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BEVIS MARKS SYNAGOGUE(known officially as the Synagogue Saar ha-Samayim):

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The oldest Jewish house of worship in London; established by the Sephardic Jews in 1698, when Rabbi David Nieto took spiritual charge of the congregation. At that time the worshipers met in a small synagogue in Cree Church lane; but the considerable influx of Jews made it necessary to obtain other and commodious quarters. Accordingly a committee was appointed, consisting of Antonio Gomes Serra, Menasseh Mendes, Alfonso Rodrigues, Manuel Nunez Miranda, Andrea Lopez, and Pontaleao Rodriguez. It investigated matters for nearly a year, and on Feb. 12, 1699, signed a contract with Joseph Avis, a Quaker, for the construction of a building to cost £2,750 ($13,335). On June 24 of the same year, the committee leased from Lady Ann Pointz (alias Littleton) and Sir Thomas Pointz (alias Littleton) a tract of land at Plough Yard, in Bevis Marks, for sixty-one years, with the option of renewal for another thirty-eight years, at £120 a year.

V03p133001.jpgInterior of the Bevis Marks Synagogue, London.(After a photograph.)

Avis began building at once, incorporating in the roof a beam from a royal ship presented by QueenAnne herself. The structure was completed and dedicated in 1702, and, with the exception of the roof, which was destroyed by fire in 1738, and repaired in 1749, is to-day as it was 200 years ago. In the interior decorations and arrangement the influence of the great Amsterdam synagogue of 1677 is apparent. In 1747 Benjamin Mendes da Costa bought the lease of the ground on which the building stood, and presented it to the congregation, vesting the deeds in the names of a committee consisting of Gabriel Lopez de Britto, David Aboab Ozorio, Moses Gomes Serra, David Franco, Joseph Jessurun Rodriguez, and Moses Mendes da Costa.

The Bevis Marks Synagogue was for more than a century the religious center of the Anglo-Jewish world, and served as a clearing-house for congregational and individual troubles all the world over; e.g., the appeal of the Jamaican Jews for a reduction in taxation (1736); the internecine quarrel among the Barbados Jews (1753); and the aiding of seven-year-old Moses de Paz, who escaped from Gibraltar in 1777 to avoid an enforced conversion.

The synagogue formed the center of the Sephardic community of London till the foundation of the Bryanstone Street Synagogue, in 1866, after which the attendance at the functions declined so much that in 1886 the "yeḥidim" contemplated selling the ground and the building; but a Bevis Marks Anti-Demolition League was founded, under the auspices of H. Guedalla and A. H. Newman, and the proposed demolition was given up. The synagogue held its bicentenary celebration with great pomp in 1901.

Bibliography:
  • Picciotto, Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History;
  • A. H. Newman, A Chapter of Anglo-Jewish History, 1886;
  • Jacobs and Wolf, Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica, No. 780, p. 116; No. 1332, p. 155;
  • Jew. Chron. May 31 and June 7, 1901;
  • Gaster, History of the Ancient Synagogue of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews, 1901.
J. E. Ms. J.
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