London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2
Of the Synagogues and the Religion of the Street and Other Jews.
THE Jews in this country are classed as "Portuguese" and "German." Among them are no distinctions of tribes, but there is of rites and ceremonies, as is set forth in the following extract (which shows also the mode of government) from a Jewish writer: "The Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of Jews, who are also called Sephardin (from the word Sepharad, which signifies Spain in Hebrew), are distinct from the German and Polish Jews in their ritual service. The prayers both daily and for the Sabbath materially differ from each other, and the festival prayers differ still more. Hence the Portuguese Jews have a distinct prayer-book, and the German Jews likewise.
The Jews have synagogues in London, besides some smaller places which may perhaps, adopting the language of another church, be called synagogues of ease. The great synagogue in Duke's-place (a locality of which I have often had to speak) is the largest, but the new synagogue, St. Helen's, Bishopgate, is the which most betokens the wealth of the worshippers. It is
|rich with ornaments, marble, and painted glass; the pavement is of painted marble, and presents a perfect round, while the ceiling is a half dome. There are besides these the Hamburg Synagogue, in ; the Portuguese Synagogue, in Bevis-marks; smaller places, in Cutlerstreet and Gun-yard, , known as Polish Synagogues; the (Coventgar- den), Synagogue; the Western Synagogue, St. Alban's-place, Pall-mall; and the West London Synagogue of British Jews, Margaretstreet, . The last-mentioned is the most aristocratic of the synagogues. The service there is curtailed, the ritual abbreviated, and the days of observance of the Jewish festival reduced from to . This alteration is strongly protested against by the other Jews, and the practices of this synagogue seem to show a yielding to the exactions or requirements of the wealthy. In the old days, and in almost every country in Europe, it was held to besinful even for a king—reverenced and privileged as such a potentate then was—to prosecute any undertaking before he heard mass. In some states it was said in reproach of a noble or a sovereign, "he breakfasts before he hears mass," and, to meet the impatience of the Great, "hunting masses," as they were styled, or epitomes of the full service, were introduced. The Jews, some or years back in this country, seem to have followed this example; such was the case, at least, as regards London and the wealthier of the professors of this ancient faith.|
The synagogues are not well attended, the congregations being smaller in proportion to the population than those of the Church of England. Neither, during the observance of the Jewish worship, is there any especial manifestation of the service being regarded as of a sacred and divinelyordained character. There is a buzzing talk among the attendants during the ceremony, and an absence of seriousness and attention. Some of the Jews, however, show the greatest devotion, and the same may be said of the Jewesses, who sit apart in the synagogues, and are not required to attend so regularly as the men.
I should not have alluded to this absence of the solemnities of devotion, as regards the congregations of the Hebrews, had I not heard it regretted by Hebrews themselves. "It is shocking," said. Another remarked, "To attend the synagogue is looked upon too much as a matter of but perhaps there is the same spirit in some of the Christian churches."
As to the street-Jews, religion is little known among them, or little cared for. They are indifferent to it—not to such a degree, indeed, as the costermongers, for they are not so ignorant a class—but yet contrasting strongly in their neglect with the religious intensity of the majority of the Roman Catholic Irish of the streets. In common justice I must give the remark of a Hebrew merchant with whom I had some conversation on the subject:—"I can't say much about street-Jews, for my engagements lead me away from them, and I don't know much about street-Christians. But if out of a Jews you find that only of them care for their religion, how many out of a Christians of any sort will care about theirs? Will of them care? If you answer, but they are only nominal Christians, my reply is, the Jews are only nominal Jews—Jews by birth, and not by faith."
Among the Jews I conversed with—and of course only the more intelligent understood, or were at all interested in, the question—I heard the most contemptuous denunciation of all converts from Judaism. learned informant, who was by no means blind to the short-comings of his own people, expressed his conviction that no Jew had ever been really He had abandoned his faith from interested motives. On this subject I am not called upon to express any opinion, and merely mention it to show a prevalent feeling among the class I am describing.
The street-Jews, including the majority of the more prosperous and most numerous class among them, the old-clothes men, are far from being religious in feeling, or well versed in their faith, and are, perhaps, in that respect on a level with the mass of the members of the Church of England; I say of the Church of England, because of that church the many who do not profess religion are usually accounted members.
In the Rabbinical College, I may add, is the finest Jewish library in the world. It has been collected for several generations under the care of the Chief Rabbis. The public are admitted, having obtained tickets, given gratuitously, at the Chief Rabbi's residence in .