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Consecration of a Synagogue in Hobart Town, Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania]


What think our readers of the announcement, that even in the distant isles of the Pacific, there are temples arising to the most holy name of the God of Israel? That there, where not many years ago, the sea beat upon a solitary shore, or where none but ignorant savages lay basking in the sun, the Lord of heaven is invoked in the language of Heber? Yet, it is even so; and year by year assemblies of Israelites are formed to testify their steadfast adherence to their ancient laws; in New Holland, Van Diemen's Land, and New Zealand; and ere long we may hear that in the smaller islands also, the sons of Jacob will increase and flourish, and live in unison, as brothers of one house, as adorers of one God. How sweet are such tidings as these to those who expect anxiously the salvation of their Father above? For, next to the possession of a central home, and an independent state, where the divine laws alone are the chief rule of the land, is it well for us to be scattered over every part of the earth, so that the malevolence of our enemies may not be able to light, at any one time, the fires of persecution, and to pronounce the doom of banishment over all Israel, by the same decree. Look where we would have been, had we all lived in Spain? What would have become of Israel, had we all dwelled in France when the decree of our expulsion went forth? What would be our deplorable fate now, were all descendants of Abraham now obeying the will of the autocrat of Russia? Dreadful, indeed, would our lot have been, would it be now, were such our lot! The lamp of Jacob would soon expire, the few men of Israel would speedily disappear from the earth. But great and merciful is the Lord; He has indeed banished us from our ancient patrimony, still He has taken effectual means that all of us shall not perish. It may be that in his unsearchable providence He may permit, that we be compelled to drain deep the cup of confusion, which may again be presented to our lips, by our adversaries; the sword may again be drawn, and apostacy be offered as the only price of life; many may on that day of trial tremble, because of the danger, swerve in their adherence to their Father, and embrace the creed of the stranger; millions,—but the Merciful avert especially this evil,—millions may leave our ranks and swear fealty to a worship which they abhor, adopt a faith which they believe to be false:—still, and for all that, we are safe from utter annihilation, a remnant will escape, in some of the many places where we dwell; all will not be lost, because nearly all has been destroyed. And who knows what may be impending? Religion has become neglected in many places where formerly piety dwelt; infidelity, we regret to record it, has awakened the spirit of disunion, where before this brotherly love reigned paramount; the bonds are loosened that ere our days bound together the souls of the believers; and who then knows, who can tell, but that the distant isles may become the seat of true godliness, whence again the spirit of truth is to be rekindled once more, and for ever, to be burring with an unquenchable flame on the altar of the heart, an acceptable, a worthy, a pure sacrifice to the God of our forefathers? Dim shadows of sorrow and foreshadowings of joys arise before the mind; on the one side, there are the evils of the times, and their but too sure results; on the other the promises of the Most High, which never deceive, founded besides, on the disposition of our people, stiff-necked and unbending, for good as well as evil; and hence results our fear for the present, but hence also springs our certain conviction, that come the worst which can befall us, there is a future, a redemption, which will purify us from the dross of iniquity, and establish unshakingly the kingdom of the Lord, at that time and that hour when the power of earthly tyrants shall be destroyed for ever.

It is therefore we rejoice, not when we hear that we have made numerous proselytes from the gentiles, though the righteous strangers who seek the Lord and his strength, shall be welcome as brothers and sisters in the spirit of the law, but when we are informed that our own household have bestirred themselves to be active in the cause which is theirs in good truth, in which we all alike, the humblest and the greatest, are interested; we rejoice when the evidence of this is brought to us, be the place near or afar off, that houses of prayer have been made to arise, where formerly the worship of the sole Eternal was unknown; for we are sure then that there has been added another resting-place for the law of truth, which the Lord has implanted in our hearts. And we can hail our brothers from afar, with a sincere welcome; a welcome which we utter to the end of the earth, which is returned back again from spirits which are one with us in the adherence to the faith which had its birthplace at Sinai. Yea, be we at the remotest north, or the farthest south, at the confines of the Japan sea, or the shore of the southern Atlantic, every where are we sons of Israel, one in faith, one in duties, one in hopes. And the hymns of praise which are uttered where days and seasons are the reverse to what they are in this land, are responded to by an Amen, which angels might breathe in their purity, and the Hallelujahs of those distant fields are reechoed in all assemblies where Israelites meet to bless their God.

