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History of the Great Synagogue

Chapter V


Moses Hart, 1675-1756 (from a painting in the Board Room of the Great Synagogue)


AFTER this turbulent episode, the curtain again falls for a time on the life of the congregation. The records are sparse and scattered, and it is only now and again that we are afforded a glimpse into its affairs. We know how in 1714 it was honoured by a visit from Haham Zevi, how the prominent London Jews put out in boats to greet him, and how he stayed with the wealthy Hamburg gem-merchant, Joseph Levy (Gabbay of the synagogue from 1708 to 1710), at his house in Ingram's Court, Fenchurch Street. Here, a curious episode took place. More than one member of the London community desired to possess the Rabbi's portrait, but religious scruples prevented him from sitting to an artist for the purpose. Accordingly, a painter was placed in an adjoining room, whence he executed an admirable likeness, several copies of which were subsequently made, without the Rabbi's knowledge.1

In this same year, the Synagogue became a direct tenant of the City of London, This conclusion was drawn by the present writer some time ago, on the somewhat tenuous evidence of a receipted bill to Moses Hart for engrossing a deed in 1716 - apparently, from a scribbled calculation, for seven years from 1714, renewed later to bring the term to sixty-one years. This conjecture is now confirmed from the oldest account-book, where we read how in October 1715 Moses Hart was reimbursed for having paid the Chamberlain of London the sum of £255 16s. 6d. for the lease of the Synagogue and the houses belonging to it, for sixty years, with all attendant expenditure. It must have been quite an extensive parcel, since the ground-rent for two years and nine months came to £33 3s. 8d. This was the first mention of the relations between the Congregation and the City, which remained its landlord until the end of the last century, when the leasehold was converted into a freehold. The accommodation by this time must have been fairly considerable, for during the four-year period between 1718 and 1722, when Meir Wagg was Treasurer, the income from seat-rentals and synagogue honours (mitzvoth) totalled £1054 0s. 6d., or over £250 yearly.

Tablet and Lavabo in the Forecourt of the Synagogue

Reb Aberle was by now in eclipse. He had been reduced to penury as the result of a law-suit with his brother-in-law Ephraim, in which the forgiving Haham Zevi had endeavoured in vain to adjudicate. True, he was still to know another brief period of prosperity: and when in 1718 he heard of the Rabbi's death he vowed to contribute a hundred ducats for the support of his orphans. (It was a debt of honour, the latter's family said, because it was only because of their father's blessing that the wheel of fortune had turned for him so providentially.) Encouraged by this report, Jacob Emden, Zevi's quarrelsome and intolerant but very learned son, came to London. He found Reb Aberle in the depths of despair. He had sent his eldest son, who assisted him in business, with a quantity of precious stones to Paris. But Paris had even then a reputation not unlike its reputation to-day: and the youth dissipated the lot, returning to London with nothing to show for his journey but a shaven French poodle. Beggared, Reb Aberle retired to Hamburg, where he died at a ripe old age in 1745. He retained, however, his membership of the London community, on the roll of which his name figured before any other.

Moses Hart, on the other hand, had been forging ahead in the world. He had married into a wealthy family, his wife being a daughter of Samuel Heilbuth and sister-in-law of Benjamin Levy. When Godolphin was Lord High Treasurer he received according to report a lucrative appointment as Government agent. At one time, he is said to have had in hand dealings in stocks to the value of one and a half million pounds. And, on the principle that "unto everyone that hath shall be given", fortune too smiled on him. In the Original Weekly Journal for 1719, we read under the heading "Engagements ":

The 7th November 1719. We hear a marriage is on Foot between Mr. Isaac Franks, and a Daughter of Mr. Moses Hart, the two Gentlemen who got the twenty Thousand Pound Prize in the present Lottery; so that by Virtue of this agreement Mr. Franks is to have the whole twenty Thousand Pound.

The marriage between Isaac, son of Abraham Franks, of St. James's, Duke's Place, broker, and Simcha (or Frances) Hart took place in the following year, the officiant being the bride's uncle, Rabbi Aaron. Those who desire more details may refer to the pleadings in the law-suit which hinged about this matrimonial adventure some forty years later, in which the relevant documents, which do not quite confirm this highly-coloured account, are printed in full.

