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Sweden Stockholm

Stockholm is the capital of Sweden. The first Jew to settle in Stockholm was the gem-carver and seal-engraver, Aaron Isaac, who arrived in 1774. A year later the Jewish community was founded when the right of residence in the Swedish capital was granted to him, his brother, his business partner, and their families. By 1778–79, there was already a community of 40 families. Land for a cemetery, which was named Aronsberg after Aaron Isaac, had been acquired in 1776. In 1780, the first rabbi, Levin Hirsch Levi, arrived in Stockholm from Strelitz, Mecklenburg. Three years later, at his request, he was awarded the title of chief rabbi of Sweden, which was subsequently held by all the rabbis of the Stockholm community.

Until 1838 the community was organized on the usual pattern of German communities of the time. It was at first headed by a committee of three laymen, which in 1807 was enlarged to five. In 1838, the year which marked the beginning of emancipation in Sweden, the authorities laid down new rules for the organization of the community, which were drafted in consultation with Aaron Levi Lamm, then president of the community. As in many other European places, equal rights were granted at the price of abrogation of autonomy. From then on communal records were kept in Swedish instead of in Yiddish, and sermons in the synagogue had to be delivered in Swedish, Danish, German, or French. The independent activity of the community was restricted to charity and Jewish education; the latter was steadily declining.

In 1832, a rabbi with an academic degree (Loeb Seligman) was appointed in Stockholm for the first time. He introduced innovations from the Reform movement into the prayers and customs, but the movement did not gain strength in the community until the 1860s. A powerful trend toward assimilation, however, was evident even before then, and in 1843 between 80 and 90 men and women out of the 400 members of the community converted to Christianity. It was only toward the close of the century, after the achievement of complete emancipation in 1870, that the patriarchal structure of the Mosaic Congregation of Stockholm was replaced by a more democratic system of electing members to the communal board. From 1882, membership of the community was conditional on Swedish nationality. The rabbis of Sweden were always invited from abroad. The liberal Gottlieb Klein (1882–1914), a scholar born in Hungary, was succeeded by the Zionist Marcus Ehrenpreis (1914–48), formerly chief rabbi of Bulgaria. His successor, Kurt Wilhelm (1948–65), was born in Germany and took up his post in Stockholm after living in Jerusalem. In addition to the Great Synagogue in Stockholm, which was inaugurated in 1870, there are two smaller Orthodox synagogues which are supported by the community.

The character of the Stockholm Jewish community changed between the late 19th century and the post-World War II period, due to the influx of immigrants and refugees fleeing the effects of persecution and war. In 1900, there were 1,631 members in the community (41% of all the Jews in Sweden) and, in 1920, that number had risen to 2,747. Of these 1,353 were born in Sweden and 1,394 abroad. Until the rise of Hitler, the situation remained unchanged. The principal activities on behalf of the refugees and negotiations with the authorities were necessarily concentrated in Stockholm. The community played a role in organizational activity and fund-raising. In the most critical period, however, before 1939 and the first phase of the war, its success was very limited. Thousands of requests for entry permits remained unanswered and the community itself was compelled to give negative replies.

This situation changed with the arrival of refugees from Norway in 1942, and in particular with the escape of Jews from Denmark in October 1943. At the end of the war, a significant stream of refugees arrived from the concentration camps. Between 1933 and 1950 Stockholm spent a total of 17,500,000 Swedish kronor (7 kronor = 1 U.S. dollar) in relief, the community providing slightly over 5,000,000 kronor from taxes and appeals, while the remainder was paid by international Jewish organizations (about 8,000,000 kronor) and the Swedish Ministry of Social Affairs.

After the war the Jewish community of Stockholm numbered 7,000 (including children). With the assistance of the Claims Conference a community center was erected, and on the initiative of Zionist circles, whose influence increased after the establishment of the State of Israel, a Jewish elementary school was established and recognized by the Ministry of Education. The importance of the Jews of Stockholm was apparent in commerce, science, the arts, the press, and in publishing (the famous publishing company of Bonniers was founded in 1831, and by the close of the century it had attained the important position which it continued to hold in the literary life of Sweden). A quarterly review, Församlingsblad, founded by the Stockholm community in 1940 and edited by David Köpniwsky, contained news of communal life and from time to time published articles on the history of Swedish Jewry.

In 2005, the Jewish community of Stockholm numbered just over 5,000 members, with estimates of at least another 3,000–5,000 Jews living in Stockholm who are not affiliated.


One addition to the Stockholm Jewish community scene is the Paideia Institute, a pan-European initiative to revitalize Jewish knowledge and interest in Jewish culture. It came about through cooperation between European governments, Jewish organizations, and the business community towards the end of the 1990s, with the aim of examining and counterbalancing the consequences of the Holocaust and of reviving Jewish knowledge, culture, and traditions that were largely wiped out by the ravages of the Holocaust.

The Paideia Institute is a pan-European Jewish educational institution that has the recognition of the Swedish parliament and generous support from the World Jewish Congress and the Jewish Central Committee of Sweden, among others. In the first three years of its existence, it attracted 57 students from 17 countries – including Israel – who have returned to their home countries and helped nurture a flourishing revival of Jewish studies and Jewish-interest programs.


E. Olan, Judarna på svensk mark: historien om israeliternas invandring till Sverige (1924); Gamla judiska gravplaster i Stockholm (1927); M. Ivarsson and A. Brody, Svenskjudiska pionjärer och stamfäder (1956); H. Valentin, Judarna i Sverige (1964), incl. bibl. Add Bibliography: L. Dencik, Jewishness in Postmodernity: The Case of Sweden (April 2003).

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.