June 16, 1775|
Newport, Rhode Island
January 18, 1854|
New Orleans, Louisiana
Early life and career
Touro's father Isaac Touro of Holland was chosen as the hazzan at the Touro Synagogue in 1762, a Portuguese Sephardic congregation in Newport. The family moved to New York in 1780 after the British occupied Newport during the American Revolutionary war; they moved to Kingston, Jamaica in 1782. Isaac died in 1783, and his wife Reyna moved the family to Boston to live with her brother Moses Michael Hays. She died in 1787, and Judah and his siblings were raised by his uncle, a merchant who helped found Boston's first bank.
Touro fell in love with his cousin but was forbidden marriage by her father, who sent him on a trading voyage to the Mediterranean in hopes of ending the romance. Judah went to New Orleans in October 1801 where he opened a small store. He sold soap, candles, codfish, and other exports of New England, eventually becoming a prominent merchant and ship owner, particularly after the Louisiana Purchase propelled the growth of the region and its commerce.
He enlisted in Andrew Jackson's army in the War of 1812 in spite of poor health. He was physically incapacitated from fighting, so he volunteered to carry ammunition to the batteries in the Battle of New Orleans, in which he was struck on the thigh by a 12 pound shot which tore off a large mass of the flesh. He was given up for dead but was saved by Rezin Davis Shepherd, a Virginia merchant. Shepherd helped nurse him back to health, and their close friendship continued throughout their lives. He recovered for a year after the war, then resumed building his business interests in shipping, trade, and real estate. He made a point of never mortgaging current properties to acquire new ones, and he lived a simple life in a small apartment. "I have saved a fortune by strict economy," he said, "while others had spent one by their liberal expenditures."
Judah Touro's lasting fame, however, was as a philanthropist. He contributed $40,000—an immense sum at the time—to the Jewish cemetery at Newport, and bought the Old Stone Mill there, at that time thought to have been built by Norsemen, giving it to the city. The park surrounding it is still known as Touro Park.
In New Orleans, he used his business profits to buy and endow a cemetery, and to build a synagogue, an almshouse and an infirmary for sailors suffering from yellow fever, as well as a Unitarian church for a minister named Theodore Clapp whom he greatly admired. The infirmary became the largest free hospital in Louisiana, the Touro Infirmary. He was a major contributor to many Christian charities in New Orleans, as well as to such varied causes as the American Revolutionary War monument at Bunker Hill, and the relief of victims of a large fire in Mobile, Alabama. In a New Orleans fund-raising drive for Christians suffering persecution in Jerusalem, he gave ten times more than any other donor. One profile of Touro particularly praised his willingness to give both to Jewish and non-Jewish religious causes: "An admirable trait evinced, was the unsectarian distribution of charity, while the donor ever continued a strict adherent to the principles of his faith." His $20,000 donation to The Jews' Hospital in New York City (now Mount Sinai Hospital) led to its opening in 1855.
Touro also participated in charity on a personal level, giving $1,500 to a woman who asked for help for her starving children and paying the $900 debt of an alcoholic man with a large family so that the man's children would be spared the separation from their parent. Rev. Theodore Clapp reported that Touro had given him not less than $20,000 over the course of their friendship. These stories are said to represent only a small portion of his personal giving, as he preferred to remain anonymous. Morais remarks, "It would be an impossibility to enumerate all the acts of munificent beneficence performed by Judah Touro."
At his death, his estate provided endowments for nearly all the Jewish congregations in the United States, bequests to hospitals and orphanages in Massachusetts. His bequeaths funded the first Jewish residential settlement and almshouse outside of the Old City of Jerusalem, Mishkenot Sha'ananim. In total, his will gave more than $500,000 to different causes, a sum which would equal approximately $9 million in modern terms. His will also included another bequest, to his cousin Catherine Hays—"as an expression of the kind remembrance in which that esteemed friend is held by me." Hays, however, died in Virginia only days before Touro's own death.
He is buried in the Jewish (Touro Cemetery) of Newport. The inscription on his tombstone reads: "To the Memory of / Judah Touro / He inscribed it in the Book of / Philanthropy / To be remembered forever."
Touro lived in New Orleans for more than 50 years, and at his death was one of the wealthiest and most prominent members of the city's Jewish community. Touro Infirmary and Touro Synagogue named in his memory and thanks to his charity are among his more prominent legacies in the city.
Touro College named in his honor
Touro College, chartered in New York State in 1970, takes its name from the Touro family of Judah Touro and Isaac Touro (father of Judah). Judah Touro and Isaac Touro were Jewish community leaders of colonial America, who represent the ideals upon which Touro College bases its mission. Inspired by the democratic ethos enunciated by founding US President George Washington at Newport, Rhode Island when he visited the Touro Synagogue in 1790, the Touro family provided major endowments for universities, the first free library on the North American continent, community health facilities in the United States, and pioneering settlements in Israel.
- "Touro, Judah: The Database of Early American Jewish Portraits". The American Jewish Historical Society. 2009. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- Henry Samuel Morais. Eminent Israelites of the Nineteenth Century: A Series of Biographical Sketches, p. 336.
- Thomas Fleming. "'He Loved to Do Good in Secret'," Guideposts, October 1998, p. 28.
- Fleming, p. 29.
- Jewish Virtual Library
- The Philanthropy Hall of Fame, Judah Touro
- "...a charitable Institution for the relief of the Indigent sick..."
- Fleming, p. 30.
- Morais, p. 337.
- Niss, Barbara. This House of Noble Deeds: The Mount Sinai Hospital, 1852–2002, New York: NYU Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8147-0500-6
- Clapp, Theodore. Autobiographical Sketches and Recollections, during a thirty-five years' residence in New Orleans, Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Co., 1857. P.103
- Fleming, pp. 29-30.
- Morais, p. 338.
- Fleming, p. 31.
- "1854:New Orleans had a good friend in businessman Judah Touro". The Times Picayune. 2011. Retrieved 9 July 2012.
- "Judge Henry Yelverton". Baton Rouge Morning Advocate. Retrieved 28 August 2009.
- Adelman, David C. Life and times of Judah Touro. [Newport] Touro Fraternal Association, 1936.
- Gutstein, Morris A. Aaron Lopez and Judah Touro: A refugee and a son of a refugee. New York, Behrman's Jewish Book House, 1939. (An earlier version of this book was published in 1931 under the title Aaron Lopez and Judah Touro.)
- Gutstein, Morris. "The Touro family in Newport." Newport Historical Society, no. 94, 1935, pp. 1–39.
- Huhner, Leon. The life of Judah Touro (1775–1854). Philadelphia, Jewish Publication Society of America, 1946.
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