Our History

Since 1958 Temple Shaaray Tefila has been responding to the continued growth and diversity of the Reform Jewish Community in New York's Upper East Side.

Since it's founding in 1845 Shaaray Tefila's journey from strict Orthodoxy to Reform Judaism is the most striking of the major changes in our history. The shift took place slowly. Samuel Isaacs, one of only two English-speaking Rabbis in the United States at the time of our founding, and a firm adherent of Orthodox Judaism, served as the first Rabbi of the congregation. In 1879, after much deliberation, the congregation voted to shorten and simplify the worship service and to include more English. Shortly thereafter, women and men were permitted to sit together, and organ music and a mixed choir were introduced. Shaaray Tefila formally joined the American Reform movement (the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, or UAHC, now the URJ) in 1921. 

Our physical location has mirrored the northward migration of New York’s Jewish community. Originally located on Wooster Street, the congregation has relocated its Temple building several times. Before 1958, when the congregation moved to its current Upper East Side home at 79th Street and 2nd Avenue, it had also been located on West 44th Street and then on West 82nd Street.

Several notable rabbis have left their mark as leaders of our synagogue. Rabbi Bernard J. Bamberger, the spiritual leader of the congregation from 1944 until his retirement in 1971, is well known as the author of commentaries on the book of Leviticus in "The Torah: A Modern Commentary." Rabbi Bamberger wrote numerous books and scholarly articles and served as President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis as well as the World Union for Progressive Judaism. 

He was succeeded by Harvey M. Tattelbaum, our Senior Rabbi for three decades. During that time our congregation grew enormously. We now have more than 1,200 family member units, and over 600 students in our Religious School and Early Childhood program. Rabbi Tattelbaum retired in 2001 and now holds the title of Rabbi Emeritus. 

Rabbi Jonathan Stein became our Senior Rabbi in July, 2001 after having served as Senior Rabbi of both Congregation Beth Israel of San Diego and Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation. Rabbi Stein succeeded to the presidency of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) in March 2011 for a two-year term. As President, he leads the principal organization of Reform rabbis in the United States and Canada. Rabbi Stein retired in June of 2014. On July 1, 2016, Rabbi Joel M. Mosbacher began his tenure as Senior Rabbi after fifteen years as the Rabbi of Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in New Jersey.  

Here at Shaaray Tefila, we view ourselves as a traditionally oriented synagogue affiliated with Reform Judaism. We love and honor Jewish tradition, and hope that any Jew, from whatever background, will feel at home with us.