Rabbi Hirsch Zvi Levin

The Judaica Library of the Jewish Studies Center is named for a major figure in 19th century Charleston Jewish history. 

Rabbi Hirsch Zvi Margolis Levin was born in Lithuania in 1807. He was the son of a rabbi and the descendant of a long line of rabbis which included Rashi in the 11th century and Yomtov Lipman Heller (“Tosfos Yomtov”), the great 17th century commentator and Chief Rabbi of Prague, Vienna and Krakow. Rabbi Levin received his ordination from one of the great Lithuanian yeshivot and settled in his wife’s hometown of Wirballin. 

Rabbi Levin’s brothers-in-law, Samuel, Moses and Benjamin Winstock had immigrated to Charleston in the 1830’s and he decided to follow them to America. Rabbi Levin arrived in Charleston in 1852 and immediately organized an Orthodox Ashkenazic Congregation, “Brith Sholom”. This synagogue still exists today as “Brith Sholom Beth Israel” and is located on Rutledge Avenue. The congregation was made up of poor immigrants whose meager contributions (12 cents to $1.50) were recorded in Rabbi Levin’s notebook (still in the family). The notebook also includes sermons and blessings, written in a fine Hebrew hand. The entries reveal a profound knowledge of Torah, Talmud, and mystical texts, which indicates that Rabbi Levin was among the most learned of American Jewish religious leaders. 

Rabbi Levin continued to shepherd his flock throughout the War Between the States and the eighteen months of the daily bombardment of Charleston, the longest siege in military history. During the siege, the congregation met in rented quarters on St. Philip Street, the heart of Charleston’s Jewish quarter, just out of range of Union shells. The Rabbi’s son-in-law, Harris Levin, served with Confederate forces as did his brother-in-law, Moses Winstock and several other family members. His daughter, Dora Amelia, volunteered as a nurse and cared for Confederates wounded in Virginia. 

Rabbi Levin served for 20 years as spiritual leader of Brith Sholom until the early 1870’s when, in the dark days of the Federal occupation of Charleston, he moved his family to Baltimore. He continued to function in that city as “rabbi and teacher in Israel.” When he died in 1887, he was eulogized in the Baltimore Press as “The Jewish Patriarch of Maryland”. 

The gift in memory of Rabbi Hirsch Zvi Levin was given by his great great great grandson Dr. Michael S. Kogan and the Brand Foundation of New York.