Congregation Rodeph Shalom is the oldest Ashkenazic synagogue in the Western Hemisphere. The term “Ashkenazic” refers to people of the Jewish faith who are descended from medieval communities along the Rhine in Germany. This particular congregation was founded by Orthodox Jews from Germany, Holland, and Poland. It was originally founded in 1795 as a minyan; a “minyan” consists of the required ten adults necessary for certain religious practices and does not require a rabbi. In 1812 it became the first chartered synagogue in Pennsylvania and was renamed Rodeph Shalom (German Hebrew Society).
The Congregation has a strong sense of origin, and for many years the accompanying school taught only in Yiddish and German. From its very beginning, however, there began a steady theological evolution from Orthodox to Reform Judaism. The catalyst for that change was Rabbi Marcus Jastrow, an activist, scholar, writer, and teacher who became a