Poznanski, Gustavus

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POZNANSKI, GUSTAVUS (1804–1879), Jewish religious leader and reformer. Born in Storchnest, Poland, and educated in Hamburg, he immigrated to the United States in 1831 and served for a time as the shoḥet of Shearith Israel in New York, blowing the shofar and serving as assistant ḥazzan as well. In 1837 he went to Congregation Beth Elohim of Charleston, sc, then the wealthiest and most cultured Jewish community in America as ḥazzan. He came to a divided community between Reformers and an Orthodox group well recommended by Isaac Leeser, then the leading Orthodox figure in the United States. He came as an Orthodox Rabbi on probation but soon earned the admiration of his congregation and was given life tenure. Leeser was soon to regret his recommendation when Poznanski's views changed radically. In 1838, his synagogue burned and when the new building was constructed an organ was introduced, the first organ ever used in a U.S. synagogue. It divided the synagogue and the case was taken to court by 40 members who had left the congregation because of their objection to the organ. When he recommended the abolition of the second day of Jewish Festivals more members withdrew. Poznanski offered to step aside to bring peace but returned to the pulpit for four additional years until 1847. His successor could not be chosen until 1850 because the community remained divided. Among those who applied for the position was Isaac Mayer Wise. After retirement, Poznanski remained in the community for some 15 years and later divided his time between New York and Charleston. In New York, he was a member of Shearith Israel, which was an Orthodox Congregation still retaining his Reform membership in Charleston.


Minute Books of the Congregation Beth Elohim, 1838–43, 1846–1852; B.A. Elzas, The Jews of S.C. (1905); D. Philipson, The Reform Movement in Judaism (rev. ed., 1931); Jewish Marriage Notices … Charleston, sc (1917); Occident and Am. Jewish Advocate, vols. 1–4, 8, 9; Sinai (Balt., Md., 1856); Jewish Messenger (Jan. 17, 1879; Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale (2006), http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC; K.M. Olitzsky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1993).

[Barnett A. Elzas (2nd ed.)]