History of the Great Synagogue
Hart Lyon, Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, 1758-1764 (from a mezzotint)
FOR the first time within living memory, it was now necessary to find a new Rabbi. The choice of the community fell upon Zevi Hirsch, son of Aryeh Leib, the recently-deceased Rabbi of Amsterdam. Here, presumably, members of the London community had been favourably impressed by his son's ability, and when the vacancy was declared early in 1758 negotiations with him were at once begun. Though he was now in his thirty-seventh year (he had been born at Rzeszów in Poland in 1721 and for the last few years had studied at Glogau, of which community his father-in-law was a leading member) this was his first incumbency. In London his name was anglicised to Hart Lyon, though on the Continent he was known as Hirsch Loebel or Hirschel Lewin - the same appellation in a slightly different form. His salary was £250 per annum, £80 more than his predecessor had received - an income which for those days, when a village parson "was passing rich on forty pounds a year", was quite considerable. (Of this amount £100 was contributed by the Hambro' Synagogue, with which a reconciliation had been effected in 1750, as will be seen later on.) Moreover, whereas his predecessor had the right to be summoned to the reading of the Law only on those special occasions when he preached, Hart Lyon was to be "called up" every Sabbath. Of the early Rabbis of the Great Synagogue, Hart Lyon was probably the most learned in Talmudic lore and played the most significant part in the affairs of the Jewish world generally: a fact which was responsible for the eager competition for his services, the comparatively short duration of his pastorate, and the fact that he is the only Rabbi of the Great Synagogue, from Aaron Hart onwards, who did not die in office. From 1772 he was Chief Rabbi of Berlin, where he was on terms of great intimacy with Moses Mendelssohn (itself testimony to his character and erudition), collaborated with him in preparing a German résumé of Jewish civil law, and played an important part in the disputes which marked the beginning of the Haskalah movement. Evidence of the high regard that he enjoyed in literary circles even during the period of his Rabbinate in England is given by the fact that he contributed an approbation to the work Shoneh Halakhoth by Haham Solomon Salom, published at Amsterdam in 1762. But it was perhaps his learned ancestry as much as his attainments that determined the London community to give him the appointment. As we have seen, his father, Aryeh Leib, was Rabbi of Amsterdam, where he died in 1755. (Out of compliment to the son, his name was included in the commemoration list of the Great Synagogue, where it is still recited, somewhat confusingly, among the roll of the Chief Rabbis of London.) His mother, moreover, was a daughter of Haham Zevi, that great scholar who had been consulted during the disputes in the infancy of the congregation, and whose family continued to play its part in the affairs of the London community for almost a century and a half.
Until he acquired the dignity of age, Hart Lyon does not seem to have had a very impressive appearance. Not long after his arrival in England, his portrait was painted in oils by I. Turner, a poor but fashionable artist of the time (the original now hangs in the vestry-room of the Great Synagogue), being subsequently engraved by Edward Fisher, with the lettering: "The most learned High Priest HART LYON, Rabbi. London Printed for Robt. Withy at the Dunciad in Cornhill. Price 2s. 6d." But it is impossible for even the most enthusiastic admirer to maintain that the face is either handsome or venerable, or that the new Rabbi could compete even remotely in looks - whatever might be the case with his mental capacity - with his immediate predecessor.