After his extraordinary stroke of luck in the lottery, Moses Hart began to live on a grand scale. From the very moment of the resettlement, English Jews had succumbed to the charms of the English countryside, and fund-collecting visitors from abroad lamented the fact that the wealthy among them were so seldom in London. Moses Hart was no exception. In the year after this piece of good fortune he built himself a house at Isleworth, on one of the loveliest reaches of the Thames near the capital, not far from Twickenham. It must have been a notable mansion, as an engraving of it was published before long. Several other members of the family followed him to this neighbourhood--above all, some of his Franks cousins, who became established at Mortlake, Teddington and Isleworth. Later on, Moses Hart crossed the river and settled in Richmond. At the time of the "Jew Bill" agitation in the middle of the century, a journalistic wit published "true intelligence" from that place to the effect that all the local butchers would shortly be obliged to stop payment on account of the stagnation of their business occasioned by the number of Jews who had fixed their residence in the neighbourhood. But in general they seemed to have been very well received. In a private letter, another contemporary wrote: "M[ose]s H[ar]t and A[aro]n F[rank]s, at the last Vestry held here, mingled with the rest without opposition, though two clergymen and Justice B. were present. No less than a coach-load of them last Thursday assembled at a clergyman's house to play cards."

Ground Plan of Great Synagogue Site (from a deed of 1721-2)

Now that he was the unquestioned leader of Ashkenazi Jewry in London, Moses Hart resolved to signalise the fact in munificent fashion. The building lease which he had obtained in 1716 had stipulated that he was to expend £400 on the property. In fact, he exceeded this figure five-fold. At the south-east corner of Duke's Place, abutting on Shoemaker Row (the later Duke Street, and now Duke's Place--at that time there was no carriage-way to join it to the great square) on and around the ground the synagogue had occupied since its earliest days, he acquired various properties - partly from Richard Sparks and partly from the City Corporation. Various tenants were persuaded to move out forthwith in consideration of an outright monetary payment. On the site thus consolidated he constructed, at a cost of £2,000, a new Synagogue - no longer a dwelling-house adapted for the purpose, but a building properly designed and expressly erected to meet the requirements of Jewish worship. During the reconstruction, services were held over a period of six months, from Passover to New Year, in the house of the teacher, Leib Cohen, later Beadle of the community. He was paid £10 10s. to recompense him for the inconvenience, and the accounts mention that the reader for these services was Joseph the Hazan, assisted by Michael the Bass Singer, and that the total income derived was £174 2s. 5d.2

On September 18th, 1722--the eve of the New Year of 5483, according to the Jewish reckoning--the new synagogue was dedicated. It was a red-letter day in the history of the Anglo-Jewish community. Twice since then the building has been radically reconstructed and enlarged: the nucleus of the stately edifice of today, however, the historic Great Synagogue of London Jewry, is that which (in the words of the tablet in the forecourt) "Moses Hart... of Isleworth in the County of Middlesex, Esq., did in his life time and at his sole expence erect".

As is the case with its predecessor, we know very little indeed regarding the appearance and architecture of this place of worship. Apparently it imitated, though on a smaller scale, the neighbouring esnoga of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews in Bevis Marks: "The Synagogue belonging to the German Jews," wrote D'Blossiers Tovey in his Anglia Judaica, in 1738," is in Broad Court, in the Parish of St. James, Duke's Place, not far from the former; but tho' it is built after the same Model, is not half so big."3

For many years afterwards the Synagogue was termed, after the Maecenas who had built it, "Moses Hart's Shool". But, notwithstanding this proprietorship, the magnate did not take an active part in the administration, preferring to exert his influence from behind the scenes as Rosh haKahal or Head of the Community. When the building was opened, he did not figure even among the nominal Presiding Officers. These were Benedict Solomon (Bloch), whom we have encountered elsewhere, and Isaac Levy, son of Joseph Levy (who had died not long since4), the joint Gabbaim, together with Asher Anschel ben R. Eleazar (perhaps known as Ansell Lazarus) the Gabbai for the Visitation of the Sick5.

