top of page
< Back

Jewish heritage in Scotland

Sharman Kadish

<plain_text><page sequence="1">10. 14324/111. 444.jhs.2016V47.013 Plate i Detail from Kirkiuood's Plans and illustrations ofthe City o/Edinburgh Section 5 (1817), showing the location of Herman Lyon's burial plot. Crown copyright Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). Jewish heritage in Scotland SHARMAN KADISH The Referendum on Scottish independence in September 2014 and the sweeping gains made by the Scottish National Party in the General Election in May 2015 provided pause for thought about the relationship between the Jewish communities that live in the five territories that make up the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. On the level of semantics, we must now studiously avoid using the term "Anglo"- Jewry with reference to British Jewry because the pundits consider it outdated.1 Popular usage of the term Anglo-Jewry persists, as a glance at the Wikipedia entry on "British Jews" shows. (I leave aside the whole i See Nathan Abrams, Caledonian J ews: A Study of Seuen Small Communities in Scotland (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009), Introduction. Jewish Historical Studies, volume 47, 2015 179</page><page sequence="2">180 SHARMAN KADISH debate about the reality of the "Jewish community" as opposed to a series of "communities" as beyond the scope of this investigation.) American Jews also use the term "Anglo-Jewish" to refer to themselves in the sense of "English-speaking", while Jews from English-speaking countries who have settled in Israel call themselves "Anglos" or even "Anglo-Saxim". Perhaps "British" Jewry should also be avoided, not least because it no longer includes "Irish" Jewry, that is the Jewish community living south of the Republican border. Political relationships have changed in the past and may do so again in the future. Nevertheless, in terms of their physical legacy, Jewish communities living within the geographical orbit of the British Isles are inextricably linked. The patterns of settlement and the building of communal infrastructure are closely similar. The establishment of burial grounds and the building of synagogues follow much the same patterns in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. Indeed, preliminary research demonstrates similar patterns in other parts of the English-speaking world where Jewish communities have thrived under British Imperial rule: for example, in Jamaica,2 which led the way in granting civil and political emancipation in 1831, ahead of the motherland (1858); in Barbados, Canada, South Africa,3 and Australia. In terms of architectural form and style, synagogues in Britain and throughout the Empire generally followed European fashions during the Victorian era that was characterised by the "Battle of the Styles". Regional differences only occurred in the choice of which Revival style was deemed most appropriate within the local context. This was usually determined by the dominant religion. I have explored elsewhere4 how the Gothic Revival was eschewed for synagogues in England because of the strong association, courtesy of Pugin, with Christianity, and especially with the High Anglican Church. In Ireland and Wales this was not the case: synagogues were built in neo-Gothic style in areas where Catholicism and Welsh chapel culture were strong.5 Everywhere, Gothic Revival was 2 See esp. Barry L. Stiefel (with David Rittenberg), Jewish Sanctuary in the Atlantic World (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2014). 3 See David Sher, "Johannesburg's Mother Synagogue - 126 Years Young", Jewish Ajjairs (South Africa), (Rosh Hashanah 2013): 34-42; Sher, "What we learn from 'Nusach Anglia': South Africa and its Threatened Anglo-Jewish Heritage", JeuushĄffairs(Pesach 2014): 53-9. 4 Sharman Kadish, The Synagogues 0/ Britain and Ireland: An Architectural and Social History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2011), esp. 86-94. 5 Sharman Kadish, "The Jewish Presence in Wales: Image and Material Reality", in Biblical Art/rom Wales, ed. Martin O'Kane and John Morgan-Guy (Sheffield: Phoenix Press, 2010), 272-89.</page><page sequence="3">Jewish heritage in Scotland 181 deemed acceptable for ohalim (prayer halls or chapels) in Jewish burial grounds, especially where these were plots in public cemeteries that employed the local Christian city surveyor or municipal architect to design the chapel buildings for all "denominations". The present paper draws together my previous research6 and further explores the communal architectural heritage of Scottish Jewry, con- sisting of funerary architecture, mikuaot (ritual baths), and purpose- built synagogues. It concludes with a few thoughts about the future of this heritage, a significant testimony to the place of a minority within a minority culture. Jewish burial grounds and funerary architecture in Scotland The heritage of Scottish Jewry dates back to the early nineteenth century and is concentrated in the "two capitals" of Edinburgh and Glasgow.7 The pattern of Jewish settlement, as Cecil Roth once observed, typically 6 This article began as a paper presented at a conference to mark the 125 th anniversary of Garnethill Synagogue, Glasgow, held in October 2004. Some of the material, esp. on Garnethill and Edinburgh synagogues, appeared in Kadish, Synagogues of Britain and Ireland. Glasgow cemeteries were touched upon in Kadish, "Bet Hayim: An Introduction to Jewish Funerary Art and Architecture in Britain", Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society 49 (2005): 31-58; Kadish, "Jewish Funerary Architecture in Britain and Ireland since 1656", Jewish Historical Studies: Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (hereafter, Transactions) 43 (2011): 59-88. New material on postwar and contemporary synagogues has been added following return fieldtrips to Glasgow in August 2012 and August 2014. 