Rabbi Aron J. Messing: Too Orthodox for Congregation Sherith Israel, San Francisco

Rabbi Aron J. Messing

Rabbi Aron Messing at Cong. Sherith Israel WS 14/2072

Rabbi Aron Messing at Cong. Sherith Israel
WS 14/2072

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Aron Messing had been born in the Polish town of Argenau, in the province of Posen in 1840.

Rabbi Aron Messing came to the United States in 1866 and served Orthodox Congregations in New York and Chicago.


San Francisco

In April 1870, Congregation Sherith Israel of San Francisco elected Aron J. Messing their Rabbi. Rabbi Henry had retired.

In 1870, he accepted the attractive offer from Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco with a salary of $3,000 per annum.

That same year he also married Fanny Glogosky of Chicago.


Rabbi Messing got off to a fine start upon his arrival. He dedicated Congregation Sherith Israel’s new building in August, and his sermons were to standing room only.

His un­derstanding was that Congregation Sherith Israel was Orthodox.


Congregation Sherith Israel, 1870s WS 13/1918

Congregation Sherith Israel, 1870s
WS 13/1918

Messing had some harsh things to say about the leader of Reform in San Francisco, Rabbi Elkan Cohn of Congregation Emanu-El.

Rabbi Messing did not know that there were im­portant elements within Congregation Sherith Israel that favored modest reforms in the practices of the Congregation.

One of those reforms concerned the seating of men and women. Some time before, Congregation Sherith Israel had abolished separate seating.

To some extent Messing knew of the situation as indicated in a statement in a  letter: “I will have a lot of work to do in order to lead them on the right track back to Torah Judaism.”


Rabbi Messing did not know or did not accept the fact that in America, it was not the Rabbi, but rather the Congregation itself, usually acting through its Board, that deter­mined the policy of the Congregation.

He continued to speak out against the mixed seating, but this reform had been a popular one and widely accepted even by those who had opposed it originally.

Early in 1871, the Congregation indicated their approval of Rabbi Messing by raising his annual salary to $3,600.


But shortly after that he gave a talk that spelled the beginning of the end of his tenure at Congregation Sherith Israel.

Messingwas invited to address the membership of the Columbia B’nai B ‘rith Lodge on the occasion of its second anniversary.

In his lec­ture to a large audience, composed of all elements in the city, Rabbi Mess­ing denounced Reform and offered the opinion that those who were part of that movement should not be given honors or positions of trust within the Jewish community.

It was embarrassing to those of Congregation Sherith Israel present, and a shock to many others, such as mem­bers of Congregation Emanu-El.

Eight months after this speech, Rabbi Messing gave notice that he would not be a candidate for re-election when his contract expired in 1873.

So he re­turned to Chicago.


Four years later Rabbi Messing came back to San Francisco and served Congregation Beth Israel with grand success from 1877 to 1890.

Rabbi Aron Messing at Cong. Beth Israel WS 14/2073

Rabbi Aron Messing at Cong. Beth Israel
WS 14/2073

This congregation was more in tune with Messing’s Orthodoxy.


More information can be found in the following issues of Western States Jewish History:

  • Messing, Rabbi Aron J.; Orthodox Rabbi and a Reforming Congregation in Nineteenth Century San Francisco; Stern, Norton B.; 15/3
  • Messing, Rabbi Aron J.; Rabbi’s Survey of His Nineteenth Century Career in the West; San Francisco; Messing, Rabbi Aron J.; 22/2
  • Messing, Rabbi Aron J. #1, Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part Two, M-Z, Norton Stern, 41/2
  • Messing, Rabbi Aron J. #2, Pioneer Jews of San Francisco, Part Two, M-Z, Norton Stern, 41/2

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