The spiritual administration was superintended by the Rabbi Aaron Hart, Moses's brother, who was by now almost an institution in Anglo-Jewish life. The Reader (who received the munificent salary of £60 per annum) was Jehiel Michael ben R. Moses Joseph; the Shamash, whose wages came to only half that amount, was Samuel ben Judah Leib. In addition, the congregation had its "servitor", Samuel, who received a shilling a week for odd jobs, and the Reader continued to enjoy the assistance of Michael the Bass Singer, at a pittance of £24 per annum.

The accounts during the first year of the new Synagogue give some idea of its organisation. The total revenue was £382 6s. 9d. Among the principle sources of income were seat-rentals, to the amount of £134 8s. for the half-year: payment for synagogal honours, £188 7s. 3d.: £31 9s. 6d. from the collecting-box (it was passed round, of course, during the week-day services, then actively attended): £16 16s. for entrance-dues from new members: and £9 2s. for Kippur-lights and citrons for the feast of Tabernacles. Expenditure included some £150 to £200 for salaries: £22 5s. 9d. for the poor: various regular charitable distributions to pensioners and the dependants of former officials: £2 5s. for cemetery upkeep: £26 5s. 6d. for vestments for the Scrolls of the Law, and the like: and apparently a total of over £75 for woodwork and gilding in the new building, including the Ark. The Kippur-lights and citrons cost more than they brought in £5 14s. 8d. being expended on the former and £5 13s. 6d. on the latter (together with the willows for Hosanna Rabba), representing a net loss of over £2. An emissary from Safed received three guineas, the scavenger £1, and ten shillings was given to the vicar of the Parish, probably for distribution among the poor. The window-tax cost 16s., from which, with a little research, it may be possible to ascertain to what extent the fathers of the congregation considered ventilation an adjunct of Sanctity.

To commemorate this new stage in the history of the community, a new set of regulations was drawn up, replacing those of some thirty years earlier, now lost. They were supposed to remain in force until 1730 but, in fact, continued with certain modifications until replaced by a new code at the end of the century. The volume containing them is the oldest substantial record in the muniments, magnificently indited by the scribe of the community, a certain R. Judah, at a cost (as we know from the oldest account-book) of £3 12s. Further regulations were added from time to time, so that this volume contains in fact the epitome of the communal history down to the end of the eighteenth century. The language used throughout is Yiddish, or Judaeo-German written in Hebrew characters, with a particularly large admixture of Hebrew:6 only here and there does English figure to any appreciable extent. The cover proudly blazons forth the importance of the occasion in the history of the community, in a sonorous Hebrew: "The Regulations of the new synagogue that was builded by the foremost among our leaders, R. Moses son of the eminent R. Naphtali Hertz of blessed memory, who vowed it and gave it to our congregation as a gift. May his merit stand for ever!"

The organisation of the congregation closely followed the lines of the traditional Continental scheme. It was considered inequitable that a man should come into a city and enjoy without the slightest effort all the advantages painstakingly and expensively established by those who had preceded him. If a stranger wished to have a voice in local affairs, therefore, he was expected to acquire his "holding" in the congregation (Hezkath haKehillah)--a proceeding the cost of which, only £3 3s. in 1722, was raised in 1736 to a minimum of £5 5s. and in 1740 to £10 10s. Thereby he became a "house-holder" (Baal Bayith) of the congregation - a title misleadingly rendered later on as "privileged member". This entitled him to full membership of the body, with the right of voting for and being elected to office, of introducing his sons or sons-in-law to the congregation at a reduced fee, of benefiting from certain communal charities and of being buried, when the time came, in the higher part of the cemetery. Membership was reckoned in terms of the family rather than of the individual, and for a synagogue to accept a scion of a house traditionally belonging to another was regarded as unethical. as well as uneconomical. A list of the "privileged members" of the Great Synagogue, almost from the beginning, has been preserved, the first name on the list being that of Reb Aberle London: on an average, about eight new persons were admitted to this restricted number every year. Applicants for membership had to be formally approved, like candidates for membership to a club; and indeed there was something in the nature of a club in the close-knit, semi-hereditary membership of a London synagogue two hundred years ago. The "privileged members" continued to be admitted to the City Synagogues until the eighteen-seventies, when the establishment of the United Synagogue imposed a new system; there were a few survivors of the number until very recent years.

