Rabbi Hirsch Zvi (Harry) Levin

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Rabbi Hirsch Zvi (Harry) Levin (Margolis)

Birthdate: (80)
Birthplace: Virbalis, Vilkaviškis District Municipality, Marijampolė County, Lithuania
Death: 1887 (80)
Baltimore, Maryland, United States (died of injuries sustained from being thrown to the ground after exiting from a streetcar)
Immediate Family:

Son of Chaim Judah Leib Margolis and Sarah Margolis
Husband of Esther Rachel Levin
Father of Rachel (Rose) Sakolski; Dubra (Dora) Malka Levin; Abraham (Abi Asher) Asher Levin; Leah Levin; Julius Wolf "Jack" Levin and 2 others

Occupation: Rabbi
Managed by: Randy Schoenberg
Last Updated:

About Rabbi Hirsch Zvi (Harry) Levin

From A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life edited by Theodore Rosengarten and Dale Rosengarten, p. 98:

"Following his brothers-in-law, Samuel, Moses, and Benjamin Winstock, the first of whom had immigrated to Charleston in the late 1830s, Rabbi Hirsch Zvi Margolis made the transatlantic passage in midlife. Upon his arrival he took the more American-sounding name Levine and at once organized a minyan (a quorum of ten men required to hold a public prayer service). The rabbi kept a small notebook in which he recorded such congregational affairs as the English and Hebrew names of the twenty-six members, and the small amounts ranging from 12 cents to $1.50, that they donated at the reading of the Torah.

The record book has been passed down from generation to generation. It includes notes for sermons, material for eulogies; instruction for a shohet; the text of blessings for those called to the Torah; the correct procedures for delivering a get, or bill of divorce, and performing a halizah, which excuses a childless widow from the obligation of marrying her huband's brother; and an abstract of a sermon Reb Hirsch Marolis's father delivered on Rosh Hashanah.

Born in 1807, son of Chaim Laib and Soreh Margolis, Levine was one of the first trained and ordained rabbis to come to America. His notebook demonstrates an excellent command of Hebrew and a high degree of learning. Hirsch Zvi was instructed first by his father, a descendant of a long line of rabbis and learned teachers, including Rabbi Yomtov Lipman Heller (1579 - 1654), the famous "Tosfos Yomtov," who produced a well-known commentary and other works, and led the Jewish communities of Prague, Vienna, and Krakow. Soon after his marriage the young Margolis attended a Lithuanian yeshivah (school for Talmudic study), received his semikhah (ordination), and settled in his wife's hometown of Wirbalin.

When Reb Hirsch immigrated to America, he left at home his wife, Esther Rachel Winstock, and several children, two of them grown with children of their own. He soon sent for Esther and the younger offspring, and met their ship at the dock in the company of Esther's brother Ben. Fourteen-year-od Dora Amelia (Dubra Malka in Hebrew) was amazed to see the fine clothes and good grooming of her uncle, and to hear his southern speech. After settling briefly in Due West, South Carolina, near Abbeville, where Moses Winstock had moved in 1854 to help his asthma, the Levine family returned to Charleston and Reb Hirsch open a hoop-skirt factory at 365 King Street.

At age eighteen, Dora Amelia met Harris Levin, a young peddler from Kovno, Russia, and married him in 1859. After the firing on Fort Sumter, they moved to the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, where Dora's uncle, Samuel Winstock, was president of Beth Shalome congregation. Harris enlisted in the home guard; Dora tended the Confederate wounded in a tobacco warehous turned makeshift hospital at Drewry's Bluff.

After the war, when changing fashions undermined the crinoline business, Reb Hirsch and his wife moved to Baltimore, Maryland. An 1870 city directory lists him as "teacher" and her as "hucktress".

Each year on the eve of Yom Kippur, Reb Hirsch Levin -- by this time he had dropped the "e" -- gathered his family about him. Garbed in his kittel, a white robe worn to symbolize purity on solemn occasions such as the High Holy Days, weddings, and burials, the old man would bless his descendants. One Friday afternoon in November 1887, he was riding home on a horse car and, as dusk approached, became fearful that he might be violating the prohibition against traveling on the Sabbath. He jumped off the vehicle, slipped, and fell under its wheels. Levin lingered several days on his deathbed, praying with his minyan. With his last breath he is said to have obliged a friend who asked, "Reb Hirsch, kein witz?" ("What's funny?"), by telling a joke."


If you search on "Rabbi Hirsch Zvi Levine" in Google, you will find historical documents about the early Jewish community of South Carolina that refer to him.  He was brought over by his wife's family, the Winstocks, who immigrated to South Carolina in the 1830s and twenty years later brought him to I believe Charleston, South Carolina where he was the rabbi of one of the first synagogues in the South.

"Rabbi Hirsch Zvi Levine served as Charleston's Cantor, Kosher Slaughterer and Mohel circumcisor, besides authoring his own Torah commentary. "One man must do the whole business here," wrote the Congregation's president in 1858."



Photograph attached to this profile is titled: "Rabbi Hirsch Zvi (Margolis) Levine (1807–1887) Newspaper clipping, pasted into Rabbi Levine’s notebook Private collection"

While the schism in Beth Elohim divided reformers and traditionalists, a new group of immigrants introduced another brand of Orthodox Judaism to Charleston. People of modest means—peddlers, artisans, metalworkers, and bakers—the newcomers gave the city’s Jewish population a more foreign appearance than before.

As early as 1852, these eastern European Jews began meeting under the leadership of Rabbi Hirsch Zvi Levine, himself recently arrived from Poland. In 1855, they formally organized as Berith Shalome (now Brith Sholom) or “Covenant of Peace”—the first Ashkenazic congregation in South Carolina and one of the first in the South. The shul became known as the “German and Polish” or simply the “Polish” synagogue, to distinguish it from the earlier downtown congregations.

College of Charleston, South Carolina

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.

Note: Virbaln also written as:

*  Verzhbelov
* Virbalis
* Verbal
* Verzhbelova
* Wirballen
* Wierzbolow


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.

First Rabbi in Charleston S. Carolina

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Rabbi Hirsch Zvi (Harry) Levin's Timeline

Virbalis, Vilkaviškis District Municipality, Marijampolė County, Lithuania
Age 29
Virbalis, Vilkaviškis District Municipality, Marijampolė County, Lithuania
Age 34
Age 35
Virbalis, Vilkaviškis District Municipality, Marijampolė County, Lithuania
Age 37
Age 42
Age 46
Charleston, Charleston County, South Carolina, United States
Age 80
Baltimore, Maryland, United States