Joseph Naphtaly: Pioneer Jewish San Francisco Lawyer and Public Servant of California

Joseph Naphtaly

Values Codes: I-H-E-L-P


Joseph Nephtaly,1890s, #WS2084

Joseph Nephtaly,1890s,

Joseph Naphtaly was born in Prussia in 1842.

His early education was in the Gymnasium of Berlin.


San Francisco

At the age of 13, in 1855, Joseph Naphtaly came to San Francisco where he attended public schools.

Later he received his law degree from Yale University in Connecticut.

He returned to San Francisco to begin the practice of his profession.


The law firm of Naphtaly, Freidenrich & Ackerman became one of the biggest and best known in the state.

“Joseph Naphtaly was a lawyer par excellence and enjoyed a lucrative practice. That he shared his prosperity with those less favored by fortune is known to a host of people.

“He was generous almost to a fault and it was often suspected that his good-heartedness got the better of his judgment.” –Rabbi Martin Meyer, 1916.


Joseph Naphtaly started his San Francisco legal career working in the County Clerk’s Office.

He served in the California State Assembly and, in 1869, was Chairman of the Judiciary Committee.



Joseph Naphtaly served for many years as a Director of Temple Emanu-El.

He was also a Director of the Pacific Hebrew Orphan Asylum

He served also as Vice-President of the First Hebrew Benevolent Society.

Joseph Naphtaly was a member of the International Order of B’nai B’rith.



Joseph Naphtaly was a Mason in high standing and an Odd Fellow.



Joseph Naphtaly married Miss Sarah Schmitt, in 1869.

Together had 2 children; Mrs. L. B. Feigenbaum and Samuel L. Naphtaly.


Joseph Naphtaly died in 1910.



  • The Jews of San Francisco, by Martin A. Meyer, Ph.D., Emanu-El, San Francisco, June 1916.

David Epstein is the Curator for this Joseph Nephtaly Exhibit

Other family information and pictures would be greatly appreciated.


Jews in the News

   About this Time

Marraiges in San Francisco — 1870

Commendable Conduct—At the instance of Rev. Dr. [Aron J.] Messing, the Congregation Sherith Israel have decided to permit the performance of the marriage ceremony for those who cannot afford to pay the assessment hitherto levied by congregations in addition to the fee paid the minister performing the service. Dr. Messing desires us to state that he will always willingly perform the marriage ceremony free of charge, where the inability exists to pay therefor.

This laudable action will do away with the practice heretofore existing of allowing every “so-called Jewish rabbi” to perform the nuptial act.

—The Hebrew, San Francisco, September 9, 1870, WSJH Vol. 11, #2.