But we must pause; our feelings cannot be expressed by many words; we are only conscious that we are of Israel, and we are interested in every thing that belongs to Israel. We scan not the words with which we utter our thoughts, whether they are the most fitting; we only utter the enthusiasm which the contemplation of our destiny awakens in us, which contemplation is called up whenever any thing calculated to affect us, for good or for ill, is brought to our mind. And nothing scarcely, that occurred for a long time, had so powerful an effect to call forth thought, as the receipt a few days back of two local papers, transmitted to us by some unknown friends, (to whom we herewith convey our thanks for their kind attention,) containing the account of the consecration of the Synagogue erected last year at Hobart Town in the far-off Van Diemen's Land. We had before seen a short account of the same in the Voice of Jacob; but the full particulars, which we extract below, were only communicated to us through the columns of the Courier and Observer, printed in the above place. Our readers will perhaps not discover any thing very different from what they have themselves witnessed ; but still they will feel gratified to observe that the same Judaism which they practise, is observed in the country the farthest south where a Synagogue has yet been erected; and we cannot be mistaken in supposing that they will peruse with pleasure the very liberal remarks of Christian editors, at witnessing the consecration of a place of worship for a remnant of Israel. We have another reason, also, for copying the proceedings entire, that our pages, in part, may serve as a record of the names of those worthy sons of Israel who have so nobly striven to erect a dwelling for the books of the Law, as evidence of the acknowledgement that our race is to this day steadfast and true to the Law proclaimed from Horeb.

The following is the account from the Hobart Town Courier of July 9:

"Opening and Dedication of the Jews' Synagogue.—On Friday last, the 4th instant, this elegant little building, which has recently been built in Argyle Street, was opened to the public. Visitors were admitted by tickets liberally furnished by the Committee. The ceremony of the Dedication of the building commenced shortly after three o'clock, P. M., before which time the building was literally crowded.

"An introductory symphony of Haydn's having been played, the officers of the congregation, consisting of the President, Louis Nathan, Esq.; the Treasurer, Judah Solomon, Esq.; and Messrs. D. Moses, D. Heckscher, R. Hart, J. Friedman, P. Levy, J. Solomon, and the Secretary, Phineas Moss, Esq., brought the Rolls of Law from the Vestry to the door of the Synagogue, where, three knocks having been given, they called—

"Open unto us the gates of righteousness; we will enter them and praise the Lord.

"The doors were then opened, the procession of officers entered standing beneath a canopy, while the Choir chaunted—

"How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! thy tabernacle, O Israel!

"O Lord! I have ever loved the habitation of thine house, and the dwelling-place of thy glory.

"We will come unto thy tabernacles, and worship at thy footstool.

"The procession then advanced slowly towards the Ark, the Reader chaunting—

"Enter into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise, give thanks unto him and bless his name.

"Come ye, we will worship and bow, we will bend the knee before the Lord our Maker.

"Serve the Lord with gladness, come before him. with singing.

"Having arrived at the Ark, the Choir sung—

"O come let us sing unto the Lord; let us shout to the Rock of our salvation. Let us approach his presence with thanksgiving, and joyfully sing hymns unto him.

"Blessed is he who cometh in the name of the Lord; we bless ye from the house of the Lord.

"The procession then proceeded to circumambulate the Synagogue, preceded by the Reader chaunting a psalm, the Officers carrying with them the Rolls of the Law. This ceremony was performed seven times, the Reader, each circuit, chaunting a psalm in Hebrew, and the Choir at the completion of each circuit singing—

"Thanks to thee, O Lord! we render,
Let thy grace accept our lay;
Words are all we now can tender,
All the homage man can pay.

"At the conclusion of the seventh circuit, the reader to took a Roll of the Law out of the Ark, read a prayer and the following sentences:—

"Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

"Sole is our God; great is our Lord, sacred is his name.

"Magnify the Lord with me, and let us all together extol his name.

