The Life of the Synagogue

Central Synagogue, London

Illustration from Harper's Weekly shows the procession of the Torah in the consecration ceremony, and shows the architectural design by Nathan Joseph
Consecration of a Jewish Synagogue
Wood engraving
Harper’s Weekly
March 14, 1870

The new Central Synagogue in London was the work of Nathan Joseph (1834–1909), a leading Jewish architect of the time. The 1870 opening of this first completely Moorish-style synagogue in England received extensive coverage in the international media, including this image from the consecration featured in Harper’s Weekly. The print shows male congregants “bearing the scrolls of the law under a crimson canopy to their future resting-place in the ark, which was opened to receive them by Sir Moses Montefiore. …Before their deposition in the ark they were carried seven times round the almemar, the choir singing dedicatory psalms.” The procession of the Torah to the ark was a stately aspect of the consecration ceremony, and its illustration in Harper’s Weekly serves to highlight the significance of the occasion.

Though synagogue openings often were opportunities to showcase lavish decor and impressive architecture, this illustration reminds viewers that consecrations were religious ceremonies observed with great reverence. Leading figures in the Jewish community were present at the ceremony, including members of the Rothschild family “who contributed liberally toward the construction of the synagogue.”

The circulation of this scene in secular publications provided a glimpse into the ritual and ceremony of Judaism for non-Jewish audiences. Readers could grasp the importance of the procession through the detailed text, while the image chosen to represent the occasion underscored its centrality to the consecration ceremony.