Sometimes I buy a book just because of the association – in this case, a copy of the 1769 printing of Pri Chadash with a book stamp of the Old Castle Street Synagogue, 42 Old Castle Street in the East End of London. It was known as Agudath Achim and Gemiluth Chesedim, and later Agudat Achim Kehal Chabad. It was Chassidic and used Nusach Ha’Ari (which means that the prayers followed the customs of Rabbi Isaac Luria).
The synagogue is believed to have been started as a Chevra (a Society) in the 1850s, which combined with another small Chevra, and from 1872 occupied a site at the back of 113 Old Castle Street, in a small warehouse. The Chevras were called Gemiluth Chesedim and Shalom VeEmet.
By 1870 Chevrat Shalom veEmet (‘Peace and Truth’ synagogue) had 120 members, and by March 1872 a permanent building was being created out of the old warehouse by Cawder, builder of Lewisham, opening on the 31st when the committee was met by the choir of the North London Synagogue, and an embroidered curtain for the Ark and cover for the reading desk were presented. Its President was Joseph Boam (1851-1937), a young Polish-born tailor whose premises at 118 Wentworth Street backed on to the site.
The synagogue was a founder member of the Federation of Synagogues in 1887. A full-scale rebuilding took place in 1890-1 following condemnation of the conditions by the sanitary committee of the Jewish Board of Guardians. It was approached from 42 Old Castle Street through a ‘neat and roomy vestibule’. It had seating for 285 including 120 in the women’s gallery. The ‘handsome’ Ark and stained glass window came from the St John Wood’s synagogue (now the New London Synagogue) in Abbey Road, then undergoing enlargement by Lewis Solomon.
By the early twentieth century the Old Castle Street congregation had outgrown its premises and at some point thereafter merged with the Philpot Street Great Synagogue. The Old Castle Street building, however, continued as a synagogue, known as Agudath Achim (‘Band of Brothers’).
Rabbi Harry Rabinowitz writes about the ‘Old Castle Street Shtiebel’. He mentions Rabbi Moses Tellier, its spiritual leader, being authorised by the Chief Rabbi to answer Halachic (Jewish Law) queries. One of its Chasidim was Rabbi Moses Avigdor Chaikin (1852-1958), who wrote many books, including Sefer Kelalei Poskim (Rules of the Codifiers) which I have written about previously. A mainstay of the Shtiebel was Chayim Mordechai Zevi Rapoport (died 1956), whose son, Rabbi S. Rapoport was Rabbi of the Higher Crumpsall Beth Hanidrash in Manchester. Officients included Israel Dov Olivestone (died 1928), whose father had been the baal musaf at the Court of Ger, Simon Leib Greenberg, a Chasid of Lubavitch, Rabbi Joseph Kacenelenbogen, Rabbi Mordechai Zev Gutnik, who was the first Shaliach of Chabad in London, Rabbi Asher Abramson and Rabbi Abraham Rapoport, later to be Dayan Rapoport of the London Beth Din.
The shtiebel was redecorated and reopened in December 1933 with the participation of Dayan Asher Feldman and Mr. Barnet Janner, the Liberal MP for Whitechapel (later to be Lord Janner). It was damaged during the war, and was repaired but with the decline of the East End Jewish community it closed in the 1960s.
And what about the book? Peri Chadash (“New Fruit”) was written by Rabbi Hezekiah da Silva, (1659–1695), Rabbi of Jerusalem, brother-in-law of Rabbi Moses Hagiz. Rabbi Hezekiah was born in Leghorn and moved to Jerusalem prior to 1679. In 1688 he was sent as an emissary from Jerusalem to Central and Western Europe. He was head of the Beit Yaakov yeshivah from his return to Jerusalem in 1692 until his death.
His reputation rests upon his Peri Chadash, which contains exceptionally trenchant criticisms of the rulings of Rabbi Joseph Caro and all the earlier codifiers, with the exception of Maimonides. In this work, aimed at nullifying the authority of Joseph Caro’s Shulhan Arukh as representing the final Halachah (Jewish law), he attempts to elucidate the Halachah as conforming with his view. This book, the section called Yoreh De’ah was first published in Amsterdam in 1692. When it reached Egypt it gave rise to violent controversy. In the course of time, the work increased in popularity,and many leading Halachists accepted its rulings.
As an illustration from the book, I chose something of interest to British Jews – the custom of many orthodox Jews in the UK to keep an interval of three hours after eating meat before eating milk products. This was probably originally the custom of many Jews of Germany and differed from the prevalent custom in many other countries of keeping five or six hours. The problem is that there are few sources of the origin of three hours.
The relevant section of the Shulchan Aruch and below that the commentary of the Pri Chadash is below. He writes about there being only approximately four hours between meals. This has been interpreted as meaning that there should be a minimum wait of three hours.