"The Choir then sang a beautiful anthem, upon the conclusion of which the Reader, bearing the Roll of the Law to the reading­desk, read a prayer for the Royal Family. This prayer was followed by another anthem, ably sung by the Choir. The Roll of the Law was again deposited in the Ark, the Choir meanwhile chaunting the 29 Psalm. Upon the conclusion of this chaunt, the Reader, read the following prayer:—

"Let our praise and thanksgiving which we have offered towards thy chosen city ascend to heaven thy dwelling-place. Verily, O Lord, we have great cause to be joyful in thy presence this day, for thou hast indeed made the wilderness and the solitary place to be glad, and the desert to rejoice and blossom as the rose. We thank thee, O Lord God of our fathers, that thou hast brought us, in thy great goodness, to enjoy this season; O renew a right spirit within us, that we may henceforth walk before thee pure and undefiled: be our defence and our rock of refuge. Let thy mercies, O Lord, dwell with us for ever, and thy faithfulness unto all generations: make thy covenant to stand fast with us, and the whole house of Israel; and let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands; yea, the work of our hands, establish thou it. Amen.

"The interesting. ceremony of the Dedication concluded with the Choir singing the following beautiful psalm:—

הללויה . הללו-אל בקדשו . הללוהו ברקיע עזו : הללוהו בגבורתיו . הללוהו כרב גדלו : הללוהו בתקע שופר . הללוהו בנבל וכנור : הללוהו בצלצלי-שמע . הללוהו בצלצלי תרועה : כל הנשמה תהלל יה . הללויה : כ"ה"ת"י"ה"

"Hallelujah! Praise God in his Sanctuary; praise him for his extensive power; praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his great excellence; praise him with the sound of the trumpet; praise him with the psaltery and harp; praise him with the timbrel and flute; praise him with melodious instruments and organs; praise him with harmonious cymbals. Every breathing creature will praise the Lord. Hallelujah! Every breathing creature will praise the Lord. HALLELUJAH!

"The ceremony of the Dedication of the building was followed by the usual evening service, during which, we understand, the offerings amounted to upwards of one hundred guineas.

"Having briefly described the ceremonial of opening the Synagogue, we now proceed to the building.

"Synagogue, among the Jews, is a place where the people meet to worship God. Authors are not agreed about the time when the Jews first began to have Synagogues. Some imagine them to be as old as the Ceremonial Law; others, again, fix their beginning to the times after the Babylonial Captivity. Places of prayer, called Proseuchae, were probably the more ancient. These places were usually on the bank of a river, and had no covering, except, perhaps, the shade of trees, or a slightly covered gallery. In a Proseuchae every one prayed apart for himself. The Synagogues, on the other hand, were covered places, and originally built in the cities. No Synagogue was built in a town, unless there were ten persons of leisure in it; but there might be many in one town: Jerusalem is said to have contained 480.

"The Synagogue in Hobart Town is built in the Egyptian style, and much pains appears to have been bestowed by the architect, in sustaining its details the peculiar character of this ancient and much-admired order. The front is bold and massive, the entrance being decorated with two carved pillars, supporting an architrave and cornice, upon which is the following Hebrew inscription:

בכל המקום אשר אזכיר את שמי אבוא אליך וברכתיך

"In all places where I shall cause my name to be recorded I will come unto thee and will bless thee."

"The space in front of the Synagogue is enclosed with a bronze iron railing. The entrance of the building comprises a vestibule with four doors, one on the right leading to the ladies' gallery, on the left to the vestry and library, and two at the north and, south leading to the Synagogue, which is fitted up with great attention to the comfort and convenience of the congregation. The seats, instead of being placed transversely with the building, as in our churches, are fixed longitudinally, running parallel with the length of the building, and each seat has a separate book-board and desk. On the centre of the floor is placed the Reader's desk, raised on a dais, two steps from the floor. The whole is enclosed with a light iron railing, bronzed and gilt. The desk is formed of cedar, beautifully wrought and polished; it has a silken cover, fastened at the corners with brass ornaments. The cover, we believe, is a gift from one of the congregation; in front of the desk, and looking towards the Ark, are the seats of the President, Treasurer, &c.

"The Ark, which is a semicircular groined recess at the east end, is enclosed by a light and elegant bronzed railing, and is approached by circular steps; on either side of the doors of the Ark, which are richly carved and gilt, are placed two elaborately carved pillars, supporting an entablature and cornice of cedar, and gilded; on the entablature the following sentence is written in Hebrew:—

דע לפני מי אתה עומד

"Know in whose presence thou standest."