A number of sermons delivered by Rabbi Hart Lyon during his period of office are extant--somewhat heavy fare, generally beginning with a Talmudical discourse that must have lasted for about an hour and a half, which formed the prelude to a homily of approximately equal length.1 Several were preached on the occasion of the services of intercession that were held from time to time at the royal command during the Seven Years War. They throw some light on social and religious conditions in the London community, of which the Rabbi, as in duty bound, heartily disapproved. There was, to his great regret, no proper scholastic institution for the study of the Talmud, and men criticised him when he attended service in the Beth haMidrash he had set up in his own house instead of going to Synagogue. England was abundantly supplied with travelling preachers (Maggidim) from the Continent (the regulations of the community minutely prescribed the conditions under which they might occupy the pulpit, and in the accounts there are periodically noted gratuities to foreign scholars). Notwithstanding their efforts, the standard of religious observance was not conspicuously high. Jews congregated outside the post office on Sabbath mornings to receive their mail, and asked Gentiles to open it for them; they carried burdens on the day of rest outside the City boundaries, had tea and coffee prepared by their non-Jewish servants, dressed on public holidays better than they did on the Jewish festivals and dutifully ate Christmas pudding when their Christian neighbours indulged in that fare. Socially, they were assimilated to their environment, playing cards at the coffee-houses when the Rabbi would have preferred them to be studying, and frequenting the theatres with more zest than they did the institutions of Jewish learning; while the women dressed their hair like their neighbours and wore gowns with what he considered a shocking décolletage. Even mixed marriages were by no means unknown. Synagogue attendance was lax, and decorum far from perfect (everything, in fact, that is deplored today). But all the Rabbi's attempts to remedy matters were useless. "Heaven knows how weary I am of my life here," he cried in a pulpit address in the summer of 1762. "I cannot bear witnessing any longer all you do in public and in private." (There was obviously one mental reservation to this sweeping statement: in November 1760, he had been granted £25 on the occasion of his daughter's betrothal.)
Antique Ritual Silver
The internal history of the community during this period was of considerable importance. It seems that Rabbi Hart Lyon attempted to make good one of the communal shortcomings which he had criticised by setting up a Yeshiba, in the continental style, where young men might immerse themselves under his direction in Talmudical study: but the institution only lasted for a very short time, and the experiment ended in failure. Shechita provided another perennial problem. There was at that time in London a pious Levantine Jew named Jacob Kimchi, who spent his time, in the intervals of selling slippers near the Royal Exchange, in writing Hebrew books and criticising the constituted authorities. One of his preoccupations was the question of the ritual slaughter of animals for food, which he alleged to be carried on under the auspices of the Spanish and Portuguese community in a manner at variance with Rabbinic prescriptions. When Hart Lyon arrived to assume the Rabbinate of the Ashkenazi community, Kimchi waited upon him and expounded his point of view. The Rabbi promised to consider the matter and to set down his views in writing. But he reckoned without his Parnassim, who, not wishing to cause any ill-blood between the two communities, forbade him enter into the controversy: a fact of which Kimchi did not fail to make as much capital as possible in the pamphlets which he published to air his opinions.
Hart Lyon's Rabbinate was marked by one development of the utmost importance in Anglo-Jewry, in which the Great Synagogue was very intimately concerned. In the autumn of 1760 old George II, who had shown himself so sympathetic when the Jewish representatives had told him about the sufferings of their brethren in Prague, passed peacefully away. He was succeeded by his young grandson, George III. It had been the practice of the Spanish and Portuguese community to elect from time to time a small committee of "Deputies", to represent it in political matters which might affect its interests and to wait upon the officers of state on its behalf when necessary. This was done as a matter course on the death of the old King, when a sub-committee of the Deputados went to see the Prime Minister, requesting him to assure the new ruler of their loyalty and to convey him their humble congratulations.
The Wardens of the Duke's Place Synagogue that year were Aaron Franks and Lazarus Simon: the "Five Men" who constituted the Board of Management were Simon Jacobus Moses, Aaron Levy, Jacob Nathan Moses, David Salamons (Bloch) and Aaron Goldsmid. When the news of what had happened reached these worthies they were furious. It was upwards of thirty years since a new ruler had come to the throne in England. Since that time, their community had grown in numbers and wealth, and it was preposterous at this stage for the magnates of Bevis Marks to pretend to speak in the name of the entire body of Anglo-Jewry, leaving them in the cold. On Sunday, December 7th, accordingly, Aaron Franks went to Bevis Marks to register a formal complaint in the name of his colleagues. A special meeting of the Deputados was thereupon called, and not only Mr. Franks, but also Mr. Levy Salomons of the Hambro' Synagogue (great-grandfather of Sir David Salomons, first Jewish Lord Mayor of London) was asked to attend. It was pointed out to them that what had been done was according to precedent, but that, as the deputation had spoken in the name of the Portuguese Jewish "nation" only, it was open to the other section of the community to take similar action if they desired. If, on the other hand, they desired to join in presenting a loyal address to the new King's mother and the royal family, their collaboration would be welcomed. While agreeing to this, the visitors suggested that in future, in order to avoid similar confusion, "each Nation should communicate to the other what they were doing in public affairs". This proposal presented an obvious difficulty, which the Portuguese representatives were quick to point out: the Ashkenazi communities had no specific organisation with which to communicate when necessary. The difficulty was easily met, the latter deciding to nominate a Committee similar to that of the senior body. The agreement was sealed, and on December 11th Mr. Franks accompanied Mr. Salvador to the Palace and kissed hands with the Princess, the Duke of York, and the Princess Augusta on tendering the humble devotion of his own community.
