The St. Petersburg Great Choral Synagogue, located on Lermontovsky Prospect, is an architectural monument of the city and Jewish history in general. It performs not only a religious function but also an educational role. Jews come here to pray, communicate, exchange experiences. There are the shop, the restaurant, the guest house, the library, kindergartens and schools, boarding houses, master classes and the dating club on the territory of the synagogue. Anyone can visit the synagogue with a tour group.
A kind of “Jewish quarter” with its infrastructure and inhabitants is formed in the synagogue.
History of Jews in Russia
The first Jews appeared in St. Petersburg right after its foundation or even during the time – most of them participated in the construction of the city. However, under Empress Catherine I, they were officially forbidden to live in Russia. But this didn’t concern everyone: those Jews who were beneficial to the Empress could live in the city. So in the Jews houses, they began to read prayers and, though not officially, prayer houses appeared.
In 1742 a decree prohibiting Jews from living in the central and southern regions of the Russian Empire was issued. However, after the Polish lands were annexed, quite a lot of Jews began to live on the territory of the country. By 1826, despite the official ban, almost 250 Jews already lived in St. Petersburg.
In the 1820s, new soldier communities began to appear. There were a sufficient number of Jews among the soldiers who were allowed to bring their families with them to Russia. When the first Jewish military retired, Emperor Alexander II allowed them to reside in the capital. Hebrew soldiers could pray in their free time. At first, they performed ceremonies in the barracks, and when they were forbidden to do this, they moved into private apartments.
History of the Choral Synagogue
Alexander II’s policy towards Jews was loyal. They could invite rabbis from other cities to Petersburg if it was necessary. By the middle of the XIX century, quite a lot of Jews lived on the territory of the capital and small prayers in the city could no longer meet the needs of believers. Then in 1869, the Emperor allowed building a synagogue. The building committee was headed by Horace Ginzburg, the fundraising began.
In 1870, a house on the embankment of the Fontanka River was purchased to perform the function of a temporary building for the period of the synagogue building. But things didn’t move on: there were problems with finding a suitable place for the construction of the synagogue. And only in 1879, a land plot was bought on Bolshaya Masterskaya Street.
In July 1879, a competition was announced for the best construction project, in which the work of Bachmann and Shaposhnikov was named the best option. But the emperor demanded to make the building more restrained and modest in size.
The architects agreed to make the changes for free. The project of the synagogue was approved only in 1883.
The architect of the project was A. V. Malov, and his assistants – S. O. Klein and B. I. Girshovich. However, soon the construction was frozen until 1884 to change the plans in order to reduce the cost of the project.
In 1886, the Minor Synagogue was consecrated. The Temporary Synagogue was established there. The construction work was completed in 1888, but the interior decoration was over in five years. The main work was done by M. Gimmelfar, the benches on the first floor – Berman, and the gratings for the stairs were made at the Isidor Goldberg’s factory.
In December 1893, there was a ceremonial blessing of the Great Synagogue, 7 Torah scrolls were brought into the hall. For all the construction work of the main Jews temple in St. Petersburg took 25 years. The new building accommodated only 1,200 people.
The finishing work on the synagogue continued even after its opening. In 1905, a decision to collect money for a new metal fence instead of a wooden one was made, but only in 1909, the necessary amount was collected. The fence was replaced, crystal lights were also installed. The works were made according to the drawings of the artist Ropet.
The synagogue was selling seats to parishioners which could be bought temporarily or permanently
In addition to the classic prayers, weddings were held in the walls of the Jewish temple. Separate chapels began to appear from 1904. The synagogue authorities controlled their activities, as well as engaged in charity, library support, education and training for young people.
The first chairman of the Petersburg Jewish community was G. O. Gunzburg, then his son D. G. Gunzburg, and after him M. A. Varshavsky. By 1916, the number of parishioners, including those who paid the assessed contributions, was already 700, and those who were to some extent connected with the work of thе in St. Petersburg Synagogue were about 3,000.
The synagogue took an active part in the people’s lives during the war with Germany in 1914. Thanks to the rabbi and the parishioners, charity funds and a committee to assist victims of hostilities were created.
Postrevolutionary and Soviet times
After the revolution and the overthrow of the royal power, in December 1918 a decree on the closure of the community was issued. At that time M. G. Eisenstadt remained a rabbi of the synagogue, but he could not find a common language with the government and soon retired. Then the duties of a rabbi began to perform David Katzenelenbogen.
The government effectively deprived the synagogue of funds. It was impossible to engage in commercial activities, collect donations for religious purposes.
In June 1929, the Jewish religious community was closed, and after it, the synagogue was closed too. When it was opened again, most of the property that was valuable was removed. The relationship of the city authorities and the synagogue was difficult. It was planned to make a hall for performances and concerts in the main hall of the building, but this was prevented by the Second World War.
During the Siege of Leningrad, the bodies of the dead were laid down on the territory of the synagogue, while in the Small Synagogue were services for holidays and on Saturdays. After the war, the situation with the authorities didn’t improve. There were bans on baking matzoh, as well as on the burial of bodies in the Jewish Preobrazhensky Cemetery.
The Jewish Preobrazhensky Cemetery
By the mid-twentieth century, the synagogue wasn’t practically visited, but by the end of the 1950s, there were more young Jews who openly expressed their religious views. The synagogue was included in the number of sightseeing sites and was reconstructed before the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980.
