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The Lesser London Synagogues of the Eighteenth Century

Cecil Roth

<plain_text><page sequence="1">iHtScellante? i. The Lesser London Synagogues of the Eighteenth Century. Shortly after the accession of George III to the English throne, in 1760, the synagogal physiognomy of London Jewry achieved the definitive form which it was to retain for the next hundred years. In the City area, there were four places of worship. First and foremost was the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Bevis Marks, established in 1657 (the actual building, still in use, dates from 1701).1 The Great Synagogue, in Duke's Place, had been established on its actual site about the year 1690: though the earliest building specifically destined for the purpose went back only to 1722 (it was drastically reconstructed and enlarged in 1767, and again in 1790). The Hambro' Synagogue was founded as the result of a secessionist movement in 1707, and occupied continuously (until 1892) the structure in Fenchurch Street erected for it in 1725. Finally, the New Synagogue was established at Bricklayers' Hall, Leadenhall Street, as the result of a further secession in 1761,2 removing to Great St. Helen's in 1837. West of Temple Bar there was already in existence, at the time of the 1Eve of the New Year of 5462: not, therefore, 1702 as is so often stated. Incidentally, Queen Anne had not yet ascended the throne. Further demonstration is therefore needed for the legend that a beam supporting the Synagogue roof was presented by her, having come from a British man-of-war; though it may be observed that Anne's husband, Prince George of Denmark, was Lord High Admiral, and may conceivably have had some association with the gift. 2 This was the year of the Protest of the Great Synagogue against the foundation of the new " Society " (19th August, 1761) and of the acquisition of its burial ground (4th June, 1761). The chronogram on the foundation-stone seems to give 1756/7.</page><page sequence="2">2 miscellanies. establishment of the New Synagogue, a charitable and religious associa? tion which formed the nucleus of the Western Synagogue, subsequently to have its home in Denmark Court, Strand.3 But, even in the eighteenth century, there were certain religious organisations outside this synagogal framework. Nothing has been written hitherto concerning these, and the references to them are scattered and elusive. Nevertheless, it is worth while to make the attempt to gather together tentatively such scattered data as are available. These minor congregations all had as nucleus, most probably, a voluntary association for study. The process of growth is natural. A few persons with bookish inclinations would band themselves together for a regular course of reading on week-day evenings or Sabbath after? noons. They might perhaps engage an expert scholar to guide their researches. A room would be engaged to house the library and serve as centre. Then, after the daily lesson, they would stay behind to recite the evening prayer with Minyan. . . . And so, by gradual degrees, would come into existence what was to all intents and purposes a minor congregation. For complete autonomy nothing was lacking but the possession of a cemetery: but, since this was an expensive business, the associates would retain their seats and membership for this purpose in one of the established congregations.4 Of such confraternities, we know the following:? I. The Beth haMidrash "Shaare Zion" (Gates of Zion). This seems to have been established about 1770. Its Darshan or Preacher was Moses ben Judah, a native of Amstelslav in Russia, later resident in Minsk. He had for some time acted as preacher at Zarik, in Poland. Driven thence by local unrest and economic distress, 3 See my Records of the Western Synagogue (London, 1932). 4 One gets a glimpse of one of these organisations in that unknown masterpiece of Anglo-Jewish autobiography, A Short Account of the Life and Transactions of Levi Nathan (London, 1776). The author was an Old Clothes man(!) not long since arrived from Hamburg. He records: "About eight years ago, one Mr. Mordicai Mordicai and myself form'd a society, for the benefit of our own people, in which we used to read the word of God to them, every evening. To this Society I was Clerk . . ." It is tempting to endeavour the identification of this " Society " with one of those mentioned below.</page><page sequence="3">LESSER LONDON SYNAGOGUES OF EIGHTEENTH CENTURY. 