Grand Choral Synagogue

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Not to be confused with Great Choral Synagogue.
Grand Choral Synagogue
Grand Choral Synagogue of SPB.jpg
The Grand Choral Synagogue
Basic information
Location 2 Lermontovskii Prospekt, Saint Petersburg, Russia
Geographic coordinates 59°55′30″N 30°17′31.2″E / 59.92500°N 30.292000°E / 59.92500; 30.292000
Affiliation Orthodox Judaism
Year consecrated 1893
Status Active
Leadership Menachem Mendel Pewzner
Architectural description
Architect(s) A.V. Malov
Architectural type Synagogue
Architectural style Moorish Revival-Byzantine Revival
Groundbreaking 1880 (1880)
Completed 1888

The Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петербургская Большая Хоральная Синагога Sankt-Peterburgskaya Bolshaya Khoralnaya Sinagoga), sometimes called the St. Petersburg Synagogue,[1] is the second largest synagogue in Europe.[2] It was built between 1880 and 1888, and consecrated in 1893.[3] Poet Osip Mandelstam called the Petersburg Synagogue a "lavish, outstandish seductress."


Permit from the Tsar[edit]

The St. Petersburg Synagogue could be built only after a building permit was obtained on September 1, 1869 from Tsar Alexander II, who lessened the restrictions on Jews' residence in St. Petersburg. This became possible after the memorandum to the Royal Name was submitted by the leader of the Jewish Community, Hereditary Honorary Citizen of Russia Evzel Ginzburg, who was one of the major suppliers of the Russian Imperial Army. His son, Horace Evselevich Ginzburg, was Chairman of the St. Petersburg Jewish community from 1869 - 1909, and supervised the construction of the first synagogue in St. Petersburg.[3]

Tsar Alexander II allowed Jews who were retired soldiers, people with academic degrees, 1st guild merchants, specialty craftsmen, and technicians to reside in St. Petersburg, as well as other cities outside the Pale of Settlement. By 1870, there were about ten Jewish houses of worship in St. Petersburg, however, there was no Grand Synagogue to serve the entire Jewish community in the Russian capital.

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."[4]


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.

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]

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, sixth Grand Rabbi of Chabad-Lubavitch, made Leningrad his place of residence in 1924 - 1927, together with his circle of friends and supporters. Communists were initially seeking collaboration with such an influential religious leader, however their attempts failed. In 1927, Rabbi Schneersohn was arrested by the Soviet political police, and was imprisoned in the Shpalernaya prison under the false accusations of anti-Soviet activity, that would lead to a death penalty. The international public uproar forced the Soviets to substitute the death penalty by exile to Kostroma, and later Rabbi Schneersohn was released and emigrated.[5]

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 Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg 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.

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

The Chief Rabbi of St. Petersburg is Menachem Mendel Pewzner. The Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg is located at 2 Lermontovskii Prospekt, St. Petersburg, Russia.

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] It's not the first time that a synagogue is being desecrated in Russia. According to the CFCA (the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism), the frequency of Antisemitic incidents is only increasing.[8]

Jewish cemetery of St. Petersburg[edit]

Since 1802 the Jews of St. Petersburg received a piece of land to bury their dead, however it was a strip of land near the Lutheran part of the Volkovo Cemetery.

On December 1, 1872, a Jewish cemetery was founded on the land south of the city, in Obukhovo. A synagogue was erected at the entrance to the Jewish cemetery of St. Petersburg.

Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg name variants[edit]

  • Grand Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg - is the traditional official name for this synagogue in English.
  • Great Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg - is a name variant for this synagogue in English.
  • The Edmond J Safra Grand Choral Synagogue - is the new name (after 2000) in English.
  • Bolshaya Sinagoga (in Russian) - is the Russian language name for this synagogue.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Alternate names include: The Great Choral Synagogue of St. Petersburg and The Edmond J Safra Grand Choral Synagogue (since 2000).
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b c d e f History of the Grand Choral Synagogue of Saint Petersburg.
  4. ^ A quote from the Tsar's permission to build a synagogue in St. Petersburg. (Translated from Russian)
  5. ^ Altein, R, Zaklikofsky, E, Jacobson, I: "Out of the Inferno: The Efforts That Led to the Rescue of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of Lubavitch from War Torn Europe in 1939-40", page 160. Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, 2002 ISBN 0-8266-0683-0
  6. ^ Women in Orthodox Judaism: Role of women in Orthodox Judaism
  7. ^ "Swastika spray-painted on synagogue". CFCA. Retrieved 31 July 2012. 
  8. ^ "Antisemitic Incidents- Russia". CFCA. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 


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