Below the Baale Batim there was a secondary stratum of Toshabim, or Residents: persons who had settled in the city and affiliated themselves to the Synagogue by renting a seat, without assuming the responsibilities and expenses of membership. Their financial burden was lower: but on the other hand they had no voice in the management of the community and no privileges other than the utilisation of the religious facilities provided. (They were to be styled later on "unprivileged members".) Below them came the pauper and semi-pauper proletariat of unattached persons, termed Orahim or wayfarers, since it could not be imagined that any person who wanted to make London his permanent home would fail to identify himself with the community more closely.

At the outset, the affairs of the Community were managed by two Gabbaim, or Treasurers, assisted by the Gabbai Bikkur Holim, or Treasurer for the Visitation of the Sick, whom the former appointed: with the somewhat intimidating figure of the Rosh haKahal, or Head of the Community, looming in the background. At the time of the dispute leading to the establishment of the Hambro' synagogue, routine affairs seem to have been in the hands of a Monthly Warden (Parnas haHodesh), but this arrangement did not continue after the new synagogue was built.

In 1741 a fresh arrangement was introduced. Henceforth the presiding officers were three--two Wardens (Parnassim) and a Treasurer (Gabbai Zedakah--literally, Charity Treasurer). They were assisted by a committee of five, called the Five Men (Hamisha Anashim), the number being frequently raised to seven from about 1780. In 1787 the work of the Gabbai Zedakah was subdivided, the Goveh ("Exactor") acting henceforth as Treasurer and the Gabbai as Overseer of the Poor. In addition, there was from about 1741 a special Treasurer for cemetery upkeep (Gabbai Tikkun Beth Hayim) as we shall see; but in 1774 his duties were merged in those of the Gabbai. The "Five Men" together with the two Wardens were known in the Talmudic phrase as "The Seven Good Citizens", and were dignified in English by the title of "Elders". The officers of the community were chosen from the members whose payments to the Synagogue exceeded a certain minimum. Service in any office to which a person was elected, however onerous he might consider it, was compulsory: and it was possible to secure exemption only on the payment of a solid fine - e.g., for the office of Gabbai, of £10 10s. for the first offence and £25 for the second. (The same applied, of course, in the Spanish and Portuguese congregation, and was to be responsible later on for driving Isaac d'Israeli and his family out of allegiance to the synagogue.) A fine was also exacted from any person who refused any incidental congregational honour to which he had been nominated, or who failed to put in an appearance at synagogue meetings. Those persons who had served as Treasurer or paid the requisite fine, together with certain co-opted members, constituted the Vestry (which arrogated to itself in Hebrew the ambitious title, Kahal or "Congregation"). This was the supreme governing body of the community, meeting each quarter, by which the honorary officers were elected annually. The elections were held on Hosanna Rabba, the antepenultimate day of the Tabernacles festival, the traditional day for such activities ever since classical times.

A good part of the income of the congregation was raised from the offerings which had to be made when a man was "called up" to the public reading of the Law. We learn from a contemporary source that the amount specified was sometimes as little as one penny; but this can only have been the case at minor conventicles, for the financial records of the community do not substantiate the statement. Indeed, the regulations of 1722 specified that even on a week-day not less than fourpence should be offered, half to the Synagogue and half to the Society for Visiting the Sick (this salutary provision had been adopted from the Sephardi community). Of course some difficulty arose on the Sabbath, when it was impossible to make a note of the amounts. Accordingly, an ingenious system was devised. The names of the members of the congregation were entered in a great parchment register, in alphabetical order, down the side of each page. Along the top, the columns were marked with various amounts, from a few pence to a pound or more, with a row of perforations below them opposite each name. Each page was provided, moreover, with a lace. Thus, when any person made an offering, the lace could be inserted in the right place under the column indicating the specified amount. More than one such register is preserved among the curiosities in the muniments. Synagogue honours were generally sold by auction by the Beadle during the service, as much as twenty guineas being paid sometimes for some coveted privilege: to modern taste a highly undignified procedure, which certainly did not add to the decorum of the proceedings, but helped the finances of the institution and at the same time testified to the simple piety of the worshippers and their eagerness to be associated personally with the ceremonial of divine worship.7

