• Home
  • Parashah
  • Ask the Rabbi
  • Festivals
  • Freemasonry
  • Articles
  • About
  • Books
  • Media

    The Cathedral Synagogue 145 years on

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple appeared in the Australian Jewish News on 7 April, 2023.

    When they built Sydney’s Great Synagogue in the 1870s, they named it after the historic Great Synagogue (“Duke’s Place”) in the City of London. Like Duke’s Place, it was a spacious building, it upheld minhag Anglia, and it was a flagship of decorum, dignity and distinction.

    At Duke’s Place Friday evening services were conducted with impressive cantors, impeccable choirs and distinguished preachers. The synagogue was intertwined with the names of Kusevitsky, Mayerowitsch and Mombach. Nothing was even allowed to go wrong – the top-hatted wardens saw to that, maintaining their authority so tightly that German bombing in wartime was impossibly impertinent. Outside the building the police were in control; inside, the beadles marched around and kept order.

    The visitors came from all over the metropolis. The locals lived in grey tenements in miserable streets, but Friday night in shule lifted them above their surroundings.

    In Sydney, it wasn’t Friday night but Sabbath and festival mornings that had a cachet. Patriotic and national occasions were High Victorian. Jew and gentile felt it right that the Anglo-Jewish tradition should be replicated in Sydney and that the Great should be the Jewish locale of British imperialism. The minister of the Great was the Jewish archbishop: the lay leaders were the Jewish aristocracy. “The Big Shule” was the Jewish cathedral. Never mind that “cathedral synagogues” were an oxymoron.

    Architecture and ideology alike brought style to the synagogue. The presiding prelate was AB Davis, enhanced in his later years by
    JH Landau. The Davis tradition was continued by Francis Lyon Cohen. People came from far and wide to hear services led by Rabbi Wolinski and Revd M Einfeld, and the choir was conducted by musicologists (who were not always Jewish) such as Alfred Hill.

    Even Sabbath and daily services had an air of formality and self-importance. Events celebrated at the Great included royal anniversaries, AB Davis’ 70th birthday, Australian Federation, the deaths of Queen Victoria and Edward VII, the induction of Rabbi Cohen, military services including the visit of the American Fleet and the visit of Chief Rabbi Hertz. One would have expected a special service in 1917 to mark the Balfour Declaration, but Rabbi Cohen was less than enthusiastic.

    With the coming of Rabbi Porush and his successors, the Great became less concerned with show and more with Judaism, though state occasions were always taken seriously. A historian said that the magnificent Princes Road Synagogue in Liverpool was a tribute to the glory of Israel. Much the same could be said of Sydney’s Great Synagogue which was a thing of beauty and a joy forever

    Comments are closed.