West London Synagogue

Coordinates: .mw-parser-output .geo-default,.mw-parser-output .geo-dms,.mw-parser-output .geo-dec{display:inline}.mw-parser-output .geo-nondefault,.mw-parser-output .geo-multi-punct,.mw-parser-output .geo-inline-hidden{display:none}.mw-parser-output .longitude,.mw-parser-output .latitude{white-space:nowrap}51°30′55″N 0°09′44″W / 51.5153°N 0.1621°W / 51.5153; -0.1621
Grade II listed synagogue in City of Westminster, United kingdom

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West London Synagogue on Upper Berkeley Street
Affiliation Independent Reform Judaism
Leadership Senior Rabbis: Helen Freeman
and David Mitchell (jointly);
President: Mark Fox
Chairman: Andrew Stone
Year consecrated 1870
Status Active
Location 34 Upper Berkeley Street, London W1H 5AU, England, United Kingdom
Municipality City of Westminster
Architect(s) Davis & Emmanuel (original synagogue); Mewes & Davis (additional administrative building in Seymour Place); Julian Sofaer (Seymour Place extension)
Style Neo-Byzantine
Completed 1870 (synagogue); 1933–34 (Seymour Place building; extended in 1964 and 1973)
Listed Building – Grade II
Official name West London Synagogue
Designated 7 September 1989
Reference no. 1247701
Audio description of the synagogue by Julia, Baroness Neuberger
The synagogue, shown from the junction of Hampden Gurney Street and Upper Berkeley Street

The West London Synagogue of British Jews, abbreviated WLS (Hebrew: ק”ק שער ציון, Kahal Kadosh Sha’ar Tziyon, “Holy Congregation Gate of Zion”),[1] is a synagogue and congregation near Marble Arch in central London. It was established on 15 April 1840. The current synagogue building in Upper Berkeley Street, dedicated in 1870, is Grade II listed.[2] It is one of the oldest synagogues in the United Kingdom and it was the oldest house of prayer affiliated with the Movement for Reform Judaism, before its affiliation lapsed in February 2023.[3]


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19th century[edit]

On 15 April 1840, 24 members of the Mocatta, Goldsmid and other families announced their secession from their respective congregations, the Sephardi Bevis Marks Synagogue and the Ashkenazi Great Synagogue of London, and their intention to form a prayer group for neither “German nor Portuguese” Jews but for “British Jews”, which would allow them to worship together. The Mocattas and Goldsmids had been quarrelling with the wardens and complaining over lack of decorum for years. The new prayer group, convening in Burton Street, hired Reverend David Woolf Marks in March 1841. Marks and the congregation adopted a unique, bibliocentric approach often termed “neo-Karaism” by their critics, largely rejecting the authority of the Oral Torah. They abolished the second day of festivals and excised various prayers grounded in rabbinic tradition. It was only after almost a century that the congregation adopted mainstream Reform Judaism.

On 27 January 1842, the West London Synagogue of British Jews was consecrated in its first permanent building, at Burton Street Chapel. By 1848, it had become too crowded for the congregation. A new location was found, in Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, at a cost of £5,000. It was dedicated on 25 January 1849. In 1867, a new location was required again. Eventually, the current synagogue building in Upper Berkeley Street was opened on 22 September 1870. It cost £20,000 and had capacity for 1,000 congregants at the time.[4]

Marks retired in 1895. His successor, Rabbi Morris Joseph, abandoned his predecessor’s philosophy, which was never very popular with constituents, and brought West London closer to mainstream Reform by removing from the liturgy its petitions for the restoration of sacrifices in Jerusalem.

20th and 21st centuries[edit]

Since the 1920s, men and women have been able to sit together during West London Synagogue services. In 1929, the synagogue appointed Hebrew Union College graduate Rabbi Harold F Reinhart, who brought it into the World Union for Progressive Judaism. In 1942, West London Synagogue was a founding member of the Associated British Synagogues (called the Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ) since 2005).

In 1957 Rabbi Reinhart resigned as Senior Minister and, accompanied by 80 former members of West London Synagogue, established the New London Synagogue[5] which, shortly afterwards, was renamed Westminster Synagogue.[5]

He was succeeded by Rabbi Werner van der Zyl, who served as Senior Rabbi from 1958 to 1968.[6] Rabbi Hugo Gryn succeeded van der Zyl in 1968, until his death in 1996.[6] Rabbi Julia Neuberger served as Senior Rabbi from 2011 to 2020.

