London Labour and the London Poor, volume 2

Mayhew, Henry


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 fundamental laws are equally observed by both sects, but in the ceremonial worship there exists numerous differences. The Portuguese Jews eat some food during the Passover, which the German Jews are prohibited doing by some Rabbis, but their authority is not acknowledged by the Portuguese Rabbis. Nor are the present ecclesiastical authorities in London of the two sects the same. The Portuguese Jews have their own Rabbis, and the German have their own. The German Jews are much more numerous than the Portuguese; the chief Rabbi of the German Jews is the Rev. Dr. Nathan Marcus Adler, late Chief Rabbi of Hanover, who wears no beard, and dresses in the German costume. The presiding Rabbi of the Portuguese Jews is the Rev. David Meldola, a native of Leghorn; his father filled the same office in London. Each chief Rabbi is supported by three other Rabbis, called Dayamin, which signifies in Hebrew 'Judges.' Every Monday and Thursday the Chief Rabbi of the German Jews, Dr. Adler, supported by his three colleagues, sits for two hours in the Rabbinical College (Beth Hamedrash), Smith's-buildings, Leadenhall-street, to attend to all applications from the German Jews, which may be brought before him, and which are decided according to the Jewish law. Many disputes between Jews in religious matters are settled in this manner; and if the Lord Mayor or any other magistrate is told that the matter has already been settled by the Jewish Rabbi he seldom interferes. This applies only to civil and not to criminal cases. The Portuguese Jews have their own hospital and their own schools. Both congregations have their representatives in the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which board is acknowledged by government, and is triennial. Sir Moses Montefiore, a Jew of great wealth, who distinguished himself by his mission to Damascus, during the persecution of the Jews in that place, and also by his mission to Russia, some years ago, is the President of the Board. All political matters, calling for communications with government, are within the province of that useful board.

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 .

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 Title Page
Of the Street-Sellers of Second-Hand Articles
Of the Street-Sellers of Live Animals
Of the Street-Sellers of Mineral Productions and Natural Curiosities
Of the Street-Buyers
Of the Street-Jews
Of the Street-Finders or Collectors
Of the Streets of London
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the London Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Sweepers of Old, and the Climbing Boys
Of the Chimney-Sweepers of the Present Day
Of the General Characteristics of the Working Chimney-Sweepers
Sweeping of the Chimneys of Steam-Vessels
Of the 'Ramoneur' Company
Of the Brisk and Slack Seasons, and the Casual Trade among the Chimney- Sweepers
Of the 'Leeks' Among the Chimney-Sweepers
Of the Inferior Chimney-Sweepers -- the 'Knullers' and 'Queriers'
Of the Fires of London
Of the Sewermen and Nightmen of London
Of the Wet House-Refuse of London
Of the Means of Removing the Wet House-Refuse
Of the Quantity of Metropolitan Sewage
Of Ancient Sewers
Of the Kinds and Characteristics of Sewers
Of the Subterranean Character of the Sewers
Of the House-Drainage of the Metropolis as Connected With the Sewers
Of the London Street-Drains
Of the Length of the London Sewers and Drains
Of the Cost of Constructing the Sewers and Drains of the Metropolis
Of the Uses of Sewers as a Means of Subsoil Drainage
Of the City Sewerage
Of the Outlets, Ramifications, Etc., of the Sewers
Of the Qualities, Etc., of the Sewage
Of the New Plan of Sewerage
Of the Management of the Sewers and the Late Commissions
Of the Powers and Authority of the Present Commissions of Sewers
Of the Sewers Rate
Of the Cleansing of the Sewers -- Ventilation
Of 'Flushing' and 'Plonging,' and Other Modes of Washing the Sewers
Of the Working Flushermen
Of the Rats in the Sewers
Of the Cesspoolage and Nightmen of the Metropolis
Of the Cesspool System of London
Of the Cesspool and Sewer System of Paris
Of the Emptying of the London Cesspools by Pump and Hose
Statement of a Cesspool-Sewerman
Of the Present Disposal of the Night-Soil
Of the Working Nightmen and the Mode of Work