Offertory Book, 18th Century, with laces for registering amounts on Sabbath

The scope of the congregation's activities was constantly increasing in these years, and simultaneously the scale of its commitments. The search for fresh sources of income was constant, and it could hardly have been possible but for the enhanced well-being of those from whom it was derived. In 1734/5, a special levy of £4 was made on all members. Two years later, in 1736, the minimum entrance-fee for a Baal Bayith was fixed at £5 5s. 0d.: shortly after, it was raised to twice this amount. In 1748, an attempt was made to force up the fee to thirty guineas, payable in three annual instalments, but this was found impracticable (as indeed it would be even to-day, notwithstanding the vast difference in the relative value of money) and after two years the experiment was abandoned.

A good part of the financial preoccupation of the community was of course due to the requirements of charity, which received specific attention more than once. In the spring of 1740, a new tax was instituted, to be levied each year on the New Moon of Shevat, for the purpose of providing Unleavened Bread for the poor on Passover: it was generally reckoned at two shillings in the pound on seat rentals. There was another way of raising revenue, by a combination of charity, insurance and business, and this was by arranging for the payment of annuities (a regular activity at this time of some Continental communities, as for example that of Venice). The system does not seem to have obtained a strong foothold in London, but in 1767 Mr. Benjamin Alexander (known in the Synagogue as Phineas ben Leib Hamburger, but more generally as "Benny")8 gave the congregation £200 down in consideration of an annuity of £25 per annum payable to his wife. Alternatively, money could be accepted on deposit, as happened in 1796, when the "Getz Hebra" deposited £100 with the congregation at five per cent.

Scroll-Mantle of Silk Italian Velvet, 18th century

Round the Synagogue, various institutions sprang up. The Burial Society (Hebra Kadisha) dated back, as we have seen, to 1695/6. In 1732, a Talmud Torah - the precursor of the present Jews' Free School, reorganised on its present basis in 181710 - came into existence. 1745, the year of the Young Pretender's incursion into England, saw the beginning of the Hebrath Hakhnassath Berith for assisting the poor to make arrangements for the circumcision of their children - an institution which is still doing admirable work as the Initiation Society. (It is a pity that the earliest records and registers of this body, which would have been invaluable for the reconstruction of Anglo-Jewish family history, are no longer traceable, the oldest extant minutes going back only to 1819. A few entries relating to Ashkenazi Jews in London are, however, included in the register kept in the first half of the eighteenth century by Isaac Carriao de Payba, a pious member of the Sephardi community.) In 1748, an Orphan Aid Society (Hebrath Gidul Yethomim) came into being. A Society for Visiting the Sick existed at least as early as 1722, and an analogous Hebrath Refuath haNephesh ("Society for the Cure of the Soul"), probably something on the lines of a Friendly Society, with its own physician, in 1753. The destitute were assisted too by a Hebrath Malbish Arumim for providing clothing. A Society for Ransoming Captives (Hebrath Pidion Shevuyim), to help those reduced to slavery by the barbarous customs of Mediterranean or Muscovite warfare, is also said to have existed in the Ashkenazi as well in the Sephardi community of London. A society for dowering poor brides, too, was probably established at an early date, as in all other Jewish communities: it was perhaps to this that the Marriage Portion Fund, administered today by the United Synagogue, owes its origin. A private society for study named Mahazike Torah was established in 1748 in Rosemary Lane, the centre of the old-clothes dealers: this ultimately developed into a minor synagogue, which existed until the nineteenth century. The London Chronicle of 1757 reveals the existence of another body - the Jewish Society for Relieving Debtors of Small Sums, which made a donation of £18 in that year to the Poultry Comptor (a prison between the Grocers' Hall and Poultry, which later on made special dietary provision for Jews). The oldest Jewish Friendly Society in England, the Rodphe Shalom, which comprised many Great Synagogue members, is also said to have been established in the first half of the eighteenth century: and the records mention another Hebra shel Ahabah (a literal translation of the English term) known as the Getz Hebra [probably the first word is an abbreviation of Gemillath Zedakah] in 1769. Another early Ashkenazi institution was a Society for Assisting Widows and Orphans (Sippuke Almanoth veYethomim), revived in 1789 under the auspices of a group headed by the son of a proselyte to Judaism, Abraham bar Israel Ger.11

