Southern Africa Jewish Genealogy SA-SIG
Constitution Street Synagogue
Editor: Dr Saul Issroff
Copyright © 2001 Saul Issroff, Mike Getz, SAfrica SIG
and Jewishgen Inc.
Updated: 27 April 2001
Constitution Street, Cape Town, runs south-east from Canterbury Street, along the south boundary of the Cape Technikon, to Christiaan Street, Walmer Estate.
On 26th November 2002, Beryl Baleson submitted this quotation from Book of Memoirs (1916), by N.D. Hoffmann*.
BET HAMIDRASH HACHADASH (Constitution Street Shul):
It was built in the style of the Bet Hamidrash of the old country. There was no President's box, but it was always busy. Often a loud cry to heaven would rend the air; another congregant would be found crouched over the Gemara dreaming sweet dreams of the home country. In the good times one Minyan follwed another in quick succession in the crowded shul. As evening fell, it would gradually become a little quieter, and the prayer reader and the psalm sayer would go off to their homes. The Bet Hamidrash was full from morning until evening. The activity here was as it had been in the Shtetl - praying and studying. Here was the place for the very observant and for the scholarly. They took upon themselves the role of Naturei Karta; to guard strictly the observances of Judaism. Their efforts were, unfortunately, not valued. Despite this, the congregants wanted a Rabbi, a spiritual leader. However the lack of money was an obstacle and they made do with some long-serving retired dayanim. One of them lived on charity and received a small allowance, and another, a puny little man who did part-time work as a secretary, taught Talmud for a pound a week. In 1908 they appointed a most respected and learned Rabbi, namely Rabbi M. Ch. Mirvish. This Beth Hamdirash is now in a more secure position and they meet all their expenses, even though members do not have to pay high fees. The congregants are satisfied with the status of the shul. They are happy with the knowledge that they are keeping faithfully the tenets of Judaism.
See also: Nehemia Dov Hoffman, 1860-1928, Yiddish and Hebrew writer and publishing pioneer in South Africa. By Gita Gordon.
On 27th April 2001, Beryl Baleson submitted this quotation from South African Jewry 1965, by Leon Feldberg.
It describes the "Beth Hamedrash Hachodosh" which in 1940 moved from Constitution Street, Cape Town to Vredehoek, and became known as the Vredehoek Synagogue.
"A vivid picture of the way of life in South Africa introduced by the strictly Orthdox group of immigrants is given in this description of the "Beth Hamedrash Hachodosh" which was built in Constitution Street, Cape Town, in 1902. It represented the recent immigrant section of Cape Town Jewry.
"The residential district of the recent immigrants - the Castle district of Cape Town - had the semblance of a Lithuanian townlet and its centre was the "Beth Hamedrash." The Shul was open in the whole forenoon when services followed each other in rapid succession. In the evenings between "Minchah" and "Maariv", the Synagogue presented a scene of animated activity. The hard-struggling Jew, be he shopkeeper; pedlar trier or artisan, would foregather at the conclusion of the day in the "Beth Hamedrash" and between services he would sit at one of the "Shiurim" or lectures delivered at long tables with benches all around.
"The immigrants even brought with them the caste system which used to exist in the "Shtetl" and this was reflected in the particular groups which attended the "Shiurim". there was the learned class and the ignorant, the "lamdonim" and the "Amei-haaratzim". The learned people sat around the Rav's "Shiur" - the Gemorah - and then in descending order of importance there would be Mishnah, Ayin Yakov, then Chumash, and later a Tehillim circle was formed.
"Scores of people, all returning from a hard day's work, would sit and listen and concentrate on the intricacies and legalistic complexities of Jewish lore, and would discuss heatedly principles of religion and philosophy. This daily intellectual stimulus filled their lives with interest and excitement. Religion was fervid, and in some respects the congregants were fanatical. Everything which had to do with the "English" shul (i.e. The Great Synagogue, Gardens) was considered "treife; Zionism was not much in favour. "A man's piety was measured by the length of time it took before he finished praying the 'Shmonah Esrei' ".
Source: South African Jewry 1965, by Leon Feldberg.
(The above statement was made by Louis Mirvish in an article written on Cape Town Jewry in 1910 and published in Jewish Affairs, May 1960.) This description of the Cape Town Beth Hamedrash Hachodosh could be paralleled by conditions in other places at that time where the orthodox element was densely congregated."
On 16th April 2001, Beryl Baleson wrote:
In April, 1901, a "Beth Midrash" for study and prayer under the direction of an Orthodox Rabbi was suggested and started amongst the more Orthodox Jews living in Cape Town. Mr. I.J. Rowtosky was instrumental in getting this started and in 1903 the "Beth Hamidrash Hachodesh" was established in Constitution Street, Cape Town. The first officers were Messrs H.I. Cohen and H. Winnet.
In 1910 Rabbi M.Ch. Mirvish was engaged as Rabbi of the Community with Rev. N.M.Rabinowitz as "Chazan."
In 1940 this congregation moved from Constitution Street to Vredehoek Avenue, and was known as the "Beth Hamidrash Hachodesh" as well as "Vredehoek Synagogue."
On 13 April 2001, Denis Nathan firstname.lastname@example.org wrote: ...
I believe that the Constitution Street shul was functioning until at least 1951 or 1952, I recall going there with my father for his father's yarhzeit.