A History of Orthodox Baltimore

Written by Phil Wendkos on . Posted in Arts & Entertainment

“My Shtetl Baltimore,” by Eli W. Schlossberg, gives a glimpse into Orthodox Baltimore using informative vignettes and portraits of many venerated rebbeim (rabbis), including Rav Naftali Neuberger, Rav Aharon Feldman, and Rav Jacob Ruderman of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel (Ner Israel Rabbinic College).

Orthodox Judaism in Baltimore began to grow with the installation of Rabbi Abraham Rice (1800-1862).Rabbi Rice, the first ordained Rabbi to serve in a rabbinical position in the U.S., was also the first rabbi of Congregation Nidche Israel in Baltimore. This shul was renamed Baltimore Hebrew Congregation when it moved to Lloyd Street (this building is a now a museum), and the congregation later moved to a building in Park Heights.

Baltimore’s Orthodox Jewish community today boasts many yeshivot, such as the Talmudical Academy (TA) and the aforementioned Yeshivas Ner Yisroel; TA serves over 1,000 boys, while Ner Israel has several hundred high school and post-high school talmidim (students). Kosher supermarkets Seven Mile Market and the newly-opened Seasons are thriving, while kosher restaurants are plentiful and serve the community well. Charitable institutions, like the Ahavas Yisroel Charity Fund, support the needy of the frum community.

Several gedolim (revered rabbis) of the yeshiva world have connections to Baltimore, including Rav Mordechai Gifter of the Telshe Yeshiva, Rav Abraham Kalmonovitz of the Mirer Yeshiva, and Rav Aharon Kotler of the Lakewood Yeshiva. Many notable women who were crucial to their husbands’ rabbinical and lay positions are mentioned in the book. In fact, Mr. Schlossberg’s mother and grandmother were pillars of the community and sharp businesswomen.

Neighborhoods surrounding Rogers Avenue and Park Heights Avenue had numerous synagogues and a mikvah. Minyanim (prayer services) in homes were common, and Jews learned Talmud after Shacharit (morning services) or in between Mincha and Maariv (afternoon and evening services). Interestingly, no mention of Orthodox Sephardic synagogues appear in the book except for a reference to Iranian shuls.

One can say that the Baltimore shtetl was not as frum 50 years ago as it is today, and the standards for certain religious laws are far more stringent today than before. An infusion of yeshiva students helps make Baltimore a flourishing Jewish city.

Eli Schlossberg comes from an observant Jewish family of German Jewish background and was actively involved in running the family gourmet grocery business. His wife, Ronni, and their sons and daughters are all residents of Baltimore. Schlossberg had the opportunity to study at the Talmudic Academy and Yeshivas Ner Yisroel. As a student in these institutions of Torah learning, he studied under roshei yeshiva such as Rav Yaakov Ruderman, Rav Mendel Feldman, and Rav Mordechai Epstein.

“My Shtetl Baltimore” is a fascinating combination of history and human interest, and a must-read for anyone interested in the long and storied history of Baltimore’s Orthodox Jews.

By Phil Wendkos

 Philip Wendkos worked as an Israeli and Arabic translator for the U.S. government. He is a frequent commenter to Arab News, a daily online newspaper out of Saudi Arabia. Phillip lives with his wife Carol in Leisure World in Rockville, Maryland.