In February 2020, after a long-running dispute with the Movement for Reform Judaism (MRJ), West London Synagogue suspended its membership of MRJ. In February 2023, the Synagogue’s affiliation to MRJ lapsed after a prolonged period of disputed non-payment of fees to the MRJ.


The synagogue’s archives, from 1841 to 1942, are held in the University of Southampton Libraries Special Collections.[7]

Current rabbis and wardens[edit]

Rabbis Helen Freeman and David Mitchell took up post as joint Senior Rabbis on 1 April 2020.[8] As of 2022 the wardens are: John Axelson, Rosalind Copisarow, Laurence Davenport, Monica Jankel, Suzy Korel, Simon Raperport and Malcolm Rustin.[9]

Ritual and edifice[edit]

Services at West London Synagogue follow the prayer books of the Movement for Reform Judaism, which incorporate material from both Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions. A choir and organ, located behind a screen to the rear of the bimah, accompany the congregation in all musical parts of the service except for the aleinu and the Kaddish. Men and women sit together during services, and also play equal parts in leading them. Male worshippers are required to wear a kippah; females can wear one if they wish to do so.

The current building, dating from 1870, is located near Marble Arch in London. The main sanctuary was built in the Neo-Byzantine architectural style by Davis & Emmanuel.[4] Its premises, which extend into Seymour Place, also contain offices, a library and various community facilities. The bimah and Torah ark were built in 1869–70 by Davis & Emmanuel.[10] The synagogue’s organ, which was renovated in 2007, has 55 stops on four manuals and pedal.[nb 1]

See also[edit]

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  1. ^ See specification of the West London Synagogue’s organ


  1. ^ .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit;word-wrap:break-word}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:”””””””‘””‘”}.mw-parser-output .citation:target{background-color:rgba(0,127,255,0.133)}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free.id-lock-free a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Lock-green.svg”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited.id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration.id-lock-registration a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription.id-lock-subscription a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg”)right 0.1em center/9px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background:url(“//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Wikisource-logo.svg”)right 0.1em center/12px no-repeat}body:not(.skin-timeless):not(.skin-minerva) .mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-size:contain}.mw-parser-output .cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:none;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{color:#d33}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#2C882D;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit}html.skin-theme-clientpref-night .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F}html.skin-theme-clientpref-night .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error,html.skin-theme-clientpref-night .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397}@media(prefers-color-scheme:dark){html.skin-theme-clientpref-os .mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error,html.skin-theme-clientpref-os .mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{color:#f8a397}html.skin-theme-clientpref-os .mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{color:#18911F}}“Celebrating 174 Years of Reform Judaism in Central London”. West London Synagogue. July–August 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2022.
  2. ^ Historic England (7 September 1989). “West London Synagogue (1247701)”. National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  3. ^ Rocker, Simon (21 February 2023). “Reform Judaism to terminate membership of its oldest shul, West London Synagogue”. The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 8 March 2023.
  4. ^ a b Moore, James R (ed). (1988). Religion in Victorian Britain, vol III: Sources. Manchester University Press in association with the Open University. p. 490. ISBN 0-7190-2944-9.
  5. ^ a b “Westminster Synagogue”. The National Archives (UK). Retrieved 2 August 2020.
  6. ^ a b “West London Synagogue of British Jews: Ministers of the Congregation”. JCR-UK. 4 May 2021. Retrieved 14 February 2022.
  7. ^ “Archives of the West London Synagogue of British Jews”. Archives Hub. Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  8. ^ “Rabbis”. West London Synagogue. 10 August 2019. Retrieved 30 September 2023.
  9. ^ “West London Synagogue of British Jews: Wardens of the Synagogue 1842–2022”. JCR-UK. 14 October 2022. Retrieved 17 April 2023.
  10. ^ “West London Synagogue, Upper Berkeley Street, Westminster, London”. ViewFinder. Historic England. February 2006. Retrieved 12 August 2015.

External links[edit]

.mw-parser-output .geo-default,.mw-parser-output .geo-dms,.mw-parser-output .geo-dec{display:inline}.mw-parser-output .geo-nondefault,.mw-parser-output .geo-multi-punct,.mw-parser-output .geo-inline-hidden{display:none}.mw-parser-output .longitude,.mw-parser-output .latitude{white-space:nowrap}51°30′55″N 0°09′44″W / 51.5153°N 0.1621°W / 51.5153; -0.1621