Temple Beth El began as the Hebrew Benevolent Association of Knoxville in 1864. This organization was formed in order to procure a piece of property – generously donated – so that a Knoxville father could properly bury his son who had died in battle – as a Confederate soldier – in Virginia. By March 3, 1868, a charter was received from the State of Tennessee, and by August 5, 1869, the first constitution was completed along with its by-laws. No building was established, but services were held in various locations, sometimes in members’ homes or in rented halls. Within the next few years, the Association expressed interest in joining the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Reform Jewish organization founded by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise in Cincinnati. Two years later, in 1875, their membership became official. By 1877, the Association changed its name to Temple Beth El and formed both a religious school and a precursor to Sisterhood – the Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Association. During the next two decades, student rabbis were brought in for High Holy Day services, and new property was acquired for a larger cemetery – the New Jewish Cemetery – that is currently co-owned by Temple Beth El and Heska Amuna Synagogue. A Sefer Torah, a shofar, prayerbooks and text books had been purchased, but the congregation was still unable to raise enough funds for a permanent House of Worship.
Our First Building Eventually, though, a building was purchased and Temple Beth El dedicated its new home on the corner of Broadway and West Vine Avenue. The building had been the Pilgrim Congregational Church and was purchased for $5000. The dedication of the building occurred on September 20, 1914, with the Torah being carried to the Holy Ark, and the Eternal Light kindled.
Our First Rabbi In 1922, Rabbi Jerome Mark became the first resident rabbi. Up until that time student rabbis came to conduct High Holy Day services. Rabbi Mark left in 1926 to take a pulpit in Selma, Alabama. The following rabbis served intermittently from 1926 to 1939, Rabbi Milton Greenwald, Rabbi Ephraim Rosenzweig, Rabbi Norbert Rosenthal, and Rabbi Ralph Blumenthal. Rabbi Jerome Mark returned in 1939 and served until 1943. Rabbi Dr. Luitpold Wallach occupied the pulpit from 1944 – 1946, followed by Rabbi Leo J. Stillpass. Rabbi Paul Liner accepted the rabbinate in 1950 but was called for duty as a Jewish Chaplain in the U.S. Army. Rabbi Dr. Solomon Foster served out his term until retiring in 1952. 1952-53 marked the beginning of a new era for Temple Beth El with Rabbi Meyer Marx accepting the rabbinate. Rabbi Marx served until 1963 providing stability to the spiritual leadership of Temple Beth El. In 1963, Rabbi Harold Rubens assumed the pulpit.
Our New Temple A new era for Temple Beth El began in 1952-53 with Rabbi Meyer Marx. Aside from bringing stability to the rabbinate, religious activities flourished once again and the religious school was returned to Temple supervision. As a result, a Building Committee was formed in 1953 for the purpose of seeking suitable land for a new Temple building. In 1954, the present property on Kingston Pike was purchased spurred on by an initial gift from Mr. and Mrs. Max B. Arnstein. Ground-breaking ceremonies occurred on July 15, 1956, and the building was dedicated on September 6, 1957.
Our First Confirmation Class In 1917, four members comprised the first Confirmation class.
Our First Sisterhood Organized in 1877 as the Ladies Hebrew Benevolent Society, this organization became Temple Beth El Ladies Auxiliary and finally Temple Beth El Sisterhood after affiliating with the National Federation Temple Sisterhoods.