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The Independent Order of B'nai B'rith, a Jewish fraternal organization, was formed in the United States on October 13, 1843. Its membership included Jewish men of all political or ideological backgrounds. Each member was expected to "possess physical and mental health...be of good moral character and have the ability to support himself and family". The organization later included women's and youth's auxiliaries. The stated goals of B'nai B'rith include "philanthropy, honor and patriotism; ... supporting science and art; alleviating the wants of the poor ... sick ... victims of persecution" (Pre-amble to the By-Laws of Baron DeHirsch Lodge, No. 420. 1892.)

B'nai B'rith was organized into regional and local lodges. The supreme governing lodge, the Constitution Grand Lodge, was formed from representatives from the District Lodges. District Lodge membership was determined by elections held in the local lodges. The local lodges, formed primarily around a single community, were granted autonomy over local affairs.

The B'nai B'rith lodge served as a focal point for Jewish communities across the country. In the west this was particularly important due to the vast distances from Jewish cultural and population centers in the East. Like most early immigrants to Montana, the first Jewish arrivals followed the gold trail. They arrived first in Alder Gulch, near Virginia City, and then moved on to Helena. It was here that the state's first organized Jewish community formed. Once the Last Chance Gulch strike played out, many Jewish residence followed the trail to Butte, the next and biggest boom town in Montana.

The Jewish citizenry of Butte did not become formally organized until 1881 with the formation of the Hebrew Benevolent Society. This organization served as the religious focal point for the community until individual congregations formed.

Butte's Jewish immigrants brought with them complex divisions that existed in Europe between German Jews and Eastern European Jews. As a result Butte supported three Jewish congregations: Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox

Preparation for the construction of Butte's first synagogue started with an 1885 land grant from the Northern Pacific Railroad. The land remained undeveloped for several years, but in 1897, with the formation of Congregation B'nai Israel (Reform), construction began on the corner of what is now Washington and Galena streets. The B'nai Israel synagogue was officially dedicated in 1903. The orthodox community gained their own facility in 1902 by converting the German Lutheran Church into the Adath Israel Congregation Synagogue.

The one organization that brought Butte's disparate Jewish citizens together was The Baron DeHirsch Lodge #40. Formed in March of 1892, the lodge became the center of the Butte Jewish Community. In addition to social and service activities, members received visitations during sickness, sick benefits, and burial funds.

The collection, measuring ten linear feet in size, contains materials dating from 1892 to 1986 documenting the Baron DeHirsch Lodge, B'nai Israel, and Adath Israel congregations of Butte. The collection is a donation from B'nai Israel Congregation, who acquired the documents as a result of the unification of the Adath Israel and the B'nai Israel Congregations in the 1960s.

The majority of the collection, approximately seven linear feet, consists of records from the Baron DeHirsch Lodge, No. 420, Independent Order of B'nai B'rith including incoming correspondence (1926-1951, 1982); outgoing correspondence (1923-1983); financial records (1892-1984) consisting of bills, cash books, check stubs, ledgers, journals, and dues registers; minutes (1892-1984); organizational records (1890s-1960s) including, by-laws and membership registries; and scrapbooks, photographs, and clippings.

Most of the earliest records for the Adath Israel Congregation were destroyed in the fire that engulfed the synagogue on South Main (the old Pythian Lodge Hall). Some later records were recovered and form this portion of the collection. The Adath Israel Congregation records, approximately one linear foot date from the 1930s through the 1960s and include scattered correspondence (1960-1962); financial records (1936-1963) including bank records, cash journals, and receipts; minutes (1956-1958); constitution and bylaws; and miscellany.

The final portion of the collection, approximately one linear foot, consists of records from the Congregation B'Nai Israel. Included in the collection are financial records (1952-1976) consisting of banking records and ledgers; legal deeds (1968, 1986) regarding land owned by the congregation; minutes (1951-1982) from Board of Trustee meetings; and scattered pamphlets, lists, and certificates. This portion also includes the records of the ladies auxiliary, The Sisterhood B'NAI Israel consisting of financial records (1962- 1974), including bank records, bills, receipts and a journal; and membership lists; voting cards; and scattered letters.

Related materials: The Montana Historical Society Archives has several collections relating to Jewish fraternal and religious organizations. These include the Hebrew Benevolent Association of Helena (MC 38); Norman Winestine Collection: Congregation Emanu-El Helena (MC 144), and Temple Beth Aaron Billings Records (SC 1868 and an unprocessed addition). There are also papers and remiscences from individuals of Jewish ancestry from across the state, including Norman and Belle Fligelman Winestine Collection and interviews (MC 190, OH 87, and OH 630), Freida Fligelman Papers (A 0:11-1 and OH 615), Harry Reidinger Interview (OH 98), Aaron Small Interview (OH 1604); Moses Morris (SC 1635), Charlotte Stein (SC 1868), and Burton Appleton (SC 1897).

Announcement of confirmation services at B'nai Israel

To learn more about the Jewish experience in Montana:


  • Golden Opportunities: A Biographical History of Montana's Jewish Community (Julie Coleman. SkyHouse Publishers, Helena, MT, 1994.)

Unpublished manuscripts:

  • "A Guide to the Jewish Rockies: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming" (Amy Shapiro. Master's Thesis. University of Denver, Rocky Mountain Jewish Historical Society, 1979.)
  • "History of the Jews in Montana" (Benjamin Kelson. Master's Thesis, Montana State University, 1950.)
  • "The Jewish Community of Helena, Montana, 1866-1900" (Patricia Dean. B.A.Thesis, Carroll College, 1977.)
  • "Myron Brinigs Butte: Jews in the Wide Open Town" (Pamela Wilson Tollefson. Master's Thesis, University of Montana, 1994.)
  • "A Voice from the Rocky Mountains: Helena's Pioneer Jewish Community, 1864-1899" (Delores Morrow. Master's Thesis, University of Montana, 1981.)