The Only Orthodox Synagogue in Alabama 

By Alex Brown, Mikey Johnson, Alston Sanders, and Ben Sinex 

Knesseth Israel Congregation is the only Orthodox shul, or synagogue, in the state of Alabama and strives to create an atmosphere that is friendly and that makes you feel at home. Founded in 1889, the congregation moved to a new building in 2007, located at 3100 Overton Road, Mountain Brook. Knesseth Israel includes people from diverse backgrounds and on top of the typical sabbath services, provides programs and classes with the goal of making “Judaism accessible to all” (Knesseth Israel). Orthodox Judaism is the most strict of the three main branches of modern Judaism in regards to practices and traditions, which may give off the impression of exclusivity, but Rabbi Moshe Rube emphasized that everyone is welcome to attend and learn more about their faith. What we found through our research and interview with Rabbi Rube was a group of people that had a tight-knit sense of community, as well as a rich faith that is quite interesting and admirable. 

Stained-glass window by Andrea Lucas installed at Knesseth Israel Congregation. Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike

Orthodox Judaism 

Modern Judaism in the United States has three main branches: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Rabbi Rube defined Judaism as a set of practices and ways of looking at the world that were handed down starting from revelation at Sinai. Not just ritual law, but also civil law, giving guidance on how to handle oneself. Wholly based on the Torah, the 24 books [of the Hebrew Bible], and based on teachings of rabbis. We do not believe that a man or idol could be God. God is not definable in normal language, only through experience. To serve a scholar is better than to learn from a scholar” (Rube).

Orthodox Judaism strives to maintain the Judaism of past centuries while integrating with life in the wider world. Thanks to waves of immigration of traditional Jews in the late nineteenth century Orthodox Judaism grew in America. Orthodox Jews obeyed Jewish dietary laws or “kosher” to the letter. They maintained separate seating for men and women in worship. Though Orthodox Judaism is often considered to be strict and unyielding, Knesseth Israel is very welcoming toward everyone, and is open to both all Jews and all non-Jews who are willing to learn. The rabbi of the shul, Rabbi Rube, is passionate about how inclusive Knesseth Israel is towards all groups. When asked what Rabbi Rube hopes for in Knesseth Israel and Birmingham, he states, “A place where every person of any disposition or religious level can find his unique portal of entry to Judaism” (Rube).

Knesseth Israel. Photo: David Bains (2012).

Orthodoxy in Birmingham, Alabama 

Knesseth Israel is the only Orthodox shul in Alabama. According to Rabbi Rube, it currently has around forty to fifty members, as well as non-members (both Jewish and non-Jewish) who attend worship as well. In 2012, it set up the first eruv in Birmingham. An eruv is an enclosed area in which Orthodox Jews are able to “follow the same rules on the Sabbath that they would in their homes” (BBC). Eruvs are important and very helpful for observant Jews, allowing them to observe the Sabbath, while still being able to carry out certain necessary aspects of their lives. The eruv specifically allows Jews the ability to carry items on the Sabbath, because eruvs are considered private domains. Since Orthodox Jews are also not supposed to drive or cook on the Sabbath, this is very important. The size of an eruv depends on the community itself and the congregation. Overall, there are more than 200 eruvs worldwide (BBC). On Knesseth Israel’s website, it has a section entitled “Jewish Birmingham ” where people can get information regarding housing within the eruv, places to get kosher food, as well as other Jewish organizations. A map showcasing the eruv and what is located within and around it. Eruvs are important for establishing a strong community and a safe place for Orthodox Jews to practice their beliefs and traditions.

This Google map of the area surrounding Knesseth Israel is embedded on the Knesseth Israel website.

Knesseth Israel in Birmingham is always looking for more ways to explore, whether that is in the community itself or by integrating certain aspects of Southern life with the values found in the Torah. When asked about his goals and thoughts for Knesseth Israel in Birmingham, Rabbi Rube says, “Exploring and finding our unique voice as an Orthodox synagogue in Birmingham, Alabama and how we can best contribute to the the wider Birmingham and Alabama community.”  Knesseth Israel is continuing to set new goals, explore new paths , and reshape the way people view Orthodox Judaism in Birmingham, the USA, and the world. 

Knesseth Israel Congregation
Location: 3100 Overton Road, Birmingham, Alabama, 35223
Website: https://www.kicong.org/
Organized: 1889
Current synagogue erected: 2007
Affiliation: Orthodox Judaism 

References 

“About KI” About KI – Knesseth Israel. Accessed October 1, 2021. https://www.kicong.org/about

BBC. “Religions – Judaism: Eruvs.” 2009 BBC, July 23, 2009. https://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism/customs/eruv_1.shtml. 

Donin, Hayim. To Be a Jew. New York: Basic, 1972. 

Garrison, Greg. 2008. “Pelham Artist Crafts Stained-Glass Window for Birmingham Synagogue.” Birmingham News, September 20, 2008. https://www.al.com/living-news/2008/09/pelham_artist_crafts_stainedgl.html

O’Dell, Bob, and Gidon Ariel. Five Years with Orthodox Jews: How Connecting with God’s People Unlocks Understanding of God’s World. DN Har Hebron. Root Source Press, 2021. 

Prothero, Stephen R. Religion Matters: An Introduction to the World’s Religions. New York: W. W. Norton, 2020. 

Ravitzky, Aviezer. 2007. “Dimensions and Varieties of Orthodox Judaism.” Chapter 15 of Modern Judaism and Historical Consciousness, 389-416 Leiden: Brill, 2007.  https://doi.org/10.1163/ej.9789004152892.i-658.21. 

Rube, R. Moshe, Ben Sinex. 2021. Interview with Rabbi Moshe Rube. October 25, 2021.

Alex Brown ’25, Mikey Johnson ’25, Alston Sanders ’25, and Ben Sinex ’25 were students in Introduction to World Religions in Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in fall 2021.

Published November 29, 2021

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