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The Great Synagogue

Dukes Place, City of London, London E.C.3.

 

 

         
 


THE GREAT SYNAGOGUE

RULES & CUSTOMS

Created: 18 April 2006
Latest revision or formatting: 7 November 2011

by Simon Goulden, Director, United Synagogue Community Services Group together with
Rabbi Jeremy Conway, Director, United Synagogue Religious Affairs Group
(using edited extracts from the book "Torah Haminhagim - Studies of the Nusach Ha'Tefillah and Other Minhagim of the United Synagogue London"
by Dayan Dr Lerner)

Reproduced from editions of Daf-Hashavua, dated from 1 April 2006 to 15 April 2006

 

Extract from edition dated 1 April 2006

The minhagim of the United Synagogue are based upon those of the original founding Synagogues. Dr Cecil Roth, the eminent historian, in his 'Report on the Archives of the United Synagogue' in 1930, refers back to a set of rules dated 1692, less than thirty years after the Jews were formally permitted to return to England. Chief Rabbi Hertz, in his commentary to the Authorised Daily Prayer Book, dated 1941, refers to a Takanah (Rule) of 1722 which states: "The minhag of this Synagogue shall be the Polish minhag as used in Hamburg." The laws of the New Synagogue likewise prescribed that the "Form of Service and Prayer shall be conformable to minhag Poland as already established". Remarkably, the Western Synagogue, an independent congregation founded in 1761 but now joined to the family of United Synagogues through the Western Marble Arch congregation, has precisely the same formula. The original reference to the usages of Hamburg reflects the fact that predominant amongst early settlers in London, after the famous visit of Menashe ben Yisrael in 1655, were migrants from Hamburg.

Extract from edition dated 8 April 2006 (Shabbat Hagadol)

The Great Synagogue was one of the founding Synagogues of the United Synagogue. Its earliest takanot (rules) have a total of 68 clauses dealing in the main with non-ritual matters, the obligations and rights of members, the administration of the congregation, the appointment of honorary officers and governing bodies and religious and lay officials. It would seem that the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Of the 14 or so clauses of a religious nature, there are some that are of purely historical significance. Amongst them, the order of precedence to be accorded to those called to the Torah, one clause is somewhat unusual in that it prescribes that an unmarried man, though a member, and even if an office holder in the congregation, may not be called to the Torah before a married man. They also obliged those called to the Torah to make offerings to certain specific charities of the congregation. Passing references were also made to the practice of purchasing certain mitzvot. Also detailed are those entitled to be given an aliyah on special occasions such as a bar mitzvah, birth of a child, yahtzeit and a bridegroom, both on the sabbath prior to and the sabbath following the day of a marriage. The Av Bet Din is to be called to the Torah at least once a month as well as on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, Shavuot, Shabbat Shuvah and Shabbat HaGadol on which occasions he is to deliver the customary sermon.

The rules of The Great Synagogue gave special attention to the privilege of reciting kaddish. The Great Synagogue of London, as it was called, adhered to the prevailing minhag at that time whereby only one individual could recite the Mourner's Kaddish one at a time. This is still the practice in some Orthodox Synagogues adhering to the German minhagim. In accordance with established custom, a member of the congregation took precedence over a non-member. In the event of two or more people being of equal rights, they cast lots to decide who should have the privilege. The customary welcoming to the Synagogue and public expression of condolence to mourners on a Friday evening in the week of shiva was reserved for members of the congregation only. Mourners were obliged to stand near the bimah when reciting kaddish.

Extract from edition dated 15 April 2006 (Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach)

The takanot (rules) of the old Great Synagogue stated that the selection of Chatan Torah and Chatan Bereshit was made in a commendably democratic manner. On the first day of Sukkot, after Hallel, lots were to be drawn by the presiding parnas and gabbai from the ballot box placed on the bimah. After the Reading of the Law, a special misheberach was to be made naming the successful candidate. In the event that the person whose name was drawn in the ballot declined the honour, he was obliged - as in other frequently mentioned instances - to pay a specified fine. We can confirm, however, that there appears to be no suggestion that these rules are to be re-introduced into the United Synagogue today!

The takanot of The Great Synagogue of 1790 required that on Hashanah Rabba, seven scrolls (Sifrei Torah) were to be taken onto the bimah during the seven circuits. On the night and the morning of Simchat Torah only three scrolls were to be taken for Hakafot. The number to be called to the Torah on Simchat Torah was to be limited to 14 including the Chatanim, Cohen, Levy and Maftir. Not only that, but the calling of more than one person at a time was not to be permitted. Likewise, the making of a misheberach for excessive amounts of money was prohibited as those proposing to do so were only intent on causing levity and commotion in the Synagogue. This was clearly something which the elders of The Great Synagogue were keen to avoid.

There were also some rules of a general religious significance, such as the obligation to contribute to the matzah Fund for the poor to be paid in Adar and to the Etrog Fund to be paid in Elul. The rules also required that those importing foodstuffs needing a hechsher such as meat or cheese from abroad, had to obtain a certificate from the Av Bet Din, without which such goods could not be sold in the community.

Over half a century later, the New Synagogue Laws, published in 1851, started with a preamble reaffirming the name of the Synagogue as the "New Synagogue as Founded in the Year 5522/1762" and that the forms of service should conform to minhag Poland.
 

Reproduced from editions of Daf-Hashavua, provided by BRIJNET  -  British Jewish Network
Copyright United Synagogue, London

 

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