The salaries of rabbis in America in the 1890s and 1900s depended upon denomination

While the status of women was quite similar from branch to branch, the salaries of rabbis were not. Generally, with very few exceptions, rabbis of Reform synagogues received salaries, paid monthly, which provided a reasonable standard of living for them and their families. In contrast, rabbis of Orthodox synagogues everywhere struggled to make ends meet. Many of these rabbis, in the 1890s and early 1900s, earned less than $1,000 a year in salary, and they were forced to sometimes collect the money themselves and to charge Jews for each rabbinical service. They frequently supplemented their small salary by overseeing kashruth (especially supervising animal slaughter); serving as an arbitrator in questions of Jewish law; performing marriages, divorces, and other life-cycle ceremonies; selling wine for ritual purposes (including later, during Prohibition, legally, because of provisions that allowed the sale of wine for religious use); and selling collections of their sermons. For example, Rabbi Gedaliah Silverstone, of Orthodox Tifereth Israel in Washington, D.C., claimed to have sold 4,000 copies total of three of his privately printed books. Rabbi Abraham Schapiro, of Portsmouth, Ohio’s Orthodox B’nai Abraham, was paid $600 annually in 1896 (he was offered $500 additional salary if he would close the bookshop he owned for supplemental income on Jewish holy days), while Rabbi Abraham S. Braude of Chicago, in 1916, received the same salary from his synagogue. Baltimore’s Chizuk Amuno hired Rabbi Henry W. Schneeberger in 1876 at $1,200 annually; when he sought a raise after nine years, his appeal was rejected (“no way of increasing revenue: he was told); after sixteen years of service, the trustees raised his salary to $1,600, but, when there were “not enough” funds, they reduced it to $1,500. In contrast, when Portland, Oregon’s Reform Beth Israel hired the newly minted rabbi Stephen S. Wise in 1899, they paid him $5,000 a year.

Marc Lee Raphael, The Synagogue in America: A Short History (New York & London: New York University Press, 2011), 54-55.

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