Edinburgh Synagogues

“I remember going with my parents quite regularly [to synagogue]. And the one thing that really sticks out in my mind is the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement. The synagogue was so packed that we as children had to sit on the steps and I remember downstairs where the men sat, extra chairs had to be brought in and at that time I think the synagogue seated about fifteen hundred […] It must have been about 1937.” – Anita Mendelssohn

The number of synagogues in the city and the changes in their seating capacity effectively mark the growth and the decline of the Jewish population in Edinburgh. Synagogues were at the centre of each community whether in Dalry or in the Richmond Street area. The class differences and the conflicts which at times bitterly divided Edinburgh Jews are also apparent through records relating to the synagogues and to those who worshipped there.

Chronology

“The two worlds in my childhood were not really separate. The synagogue in Graham Street to which we walked across the Meadows every Saturday morning, was as much part of Edinburgh as the Royal Infirmary nearby.” David Daiches, Two Worlds.

1817

The first synagogue in Scotland was established. It seated sixty-seven people in a rented room at 22 North Richmond Street.

1868

The synagogue moved to Ross House, Park Place. This would have been between today’s Charles Street Lane and Teviot Row House, now part of the University of Edinburgh. The seating was increased to accommodate ninety-five men and fifty women at a seat rental cost of between £1.6s.3d and £4.16s.

1879

A synagogue serving approximately thirty-five families was opened to the west of Edinburgh on Caledonian Crescent, Dalry, to serve Jews from Manchester who came to work in the Caledonian Rubber Works.

1890

Known as the blecheneh shul (shul: Yiddish for “synagogue”) due to its tin roof, the Dalry synagogue was enlarged, redecorated and consecrated by Rev. Jacob Fürst. During his address, while acknowledging the necessity of the synagogue being in close walking distance to home and work, Fürst urges the congregation to “keep closely united with their brethren of the old synagogue in Edinburgh.”

1892

A further synagogue in Dalry, described in the Jewish Chronicle as a “mean” and “gaunt, iron building” was consecrated.

1890 – 1893

The Edinburgh New Hebrew Congregation was first recorded worshipping at a synagogue in Richmond Court in this period. The founding of the New Hebrew Congregation marked its acrimonious split – along class and education lines – from the established Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation, which worshipped at Park Place and later in 1898 at the Graham Street Synagogue. This division continued for the next forty-two years. The New Hebrew Congregation absorbed recent immigrants and poorer Jews.

1898

Rev. Jacob Fürst consecrated the Graham Street Synagogue which had been converted from a church at a cost of £4,000. Plans show the alterations to the building which included the removal of the cross and the side entrance. It was also re-decorated and electric lighting was installed. Graham Street Synagogue was geographically and socially far removed from the artisan class and factory workers centred around the Dalry synagogues to the west of the city. It was attended, like the Park Place shul, mainly by middle-class Jews whose families had settled in the city prior to the poorer immigrants arriving from 1882 onwards.

1899

Despite a loan from the Jewish manager of the Caledonian Rubber Works, the impoverished synagogue in Dalry was seized by Sherriff’s warrant and the congregation evicted.

1907

By this time four synagogues in Edinburgh are recorded.

During a visit from London, the Chief Rabbi, Hermann Adler, called upon the two divided communities to unite. Despite both being Orthodox and having shared the services of Rev. Jacob Fürst, the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation and the New Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation remained deeply divided.

1916

A synagogue for the New Hebrew Congregation accommodating up to 800 people opened on Roxburgh Place.

1918

Rabbi Salis Daiches was appointed Rabbi in Edinburgh. His first task, he stated, was “to unite the different sections of the community, and to do away with the distinction between foreign and English.”

1927

Roxburgh Place Synagogue, home to the New Hebrew Congregation, closed, although the Richmond Street Synagogue of the New Hebrew Congregation, serving the mainly Hasidic worshippers, remained.

1932

The Salisbury Road Synagogue was consecrated by Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz with the Lord Provost, magistrates, professors from the University of Edinburgh, Members of Parliament, every member of Edinburgh Council and over 1,400 people present. This first and only purpose-built synagogue in Edinburgh accommodated 1,500 people and marked the coming together of the two main faction-riven congregations in the city.

The new building demonstrates the social upward mobility of community members, the majority by this time located in the south Edinburgh suburbs. It also marks the physical move away from the “Jewish Quarter” around Nicolson Street, Richmond Street, and The Pleasance. By 1932 this was the only synagogue in Edinburgh and remains so to this day. As shown in the section drawing of the synagogue, a number of elements, such as the double walled dome, were not included in the final building due to cost.

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One thought on “Edinburgh Synagogues

  1. Rev A. Levinson played a very big part in establishing the choir in the synagogue and was a very wonderful asset to the congregation unfortunately due to his poor health he was retired but his contribution to the establishment of edinburghs hebrew congregation seems to have been sadly overlooked . his home during the war was a loved refuge by many of the armed forces. as a small girl i was always at Saturday services and remember sitting on the Beema by my Papa It is a very happy memory for me . He always walked home with any service person who was wanting a good meal.and a traditional Shabos

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