"In front of the Ark, in which is deposited the Rolls of the Law, is a crimson Genoa velvet curtain, with hangings, the gift of Mrs. Nathan, lady of the President; it is lined with white silk and beautifully decorated; on it is embroidered a wreath of oak in gold, which encircles the name and date of the present in Hebrew characters, worked in letters of silver, the whole surmounted with an antique crown; the tout ensemble is rich in the extreme, and it is altogether one of the most elegant pieces of needlework in the colony. Over the Ark are placed the Tables of the Law, likewise written in Hebrew. On the north wall of the building a white marble tablet is placed, having engraven on it, in gold letters, the following inscription:—'The ground on which is erected this edifice was presented to the Hebrew congregation of Hobart Town by Judah Solomon, Esq., who also handsomely contributed towards its erection. To commemorate this event, and to inform posterity of his zeal and liberality, this tablet is inscribed.' On the same side, enclosed in a richly gilded frame, is another tablet, in black and gold, containing a 'Prayer for the Royal Family.' On the opposite side two similar tablets, one containing the names of the Founders of the Synagogue and its Officers, the other containing the following inscription:—'This House of Assembly, the foundation stone of which was laid by Louis Nathan, Esq., President of the Congregation, on the 9th day of August, 5603-1843, was completed and dedicated to the service of the Lord God of Israel on the 4th day of July, 5605-1845, in the eighth year of the reign of Queen Victoria, and in the second of the administration of Sir J. E. Eardley Wilmot, Bart., Lieutenant-Governor of this Colony. James A.Thomson, Architect.' All these inscriptions are in English. The space at the west end, under the gallery, is set apart as free sittings, the side compartments of which were occupied by temporary raised seats, enclosed and covered with maroon-coloured cloth, for the accommodation of the ladies present at the dedication.

"The gallery for the Hebrew ladies is approached by an easy flight of steps, and is fitted up with every attention to their comfort; a light screen-work in front of the gallery adds much to the effect of this part of the structure, while it increases the privacy of its occupants. Adjoining the gallery is a spacious ante-room. The ceiling of the Synagogue is enriched with an appropriate cornice, and five centre ornaments composed of the leaves and flowers of the Palm, Lotus, and Papyrus, (a style of ornament which pervades all the decorations.) Pendent from those ornaments are five elegant chandeliers, containing eighty candles, in addition to which branch lights are placed at convenient distances round the walls. The floors are covered with rich carpets and matting: in fact, no expense appears to have been spared in perfecting the building.

"The ceremony, altogether, reflected the highest credit upon all the parties concerned. Great praise is due to Mr. Thomson, the architect, by whom not only the building was planned, but, who, also, provided the designs for the chandeliers as well as the characteristic ornamental portions of the Synagogue. The service of the Dedication was princi­pally arranged by Mr. Phineas Moss, who has acted throughout as honorary Secretary, and two original prayers were composed by that gentleman; the translation into Hebrew was done with the assistance of two members of the committee. Mr. H. Jones officiated as reader; his chaunts were given with admirable intonation. The orchestral department combined the talent of Messrs. Gautrot, Curtis, Duly, and Singer, ably led by Mr. Reichenberg. The choir was exceedingly ef­fective, the principal parts being admirably given by Mr. H. Simeon, who possesses a falsetto voice of good quality and rarely met with. We must not omit to mention that the chandeliers were executed by Mr. Smith, the engineer.

"The visitors departed highly gratified with the attention of the officers of the Synagogue, and with the mode in which the whole ceremonial was conducted. Most of the principal inhabitants of the town were present, amongst whom we noticed Lady Pedder, Mr. and Mrs. Augustus Wilmot, the Comptroller-General and Mrs. Forster, Mrs. and Miss Burgess, John Dunn, jr., Esq., M. L. C., the Sheriff, Collector of Customs, and Surveyor-General, Commissaries Heyward and Fletcher, &c."