The following week (December 14th), the two Ashkenazi communities nominated their representatives. Those of the Great Synagogue consisted of three members of the inevitable Franks family - Aaron, Naphtali and Moses--together with their relative Michael Adolphus. (This same group, with Lazarus Simon in the place of Moses Franks, had previously acted as the Committee to carry on negotiations.) On the receipt of these names, the Portuguese Deputies passed the following resolution:
This was the origin of the London Committee of Deputies of British Jews, generally known as the Board of Deputies, which was to become in the course of the nineteenth century a representative body embracing the entire country, and in certain aspects even the entire Empire, and to be a powerful force for good in Jewish life generally throughout the world.
Minute relating to Foundation of the Board of Deputies, 1761 (from the earliest Takkanah Book)
In the first generation or so of its existence, indeed, its activity was only sporadic. It started off with the best of intentions, and within a very short time of the original arrangement two representatives of the "Dutch" Jews were summoned to confer with those of the Portuguese regarding the action to be taken in connexion with a proposed revision in the form of the Oath of Allegiance. Very wisely, it was decided to do nothing. Thereafter, the Committee lapsed into inactivity, the Portuguese refraining from troubling their colleagues on those few occasions when they took action on behalf of their Sephardi coreligionists elsewhere in the Empire. It was not until 1789, when the King recovered from his first illness, that Deputies from the Ashkenazi communities were again invited to co-operate in the presentation of a loyal address.
Meanwhile, the congregation in Duke's Place had continued to grow. All the communities in Germany were sending their youth to the land of toleration and of opportunity, where so many of their kinsmen had prospered. At the beginning of the century it is doubtful whether the total number of Jews in England approached 1000: by the time of Hart Lyon's rabbinate they had touched six times that number, and the majority were now Ashkenazim. The synagogal accommodation, on the other, had increased but slowly. Only one important development is to be recorded. In 1731 Marcus Moses, founder of the Hambro' Synagogue, had returned from India after a ten-year absence, in which he had recuperated his fortunes handsomely: among his trophies being a superb diamond whose equal had never before been seen in Europe.2 The returned nabob's associates profited from his good-fortune--all the more, perhaps, since he had disinherited his disreputable apostate son, Moses Marcus, who had brought disgrace upon the entire family not only by his actions but also by his publications. During the magnate's absence, services had continued to be held in the synagogue which he had set up in his house; indeed, reunion with the parent community was impossible, since the Ban pronounced in 1706 still stood upon its records. But the seceding body had by now grown, another plutocrat connected by marriage with the founder, Benjamin Isaac (alternatively known as Wolf Prager and Zeeb Wolf ben Isaac), a native of Jungbunzlau, in Bohemia, having begun to take an interest in it. It was now determined to follow the example of the older body and replace the extemporised place of worship by a proper synagogue. This was accordingly constructed in 1725, in the garden of the house in Magpie Alley, Fenchurch Street, to which Moses now removed, the foundation stone being laid by Benjamin Isaac three days before Pentecost, and the Synagogue opened some time in the New Year. (It is said to have been modelled architecturally on the "Hamburger Schul" on the Neuer Steinweg in Hamburg.) It must have been a small, but wealthy body, as indeed it remained to the end in relation to the other London communities. The synagogal paraphernalia--the silver, the brocades, the candelabra--were all of the finest, and did credit to the good taste of the little group of gem-merchants who controlled its destinies. Down the end of the nineteenth century the synagogue remained on its original site, where Fenchurch Street Buildings now stand. (In 1893-9, it was removed to Adler Street, Commercial Road, where it stayed until in 1936 the congregation re-amalgamated, after 230 years, with the Great Synagogue.)
