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Book Notes: The Synagogues of London, Paul Lindsay

Sharman Kadish

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Synagogues of London, Paul Lindsay (Vallentine Mitchell, London 1993) 144 pp. Illustrated. ?27.50 (hardback); ?14.50 (paperback). Until very recently, there had been no systematic attempt to research and record the relatively small number of Jewish buildings, sacred or secular, and burial grounds in Britain - let alone to publish a serious history of British synagogue art and architecture. The Working Party on Jewish Monuments in the UK and Ireland, set up in December 1991, is now actively engaged in rectifying this state of affairs. The Working Party aims to link academic research with practical meas? ures towards the preservation of the Jewish architectural heritage and the recogni? tion of its significance by the general conservation agencies in this country and abroad. In this context, Paul Lindsay's guidebook is to be welcomed. Synagogues of London opens up a little-known facet of London life to a wider public and seeks to promote an appreciation of the unique Jewish contribution to the architectural fabric of Britain. The book is profusely illustrated in black and white and many of the photographs are entirely new. Lindsay has selected 50 out of some 150 synagogues in Greater London for attention and deals with them by geographical area. His criteria for inclusion are obscure. Synagogues large and small, old and new, opulent and humble, Orthodox and Reform, purpose-built or converted - extant and extinct - are represented. Redbridge and South London are curiously absent. Anecdotal biographies of the buildings accompany the pictures, the whole presented between a potted history of Anglo-Jewry, a brief introduction to the various synagogue organizations responsible for most of the building-work in London over the past century, and a very cursory look at the development of synagogue architecture, which draws heavily on secondary sources, notably research by the architect Edward Jamilly and the design historian Judy Glasman (both members of the Working Party). The author pays scant attention to general literature which would help to put London synagogues in a wider context, such as Rachel Wishnitzer's The Architecture of the European Synagogue (Philadelphia 278</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes 1964) or Carol Krinsky's more recent Synagogues of Europe (Cambridge, Mass. 1985). He has entirely missed Jamilly's seminal article on 'Anglo-Jewish Archi? tects and Architecture' which was published in Transactions as long ago as 1956. Consequendy, his appended list of synagogue architects and their work is incomplete. The introductory chapters are marred by factual errors. For instance: regard? ing the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations, the author asserts (p. 33) 'In 1886 the Adath set up the North London Beth HaMidrash'. In fact, the North London Beth HaMedrash, established in Tottenham, was a forerunner of and was incorporated into the Adath Yisroel Synagogue (1909) which, under Rabbi Dr Victor Schonfeld, became the father congregation of the Orthodox Union in 1926. At the opposite end of the spectrum: the first Liberal synagogue was established not in St John's Wood in 1912, as Lindsay claims (p. 37), but in a converted chapel in Hill Street, Marylebone in 1911. The purpose-built Liberal Synagogue, designed by Ernest Joseph - son of the architect to the United Synagogue, Nathan S. Joseph - was opened in St John's Wood in 1925. Nor has it been completely demolished (p. 104), but rebuilt behind the original Neoclassical facade in 1991. Likewise 'the fear of the Nazis' could not 'have influenced the Chief Rabbi, Dr Hertz in 1944, in certifying the Liberal Synagogue for the purpose of the Marriage Act', because the Liberals did not acquire this privilege until 1958. Moreover, as the West London Reformers had done before them in 1856, the Liberals had to resort to an Act of Parliament, because Chief Rabbi Brodie set his face against recognizing the Liberals as 'persons professing the Jewish religion'. For all its shortcomings, Synagogues of London is an attractive book for which there is undoubtedly a growing popular market, as the success of the Oscar Israelowitz series in the United States has demonstrated. Sharman Kadish</page></plain_text>