NEW LONDON SYNAGOGUE
HISTORY AND OUTLOOK
THE New London Synagogue came into being as the result of a controversy which none of its founders had sought. Two issues were involved: the theological issue of the meaning of revelation and, on the practical level, the right of a congregation to appoint the Minister of its choice.
In February 1964, when the pulpit of the New West End Synagogue became vacant, the Selection Committee unanimously recommended that Rabbi Louis Jacobs, who had occupied the pulpit from 1954 until 1959, should be recalled to his former position. The then Chief Rabbi refused his approval to the appointment on the grounds that Rabbi Jacobs ‘denied the divine origin of the Torah’ and was consequently unfit to serve as Minister to an Orthodox congregation. What Rabbi Jacobs had actually expressed in his writings and preaching was that Biblical scholarship had demonstrated that revelation was an extremely complex matter and that it was no longer tenable to accept the simplistic fundamentalist belief that every word and every letter of the Pentateuch was dictated by God to Moses. Very many members of the congregation at the New West End Synagogue shared Rabbi Jacobs’ rejection of fundamentalism. They also found it intolerable that the Chief Rabbi should have the power
(not by Jewish law but by the constitution of the United Synagogue) to prevent the appointment they desired. On May 3rd 1964 a meeting in a Kensington hotel of members of the New West End Synagogue resolved upon the establishment of the New London Synagogue with Rabbi Jacobs as its rabbi. Services were held in the annexe of a Kensington hotel until August 29th 1964 when the congregation met for the first time in its present building in Abbey Road, St. John’s Wood.
Wherein do we differ?
Our services are traditional in content. (We do, however, have a mixed choir, use the Israeli pronunciation, and do not recite prayers for the restoration of animal sacrifices). Liturgical change is not at the centre of our interest. Our congregants respond to the traditional service, its beauty and poetry, its chants and melodies.
What then is distinctive about our Synagogue?
We have referred to theories regarding revelation. This is precisely where we place our emphasis. Because we reject fundamentalism but still wish to follow the Jewish tradition we recognise that a new philosophy of tradition is called for. We are not primarily concerned with criticising other approaches to Judaism but we must state nonetheless their inadequacy in order to make our own position clearer.
We cannot share the attitude of Reform Judaism (though we have certain affinities with it on the theoretical side) because we see far more value in the traditional forms than most Reform and Liberal congregations are so far prepared to do. On the congregational level, we uphold in their entirety such institutions as the Sabbath and Kashrut in their traditional form.
Our differences with official Orthodoxy in this country, on the other hand, are on the grounds of its fundamentalism in theory and its rigidity with regard to practice.
At every turn one meets with harshness and inflexibility, from the creation of unnecessary hardship in certain cases of conversion to the prohibition of microphones in the Synagogue to a ban on ‘fraternization’ with Reform congregations, and, on the intellectual level, the encouragement of a blinkered scholarship at Jews’ College. At the New London Synagogue we believe that it is possible and desirable to accept both tradition and reason.
Tradition should be seen in dynamic rather than static terms—in the ancient metaphor, the Torah is a ‘tree of life’, a thing which grows. The special appeal of our congregation is to traditionalists with minds open to change. There are no easy answers to many of the problems Judaism faces today. The answers must be discovered by a long and arduous process in which the old teachings and practices provide stability but in which hospitality is offered to new ideas.
We aim at searching for the Torah for our age just as previous generations sought for the Torah for theirs. We are trying hard to see Judaism as a great adventure in which there are new fields to be conquered as well as old positions to be consolidated. That is why we are not at all disturbed that some of our members believe we are too traditional while others feel we are too radical. Only out of free discussion and the thrust of debate can the truth emerge. We are even prepared to admit to a certain vagueness about our standing in some matters. But, then, we believe that it is better to be vaguely right than to be definitely wrong.