By comparison with the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue, of course, the organisation appeared very imperfect. Maitland, the antiquary, called attention to the fact in 1739 in his monumental work on the History and Antiquities of London, after giving a detailed account of the structure and finances of the older body; but even he was compelled to recognise at least the generosity of the Ashkenazim in their treatment of the poor:

The Management of the German Jews, both in respect to their Synagogues and Poor, is so miserably bad, that none were capable of giving a tolerable account thereof, tho' apply'd to in my Behalf, by one of the most eminent of their Brethren. However, I was told by some of those principally concerned, that their Poor stands them in above a Thousand Pounds per Annum.

So closely is the history of the Great Synagogue in the eighteenth century in its early days bound up with the history of the Franks family that it is desirable to devote a few lines to some account of their history. The first to come to England were two brothers, sons of one Aaron Franks. One was Benjamin (born 1649), who had an adventurous life. After losing a fortune in gem-dealing in the West Indies, he embarked for India on the galley Adventure commanded by Captain William Kidd (who had been commissioned to suppress piracy), belonging to the starboard watch. When Captain Kidd turned pirate, Franks managed to escape, and subsequently gave evidence that assisted in bringing his erstwhile skipper to the gallows. Later on, he settled in New York, his descendants playing an important part in American life. (Among his descendants was Colonel David Salisbury Franks, Benedict Arnold's companion in battle though not in treason, and United States envoy to Spain at the conclusion of the War of American Independence.)

Benjamin's brother, Abraham (confusingly known in Hebrew as Naphtali Hertz) had a more simple career. He prospered in London, was (as we have seen) the only Ashkenazi among the Jew Brokers appointed in 1697 other than Benjamin Levy, and was a respected householder in the Parish of St. James's, Duke's Place, hard by the Synagogue. His wife was Abigail (Sarah Phila), a daughter of Rabbi David Bloch. She died on February 22nd, 1695, at the age of thirty-three and was buried in the Sephardi ground, that of the Ashkenazi community not yet having been purchased. Abraham Franks continued to play his part in congregational affairs until his death, advanced in years, in 1748.

Of this magnate's children, the best-known was Aaron Franks (1685-1777), of Billiter Square, Bishopsgate, who was concerned in all the important affairs in the life of the community in the second and third quarters of the eighteenth century. He was a governor of the Foundling Hospital as early as 1747, and was stated in the public Press at the time of his death to have been in the habit of distributing £5,000 yearly in charity, without distinction of race or of creed. At his house at Isleworth, he entertained members of the aristocracy like Horace Walpole, the letter-writer, son of the great Prime Minister, and celebrities like Kitty Clive, the famous actress. He owed his large fortune to the family profession of jeweller, being among the greatest London gem-merchants of his day: there was one occasion in 1742 when he lent jewellery to the value of £40,000 to the Princess of Wales for a masquerade. He was himself seen sometimes at Society functions, and contemporary gossips were amused at a piece of unrepeatable scurrility with which a young lady once taunted him for his taciturnity. Late in life he married Moses Hart's daughter Bilah, his own sister-in-law, thus adding yet another to the complicated inter-alliances between the two families. The Great Synagogue benefited on his death in 1777, at the age of ninety-two, by a legacy of £1,000.