Shofar, eighteenth century
As on a previous occasion, twenty-one years before, the jealous parent-community, backed by the parishioners of the neighbouring church of St. Katherine Coleman, made vigorous representations to the City authorities - not ineffectually, as the following extremely informative documents from the Guildhall archives, hitherto unpublished, vividly shows:
Upon reading the humble petition of the Minister and Churchwardens and other inhabitants of the parish of St. Katherine Coleman London and also a petition of Moses Hart on behalf of himself and the rest of the members of the Synagogue of German Jews Complaining that one Marcus Moses is now Building a New Synagogue for the Jews in Magpie Ally in Fanchurch Street which the said petitioners the Minister and Churchwardens Complain will (if continued) be a Great Nusance and Disturbance to the parishoners in going to Divine Service and being Informed that the said Marcus Moses was at the Door he was Ordered to be Called in and this Court proceeded to Examin the Matter of the said Complaint in the presence of all the said parties and after a full hearing of all the said parties in the presence of Each other This Court Doth Declare That they will not permit nor Suffer the said Building Complained of to be Converted or turned into a Synagogue for the Exercise of the said Jewish Religion and doth therefore Order and Require that no person or persons whatsoever do presume to convert the said Building into a Synagogue for the Exercise of the said Jewish Religion as they will Answer the same at their peril.
Notwithstanding this categorical prohibition, the work of construction was not interrupted,4 and the building was dedicated in due course, as we have seen.
In 1731, Marcus Moses again returned to India, where he died four years later. Henceforth the synagogue he had founded was regarded as the private property of Benjamin Isaac, who referred to it as "my synagogue", in the same way as the Great Synagogue was called "Moses Hart's Shool": it was only later on that it became generally known as the Hambro' Synagogue. Even after it had built itself this new and beautifully-equipped place of worship, the congregation continued to be considered by the parent body to be under the ban of excommunication. On the construction of its new Synagogue in Duke's Place in 1722, the latter had made a last attempt to heal the breach, offering to readmit members who had joined the secessionists if they made their peace within three months. At the same time (as we have seen) the regulations forbade attendance at any rival conventicle within a radius of ten miles, debarred these "strangers" from such religious honours as those of godfather or "unterführer" at celebrations under the auspices of the congregation, and even forbade the acceptance of Purim gifts from them. (A proclamation to this effect was made every year on the Fast of Esther.) Yet this attitude could not be maintained indefinitely; and at last in 1750, by an additional regulation or takkanah of the Congregation, the solemn Herem pronounced in 1706 against "the Synagogue of the late Mordecai Hamburger" was formally abrogated. Six years later Moses Hart sealed the reconciliation, when it was found that he had left a small legacy to the synagogue set up in opposition to his own; and on Hart Lyon's appointment to the Rabbinate that community not only recognised his authority, but even contributed to his salary. (Moses Hart's compliment was cordially reciprocated, and Henry Isaac, the "proprietor" of the rival establishment, left £100 on his death in 1773 to the poor of the parish of St. Katherine Coleman "at the discretion of the Gabas of the Synagogue in Shoemaker's Row", and £100 to the Synagogue itself.) Henceforth the two communities collaborated in matter's of common interest, such as the control of Shechita and the disciplinary regulation of London Jewry, and in 1759 it was agreed that the Hambro' Synagogue should henceforth contribute one-third to the cost of the maintenance of the Ashkenazi poor in London.
