United Synagogue

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For the American Conservative synagogue association, see United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
The logo of the United Synagogue

United Synagogue is an organisation of London Jews that was founded with the sanction of an Act of Parliament, in 1870.[1] As of 2007, it remains the largest religious grouping within the British Jewish community and indeed in Europe, covering 62 Orthodox Jewish communities. It takes its religious authority from the Chief Rabbi of Britain and has its own Beth Din and Dayanim.

The United Synagogue's values stem from the principles of both Torah and Halacha.


From 1866, Nathan Marcus Adler was instrumental in bringing together the United Synagogue, a union of the three City of London synagogues — the Great Synagogue, the New Synagogue, and the Hambro Synagogue — and their branch synagogues at Great Portland Street and Bayswater.

Its direct work has always been confined to the metropolis, but it has exercised, indirectly, considerable influence over the Jews of the British Empire and British Commonwealth. It is governed by an elected council representing the constituent congregations. In religious and ritual matters it is under the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbi. The president of the United Synagogue in 1910 was Nathan Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild.[1]

The United Synagogue directs and supports educational and charitable work. The title chief rabbi is not found in the pre-expulsion records, though, before the Jews were banished in 1290, there was an official named presbyter omnium Judaeorum Angliae. The functions of this official have not been proved to have been ecclesiastical. The title Chief Rabbi became well known through the eminence of occupants of the position such as Adler's immediate predecessor Solomon Hirschell (1762–1842).[1]


1690 – Foundation of the Great Synagogue
1707 – Hambro' Synagogue established
1761 – New Synagogue established
1837 – New Synagogue moves to Great St. Helens
1845 – Nathan Marcus Adler becomes Chief Rabbi[2]
1855 – Central Synagogue established
1863 – Bayswater Synagogue established
1870 – The five Ashkenazi Synagogues join to form the United Synagogue
1891 – Hermann Marcus Adler succeeds his father as Chief Rabbi
1913 – Joseph Herman Hertz becomes Chief Rabbi
1914 – United Synagogue comprises 21 communities
1931–38 – Nineteen more communities join
1939 – United Synagogue comprises 52 communities
1945–55 – Thirty more communities join
1948 – Israel Brodie becomes Chief Rabbi
1967 – Immanuel Jakobovits becomes Chief Rabbi
1991 – Jonathan Sacks becomes Chief Rabbi
1995 – 125th Anniversary Celebrations
2001 – Women first permitted to become local synagogue officers (yet restricted to the roles of vice-chair or financial representative) [3]
2003 – Tribe (Young United Synagogue) launched
2008 – United Synagogue comprises over 60 communities
2012 – Women first permitted to become chairs of United Synagogue congregations, scheduled to start May 2013 [4]
2013 – Karen Appleby becomes the first female chair of a United Synagogue congregation, St Albans congregation.[5]
2013 – Ephraim Mirvis becomes Chief Rabbi


The rabbinic leadership of the United Synagogue is vested in the chief rabbi and the London Beth Din. The lay leadership comprises the president and trustees (shiva tuvei ha'ir).

The United Synagogue was established for charitable purposes by the Jewish United Synagogues Act of 1870.[6] It was formally registered as a charity on 2 June 1965 (Registered Charity No 24255; Executive Offices: 305 Ballards Lane, London N12 8GB; Tel: 020 8343 8989)

The Schedule to the Act was previously the major constitutional document of the charity. This has subsequently been augmented by the Statutes of the United Synagogue, passed by the United Synagogue Council in April 1999, which set out the charity's objects, its role and powers and those of its Honorary Officers (Trustees) and its Council; by the Byelaws, which set out the system of governance of local synagogues; and by the Election Regulations, which set out the procedure for electing the Board of Trustees every three years.

The relationship of the United Synagogue and its Affiliates is governed by the Affiliate Scheme.

