We are very grateful to Henry Roche for his donation of the following Great Synagogue data and his full description of them:
GSMEM – INTRODUCTION by Henry Roche
This transcription of the Membership list of the Great Synagogue derives from the two known existing transcriptions by Cecil Roth and Albert M. Hyamson. Roth’s was published in 1962 in Vol.VI of the Miscellanies of the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE) pp.175–185, and covers the earliest years as far as September 1791, i.e. the end of the Hebrew year 5551, when the congregational birth, marriage and death registers begin. Hyamson’s handwritten transcription in the Hyamson Collection at the Society of Genealogists (where it is available on microfiche) takes the list on through to March 1817, and then from 1846 to 1870 (the twenty-nine year gap caused by a volume long missing from the synagogue archives). The present new transcription, which extends only to 1817, has been fully checked against both versions, and includes all additional notes that both Roth and Hyamson appended to their lists.
Roth’s introduction to his 1962 list describes how his transcription was made “some thirty years earlier” by comparing and correlating the two separate sources in the Great Synagogue’s archives. Hyamson’s transcription is nearly identical to Roth’s, but a few divergences make it clear that his list preserves certain aspects or details of the originals that are absent or slightly different in Roth. In particular, Hyamson’s numbering must represent an original source, since he specifically mentions and preserves the numerical error whereby #606 is followed by #707, with the omission of 607–706. Roth’s numbers (1–307) correspond to Hyamson’s 1–310. As Roth’s version is the more widely known, both sets of numbers are retained in the present transcription.
Nos. 1–82 (1–80 in Roth) comprise a very nearly alphabetical list of names apparently covering the period from (roughly) 1730 to 1755. Nos. 83–110 (Roth 81–108) form a similar list, this time evidently in chronological order, for the years 1756 to 1762. Then from 5553 (Sept.1762) the names are found under separate year-headings, with precise individual dates added from 1792 onwards.
The source lists were inscribed in Hebrew, but from the early 1790s individuals’ English names began to be added to the Hebrew entries, and of course appear in this transcription. However in a surprising number of other cases it has proved possible to deduce the English names, which are therefore given in square brackets. In a few cases Hyamson’s transcription gives the actual Hebrew characters, in particular where he may be in some doubt about their exact meaning.
In Chapter V of his History of the Great Synagogue, Roth explains that membership was bought in early days for 3 guineas (£3.3s), increasing in 1736 to 5 gns and finally in 1740 to 10 gns, which remained the fee until 1870 when the United Synagogue was established and “privileged” membership abolished. Just like a club, all applicants had to be approved for membership. The Members or Baale Batim (literally “house-holders”, and sometimes slightly inaccurately known as “Privileged Members”) received the right to vote in synagogue affairs and also to stand for office, and to have a burial plot in the higher ground of the cemetery. Each Member (Baal Bayith) also had the right to introduce his sons and sons-in-law for membership at a reduced fee. This is why from about 1790 onwards the entries state “through his father” or “through his father-in-law so-and-so” (adding the father-in-law’s name). In this latter case membership almost always appears to follow quite closely after the known date of the wedding. Some pre-1790 entries also add the father-in-law’s name without comment, but this may be safely assumed to be for the same reason and to indicate a similar temporal pattern of events.
After the Great Synagogue’s Baale Batim there were the Toshabim or Toshavim, established residents who merely rented their seat. Finally the Orachim or Orahim, “guests” or “wayfarers” (so named even if resident), those poor who were deemed unable to afford any fixed payment.
A word of warning in consulting transcriptions like this one, where each Hebrew name is split into two parts, the given name separated from the father’s name or patronymic. The reader should be aware that any words following the father’s name (place-name, occupation etc.) may more likely refer to the individual entered rather than to his father. Thus while Michael b. RR Jossele, the Shamash (GSMEM 222 R 219) was in fact the son of R Jossele the Shamash (GSMEM 136 R 133), Zalman b. Jonah necklace-maker (GSMEM 161 R 158) was himself a necklace-maker, and this occupational label should be taken to apply to him rather than to his father Jonah.
For the last two pages (184-5) of Roth’s list (an “Appendix” of names in the earliest Account Books), see GSEAB.
Abbreviations used in GSMEM:
In general, R = Roth; and H = Hyamson.
The English abbreviation “NS” added by Hyamson to some entries from #367 onwards is at present of unknown meaning. It is certainly not “New Synagogue” but it might perhaps stand for Not Subscribed?
TJHSE = Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (or its “Miscellanies” volumes).
FAJF = First American Jewish Families by Rabbi Malcolm Stern.
GS = Great Synagogue; Roth Gt Syn = Roth’s History of the Great Synagogue.
Admon = Administration in Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) probate records.
dr = daughter; f-i-l + father-in-law; s-i-l = son-in-law.
b = born; bur.= burial or buried; m = married.
In Hebrew names, R = Reb (an honorific roughly equivalent to “Mr”), with RR a more religiously learned version; b = ben (son of); m- means “from”; z-l = “may his memory be blessed” (i.e. “the late”).