Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An impressive, socially conscious English Beth Midrash described in 1888.

A gentleman named Simon Cohen owned a private Beit Midrash called Beth Hamedrash Lomdi Torah in London in the late 19th century. Cohen was extensively involved in charitable works, as can be seen in his letter to the Jewish Standard from 1888:

As you can see, this Beit Midrash was opened from 6:00 AM to 12:00 AM daily (I assumed that 12:00 PM is a mistake). Anyone could learn there at any time. There were constant minyanim, to accommodate those wanting to say kaddish. In addition, it was responsible for creating a school for children (where "they now teach Gemora for one hour a day") and numerous charities for the poor and for women. It provided a place for poor people to take shelter and warmth. He contrasts it with another Beit Midrash which is only open for a few hours in the evening (and the gas lights go out at 9:00 PM).

Not mentioned in the letter is that the Beit Midrash which Cohen founded in 1879 actually encompassed even more than what he outlined. For example, attached to it were public baths for the poor, who presumably had nowhere else to bathe. Cohen established a fund to aid persecuted Jews in Russia, for which 100,000 were raised. Initially three hot meals per week were provided for as many as 200 people, but the amount was raised to five. Cohen petitioned the Shah of Persia and the Pope in Rome to assist persecuted Jews. It took steps to promote Shabbat observance. It took on landlords who were raising rents to very high amounts in the (poor) East End. In addition, Cohen cultivated good political connections, especially with the British royalty.

See A review of the work and correspondence of Simon Cohen, on behalf of the East End Jews and the Beth Hamedrash Lomdi Torah (1901).


  1. "There were constant minyanim"
    There were not, they happend to pray when the time came.
    there was constantly a minyan of jews concentrated in the same place, in case anyone wanted to say kaddish.

    the other charities you mention may have been added on later...

  2. Sounds very nice.

    "There were constant minyanim"

    So was it like an early minyan factory? Do you have any sources or thoughts re the minyan factory phenomenon?

  3. The minyan factory phenomenon is because of convenience. Take any largely populated Jewish area (meaning Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak, or many other cities in Eretz Yisrael.) Or in America Boro Park, etc. There must be minyan factories. With so many people and so many different schedules...This makes it less of a "phenomenon"...

  4. "I assumed that 12:00 PM is a mistake"


  5. Someone needs to point out the irony of a Beth Hamedrash in Church Lane. London, of course, also has a St. John's Wood Synagogue, and Melbourne has its St. Kilda Synagogue. My own shul, Cong. Beth Hakneses Hachodosh, is on St. Regis Drive, a fact which has not gone unnoticed among local wags.

  6. The best is "Christ Church Shul" in New Zealand. I understand that they call it the "Chichi Shul".

  7. @Dan Klein: For many years the Shaar Hashomayim synagogue in Toronto, one of the largest Orthodox congregations in Canada, was on Saint Clair Avenue. Today the Anshei Minsk synagogue in downtown Toronto sits on Saint Andrew Street.



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