The Hambro' Synagogue, Fenchurch Street, 1725-1893
Yet the Great Synagogue had not yet learned its lesson: that it was impossible to maintain a monopoly in matters spiritual, especially in a period of rapidly increasing population. In 1761, the Press announced that "a company of Jews, natives of Germany, are subscribing a sum of money for erecting and enclosing a new synagogue near Bricklayers' Hall". The name of the moving spirit is given elsewhere as Moses Jacobs, of Little Duke's Place, silversmith, with whom were associated his brother (?) Lazarus Jacobs, of the same place and trade; Abraham Judah, of Chiswell Street, colourmaker; Lazarus Levy, of Woolpack Alley, Houndsditch, jeweller; and Levy Bartharha (i.e. Bacharach, probably identical with Judah [Loeb] Bacharach, a former Great Synagogue member), Houndsditch, linendraper. The place was not in fact near Bricklayers' Hall, but was Bricklayers' Hall itself, in Leadenhall Street, subsequently Sussex Hall, which the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers had been forced to vacate owing to straitened circumstances. All told, the original list of members, drawn up just a fortnight after Pentecost 1761, comprises sixty-five names. The secessionists had no desire to effect a schism, and the earliest regulation of the new community, dated in the midsummer of the same year, specifically recognised Hart Lyon as their Ab-Beth-Din, and insisted on having his approval for the nomination of R. Lipman Speyer, of Halberstadt, as their own spiritual leader. Nevertheless, the authorities of the Great Synagogue were furious when they heard the news. Moses Jacobs (Moses ben Jacob), the ringleader, was summarily expelled in February 1761 from membership of the community and all the privileges attached thereto, because of the great "profanation of the Divine Name" (Hillul haShem) that he had caused. Not content with this, on August 16th, after consultation with their colleagues of the Hambro' Shool, the wardens and elders (presumably with their Rabbi's concurrence) passed the following resolution:
Entrance to the New Synagogue, Leadenhall Street (from the European Magazine)
This pronunciamento was meaningless to the founders of the new congregation, who already two months earlier, on June 4th, had gone so far as to acquire for use as their cemetery a piece of ground in what was then called Ducking Pond Lane (afterwards known as Brady Street). Accordingly, they went ahead with their arrangements, and in June 1762 the first stone of their new synagogue was duly laid, large sums of money being collected from those who participated. In due course the edifice was completed, and was dedicated with great pomp. This fresh congregation, at first naïvely called "The Society of Bricklayers' Hall", ultimately became known as the New Synagogue--the name which it still retained when in 1837 it removed from Leadenhall Street to Great St. Helen's, and in 1915 from Great St. Helen's to Stamford Hill.
Before long, the Great Synagogue managed to establish a modus vivendi with the new congregation, and the relations between the two bodies became not merely smooth, but friendly. With the institution of this third place of worship, the synagogal organisation of the metropolis, as it was to exist until the nineteenth century, was completed. The Great Synagogue and its two formerly dissident daughters, the Hambro' and the New, represented to London Jewry of a former age the fulcrum of its spiritual life, and in fact a good deal of the religious organisation of the community of the metropolis today is based upon the synagogal trilogy established during Hart Lyon's period of office.5 As might have been expected from the tone and frequency of his complaints, which are not likely to have been diminished by disputes such as this, Hart Lyon's rabbinate was not of long duration. On the expiry of the initial period of three years, his appointment was indeed renewed. But this precedent was not repeated--in part, according to tradition, because of the Rabbi's objection to the restrictions that were placed upon his authority. At the beginning of 1763, the Halberstadt community opened up negotiations with him; they had heard, they said, how neglected the study of the Torah was in London, and they were happy to be able to offer him a post which would accord better with his temperament. Early in 1764 he left London for his new home, where he likewise remained for six years, afterwards becoming Rabbi at Mannheim and ultimately at Berlin, where he died in 1800. A number of stories are told about his departure from London. It is said that one pious member of the community asked him why he was leaving. "Because this is the first 'question' (Sheëlah) I have been asked since I arrived," the Rabbi wittily replied. He is reported to have stated later on in his career that in London he had money but no Torah, in Mannheim Torah but no money, and in Berlin neither the one nor the other. Forty years after he left, however, as will be seen later on, the connexion of his family with London was to be renewed.
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