decision to move to the suburbs which has a higher density of Jews, compared to the previous city location.

Gallery of synagogues


In 1848, in New Zealand's total population of 16,000 there were known to be at least 61 Jews, 28 in Wellington and 33 in Auckland.[54] The 2013 New Zealand census data gives 6,867 people identifying as having a Jewish religious affiliation, out of the total New Zealand population of 4.5 million.[59] Another estimation (2009) was around 10,000 Jewish people.[60] In 2012 a book titled "Jewish Lives in New Zealand" claimed that there were more than 20,000 Jewish people in New Zealand, including non-practising Jews.[61][62] There are seven synagogues.[63]

In the 2018 New Zealand Census, 5,274 identified as having a Jewish religion.[64] According to the World Jewish Congress, New Zealand is home to 7,500 Jews according to a 2020 census.[65] According to the New Zealand Jewish Council, the country is home to 10,000 Jews.[66]

See also


  1. ^ New Zealand's Jewish achievers New Zealand Herald. 2 March 2012
  2. ^ Page 4. Zionism in New Zealand Te Ara. 8 February 2005
  3. ^ Anti-Semitism Survey of New Zealand 2021 Jewish Lives. Retrieved on 17 December 2023
  4. ^ a b c Levine, Stephen (8 February 2005). "Jews – 19th-century immigration". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Chisholm, Jocelyn. "'Polack, Joel Samuel', from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Montefiore, John Israel – Biography – Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  7. ^ Whitmore, Robbie. "The colonisation of New Zealand – First European arrivals". Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  8. ^ "Goldsmid". Jewish Encyclopedia. The Kopelman Foundation. Retrieved 22 December 2012.
  9. ^ "Barend Ber Elieser Salomons Cohen-Kampen". Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  10. ^ "Passenger list: The Oriental". Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  11. ^ "Advertisements Column 1". New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. I (29). 2. 31 October 1840. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  12. ^ "To His Excellency Sir Geo". New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. 13 (44). 3. 13 February 1841. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  13. ^ "Committee of Colonists". New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. 18 (2). 3. 18 April 1840. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  14. ^ "Commemoration of St. Andrew". New Zealand Gazette and Wellington Spectator. I (4). 3. 5 December 1840. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  15. ^ Mogford, Janice C. "Nathan, David – Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  16. ^ Nicholls, Roberta. "Levin, Nathaniel William – Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  17. ^ Foster, Bernard John (1966). "HORT, Abraham". In McLintock, A. H. (ed.). An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  18. ^ "Ill Treatment of the Jews in Prague". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  19. ^ "GOLDSMID –". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  20. ^ Felsenstein, Frank (19 March 1999). Anti-Semitic Stereotypes. ISBN 9780801861796. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  21. ^ "Nathan, David – Biography – Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  22. ^ "Person Details". Synagogue Scribes Jewish genealogy. Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  23. ^ "Nathaniel William Levin". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  24. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 15 September 2012.((cite web)): CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
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  29. ^ Starr, Kevin and Orsi, Richard J. (eds.) (2000), pp. 53–56.
  30. ^ "The Jewish Community of Dunedin". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
  31. ^ "2. – Immigration regulation – Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  32. ^ "CHAPTER 18 – Aliens". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  33. ^ "3. – Immigration regulation – Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  34. ^ "Further information – British & Irish immigration, 1840–1914 – NZHistory, New Zealand history online". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  35. ^ a b "THE RESPONSE OF THE NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT TO JEWISH REFUGEES AND HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS, 1933–1947" (PDF). Holocaust Centre of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  36. ^ Olga. "David Zwartz". Retrieved 29 February 2016.
  37. ^ "POLITICS: John Key – A snapshot". Sunday Star Times. 3 February 2008. Archived from the original on 5 April 2008. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  38. ^ Rapson, Bevan (April 2005). "Golden Boy". Metro {live}. No. 286. Archived from the original on 28 February 2008. Retrieved 28 February 2008.
  39. ^ Sheinman, Anna (10 December 2012). "Last Jewish school in Wellington, NZ, closes". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 26 January 2017.
  40. ^ Harper, Paul (29 November 2010). "Animal welfare groups slam shechita reversal". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  41. ^ "Chabad of Canterbury: Earthquake". 2011. Archived from the original on 23 August 2011.
  42. ^ Auckland private school Saint Kentigern sells $23m campus to Hebrew Congregation Stuff. 8 April 2021
  43. ^ News Kadimah School. Retrieved on 5 December 2023
  44. ^ A new Jewish Centre for Auckland Jewish Lives. 18 April 2021
  45. ^ 2. Current Status of Beth Shalom moving to Remuera Road Jewish Auckland. 2021
  46. ^ Moishe House Welcomes New Communities in New Zealand and South Carolina Moishe House. 3 October 2023
  47. ^ "The Nelson Synagogue". Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved 26 January 2017. This photo, dated 1911, shows the Synagogue still in a good state of preservation, though it had not been opened for Jewish worship since 1895.
  48. ^ "The Ghost Synagogue". Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Retrieved 26 January 2017. Tait Bros, Hokitika photographers during the gold boom, took this photograph of the Synagogue in 1867.
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  52. ^ Croot, Charles (1999). Dunedin churches: Past and present. Dunedin: Otago Settlers Association. p. 115. ISBN 0-473-03979-6
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  55. ^ "The Christchurch Synagogue". Victoria University of Wellington. Retrieved 26 January 2017. The Christchurch Synagogue. The foundation-stone for tin's building was laid on February 8th, 1881 by Mr L. E. Nathan, then President of the Christchurch Hebrew Congregation. It was completed the same year and has been in continuous use for Jewish worship ever since.
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  62. ^ "Israel will gain if CANZUK succeeds". The Jerusalem Post | 16 December 2022. Retrieved 17 November 2023.
  63. ^ Fickling, David (17 July 2004). "Attack on Jewish cemetery in NZ linked to passport plot". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 January 2017.
  64. ^ "2018 Census totals by topic – national highlights | Stats NZ". 23 September 2019. Archived from the original on 23 September 2019. Retrieved 10 April 2021.
  65. ^ New Zealand World Jewish Congress. Retrieved on 16 December 2023
  66. ^ Home New Zealand Jewish Council. Retrieved on 16 December 2023