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Tree of Life – Or L'Simcha Congregation

The history of the Jews in Pittsburgh dates back to the 19th century. As of 2002, Jewish households represented 3.8% of households in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania.[1] In 2012, Pittsburgh's Jewish community celebrated its 100th year of federated giving[clarification needed] through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.[2] The city's Jewish federation is one of the oldest in the country, marking the deep historical roots of Jews in Pittsburgh.


Former synagogue on Miller Street near downtown Pittsburgh, August 2007.
Former synagogue on Miller Street near downtown Pittsburgh, August 2007.

There are no reliable records of the beginnings of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, but it has been ascertained that between 1838 and 1844 a small number of Jews, mostly from Baden, Bavaria, and Württemberg, Germany settled in and around Pittsburgh. These communities continued to expand from 1847 until 1852. Though the first official Jewish service was held in the autumn of 1844, Jews in Pittsburgh did not officially organize until 1847, when several men worshiped in a room on Penn Street and Walnut (now 13th) Street, having engaged the Rev. Mannheimer as cantor. After this meeting, the men also formed a Bes Almon Society and purchased a cemetery at Troy Hill. This newly formed organization lacked homogeneity due to the varying religious views of its members, and divisions and reunions took place from time to time until about 1853, when a united congregation was formed under the name Rodef Shalom. In 1864 a small group of congregants dissatisfied with the movement toward Reform practices at Rodef Shalom formed a breakaway Orthodox congregation, Etz Chayyim (Tree of Life), and purchased a cemetery at Sharpsburg. By 1886, Etz Chayyim, now called Tree of Life Congregation, had affiliated itself with the Conservative movement.

In the broader American Jewish community, Pittsburgh is also famous for the 1885 "Pittsburgh Platform" which articulated bold and radical new ideas from the Reform movement on approaching theology and the modern world.[3]

At the turn of the century, two or three synagogues were established in or on the fringe of the area which is now called the Lower Hill District. One old building near Elm Street (called the "Old Jewish Church" by some)[who?] was demolished and replaced. A group called Beth Hamedrash Hagodol-Beth Jacob Congregation meets in the new synagogue. At least one old building has survived on nearby Miller Street in the area once known colloquially as "Jews Hill"[citation needed], although it has since been converted into a church.

Philanthropic associations

Pittsburgh is notable in American Jewish history on account of the conference (see Jew. Encyc. iv. 215, s.v. Conferences, Rabbinical) held there in 1885, and is also well-known as a generous supporter of national Jewish movements, notably the Hebrew Union College and the Denver Hospital. Among the more prominent local philanthropic and charitable institutions may be mentioned the following:


There were two weekly newspapers for the Jewish community. The Jewish Criterion, in English, was published from 1895-1962, of which Rabbi Levy and Charles H. Joseph were the editors. Another newspaper was in Yiddish and Hebrew, known as Der Volksfreund[8] from its founding in 1889 and later renamed to Der Idisher Folksfreynd,[9] which was in circulation from 1922-1924.

Since 1962, the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle is published weekly for the Jewish community of the Greater Pittsburgh Region.

Prominent Jews

Donors to non-sectarian charities included J.D. Bernd and Isaac Kaufmann, the latter of whom in 1895 gave the Emma Kaufmann Free Clinic to the medical department of the University of Pittsburgh. Among those who held positions in public life are Emanuel Wertheimer, select councilman and member of the state House of Representatives; Morris Einstein, select councilman (15 years); Josiah Cohen, judge of the Orphans' Court; E.E. Mayer, city physician; L.S. Levin, assistant city attorney. Isaac W. Frank was president of the National Founders' Association, and A. Leo Weil was a member of the executive committee of the Voters' Civic League.

There was a steady increase since 1882 in the number of Jewish people in Pittsburgh, the new settlers coming mostly from eastern Europe. Russian, Romanian, and Hungarian Jews came in large numbers and began to display an appreciable interest in public affairs. They had six synagogues in 1906 (whose rabbis included Aaron M. Ashinsky and M.S. Sivitz), many ḥebras, and a number of small religious societies. The Pittsburgh Jewry strongly sympathized with the Zionist movement, having a large number of Zionist societies. The number of Jewish inhabitants in 1906 was estimated at between 15,000 and 25,000, in a total population of about 322,000.

Squirrel Hill

Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood is considered to be the city's primary Jewish hub. Nearly half of the population of Squirrel Hill is Jewish.[10] Squirrel Hill has had a large Jewish population since the 1920s, when Jewish people began to move to the neighborhood in large numbers from the Oakland and Hill District neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. According to a 2002 study by the United Jewish Federation, 33% of the Pittsburgh Jewish population lived in Squirrel Hill and another 14% in the surrounding area.[11] Squirrel Hill currently contains three Jewish day schools, catering to the Lubavich, Orthodox, and Conservative movements. There are over twenty synagogues. This Jewish community also offers four restaurants, a Jewish community center, and an annual festival.

Synagogue shooting

On October 27, 2018, an anti-Semitic gunman attacked Tree of Life - Or L'Simcha Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, killing 11 and wounding 6.

See also



  1. ^ "Jewish Household and Population Estimates". Archived from the original on September 17, 2006. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
  2. ^ "Centennial celebration for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh". The Jewish Chronicle. February 10, 2011. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
  3. ^ "The Jewish Community of Pittsburgh". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot.
  4. ^ "Rauh Jewish Archives". Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  5. ^ "Rauh Jewish Archives". Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  6. ^ "History and Fast Facts". Ladies Hospital Aid Society. May 7, 2013. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  7. ^ "Our History". Pittsburgh. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  8. ^ "Der Folḳsfreynd = the Volksfreund (Pittsburg, Pa.) 1889-1922". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  9. ^ "Der Idisher Folḳsfreynd = the Jewish Volksfreund (Pittsburgh, Pa.) 1922-1924". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved April 17, 2021.
  10. ^ "This is Squirrel Hill: How One Neighborhood Became Pittsburgh's Center of Jewish Life". The Incline. October 29, 2018.
  11. ^ "The 2002 Pittsburgh Jewish Community Study Final Report". December 2002.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSinger, Isidore; et al., eds. (1901–1906). "Pittsburg". The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.