The Synagogue is at 33 Abbey Road, St. John’s Wood, London, N.W.8, and stands at the corner of Abbey Road and Marlborough Place. Adjacent to it is the New London Hall with a Beth Hamidrash and the Synagogue’s Offices and classrooms. The Synagogue was built in 1880 and was an outstanding example both inside and outside of a Victorian Synagogue building. When the New London took it over in 1964 the interior was redecorated under the guidance of Professor Mischa Black and much of the accumulated clutter was removed. It has 377 seats for men and 354 for ladies (327 in the gallery and 27 in a small raised section at the rear of the men’s seats).
The Office telephone number is 328 1026/1027 and the office is open from 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (9.30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays) and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sundays.
The weekly Services on Friday evenings and the Sabbath are held at regular times. In the winter, from the first Friday after Succoth until the first Friday after Passover, Service is at 6 p.m. For the remainder of the year it starts at 6.30 p.m. The Saturday Shacharit Service is at 9.15 a.m. and the Reading of the Law at 10.15 a.m. he Service normally ends at noon and is followed by a Kiddush in the New London Hall. Mincha and Ma’ariv are read at the appropriate times which are announced at the end of the Morning Service. Between Mincha and Ma’ariv Rabbi Jacobs gives a Shiur, the subject matter of which is appropriate to the particular time of the year.
Yom Tov Services follow traditional timings and additionally special services are held on Purim, Tisha B’Av and Chanukah. A service takes place each Rosh Chodesh at 7.30 a.m. Saturday morning and Yom Tov services are choral. Daily services for Yahrzeit are held on request and members who require this service are asked to communicate with the Secretary.
By its Constitution any person of the Jewish faith over 18 years of age may apply to become a member of the Synagogue. In addition there is Associate membership and Junior membership. Associate Membership is available for those who for one reason or another cannot become full members but who wish to link themselves with New London ideas and keep in touch with everything we do. Junior membership is open to persons of the Jewish faith who are either Students or in the transitional stage from studentship to full-time employment.
The Synagogue is established under a Deed of Trust and is entirely independent. It has its own written Constitution which can only be changed by a three-quarters majority of the members in general meeting. There are three Wardens, a Treasurer and a Council, all of whom are directly elected by the members and a Chairman and Executive who are indirectly elected. Every paid up member is entitled to vote at a general meeting, and to hold office. Women are members in their own right, having exactly the same rights as men including that of holding honorary office except that they are not eligible to serve as Wardens.
Annual subscriptions, details of which are obtainable from the Secretary, are payable in advance half-yearly on 1st March and 1st September. A reduction of 10 per cent is made to all members who pay under Covenant.
These subscriptions entitle a member (but not an associate or junior member) to an appropriate seat in the Synagogue, if available, and to all the rights of membership, and there is no obligation to make any further contribution. Nevertheless it is hoped that all who can afford to do so will assist in other ways. The annual subscriptions cover only the upkeep and day-to-day running of the Synagogue. A Building and Development Fund has been established to provide a very necessary reserve fund to meet capital expenditure of various kinds, such as improvements to ventilation, lighting and seating, better classrooms and major structural repairs, as well as forming a basis for widening our activities as an independent movement within Anglo-Jewry. The Honorary Treasurer will be pleased to receive contributions to this fund, either in outright sums or by annual payments under covenant.
Many members like to continue the tradition of making offerings on anniversaries and on other special occasions, and this is very welcome, but again this is entirely voluntary, and the custom of some Synagogues that members make an offering whenever they are called to the Reading of the Law is not followed.
The Synagogue maintains a Benevolent Fund for charitable purposes and in particular for assisting members in need. The trustees, Rabbi Jacobs and Mr David Franldin, through the Secretary, will be pleased to receive donations, and will treat all applications for assistance in strict confidence.
The New London Synagogue is the first Synagogue to sponsor a Housing Trust. The Newlon Housing Trust operates in the Borough of Hackney, and members willing to assist financially or by personal service are asked to approach the Manager of the Trust at their offices at 197, Stoke Newington High Street, N.16. Telephone: 249-3333.
THE SYNAGOGUE AND THE SPAN OF LIFE
The Synagogue is associated with every stage in the life of its members.
