Grand Choral Synagogue

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Grand Choral Synagogue
Grand Choral Synagogue of SPB.jpg
The Grand Choral Synagogue
AffiliationOrthodox Judaism
LeadershipMenachem Mendel Pewzner
Year consecrated1893
Location2 Lermontovskii Prospekt, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Geographic coordinates59°55′30″N 30°17′31.2″E / 59.92500°N 30.292000°E / 59.92500; 30.292000
Architect(s)A.V. Malov
Architectural typeSynagogue
Architectural styleMoorish Revival-Byzantine Revival
Groundbreaking1880 (1880)

The Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербургская Большая Хоральная Синагога, tr. Sankt-Peterburgskaya Bolshaya Khoralnaya Sinagoga)[1] is the third largest synagogue in Europe.[2] It was built between 1880 and 1888, and consecrated in December 1893.[3] The Synagogue is located at 2 Lermontovskii Prospekt, St. Petersburg, Russia. The Chief Rabbi of St. Petersburg is Menachem Mendel Pewzner. Today the Great Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg is a registered landmark and an architectural monument of federal importance.


Permit from the Emperor[edit]

By 1870, there were about ten Jewish houses of worship in St. Petersburg, however, there was no synagogue to serve the entire Jewish community in the capital of the Russia Empire.

The construction of the Grand Synagogue was made possible after permission was on 1 September 1869 granted by Tsar Alexander II, in response to the request from the wealthy Russian Jewish philanthropist Joseph Günzburg (Evzel' Gavriilovich Gintsburg). His son, Horace, was Chairman of the St. Petersburg Jewish community in 1869–1909 and supervised the construction of the synagogue.[4]

The land plot for the first synagogue was bought in 1879 for 65,000 rubles. The construction of the first synagogue in St. Petersburg was subject to multiple conditions and restrictions. For example, there could be no Christian churches near the synagogue, nor government roads used by the Tsars. Another restriction was the height of the building, which was limited to 47 meters, instead of the 65 meters proposed by the architects. In fact, no building in St. Petersburg could be higher than 23 meters, the height of the Tsar's Winter Palace, and exemptions were only given for bell towers and domes, because those also served as observation towers for fire watch and other safety purposes. While allowing the synagogue to be 47 meters tall, the Tsar imposed several other requirements.

"His Majesty, noting that a more modest appearance befits the building of the first synagogue in the capital, according to the civic standing of Jews in our homeland, gives the Tsar's permission for building the synagogue."[5]


Main hall ("Bolshoi Zal") of the Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg, Russia
Main gate of synagogue
Synagogue fence

The group of architects and supervisors for the first synagogue in St. Petersburg chose the Moorish style for its design, modeled in part after Berlin's Oranienburger Straße New Synagogue with its melange of Moorish and Byzantine motifs. In the end, the project boasted an eclectic blend of neo-Byzantine and Moorish revival styles with Arabesque motifs, upon the request of V. V. Stasov, the influential Russian art critic and supervisor of the project. The Great Choral Synagogue was designed by architects I.I. Shaposhnikov, L. Bakhman, and V.A. Shreter, with the participation of V. V. Stasov and N. L. Benois,[3] who was the curator of the project and the confidant of the Tsar and the Russian government. Poet Osip Mandelstam later called the Petersburg Synagogue a "lush stranger fig tree."

The land for the synagogue was allocated near the Mariinsky Theatre. The construction was carried out under the management of the Construction Committee headed by A.A. Kaufman. The architect and superintendent of construction was A.V. Malov, and his assistants were S.O. Klein and B.I. Girshovich, between 1880 and 1888. First, the Small Synagogue was opened in 1886. The Great Choral Synagogue was consecrated in 1893.

During the First World War[edit]

The 100-bed hospital for the wounded of all confessions[3] was organised by the Jewish community of St. Petersburg on the premises of the synagogue. The building of the Yeshiva near the Great Choral Synagogue had also served as a medical facility for many years.

Synagogue in the Soviet era[edit]

After the 1917 revolution and the following Russian Civil War, the Jewish community of St. Petersburg had lost many members due to emigration. The Soviet authorities imposed restriction on bank accounts related to the synagogue, and also announced the dissolution of the Jewish community of St. Petersburg, by the decree signed by Grigory Zinoviev.[3]

During the Second World War[edit]

The St. Petersburg Synagogue was bombed by the Nazis during the Siege of Leningrad between 1941 and 1943. However, the hospital on the premises of the synagogue was in operation. The Jewish community managed to survive the siege of Leningrad, as well as other oppression over the years.[3]


National landmark[edit]

Today the Great Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg is a registered landmark and an architectural monument of federal importance. Major reconstruction was carried out between 2000 and 2003. On 5 Tamuz 5761 (June 26, 2001), the greater hall was reopened after reconstruction. The greater hall, also called the main hall, holds 1200 and has women's galleries on three sides.[6]

Reconstruction and renaming[edit]

After the 5 million dollar donation by the Safra family in 1999, the reconstruction of the Synagogue was made between 2000 and 2005. Upon conditions of the donation the St. Petersburg Synagogue was renamed The Edmond J Safra Grand Choral Synagogue, although the community still calls it in Russian Bolshaya Sinagoga ("The Grand Synagogue").

In 2005 a new Mikvah was built from a design by Israeli architect M. Gorelik. The new Mikvah was inaugurated on April 19, 2005.

Anti-Semitic attacks[edit]

On May 5, 2012, a swastika has been spray-painted on the fence for the Grand Choral Synagogue, as what seems to be an anti-Semitic act.[7]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alternate names include: The Great Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg and The Edmond J Safra Grand Choral Synagogue (since 2000). Sometimes it is simply referred to as the St. Petersburg Synagogue.
  2. ^ "Grand Choral Synagogue | Expat | St. Petersburg". Retrieved 2018-02-16.
  3. ^ a b c d e "ИСТОРИЯ САНКТ-ПЕТЕРБУРГСКОЙ БОЛЬШОЙ ХОРАЛЬНОЙ СИНАГОГИ". Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  4. ^ ИСТОРИЯ САНКТ-ПЕТЕРБУРГСКОЙ БОЛЬШОЙ ХОРАЛЬНОЙ СИНАГОГИ // Получение разрешения на строительство синагоги. Комитет по строительству синагоги
  5. ^ A quote from the Tsar's permission to build a synagogue in St. Petersburg. (Translated from Russian)
  6. ^ Women in Orthodox Judaism: Role of women in Orthodox Judaism
  7. ^ "Swastika spray-painted on synagogue". CFCA. Retrieved 31 July 2012.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 59°55′30″N 30°17′31″E / 59.925°N 30.292°E / 59.925; 30.292