When Levy Rosenblatt clutched his heart and fell into his chair at a meeting in the Masonic Temple of St. Louis, his rabbinical career came to an abrupt end. He gasped his last breath on 4 May 1912, while offering a prayer for the victims of the Titanic. Levy left behind six grown children (Ella Marks, George Rose, Fannie Mondschine, Charles Rose, Celia Isaacs, and Rachel), numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and a widow, Fanny (Cohen) Gottschalk. In 1900, he had married Fanny after the death of his first wife, Esther Nightingale, in 1896. His obituary in the Jewish Voice, praised him as “a pioneer of St. Louis, having been here for the last forty years and longer,” and he was one of the “best known Jews in the city.”

Levy and Esther, both in their early twenties, arrived in New York on 5 July 1860. The ship manifest indicates they were from “Plotz, Polen.” Levy soon became the spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel in Elmira, New York. He served as cantor, schochet[slaughterer for Kosher meat], and Hebrew teacher. Around 1867, he moved to a similar position in Galesburg, Illinois, and finally settled in St. Louis by 1870.

At his death, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat credited Levy with founding Congregation Sheerith Israel. From its beginnings in 1870, Sheerith Israel grew to become St. Louis’s largest Jewish Orthodox congregation. Levy appears to have retired as rabbi by 1880 and probably then made his living as a mohel [one who circumcises male infants]. In 1884, when a controversy erupted at Sheerith Israel between Orthodox and more liberal congregants, Levy again briefly assumed the role of rabbi. The more liberal members left Sheerith Israel to form Congregation B’nai Amoona.

When another rabbi took over the leadership of Sheerith Israel, Levy continued to serve as a mohel and performed funerals and weddings throughout Missouri, Iowa, and Arkansas. Nonetheless, he remained active in the affairs of the St. Louis Jewish community. In 1904, he presided over a meeting to establish a Talmud Torah [religious school for children]. This movement eventually led to the creation of congregation Shaare Zedek.

Just as he had advertised his services as a mohel in the Jewish Messenger in the Elmira, New York, area, he advertised his services as a mohel in the St. Louis Jewish Voice. In 1905, a letter to the editor of the Jewish Voice questioned whether a mohel such as Levy Rosenblatt could legally perform weddings. The editor answered “No, and decidedly NO! Every marriage consecrated by unauthorized persons is illegal!” In a subsequent issue, a dozen St. Louisans signed another letter to the editor. The letter noted that Levy Rosenblatt had been ordained in 1860 by Rev. Dr. Benjamin Raphael and had performed many marriage ceremonies and rabbinical functions over a long career. Having questioned the legitimacy of the marriages of so many Jews of the city, the editor quickly issued an apology. Levy continued to perform marriages for several years. He was approximately seventy-seven when he died and is buried in United Hebrew Cemetery next to his wife, Fanny.

Written by Ann Tettlebaum
April 2020
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Last Modified: 29-Jul-2020 11:47