Abraham Franks had three other sons besides Aaron. One of them, Moses, died unmarried in 1716 and need not concern us further. Another, Jacob, settled in New York like his uncle; the family was prominent in American life later on, his son David becoming the principal commissary to the British forces and the latter's daughter Rebecca, a noted beauty, being the toast of the famous Ball known as the Meschianza given at Philadelphia in 1778 in honour of General Howe. The third son of Abraham Franks, Isaac, was the hero of the double lottery of 1719, by which he won a bride as well as £20,000, and as Moses Hart's son-in-law was soon recognised as one of the lay heads of the Synagogue. Like his brother, he was well known for his liberality. He died at Bath, comparatively young, in 1736, leaving an estate estimated at £300,000. The Synagogue and the poor found that he had not forgotten them, and his name is still recorded among the benefactors of the London community.12 In the second half of the century, some of the children of Jacob Franks of New York returned to England, settling at Mortlake and Isleworth. Not all remained loyal to Judaism, but two at least of their number continued the family tradition of devoted communal service. They were Naphtali Franks (1715-1796), Fellow of the Royal Society, who married Phila, daughter of Isaac Franks; and Moses (1718-1789) who married her cousin and namesake Phila, daughter of Aaron Franks, both being granddaughters of Moses Hart's. (The second was reckoned a great beauty in her day, and her portrait was painted both by Gainsborough and by Reynolds, who also executed in 1761 a portrait of her husband--for a fee of £21!) As late as 1772, these two, Naphtali and Moses, with their uncle Aaron (now over eighty years of age) acted in collaboration in a formal matter on behalf of the congregation, nearly one hundred years after their grandfather had collaborated in its foundation.13

This was by no means the only Great Synagogue family which established branches on both sides of the Atlantic. The oldest synagogue account-book gives details concerning "Isaac Levi, New York", who (as we know from other sources) went thence to London in 1752. In 1762, again, "Abraham ben Moses of New York" is mentioned. The Adolphuses, who intermarried with the family of Benjamin Levy, similarly had an American branch. Aaron Hendricks, of Dutch origin, after having been a member of the Great Synagogue for some years, settled in New York, where his descendants still play a particularly honoured role in Jewish life. The Mears family too had their connexions in the colonies. Abraham Wagg, son of Meir Wagg (who married Moses Hart's sister Zipporah) settled in America, favoured the British cause and suffered for his devotion, optimistically endeavoured to negotiate peace between the mother country and her revolted children, and ultimately retired, broken and ruined, to die at Bristol. Commissary Aaron Hart, the founder of the Jewish community in Canada, who was responsible for the victualling of the British troops and rode into Montreal with General Amhurst in 1763, was similarly a native of London, a namesake though probably no relation of the Rabbi. There were others, whose individuality stands out less clearly. Space can be spared for only one, whose connexion with the Great Synagogue is not definitely demonstrated by any extant record, though he was probably associated with it: Bernard Hart (Behr ben Menahem), who emigrated to the New World and whose grandson was the eminent American man of letters, Bret Harte, was born in London in 1764. Well back in the eighteenth century, Moses Hart's Shool, in Duke's Place, London, had a Transatlantic fame.


Moses Levy

(of Hamburg)

Samuel Heilbuth (of Duke's Place, London)

Hartwig Moses (of Breslau)


(d. 1704) (d. 1704)



Prudence =MOSES HART











Simha or Frances (b. 1705)



Besides the children shown, Benjamin Levy had by his first wife a son Menahem (d. 1708) and by his second a daughter Abigail, who married Moses Adolphus: while Moses Hart had two further daughters, Isabella and Rachel, who married Jacob and Michael Adolphus respectively. One of Hartwig Moses' daughters was Margoles, who married LAZARUS SIMON, and another Zipporah, who married MElR WAGG. (The capitals denote in each case a person closely associated with the administration of the Congregation.)

1 A less distinguished Rabbinical visitor at this period was Zalman b. Jacob Abraham of Leipnik. editor of Nahalat Jacob, who was in London for six months in 1720/1 as a member of the Yeshiba maintained by Abraham Mocatta.

