The Lesser London Synagogues of the Eighteenth Century

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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.

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,

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