Although a synagogue structure is not necessary for Jewish prayer, the building of a synagogue represents the creation of a center for both worship and community. In a synagogue, Jews join together not only to pray, but to study, socialize, educate their children, and to care for the needs of their own members as well as the larger community. There were once thirteen synagogues in Hartford, CT. There are no longer any active congregations remaining in the city, although a number of the buildings are still in existence. Some are abandoned and have fallen into disrepair, and others have been repurposed, often as churches. This web exhibit utilizes the archive of the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Hartford to offer images and information on the synagogues that once existed in Hartford.
In 1856, having acquired for $28,000 the former First Baptist Church which was erected in 1830, the Beth Israel congregation renamed it Touro Hall in honor of Judah Touro of New Orleans, who had bequeathed $5,000 to Beth Israel, as he did to each of the other 13 synagogues then existing in this country. His generous benefactions extended to many other institutions, regardless of religion; and it was his contribution that made possible the later erection of Bunker Hill Monument.
As was the prevailing custom, the lower part of Touro Hall was rented for public meetings and stores. For many years Touro Hall was the only Hall in the city adapted to entertainments on a large scale, and most of the famous singers and actors of the day appeared there, among them Adelina Patti and the Booths. The hall, accommodating 1,500 people, was also rented out to Ararat Lodge, B'nai B'rith, and other organizations.
The first Hebrew teacher in Hartford was Lazarus Mosbacher. In his letter dated September 13, 1851, he reported to Rabbi Isaac Leeser of Philadelphia (editor of the Occident and Jewish Advocate and the first Jewish scholar in America to translate the Hebrew Bible into English) that there were 50 members affiliated with Congregation Beth Israel and 25 pupils in the religious school.