United Synagogue

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UNITED SYNAGOGUE (Heb. ק״ק כְּנֶסֶת יִשְׁרָאֵל), association of Ashkenazi congregations in London – originally formed by the Great Synagogue, Duke's Place (c. 1690), and four other constituent synagogues – which was established by Act of Parliament on July 14, 1870. The project, apparently inspired by Michael *Sachs' model federation in Berlin, was initiated by Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus *Adler in 1866 and the organizational work developed under his son and successor, Hermann *Adler. The United Synagogue (popularly known as the "U.S.") rapidly became one of the most powerful centralized bodies of its type in the Jewish world, and its name was later borrowed by Solomon *Schechter for the Conservative synagogue body in the U.S. The United Synagogue was arguably at its peak in the half-century from about 1920 until 1970, when it was, generally, the synagogue of choice of England's second generation immigrants as they moved into the middle class. During this time it opened many new venues in north and northeast London and elsewhere. Its ambiance emphasizes decorum, conservatism in behavior, and British patriotism. Before 1948, while not anti-Zionist, it was seldom associated as a rule with the extreme supporters of a Jewish state. Since the establishment of the State of Israel, it has become a loyal supporter of the Jewish state, although recent chief rabbis have occasionally been critical of some Israeli actions. It is the bastion of the British chief rabbinate and of the London bet din and all its synagogues accept the religious authority of the Chief Rabbi. By 1971 there were 23 constituent synagogues (with some 20,000 members), a further 23 district synagogues, and 35 affiliated congregations; about 40,000 families, representing half the Jewish population of Greater London, were United Synagogue members. After World War ii, these activities were expanded to include new congregations in a few provincial centers such as Peterborough and Worcester. Income is paid into a common pool so that poorer synagogues can be supported by wealthier ones and a number of general communal services can be supported.

Although the United Synagogue has long claimed to preserve and represent traditional Judaism in Great Britain, its Orthodoxy had been so diluted by the early 20th century that it came near to emulating the French Central *Consistory. There were also religious and organizational conflicts and rivalries with the more right-wing Federation of Synagogues (1887) founded by Lord Swaythling and the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations (Adath Yisroel) established by Victor (Avigdor) *Schoenfeld in 1926. Its dominating figure in the mid-20th century was its president, Sir Robert Waley *Cohen. With the emergence of a more staunchly Orthodox lay leadership after World War ii, and especially following Sir Isaac *Wolfson's election as president in 1962, the United Synagogue swung to the right. The United Synagogue's centenary celebrations in 1970 were attended by Queen Elizabeth. In recent years it has been repeatedly challenged from both the theological right and left and has diminished somewhat in popularity – as measured, for instance, by the marriages it performs – compared with either Strict Orthodoxy or non-Orthodox strands. In the mid-1960s, the rise of the Masorti movement, led by Rabbi Louis Jacobs and linked with the American Conservative movement, represented a significant challenge to the "U.S." Both recent chief rabbis, Immanuel *Jakobovits and Jonathan *Sacks, have engaged in high-profile disputes with other strands in Anglo-Jewry, especially with the Progressive movement. In 2004 there were 46 member synagogues of the "U.S." in London, together with another 20 London synagogues affiliated to it and several dozen outside of London. Aubrey Newman's The United Synagogue, 18701970 (1977) is a history of the group's first century.


C. Roth, Archives of the United Synagogue. Report and Catalogue (1930); idem, The Great Synagogue, London, 16901940 (1950); B. Homa, A Fortress in Anglo-Jewry: the Story of the Machzike Hadath (1953), index; V.D. Lipman (ed.), Three Centuries of Anglo-Jewish History (1961), index; idem, in: jhset, 21 (1968), 78–103; A. Barnett, Western Synagogue through Two Centuries (17611961) (1961), index. add. bibliography: G. Alderman, Modern British Jewry (1992); W.D. Rubinstein, Jews in England.

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