3 he considered himself fortunate that he was able to become established in London, where certain friends of scholarship (mainly belonging, it would seem, to the Hambro' Synagogue) set up this Hebra for his especial benefit. Of its leading members, special mention is due to the Treasurer, Reuben Zelig ben David Emden.5 In 1772, Rabbi Moses published in London, at the Press of Moses ben Gershom (the pioneer Anglo-Jewish printer), a work entitled Eben Shoham (Onyx Stone). This comprised the sermons which he delivered at the Beth haMidrash Shaare Zion: and from it is derived all our knowledge of this institution. (A manuscript of this work?possibly autograph?is now in the Jewish Museum, London.) The approbations before, and the dedications after, this compilation are a mine of informa? tion with regard to local conditions and personalities; and from them one may assume that the author was on the worst possible terms with the "Duke's Place" synagogue and its authorities. On the other hand, he mentions with gratitude those local householders who entertained him at their table, in the traditional style. It was with great regret that the author was compelled, for financial reasons, to omit from this work an ingenious sermon which he preached on the conclusion of his systematic exposition of the Book of Psalms. It may be added that the work seems to have enjoyed much popularity; the copy in the possession of the present writer was formerly in the possession of Abraham Joseph, of Penzance. The only other recorded publication of this author was a funeral sermon on Joseph, Rabbi at Brody, and David ben Loeb, of Berlin (the latter had provided an approbation to the Eben Shoham, which he had seen in manuscript). This address, very likely delivered before this same body, was published in London in 1771. It seems that after some while, Rabbi Moses returned to the Continent. Not long after, Rabbi Phineas ben Samuel6 came over 5 Another of Rabbi Moses' friends was Abraham ben Naphtali "Tang": see Neubauer, Catalogue of Hebrew Manuscripts in Jews' College [i.e. the Beth Hamedrash], p. 13. 6 To be distinguished, of course, from his homonym, Philip or Phineas Samuel (son of the communal magnate, Moses Samuel)?at this time a boy of seventeen or eighteen. The two have been confused in a recent work.</page><page sequence="4">4 miscellanies. from Berlin, and taught for some time in a Hebra established for his benefit by Benjamin Wolf ben Samuel, one of the pillars of the Great Synagogue. However, on Rabbi Moses' return to England towards the close of the century, some of his old supporters gathered round him and reconstituted the old circle: though it seems that the relations between the two rival sages continued to be acrimonious to a degree.7 II. The Rosemary Lane Synagogue. This was (as it seems) a development of a society called Mahazike Tor ah (Maintainers of the Law), established in 1748. Here, towards the close of the reign of George III, Rabbi Tobias (Samuel) Goodman was preacher. He was son of Rabbi Israel of Kolin, in Bohemia: was a doughty assailant of the conversionists of his day: and is said to have delivered the earliest English sermons ever heard in any synagogue in this country. In addition, he translated Bedarsi's Behinat Olam into English, and in the preface to this work mentions his association with the Hebrath Mahazike Torah. Mathias Levy, in his History of the Western Synagogue (with which institution Tobias Goodman was at one time associated) informs us that, about the year 1824, this worthy was active as preacher in a place of worship situated in Rosemary Lane. It is therefore legitimate to assume that the Hebrath Mahazike Torah was identical with the synagogue which (as we know from other sources) was situated here. Rosemary Lane (swept away at the end of the last century, during the construction of the approaches to Tower Bridge) was the centre of the Jewish Old Clothes industry?as was demonstrated by its secondary name, "Rag Fair." Many of its inhabitants were Jews, and it was natural for them to establish their own place of worship. Conceivably, this was the "very fine synagogue near the Tower of London" which Lacombe visited in 1777 (Transactions, xiii. 325). It was certainly in existence in 1806, being mentioned in the circum cisional registers of the Hambro' Synagogue at that date. On the other hand, it is not likely that Goodman's addresses here, in the heart 7 This information is derived from the extremely interesting preface to the Midrash Phineas (London, 1795).</page><page sequence="5">lesser london synagogues of eighteenth century. 5 of the foreign area, were delivered in English, as is generally assumed, even though elsewhere he was the first preacher in the vernacular. During the nineteenth century, the Rosemary Lane congregation was removed to 71 Prescott Street, where it was still in existence, and proud of its antiquity, in 1874 (Cf. A. I. Myers, Jewish Directory of that year, p. 11, where the date of its establishment is given as 1748). About 1892, it was merged in the Castle Street Synagogue; and the original records have since vanished from view.8 III. Gun Yard Synagogue. Founded (according to the Jewish Directory of 1874, p. 12, and other works of the period) in 1792. This is to be identified with the Polish Minyan in Gun Square (or Yard) Houndsditch, dependent on the New Synagogue, referred to in Articles of a New Treaty agreed on by the sub-committees of the Great, Hambro' and New Synagogues, 1833-5 ? xvii. (From this, it would appear that there