A guide on the procedures follows:
If a daughter is born the secretary should be advised as soon as possible of the English and Hebrew names of mother, father and child. This enables the father to be called to the Reading of the Law on the Sabbath after the birth, when a Mi-Sheberach naming the daughter is made. If the child is a boy the father should make arrangements for the Brit Milah and the names of the parents and child should be advised to the secretary. Mothers who wish to return thanks after childbirth may bring the child to the Synagogue for a simple ceremony and the Rabbi’s blessing.
The time can be arranged whenever convenient.
Ensure by consultation with the secretary that the correct date is selected and the appropriate portion of the Law fixed. The Rabbi will approve the selection and will from time to time meet the boy to keep an eye on his progress. It is necessary to give the secretary notice as far as possible in advance of the guests to be given Mitzvot. Parents of the boy may wish to provide the kiddush after the Service and in such case the secretary should be advised when making the general arrangements. It is advisable where the parents are hosts at the kiddush for them to ensure that their family and guests go quickly to the Hall to be present when kiddush is made.
From time to time Bat Mitzva ceremonies are held and there is a class for girls who wish to study and qualify. The Headmaster of the Synagogue classes will be pleased to give details. The Synagogue lays considerable stress on the importance of the ceremony and the detailed preparations leading up to it and encourages young girls to participate.
Marriages at the New London Synagogue are valid under both English law and Halachah (Jewish law). Notice of intention to marry must be given by each party to his and her local Registrar. If both parties have in the same district either may give notice for both. Notice must be given not more than 12 weeks and not less than three weeks before the date of the marriage except in special circumstances. The Secretary should be consulted about the proposed date to ensure that the date selected is acceptable in Jewish law. When the Registrar’s Certificates are received they should be delivered to the Secretary and it is usual for the Rabbi to meet the couple by appointment, before the wedding. Marriages in the New London Synagogue can be accompanied by an organ and or a choir, and floral decorations are permitted. The florist should be put in touch with the Secretary as early as possible. After the Service the K’Tubah is handed to the Bridegroom and the Secretary will provide copies of the English Marriage Certificate at any time. Bridegrooms if they wish can be called to the Reading of the Law on the Sabbath before the wedding and, in the same way as for Bar Mitzvas, other members of the family may be given Mitzvot. Here again it is important to give details to the Secretary at the earliest possible moment. Details of Marriage fees are available from the Secretary.
Brides wishing to have a passport in their married names can obtain a special form from the Passport Office to be signed by the Minister.
The Synagogue has a Burial Scheme operated in conjunction with the Western Synagogue and the Burial Grounds are at Cheshunt. Copies of a route map showing how to reach the Grounds by road are available on request to the Secretary. You may join the Scheme when you become a member. The annual subscription will be advised by the Secretary. It covers a member, his wife and unmarried children under 21. It is important that members should realise that when their children reach the age of 21 or if they marry before they are 21, the member’s subscription no longer covers his children for Burial expenses. The sensible alternative is that sons and daughters should join the Scheme in their own right. The normal practice at the Burial Grounds is to hold an adjacent plot for six weeks after burial of a member or his wife and this plot can be reserved on the initiative of the bereaved, a nominal fee being charged. The Synagogue will maintain a record of members’ reservations.
When the death of a member or one of his family covered by the Scheme occurs the Sexton, Mr M. Milan (723 9658) should be telephoned, as well as Rabbi Jacobs (722 2728) and the Synagogue Secretary (328 1026/1027).
A set form of service will be held on request. No fee is payable for the service itself but charges are made to cover the cost of printing the order of service, use of organ and attendance of choir.
The Synagogue sends an advice in advance of the date of the Yahrzeit and it is the practice to invite the member to be present in the Synagogue on the Sabbath before the anniversary date for the purpose of being called to the Reading of the Law or Haftara. Members are asked to indicate whether they will or will not be present and it is a considerable help to the Honorary Officers if the reply form is correctly completed and promptly returned to the Secretary. It is equally of help if the member makes his presence in the Synagogue known either to the Honorary Officers or the Shamassim in good time to be called up.