Accusations of Pro-Israeli bias and dissemination of inaccurate and politically motivated Israeli propaganda[edit]

Accusations that the United Synagogue acts as a mouthpiece for the Israeli embassy here in the UK and that the United Synagogues pro-actively parrot Israeli government propaganda have been made by members of the public in July 2014.[7]

Correspondence has been entered into with theUS.org.uk by a member of the British public in which the following criticisms have been highlighted, relating to the literature and 'learning' material[8] hosted on the United Synagogue website, specifically the complete absence of references and source attribution of claims relating to historical and political events in the life of Israel and its neighboring countries. After numerous phone calls to theUS.org.uk the only sources given by their staff as evidence for the dubious claims made by theUS.org.uk regarding its highly-politicized history of Israel were to another non-primary source/referenced pro-Israeli blog, http://www.webelieveinisrael.org.uk/. This website, WeBelieveInIsrael, contains no details as to who runs it, nor which noted historians provided them with their 'facts'.

United Synagogues 'learning' material has been found to promote not only the idea of Israel as a benign force for good in the region vis-a-vis other local actors (such as Hamas in the Gaza strip) but also conforms word-for-word to the Israel government's narrative surrounding:

1) the myths of Israel as a true liberal democracy, with equal and inclusive suffrage for all, Jew and non-Jew alike. The learning material makes no mention of the legal reality in Israel today that Arab and other non-Jewish citizens are unable to obtain the status of Israeli Nationals, with Israels high court ruling in 1970 that

'there is no Israeli nation that exists separately from a Jewish nation'[9]

2) the attribution of benign motives of early Zionist immigrants to Palestine towards the Palestinian native population is both unsubstantiated provided without evidence to support such a claim and stands in direct contradiction to comments made, at the time, by Zionist leaders such as Moshe Sharett who announced that

'We have forgotten that we have not come to an empty land to inherit it, but we have come to conquer a country from a people inhabiting it, that governs it by virtue of its language and savage culture...If we cease to look upon our land, the Land of Israel, as ours alone and we allow a partner into our estate-all content and meaning will be lost to our enterprise.'[10]

3) a complete omission of the historically, independently and verifiable documented events of forced mass-expulsion and killings meted out to the native non-Jewish Palestinian population at the hands of Israeli sponsored Zionist terror gangs, Israeli army soldiers and officials, specifically the 700,000 individuals expelled at gunpoint in 1948 and further 300,000 forced to flee Israel in 1967[11]

This is not the first time that criticism of the Chief Rabbi of the United Synagogues as been alleged and their impartiality regarding the behavior of Israel has been brought into qestion. Sir Alan Duncan's recent speech at the Royal United Services Institute on the Middle East Peace Process[12] highlighted a letter written to The Times[13] of London by a Mr Dominic Kirkham responding[14] to comments from Ex-Chief Rabbi Sacks in which Mr Kirkham stated that:

‘……it is Israel’s belligerence, growing sectarian nature, aggressive colonisation and indifference to international law which are the real cause of so much concern and hatred. Events do not happen in a vacuum and by conflating Zionism, anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel, Rabbi Sacks seems to be condoning what is happening in Israel.’[15]

Additionally, criticisms have been alleged[16] as to the inappropriateness of the organisations status as a registered UK charity in light of the political nature of the messages that the United Synagogues promotes under the guide of religion, aligning itself wholly and exclusively to an Pro-Israeli interpretation of history. Calls have been made for it, and other British charities promoting Israel, to be stripped of their charitable status.[17]

The Board of Trustees[edit]

The Board of Trustees (also known as the United Synagogue Honorary Officers, or USHOs) have overall responsibility for the activities of the United Synagogue. They are elected by the Council of the United Synagogue (see below) every three years. The last elections took place in July 2011, and the current president is Stephen Pack.

The Board of Trustees consists of a President, three Vice-Presidents and three Treasurers. Trustees serve for a three-year period and may be re-elected for a further three-year period in the same position. They may go on to serve similarly in other trustee positions. The powers of the Trustees are set out in the Statutes.

