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Beginnings

Charleston was established in 1670, and the earliest known reference to a Jew in the English settlement is a description dated 1695. Soon thereafter other Jews followed, attracted by the civil and religious liberty of South Carolina and the ample economic opportuntiy of the colony. These pioneers were sufficiently numerous by 1749 to organize the present congregation, Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim (Holy Congregational House of God) and, fifteen years later, to establish the now historic Coming Street cemetary, the oldest Jewish burial ground in the South.

K.K. Beth Elohim is the fourth oldest Jewish congregation in the continental United States (after New York, Newport and Savannah). At first prayers were cited in private quarters and from 1775, in an improvised synagogue adjacent to the modern temple grounds. In 1792, contruction of the largest and most impressive synagogue in the United States was commenced. It was dedicated two years later, and the visiting Lafayette is reported to have observed the building to be "spacious and elegant." This handsome, cupolated Georgian synagogue was destroyed in the great Charleston fire of 1838 and replaced in 1840 on the same Hasell Street site by the present imposing structure. The colonnaded temple, dedicated in early 1841 with splendid ceremony, is often described as one of the country's finest examples of Greek Revival architecture. K. K. Beth Elohim was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1980.