7 For the history of Scottish Jewry see works by Kenneth Collins including Aspects of Scottish Jewry (Glasgow: Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, 1987); Second City Jewry: The Jews of Glasgow in the Age of Expansion, 1790-1919 (Glasgow: Scottish Jewish Archives Centre [SJAC], 1990); Scotland's Jews (2nd edn, Glasgow: Scottish Council of Jewish Communities [SCOJEC], 2008); Collins et al., Jewish Glasgow: An Illustrated History (Glasgow: SJAC, 2013). See also Harvey Kaplan and Charlotte Hütt, A Scottish Shtetl: Jewish Life in the Gorbals 1880-1974 (Glasgow: SJAC, n.d. [1984]); Harvey Kaplan, The Gorbals Jewish Community in 1901 (Glasgow: SJAC, 2006); Ben Braber, Jews in Glasgow 1879-1939 (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2007). This literature follows the pioneering work of A. Levy, The Origins of Glasgow Jewry 1812-1895 (Glasgow: A. J. Macfarlane, 1949) and "The Origins of Scottish Jewry", Transactions 19 (i960): 129-62; Abel Phillips, A History of the Origins of the First Jewish Community in Scotland: Edinburgh 1816 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1979). On Edinburgh, see recent research by Mark Gilfillan, "Two Worlds: Jewish Immigration and Integration in Edinburgh, 1880-1945" (Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2012); Hannah Holtschneider, "Salis Daiches: Towards a Portrait of a Scottish Rabbi", Jewish Culture and History 2015 (online Sept. 2015). Websites include; www.</page><page sequence="4">182 SHARMAN KADISH involves the acquisition of a burial ground before the opening of a purpose-built synagogue. In many cases, the synagogue disappears but the cemetery, as a sacred place in perpetuity, remains. This is certainly true in Scotland where surviving burial grounds predate known synagogue buildings. The formation of an organized Jewish community in Edinburgh is usually dated from 1816, making it the oldest in Scotland, when a syna- gogue was opened in a house in Nicolson Street. However, as elsewhere, there was a prehistory of Jewish settlement in Edinburgh which, by the end of the eighteenth century, was already reputed to be the "Athens of the North". Individual Jews settled in Edinburgh, some attracted by the reputation of the University in the medical sciences.8 One such was the German-born Herman Lyon, also known as Heyman Lion, who practised as a dentist and "corner operator", Georgian English for a "chiropodist". He was the author of a learned treatise on the corn published in 1802, in all probability of doubtful scientific value. However, in the mid-i79os, he was sufficiently successful to purchase, for 17 guineas, a private burial plot for himself and his wife on Calton Hill overlooking the city.9 Lyon's was a remarkable transaction, taking place between the City Council and a registered alien in the middle of the French Wars. This was in the period just before Calton Hill became the imposing landmark it is today, dotted with eccentric structures, ranging from Gothick to Greek Revival. Most of the monuments on the hill were erected during the Napoleonic Wars down to 1830. The actual necropolis lies across Waterloo Place and contains some interesting memorials dating from the mid-eighteenth century. The "Burying place of the Jews" is clearly marked on Kirkiuood's Plans and Illustrations of the City of Edinburgh Section 5 (1817; plate i).10 It is also shown on the Ordnance Survey Edinburgh map of 1851, published in 1852, labelled "Jews' Burial Vault (Lyon's Family)". The small site was enclosed with a wall at Lyon's expense. It is believed that only the dentist and his wife were buried there, probably in 1795. Today, all that remains 8 Kenneth Collins, Go and Learn: The International Story o/Jews and Medicine in Scotland (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1988); Collins, Be Well! Jewish Immigrant Health and Welfare 1860-1920 (East Linton: Tuckwell Press, 2001). 9 See Kadish, "Jewish Funerary Architecture", 70 and nn.; on mausolea in Jewish history, see Kadish, "Bet Hay im", 45-8. 10 See John Gifford et al., The Buildings o/Scotland: Edinburgh (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1984), 434-9, the Scottish equivalent of Pevsner's Buildings of England series.</page><page sequence="5">Jewish heritage in Scotland 183 are a few rubble stones. According to testimony dating from the 1930s, quoted by Abel Phillips, the historian of Edinburgh Jewry, it seems that the City Council demolished the vault in the 1920s and that the remains were transferred to Braid Place, the first Jewish communal cemetery in Scotland, which was opened in 1820. 11 However, there is no evidence, material or documentary, on which to base this contention, although it is known that descendants of the Lyon/Lion family were interred at Braid Place. The tiny Jewish burial ground in Braid Place, also known as Sciennes House Place, Causewayside, measures a mere Ilz4h of an acre (1815 square feet) in size. It was in use until 1867 when a larger ground was opened at Echo Bank, to which I shall return later. Braid Place was taken into the care of Edinburgh City Council in the early 1990s. Unfortunately, no burial registers have survived, having apparently been destroyed by a private developer. Earlier surveys identified a total of twenty-nine inscriptions. The oldest originally recorded by the Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage (SJBH) in the UK and Ireland (in August 1999) was entirely in Hebrew and seemed to refer to one Moses, son of Abraham Mazlo, of the "holy communit[ies]" of Birmingham and Edinburgh who died on Shabbatand was buried on Sunday 3 Tammuz 5585 (19 June 1825). Several stones have ornate carved heads, one in partic