Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston

By:Page Ivey


Charlest​on has long been known as the Holy City, and the number of places of worship found scattered throughout the historic city is a strong testament to that.

One of the key elements in the city’s religious history is the founding of Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (843) 723-1090, 90 Hasell St.

Founded in 1749 as a Sephardic Orthodox congregation, Kahal Kadosh is the fourth-oldest Jewish congregation in the U.S. The original synagogue was dedicated in 1794 and described as spacious and elegant, but it burned in the Charleston fire of 1838. Three years later, a colonnaded Greek Revival building was dedicated and the congregation was firmly on the path of Reform Judaism.

Charleston has been cited as the birthplace of Reform Judaism, when members of the congregation sought to abridge the Hebrew ritual, add an English translation of the prayers and a sermon in English. That 1824 request was denied, and the disappointed liberal members of the congregation broke off to form their own society. That experiment lasted just a few years and the progressive members rejoined Kahal Kadosh. By the time the new temple was complete, the first service introduced a more liberal ritual.

Kahal Kadosh worships in the second-oldest synagogue in the U.S. and the oldest one in continuous use.

Notable early congregants included Moses Lindo, who helped to develop the Indigo crop in South Carolina; Joseph Levy, who fought in the Cherokee War of 1760-61; and Francis Salvador, who served as delegate to the South Carolina Provincial Congresses of 1775 and 1776. In 1784, members of the congregation founded Charleston's Hebrew Benevolent Society, which is the nation's oldest Jewish charitable organization.

Inside, the synagogue includes some items from the original 1794 building, such as the bases of two menorahs, the marble tablet above the entrance doors with the words: "Hear O Israel the Lord Our God is the sole Eternal Being" and the original dedication stone.

The congregation’s Yaschik Library is open to the public and includes books and information on Jewish traditions and practices, holiday observances, cuisine, dietary laws, rituals, customs, music and literature.

The Sisterhood Judaica and Gift Shop (843) 723-7324 is a must-stop on any visit and includes jewelry, ketubahs and T-shirts that say "Shalom Y'all." The shop is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday-Thursday and Fridays until 3 p.m.

Volunteer docents lead tours of the sanctuary 10 a.m.-noon and 1:30-3 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-noon and 1- 3 p.m. Friday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday. Services are at 8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday.

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