The Secretary should be advised of the details as soon as possible.
THE SYNAGOGUE AND EDUCATION
- The Children
The Synagogue has seven classes for children from the age of 5. Preferably the child should be able to read English before he comes to Hebrew class. The Kindergarten class caters for the beginners and, apart from starting to learn Hebrew, the children are taught the main features of religious observance and a good deal of time is spent on Bible stories. Class 1 develops from this stage and takes children when they have made good progress in reading Hebrew. Children in Class 2 are able to read Hebrew with increasing fluency and possess a significant vocabulary. Their History syllabus takes them to the time of Solomon and they begin a more systematic study of the Jewish year and the main Mitzvoth. Class 3 caters for the 9- and 10-year olds and they advance their conversational Hebrew, start some writing and begin translations from the Siddur. Their history syllabus takes them to the destruction of the Second Temple. They also start to study comparative religion. Classes 4 and 5 (the 11- and 12-year-olds) continue on similar lines and emphasise the post-biblical development of Judaism and study mediaeval and modern Jewish history. Girls of 12 and 13 can at this stage join the Bat Mitzva class which concentrates on various aspects of Judaism and its relevance to the present day. Each Bat Mitzva candidate produces both a practical and a written Jewish project. The post-Bar Mitzva class (13-15) begins to study the Talmud and discuss Jewish attitudes to present day problems.
- The Adults.
During a large part of the year, a Talmud class is held in the Synagogue Hall on Monday evenings at 8.30 p.m. Each session is self-contained and those attending have a photostat copy of the section which Rabbi Jacobs discusses and explains.
Tuition is available for adults who cannot read Hebrew. Details can be obtained from the Secretary.
Lectures on other subjects of Jewish interest, e.g., History, are held in the Hall during the winter months. Details are advised by circular to all members.
The Synagogue possesses an excellent library housed in the Bet Hamidrash. The books are available for study, research and general interest.
The Synagogue is proud of its wide range of social activities and there are Groups to cater for the whole family.
- Ladies Committee
- Social Committee
- JPA Committee
- Concert Committee
- Functions Committee
- Informal Discussion Groups
- Majority Group, Young Marrieds Group and New Londoners
- Bikkur Cholim (Society for visiting the sick)
Membership open to all ladies who are members of the Synagogue or wives of members. There is a small subscription. This Committee engages in all types of social activity including lectures by prominent people, social functions, charitable functions and anything connected with the wellbeing of the Synagogue. The Committee decorates the Succah and organises the party for Simchat Torah. The Ladies’ Committee is itself a registered charity.
A small but active Committee looks after social functions, one of its outstanding achievements being the organisation of a Communal Seder each year.
The Synagogue has its own J.P.A. Committee which among other functions holds a Dinner each year in the Synagogue Hall.
A series of concerts has taken place in the Synagogue and some notable orchestras and soloists have performed. The Concerts are a prominent feature of the Synagogue’s social calendar.
This Committee undertakes the organisation of a variety of functions normally at outside venues.
Informal Discussion Group
A Study and Discussion Group meets at the home of Rabbi Jacobs once a month for detailed study of religious matters. One of the members opens the discussion and a wide variety of matters has been studied. Anyone wishing to join the group should apply to Rabbi Jacobs.
Majority Group, Young Marrieds Group and New Londoners
These are groups catering for varying age and status brackets. Each provides cultural and social activities appropriate to its particular members and gives opportunities to meet usually outside the Synagogue. Details of membership can be obtained from the Secretary at the office.
Bikkur Cholim (Society for visiting the sick)
Members who are sick and would welcome a visit (or who know of another member in this situation) should notify the Secretary at the Synagogue office.
NEW LONDON NEWS
This is an attractively produced news letter containing reports on social and other activities, articles by members, and news and information intended to keep all members up to date on N.L.S. affairs.
Contributions are invited from all who have something interesting to say and should be addressed to the Editor, New London News, at the Synagogue.
Printed by The Furnival Press, 31 Furnival Street, London, EC4A 1JP