In 1988, 6 concerts of the International Cantist Art Festival were held in the synagogue. They were visited by about 13,000 people. A day school was opened at the synagogue in 1991. At the same time, restoration work began. The Great Hall and the Wedding Hall were restored. The walls were painted manually and the parquet was rebuilt. By 2003, the restoration of the Great Choral Synagogue was completed. In 2005, the newly rebuilt mikvah was opened.
Today, the synagogue is actively involved in charity and humanitarian aid.
The building is made in the Moorish style. In 1980 it received the status of a monument of architectural significance. The building was built in several tiers; it is crowned with a large spherical dome. The facade has a terracotta-red color, it is decorated with rezalit, and the entrance is decorated with an arch and paired columns. The building has many windows, as the Jewish faith requires – during prayers, people should see the sky. The synagogue is surrounded by a forged fence.
The lobby of the Jewish temple is known for its acoustics. Whispered words can be heard 10 meters from the speaker. The chandelier in the main hall is covered with real silver. There are benches of valuable wood in the center, some places are marked with metal plates with the names of the most important people of the Jewish community. The bright hall is decorated with stained glass windows and white columns.
Prayers are read both in the large and small halls every day. The morning prayer is read at 9 a.m., Saturday – at 10 a.m. Next, the afternoon and evening prayers come. It is better to specify the schedule of all services in advance on the official website of the synagogue website sinagoga.jeps.ru. In the same place, you can order prayers for health, Kaddish, Izkor or Yorzayt.
The tourism department has existed in the Great Choral Synagogue since 2005. Tours are held daily, except Saturdays and religious holidays from May to September from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can order excursion service by calling 8 (921) 978-4464 or e-mailing email@example.com at least 3 days before the planned date.
The Synagogue tour lasts from 20 to 45 minutes. There are some programs for the Jewish part of St. Petersburg. The city tour includes a visit to the Great Choral Synagogue and other places connected with Jewish life. Sightseeing service in the city lasts from 3 to 7 hours.
- excursions organization and kosher food
- music concerts organization
- transfer organization
- assistance in finding hotels and booking rooms
- assistance in an organization the Shabbat meetings
In the souvenir shop, tourists can buy items made by members of the community or people with disabilities. The synagogue guarantees that all the proceeds from the sale will go to the needs of the Jewish community.
If you want to meet with the rabbi, you also need to sign up by calling in advance on the phone (812)714-4428 or writing to firstname.lastname@example.org. To do this on Saturday or on religious days is impossible.
- Abram Lubanov, the rabbi of the synagogue from 1943 to 1973, came to Russia in the mid-1930s and lived on the territory of a Jewish church before assuming his duties. Officially, he was listed as a guard, but at the same time, he performed all the duties of a rabbi’s assistant.
- When the synagogue began to revive in the early 80s of the twentieth century, the old Jews deliberately made a serious unfriendly appearance and tried in every way to drive out the young people. They did this not because of personal dislike, but because of fear for their future, because the KGB officers were vigilant about everything.
- The St. Petersburg Great Choral Synagogue is quite large. It is the first largest synagogue in Russia and the second in Europe.
- The famous silver chandelier in the main hall was originally gas, but it began to work with electricity, like all the lights in the synagogue. The reason for this – the lack of lighting.
If you plan to visit The Grand Choral Synagogue, it is better to get acquainted with the opening times of its objects in advance.
- Reception: Monday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday and religious holidays – days off. It is better to specify the time of work in the autumn and winter. You can buy the tickets, order a prayer, make a donation and issue mailing or a Jewish calendar at the reception.
- For tourists: from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., while the Friday schedule should be specified. It depends on what time the prayer ends. Saturday and religious holidays – days off.
- Library: Monday-Thursday from 12:30 p.m to 8:30 p.m., Sunday from 12:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., Fridays, Saturdays and religious holidays – days off. Break – from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
- Restaurant: Sunday-Thursday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., schedule on Friday should be specified. Saturday and religious holidays – days off.
- The schedule of cultural, leisure and educational programs should be specified.
The price of entrance tickets, excursion programs, and other services should be specified at the reception.
The Great Choral Synagogue is located at Lermontovsky Prospekt 2. The nearest metro stations are Admiralteyskaya, Sennaya Square, Sadovaya and Spasskaya.
- From Admiralteyskaya station, you need to take bus number 22 and get to the Lermontovsky Prospect – Dekabristov Street stop. From there to the synagogue 170 meters.
- From the same stop by buses No. 3 and No. 27 you can get to the Mariinsky Theater and walk to the synagogue just over 150 meters.
- From the same metro station, you can walk to the Malaya Morskaya – Gorokhovaya street stop and take the route taxi No. 306 to the Lermontovsky Prospect – Dekabristov street stop.
- You can get to the same stop from the stop Isaakievskaya Square – Bolshaya Morskaya Street by route taxi No. 169 or bus No. 71.
- From Sennaya Square, you need to walk to the stop of the same name, take the route taxi No. 1, No. 169 or bus No. 71 and get to the Lermontovsky Prospect – Dekabristov Street stop. From there, walk to the synagogue just under 200 meters. At the same stop, you can take bus No. 50 to the Mariinsky Theater and walk just over 150 meters. From Sadovaya and Spasskaya stations, the path will be exactly the same.
From any point of Nevsky Prospekt, you can take bus No. 3 or No. 27 to Teatralnaya Square or Lermontovsky Prospect. By bus No. 22 you can get to the intersection of Lermontovsky Prospect and Dekabristov Street.