The World’s Longest Running Synagogue?

I write this post in the hope of answering a question that I’ve been pondering for the past few months. What is the world’s longest continuously running synagogue? I ask not about the oldest synagogue building, or about an uninterrupted religious tradition that may have survived geographic dislocation. Rather, I seek to discover the longest continuously worshiped in synagogue building in the world.

My current thinking is that it is London’s Bevis Marks Synagogue (note: I am its rabbi). It was built in 1701 and as far as I know it has essentially been in continuous use since that time. The synagogue already lays claim to being the oldest synagogue in Great Britain, and to being the longest running in Europe, however I think it may in fact be the longest running in the world.

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Bevis Marks Synagogue, est 1701

There are no synagogues in the Americas that are even as old as 1701, let alone in continuous use since that time. The majority of European synagogues were closed during the atrocities of WWII and the Holocaust. Furthermore, most Sephardic Jews were forced out of their Middle Eastern and North African homes in the years following the founding of the State of Israel. Israel itself does not have any synagogues from before the eighteenth century that are in continuous use since that time (Safed was destroyed in an earthquake in 1837, Old Jerusalem was off limits to Jews from 1948-1967, Hebron’s Jews were massacred in 1929, and the community of Tiberias was only founded in the 1740s).

I wonder though, whether there are any pre-eighteenth century synagogues still in use from before 1701 in Morocco, Iran or India. Assuming not, then is Bevis Marks Synagogue not in fact the world’s longest running snyaoguge? I ask, because it isn’t just a claim for publicity, but because it would mean that Bevis Marks is home to the oldest authentic continuous Jewish tradition alive today. If true, that would make Bevis Marks a treasure for the entire Jewish people to hold dear to, even more than it already is. Its authenticity is a reality that I find difficult to describe, but experience daily when I pray in its venerable confines. It is a window into the past that captivates all who enter and worship within its walls.

Please help me to answer this question in the comments section below!

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15 responses to “The World’s Longest Running Synagogue?

  1. I am proud that my 8th g-grandfather, Joseph Isaac Cohen d’Azevedo was contributor to the building fund of Bevis Marks and his grandson was Haham Moses Daniel Cohen d’Azevdo was my 6th g-grandfather.

  2. My family has been members and married at Beavis Marks since its inception, but isn’t the El Ghriba Synagogue in Djerba the oldest still in use synagogue in the world?

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I’ve poked around and while it seems they the synagogue may include some ancient stones, the current building is from the nineteenth century.

  3. 1. Yemen? Ethiopia? And can we assume that in the USSR there were no synagogue buildings operating clandestinely?

    2. Interesting that the Americas don’t have synagogues older than 1701, given that Europeans were arriving since 1492. But then, a synagogue is not the first thing you would build…

    3. … Though it’s an interesting question, it reminds me of how (Diaspora) Jewish life has sadly been ‘reduced’ to the synagogue. Isn’t there a talmudic source on community priorities – something like, when choosing where to live you must prioritise a miqva and systems for education, tsedaqa (redistribution of wealth), justice (beit din)… synagogue is quite low down that list, isn’t it? So perhaps a more important question would be e.g. Which is the world’s longest-running miqva?! No wonder Jews are turned off, when all they are exposed to by the public face of Jewish life is the public realm alone. As so many Jewish community centres are synagogues, they emphasise ritual and prayer by definition, and are seldom reminded that Jewish life is primarily in the private world and speaks in a whisper to the intimacy of the individual. (This is the true speciality of the Jews – as represented by Esther. Just as the solution to 17th Tammuz is Yom Kippur, the solution to 9th Av surely hinted at by Purim.)

    • Thank you for your heartfelt response. I don’t believe there are any current synagogues in those places. In reference to your point about defining Jewish presence according to criteria other than synagogues I think you might enjoy Holly Snyder’s ‘Rethinking the Definition of “Community” for a Migratory Age 1654-1830,’ in the first chapter of “Imagining the American Jewish Community,” Brandeis University Press, 2007.

  4. I vote for Amsterdam! The Portuguese Snoge there was built in the period 1669-1675. In 1675 it was inaugurated and it has been in continuous use since then by the Community Talmud Tora, but for a short period that lasted from 23 May 1943 until 9 May 1945.

    • Thanks Ton :). Though as you correctly point out the Portuguese synagogue sadly experienced a violent disruption. Thankfully, it heroically reconstituted itself and persists beautifully until this day.

  5. Aleppo where the Codex was cherished ? I’m from Portsmouth, where the kehillah was founded in the reign of King George II but the current shut building is an infant,dating back only to 1936!

    • Dear Roger,
      Thank you for the suggestion. As far as I understand it Syrian Jewry no longer remains in Syria and that synagogue is therefore sadly no longer in use.
      I’ll need to make my way to Portsmouth at some point to visit!
      Best,
      Shalom

  6. You are correct about Europe but what about India, China and other places in the Far East, both north and south (along The Silk Route and Indo-China)?

    Whilst writing congrats to you and all involved on the Walking Tour event – keep them coming.

    • Dear Kris,
      Thank you for commenting. You are right, there could be candidates in India, Iran or otherwise. I’m trying to find out and have looked at a few possibilities already. I’ll publish my findings when done! :).
      And thanks for the kind words. I’ll do my best!
      Warm regards,
      Shalom

  7. Dear Rabbi, if you are looking to identify the oldest continuous community (as opposed to just the synagogue building), then I think London’s claim goes back slightly further.

    You will be no doubt aware that the community of Bevis Marks has its origins in the nearby Creechurch Lane community, which existed from the late 1650s. By the 1690s they had outgrown their small building, and finally having the social status to do so, they commissioned and funded the far more impressive Bevis Marks just up the road. As far as I understand, the founding members of Bevis Marks were all Creechurch Lane members, so I think there is a good case that the religious traditions were uninterrupted.

    Best regards

    Rich

    • Dear Rich,
      Thank you for your very corrects comments. I think such an insight is certainly of value in terms of the history of the S&P minhag. However, for these purposes I’m looking for continuous synagogue use, not only continuous religious tradition. So that date to ‘beat’ is 1701! 🙂
      Thanks for following and chiming in. Much appreciated!
      Best,
      Shalom

  8. Pingback: Post #100 – The World’s Longest Running Synagogue! | Shalom Says Hello·

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