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Seat Licenses for the Synagogues of Anshe Chesed

 
 

The family of Abraham Scheuer (born in Germany in 1824, died in Cleveland on August 26, 1890) saved and then framed three seat license documents for Congregation Anshe Chesed, today Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple. They are now in the Jewish Archives of the Western Reserve Historical Society.

  • 1842, document for the Eagle Street Synagogue

  • 1888, contract for a family pew in its second home, on Scovill Avenue at Henry (East 25th) Street

  • 1914, contract for two seats at the Euclid Avenue Temple on Euclid Avenue at East 82nd Street.

Below: 1842 license document for seats in the Eagle Street Synagogue
left: original in German, right: translation

Cleveland's first synagogue, Anshe Chesed (Hebrew for People of Loving Kindness) built the region's first synagogue, on Eagle Street. The document is not a binding contract: no seats are specified, no payment is shown. It appears that Abraham Scheuer, then only 18 years old, an early member of Anshe Chesed, was offered a seat license, did not accept the offer, but saved the document for posterity.
Below left
1888 license for $50. to Abraham Scheuer; for family pew A7 at the new sanctuary at Scovill Avenue and Perry (later East 25th) Street. (Family pews had been adopted in the 1870s.) Anshe Chesed then became known as the Scovill Avenue Temple.
Below right
1914 license, probably to Samuel Scheuer, the only son of Abraham Scheuer, $900, for two seats in row D-11 in the sanctuary on Euclid Avenue and East 82nd Street. Anshe Chesed then became known as the Euclid Avenue Temple. 

 

More about seat licenses

In the 19th and early 20th century, sale of the rights to the sanctuary's most desirable seats helped congregations finance new buildings. They would still need mortgages, but for much less than the cost of their new buildings.

The 1842 contract asked our first Jewish settlers, here only a few years, for a pledge to be paid over eight years. Later contracts show the economic progress of many members, for they ask for full payment.

The Temple-Tifereth Israel, Cleveland's second-oldest congregation. also used seat licenses in its sanctuary in University Circle (1924). The seats in front of the reader's desk on the bimah, where Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver presided, were "owned" by its most wealthy families. They attended the evening service that began each Holy Day, but many did not come to services the next morning. I remember in the late 1950s, about ten minutes after the morning service had started, ushers telling some of us waiting to enter the sanctuary, "More seats will be available soon." The rabbi, one of great orators of his day, not wanting to speak to empty seats, had told the ushers when they could let others occupy those seats.

Arnold Berger    Nov. 25, 2021

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