Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Christian observer calls attention to the lack of decorum in synagogues, and the lack of attention by London's Chief Rabbi, in 1810

This excerpt from the book The Obligations of Christians to Attempt the Conversion of the Jews (with the Hebrew title הנה מלאך יבוא לך) by an anonymous "Presbyter of the Church of England," (London 1810) compares the prayer that can be seen in London's Great Synagogue to a scene at the Stock Exchange, while "their chief Rabbi" - Solomon Hirschell - sits by "seeming to care for none of these things."

More remarkable than the criticism is the footnote, where the author basically apologizes to Jews if he caused any offense by this description, and even says that he would have kept quiet about it, except that he believes printing it has a to'elet, a purpose, in that it can stir up Christians to remedy the lack of devotion among Jews! you know, by converting them.

The above can be found on pp. 8 - 9 of the 4th edition (1813) ; the above image was digitally manipulated to put it all one one page. It also appears on pg. 9 of the 1st edition, and not one word was changed.


  1. The same book, by the way, estimates that there were about 400 Jewish prostitutes in London around that time. His footnote there refers to the Mishnayos about the three mitzvos commanded to women, and asks if "we cannot wonder" that there should be these "victims of ignorance and vice, wandering about the streets of London to gain a precarious and miserable livelihood" "when we are informed that the Rabbies teach, that previous to marriage, females have nothing to do with religion or the observation of any of the commandments, and after marriage, have only to observe [these] three."

  2. There is no reason to doubt the basic accuracy of the author's description of the shul. In a hesped for my great-grandfather, R. Philipp (Hillel) Klein, delivered in 1927, there is a lament that "even now" people "talk of all manner of business during the time of prayer," and R. Klein is credited for teaching his New York congregants that "the synagogue is not a house of commerce." I would guess that this vice has not quite been stamped out yet.

  3. While I know that business is sometimes discussed in shul, I think this is more about the general impression of being busy, walking around, otherwise moving, talking and such, all of which he doesn't know from his church but sees at the stock exchange. (By the way, how would a naive onlooker know if some mumbling or talking is liturgy or not if it's not perfectly unisono?)

  4. Did you not have this or a very similar post a couple of years ago?

  5. Two weeks ago, the V.P. of my company's legal department (Fortune 200) stopped in to tell me what a nice time he had visiting a synagouge on Saturday. This V.P. is classic whitebread Protestant, look like Woodrow Wilson come to life. He told me how keen it was that the services were so particapatory, that members of the laity were called to read from the Torah [He probably meant getting an aliyah] and how different it was from his Church. Then he asked me - and not be rude, of course, this is 2013, but just out of curiosity - how it was that there was so much talking during the services. He told me his friend started to chat with him, and he, the VP, tried to shush his Jewish friend because he thought it was rude. He was amazed at it.

    Intresasnte. Just saying.

  6. Reminds me of Dayan Dunner's speech at the Agudah Convention (of '97?)



Related Posts with Thumbnails