Responsibility for the religious direction and guidance of the United Synagogue is vested in the Chief Rabbi.

While no formal policy for the recruitment of trustees exists as such, the constitution provides that a trustee must have prior experience of serving on the Board of Management at one of the network of local Synagogue Communities for which the United Synagogue is the umbrella body and where the majority of the charity's activities take place. Trustees who stand for election have had wide experience of lay leadership in the general Jewish Community for which they are taking responsibility.

The Board of Trustees meets, on average, once a month to take strategic and policy decisions. These meetings are attended by the Chief Executive, Director of Finance and the Company Secretary to provide operational advice as required. In addition other Divisional Directors are invited as appropriate.

The Board of Trustees has various sub-committees convened for the better working of the charity, and the membership of those committees comprises Trustees as well as other individuals, lay and professional. These sub-committees have such delegated decision making powers as are set out in their own terms of reference.

The Council of the United Synagogue[edit]

The Council represents the voice of the membership of the United Synagogue, and has retained four powers from the days when it was the trustee body of the charity:

  • To elect and remove Trustees
  • To consent to proposed amendments to the constitution of the United Synagogue
  • To admit/discontinue the membership of any synagogue to the United Synagogue
  • To consider the Budget and accounts of the United Synagogue.

The Council is elected annually by members of local synagogues at the same time as the annual synagogue elections for local honorary officers. Each synagogue elects a number of Council Representatives based on the number of members it has. All current trustees are members of Council ex officio, as are the immediate previous set of trustees. There are in addition a limited number of life members including all past Presidents. Council meets four times a year, with two of those meetings to receive the annual budget and the presentation of the annual accounts.

The Synagogues[edit]

The United Synagogue has 44 Member, 17 Affiliate and 1 Associate synagogues.

Member synagogues[edit]

The member synagogues are part of the United Synagogue. The day-to-day responsibility for running the individual member synagogues is delegated by the trustees to local honorary officers and boards of management elected annually by the members of the local synagogues.

The Byelaws regulate the powers of the local honorary officers and the conduct of local synagogue activities. The trustees from time to time issue guidelines or instructions to supplement the Byelaws.

The religious affairs of the synagogues are run by the local rabbi (together with a cantor if appropriate) and the wardens (who are part of the team of Honorary Officers) under the overall guidance of the Chief Rabbi. Professional administrators are employed at most synagogues to provide the local lay leadership with administrative support in the effective management of the community.

Local synagogues collect an annual membership subscription—the communal payover—from their members. A proportion of this membership is paid over to the Centre for the services provided generally and to support the further development of the charity. The remainder of the membership subscriptions are retained and administered locally according to United Synagogue rules, and are used to run the local community.

Affiliate synagogues[edit]

These are synagogues which are constitutionally one step removed from the United Synagogue, and whose relationship to the charity is governed by the Affiliate scheme. They are independent legal entities (sometimes independent charities) which 'affiliate' to the United Synagogue for a variety of purposes but which do not form part of the charity. The Affiliates govern their synagogue under the Byelaws, as varied by the Affiliate scheme. The United Synagogue provides them with certain limited services for which they also pay an annual contribution.

The professional staff[edit]

The Board of Trustees delegates powers for the day-to-day running of the Charity as a whole to the Chief Executive and, through him, to the senior professionals team.

  • Steven Wilson, Chief Executive
  • David Kaplan, Community Services Director responsible for the Community Division and Tribe
  • Rabbi Jeremy Conway, External Services Director responsible for Kashrut and Eruvin
  • David Frei, External and Legal Services Director responsible for in house legal advice, London Beth Din, Burial and Visitation
  • Ian Myers, Marketing and Communication Director responsible for the marketing and communication strategy of the United Synagogue

The Chief Executive in addition has responsibility for in Finance and Human Resources Departments.

List of member synagogues[edit]

(List only contains synagogues with Wikipedia pages)

See also[edit]




External links[edit]