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Witnesses to History: The Jews of London

Printed volume with pages of manuscript addenda of the Laws of the Congregation of the Great Synagogue, Duke Place, London, Revised and Enacted 5587, London, 1827. Printed on the leather binding of this volume is: "Synagogue Chambers Duke Place," which makes this volume the congregation's copy of its laws. The Great Synagogue is the "cathedral synagogue" of London's Ashkenazi community, and manuscript pages bound into the book contain the laws enacted by the congregation after 1827. As such, it is an indispensable source for the history of English Jewry in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. There we find enactments reflecting the union of Ashkenazi Jewry through agreements reached by the Great, Hambro, and New Synagogues to collaborate in communal and charitable endeavors, the Great Synagogue assuming obligations for half the funding. These agreements laid the foundation for the emergence of the United Synagogue, British Jewry's central religious organization, of which the Great Synagogue was the mother institution. These new laws also reflect the ascendancy of Ashkenazi Jewry to leadership of the community, especially in the Board of Deputies of British Jews, made possible by the emergence of the Rothschild and Goldsmith families as leading powers in the British financial world. Enactment 346, inscribed by hand provides: "That the body of Deputies of British Jews be the only official medium of communication with the Government of the country."

Two companion volumes indicate the rapid acculturation of English Jewry and the freedom they felt to express irreverent views of persons in high places. The 1827 edition of the Laws is in elegant English, while the 1791 edition is in an archaic Yiddish peppered with Hebrew phrases. Another copy of the 1827 edition contains factual notations in manuscript, as well as such critical remarks as: the "highly gifted and worthy" printed evaluation of Dr. Solomon Hirschel, the Chief Rabbi, is underlined in pen and accompanied by a marginal note, “highly gifted-fudge. ”

Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991)./p>