2 The fact that services had to be held elsewhere during the reconstruction of the Synagogue in 1722 shows clearly that the old one had been on the same site. This is confirmed too by the description, in one of the leases of that year, of the acquisition by Moses Hart of a piece of ground abutting to the south "partly on the Jews' Synagogue there", and finally by the newly-found petition printed below, p. 116-7.

3 It is possible that the general architectural features are reproduced in an awkward and highly-imaginative engraving, The Jewish Synagogue, in the New Universal Magazine for April 1752, which certainly does not represent Bevis Marks (though it is to this that the description in the following issue refers). On the other hand, it may be copied from a Continental production.

4 See The Weekly Courant or British Gazetteer of October 14th, 1711: "On Friday 7-night (two days after he was cut for the stone) died Mr. Joseph Levy, .a rich Jewish merchant, who supplied Prince Eugene with £30,000 when he was here in the late Queen Anne's time." Joseph Levy had died on October 4th: he made, just before his operation, a nuncupative will attested by Rabbi Aaron Hart, Adolph Cohen and Sampson David.

5 The list of office-holders given by Picciotto in his Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History is completely erroneous: there were no Wardens at this period.

6 I was informed by Dr. Duschinsky that the language of the original regulations may be more precisely defined as a Germanised form of Polish Yiddish .

7 Cf. the jaundiced account in A Peep into the Synagogue (to be referred to below, p. 250 note) pp. 10-11: "In the Synagogue there is a Clerk, called a Shamos, who mounts the pulpit, as an Auctioneer does his Rostrum, and then exclaims aloud, 'One penny for opening the door of the Ark!' Another bids more, a third more still, and sometimes the contention is so strong... that six, seven, or eight guineas is given for the superstitious privilege... Indeed, it has sometimes happened in London, when two or three obstinate rich Jews, stimulated by pride, ignorance or folly to oppose each other; that one of those Mitzvous, or good deeds... has cost the buyer no less than twenty guineas."

8 The sobriquet seems to indicate that Benny Alexander was brought up in England. He was probably the son of the Leib ben Alexander (?Levy Alexander) of the early accounts.

It is possible that A. Alexander, the printer (see pages 146-7) belonged to this family.

9 See below, page 60.

10 See pages 227--230.

11 Other charitable confraternities which existed under the Georges included "Path of Peace" (1782), "Path of Righteousness" (1790) and probably "Brotherly Love" (Hebrath Ahabath Ahim), for sick, burial and mourning benefits, the revised regulations of which were printed in 1807. (Like all similar bodies, this Hebra had also a cultural side, the members meeting for the purpose of all-night study on the eves of Pentecost and Hosanna Rabba.) In 1811, there was a Confraternity for assisting mourners (Menahem Abelim, known also as Bene Israel Gemilluth Hasadim uZedakah Tatsil meMaveth). The "Metropolitan Jewish Confined Mourning and Benefit Society" was founded in 1806, and the "Lovers of Justice and Peace" in 1823. The Hebra Maarib beZemanah Oheb Shalom, founded about 1790, had dual functions, providing a Minyan and relieving members during the week of mourning. The Hebrath Malbish Arumim (which was mentioned in the will of "Dr." de Falk in 1784) was apparently amalgamated in 1813 with another charitable society, for training poor boys in useful handicrafts. The Bodleian Library has a printed copy, probably unique, of the statutes of the association formed in 1788 by the union of the "Hamburger Hebra " and the Ahabath Shalom, with headquarters in Duke's Place, for study and mutual benefits; this may be identical with the Oheb Shalom mentioned above.

One reason for the establishment of specifically Jewish Friendly Societies was the intolerant spirit shown by some of the non-Jewish ones. As late as 1791, the Lodge of Tranquillity in London specifically excluded Jewish members. (It was poetic justice when it was resuscitated by Jewish seceders from the Joppa Lodge in 1847.)

12 See below, p. 96.

13 Moses Franks was an attractive character, and seems to have been highly esteemed in Society, to judge from a letter of Lord Camelford in Nichol's History of Literature: "Poor General Cowper regrets extremely the loss of his neighbour Moses Franks, who was one of the few he cultivated." Another Moses Franks, who died in 1810, was Attorney General and then Chief Justice of the Bahamas.

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