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The Legend of Rabbi “Moses” Could

Rabbi Mayer Could

Sandwichman’s maternal great-grandfather, Rabbi Mayer Could, was rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Portland, Oregon from 1872 to 1880. In response to newspaper experiences, on October 1, 1880, Rabbi M. Could was concerned in an altercation with A. Waldman, throughout which he fired two pictures from a pistol, neither of which struck his assailant.

The incident occurred on Entrance Avenue, close to the Esmond Lodge the place U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes was staying throughout his historic 71-day tour of the West. 

For some years, Rabbi Could had been embroiled in doctrinal disputes with some members of his congregation as he tried to introduce the Reform Jewish prayer guide, which a number of Orthodox members resisted. Waldman was one of many dissidents and had leveled expenses of impropriety and immorality at Could, who in flip referred to as him a liar.

Reportedly, Waldman got here up from behind Could at some point, grabbed his coat, spun him round and punched him a number of instances within the face, breaking his glasses. Could then pulled out his revolver and, being semi-blinded shot twice in Waldman’s basic path. Each males have been arrested however solely Waldman was charged with assault. Presumably, Could’s response was deemed self protection.

Following the incident, Rabbi Could submitted a letter of resignation to the congregation within the curiosity of restoring peace and dignity. A bit over a month later, the rabbi’s home burned down. Could was away from dwelling on the time, however in line with experiences “his spouse and kids barely escaped with their lives.” 

The home was situated on the nook of Twelfth and Most important Avenue. That is important as a result of the 1880 census exhibits Mayer Could, a “minister,” and his household, together with my grandfather, Angelo Mayer Could, residing on Most important Avenue in Portland. Many tales determine “Rabbi Moses Could” because the rabbi concerned within the incident. Nonetheless, the one Moses Could documented to be residing in Portland any time close to the occasion is listed in a business listing from 1885 as a peddler.

There are two secondary sources that report in regards to the incident involving Rabbi Could. “The Warfare on the Willamette,” revealed in 1958, is especially a compilation of three newspaper gadgets from the time, with a really temporary and basic introduction. The rabbi is recognized in these information experiences merely as “M. Could.” The second, “Mayer Could: Pioneer Portland Rabbi,” revealed in 1989, comprises way more contextual details about Rabbi Could’s household and subsequent profession, together with interviews with two granddaughters, one among whom was my mom.

The identify “Rabbi Moses Could” seems to be a misinterpretation of a phrase in one of many newspaper accounts given within the 1958 article:

Waldman irritated him frequently, interfering with him and wishing him to show the faith of Waldman as a substitute of that of Moses, and since he didn’t has been attempting to break him by setting adrift experiences about his ethical standing, which the Rabbi characterised as false, shameful, and hole.

The Moses in that sentence is clearly the person who spoke to a burning bush, led the Jews out of Egypt, and obtained the commandments on Mount Sinai — not the studious immigrant from Bavaria who fired two ineffectual pictures from his pistol at a tormentor on Entrance Avenue in Portland in 1880. Nonetheless most up-to-date tales in regards to the misidentify the principal within the latter incident.

Temple Beth Israel within the 1800s

Even the web site of Congregation Beth Israel of Portland lists “Rabbi Moses Could” as rabbi from 1872 to 1880. However a video celebrating their a hundred and fiftieth anniversary features a {photograph} of my grandfather, Rabbi Mayer Could, with a affirmation class. Web page 207 of Pioneer Jews: A New Life within the Far West additionally contains the identical picture, with the caption, “Rabbi Mayer Could and his affirmation class in Portland, Oregon, 1878; courtesy, Oregon Jewish Historic Society, Portland.” The principle textual content on the identical web page, nevertheless, refers to “trainer and cantor, Moses Could” who “was employed to function performing rabbi at Beth Israel.” 

For some time, as I used to be researching this story, I suspected that perhaps Rabbi Could modified his first identify following the capturing incident. However the June 1880 census information contradict that concept. I’ve ordered my grandfather’s start certificates from 1879 and his sister’s from 1872 (presumably) for additional affirmation.

After resigning his ministry and shedding his dwelling, Mayer Could moved his household to The Dalles, Oregon for a few years till taking over one other ill-fated place as rabbi in Waco, Texas. After initially making impression, Rabbi Could began preaching incoherent mysticism and was referred to a doctor for psychological sickness. 

The illness seems to have been non permanent because the household quickly returned to The Dalles after which moved to San Francisco, the place Mayer Could established a stable popularity and profession as a trainer and principal of the Free Spiritual College of the Jewish Academic Society of San Francisco.



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