were at the time only two unattached smaller congregations in the City area.) Half a century ago, this congregation was under the control of a certain Mr. Phillips and his son, and was popularly known as " Phillips' Shool". A new synagogue building was consecrated in 1873 in Little Scarborough Street, Goodman's Fields, and the congregation was long known as the Scarborough Street Synagogue. Rabbi Aaron Hyman, the well-known Rabbinical scholar, was for some time honorary Rabbi of this institution, and gathered some materials for its history. Its independent existence ended some little time since, when it became merged in the so-called "Kalisher Shool'' or Great Alie Street Synagogue. From the titles the congregation bore, Hebrath Mashkimim Umaaribim, " Society of Worshippers early in the morning and late in the evening," and Zemirath Israel, "The Song of Israel," it would appear that it came into existence as the result of the fusion of two voluntary associations of the type indicated above. 8 Another account I have received states that the congregation merged in " Moore's Synagogue," an old institution already in existence under that name about 1840, on the demolition of which all the appurtenances were transferred to a synagogue in Buckle Street.</page><page sequence="6">6 miscellanies. IV. The Polish Synagogue. Founded (according to the Jewish Directory of 1874, p. 13) circa 1790, and referred to in the Articles of a New Treaty as "the Polish Minyan in Cutler Street, Houndsditch," dependent for burial rights on the Great Synagogue. Fourteen years later, in 1804, its Synagogue was consecrated, the order of service being printed by S. Soesman. The scholarly tendencies of this body seem to have reflected the circum? stances of its origin : and within living memory it was known as the Chevra Shass ("Association for the Study of the Talmud"). Rabbi Jacob Barnett, the great-grandfather of the present writer, preached in this synagogue in the 1860's, and his body was taken into it on the occasion of his funeral early in 1865?when, according to family tradition, every Jewish shop in the East End was closed. The present synagogue building was constructed in 1867 in Carter (now Clothier) Street, off Cutler Street. The interior contains a few fittings probably going back to the earlier edifice, which presumably occupied the same site.9 The congregation possesses a few fine pieces of Georgian silver and old brocades, including one particularly beautiful curtain. Its earliest written records go back only to 1855: but it possesses also a fine Commemoration Book, on vellum, written in the reign of George IV by Aaron of Lissa, a well-known caligraphist of the period and the earliest Australian Rabbi.10 S. A. Hart's well-known painting, "The Elevation of the Law in a Polish Synagogue," may perhaps reproduce the interior features of the earlier synagogue building. In the course of the nineteenth century, well before the beginning of the great influx from Russia and Poland, a number of other small synagogues were established in the East End of London. There was "Moore's Shool," in Mansell Street, which has been mentioned above: the Sandy's Row Synagogue, established in 1851: the German Synagogue in New Broad Street (1858)11: and so on. Many of these still flourish. 9 The Hambro' Synagogue circumcisional registers record in 1804 an operation performed " in the Synagogue of the men of Polonia in the street called Houndsditch." 101 am indebted for information embodied in the present sketch to Miss Osterberg, Mr. Isaacs, and Mr. Cohen, of the Polish Synagogue, as well as to Dr. Hyman and Mr. M. Jaffe, who were kind enough to give me some useful subsidiary details. 11 Subsequently removed to Spital Square, where it was ultimately amalgamated with, and submerged in, the so-called Poltava Synagogue (now in Heneage Street).</page><page sequence="7">the jews and the great plague. 7 Of their earlier counterparts, however, only the Polish Synagogue has survived till our own day, to recall the crowded, intense Jewish life in London under George III.12 Cecil Roth. 12 Another opportunity will be required to deal with the Jewish Friendly Societies of Georgian London. The following may be mentioned here: " Path of Peace " (1782), " Path of Righteousness " (1790), " Path of Rectitude " (1816). "Brotherly Love " (Laws, 1797). The history of the RodpM Shalom Society is given in Miscellanies, ii, 90/98. The activities of these bodies formerly included the recital of prayers in the house of mourners and on certain other occasions, and their early history ran parallel to those of the minor congregations mentioned in the foregoing pages. The Hebra Maarib biZemanah Oheb Shalom (founded about 1790, and established at the close of the last century at 9 Sandy's Row, Bishopsgate) was an illustration of the dual nature of these bodies; its functions included both providing a Minyan and relieving members during the week of mourning.</page></plain_text>

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