Although the above contains all the material portions of the consecration service, we cannot avoid giving also, a part of the account in the Observer, for no other reason than to show our readers how liberal Christians in that distant part of the world view our ceremonies, presented for the first time to their observation and scrutiny. The sentiments expressed are honourable both to the Israelites of that place and to the editor, who speaks as follows:

"Opening of the Synagogue in Argyle Street.—The beautiful little building in Argyle Street, devoted to religious service by the scattered remnant of Israel in this town, was opened, according to announcement, on Friday last. Every seat was occupied, and the doors closed punctually at three o'clock. At first, the eye of the stranger was naturally drawn to the crowded splendour of the internal arrangements. The elevated and carpeted space railed in the centre, and allotted to the reading desk and choir, the elegantly embroidered velvet certain covering the ark, the pillars of carved work with their gilded capitals, corresponding with the Egyptian style of the building, the gorgeous chandeliers (wholly of colonial manufacture), the singular appearance of males only, with covered heads in the area, while the ladies, occupying the gallery, were generally without bonnets; these things for a moment or two divided the attention, but thoughts and feelings of deeper interest soon crowded upon us.

"It seemed to us as if the philanthropist of the nineteenth century could take a comprehensive view of the past, present, and future history of the Israelitish nation. Standing on vantage ground, both for retrospection and anticipation, the extreme distance presented to us the Father of the Faithful quitting country and kindred—a wanderer upon the earth—the chosen head of a separated and peculiar people, who were thenceforth and for ever to be distinguished from the rest of mankind. The architectural mementos of Egypt's bygone grandeur, by which we were surrounded, forcibly reminded us of the long and afflictive sojourn of Abraham's race in the land of the Pharaohs. Yet, fostered in that cradle of deep adversity—growing, while groaning under their bondage, we see the arm of Omnipotence bringing them out an exceeding great multitude. But, the melodious notes of the introductory symphony, cut short our reflections, and instead of following the tribes of Israel through succeeding wandering and warfare, we were at once transported to days of kingly and priestly glory—­imagination presented to us the Temple's surpassing magnificence, and the enchanting melodies of its trained musicians. And us we turned to the richly embroidered veil covering the ark, where the rolls of the law were to be deposited, we thought of the sacred tables written amid the fiery terrors of Sinai, of the consecrated ark with its mysterious mercy seat, and of the awful Shechinah between the cherubim.

"We would have given much to be familiar with the venerable language of the Hebrews, when the officers came in procession, demanding 'Open to us the gates of righteousness.' The whole service would have been completely wrapped in the impenetrable mystery of an unknown tongue, but for the kind liberality with which books of interpretation were distributed. The service was entirely in Hebrew, with an exception which, at least, does honour to the loyalty of British Jews­—

"Our Sovereign Lady Queen Victoria; Adelaide, the Queen Dowager; Prince Albert; Albert, Prince of Wales, and all the Royal Family,'' which could be distinctly heard in plain, honest English, in the body of a Hebrew prayer for the Royal Family—but we are anticipating.

"The procession consisted of the president, treasurer, and other officers, each with a white scarf over his shoulder, two of them bearing the rolls of the law wrapped in embroidered silk, preceded by the reader, whose hat and bands we could not but remark were singularly clerical. The doors being opened to them, they took their stand beneath a temporary canopy, while the choir, stationed round the reading desk, chaunted appropriate sentences. The procession then advanced slowly towards the ark, the reader saying, or rather chaunting other sentences. Arrived within the rails which surround the curtained ark, the choir burst forth in the very language of the sweet Psalmist of Israel a song of melodious praise. Then followed a seven times circuit of the Synagogue, the rolls of the law still being borne as before. At each circuit a psalm was slowly chaunted by the reader, and at the end of each, as the procession approached the ark, the monotony was broken by the cheerful notes of a lively chorus, vocal and instrumental. Nothing can be more beautiful or more impressive (we mean even in our English version of them) than the psalms selected for the occasion, viz.: the 91st, 30th, 24th, 84th, 122d, 132d, and the 100th; but they belonged to the days when Israel's sons and daughters could truly say—

"I rejoiced when they said unto me let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet stood within thy gates, O Jerusalem! Jerusalem is built as a city of assemblage, whither the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord, a testimony unto Israel for them to give thanks unto the name of the Lord.

"The veil was now drawn aside, the doors which it concealed thrown open, and the rolls deposited. The officers then took their seats, and the reader his place at the desk to offer solemn prayer. Part of the prayer as given in the translation, affectingly reminded us of Israel's real condition in this our day; it is the humiliating acknowledgement—

"We have neither sanctuary nor priest to make atonement for us, for our holy and our beautiful house, wherein our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire, and the sacrifice and the oblation have ceased.

Yes, the brightness of former glory is vanished. Without a priesthood—without a sacrifice—without a temple—­scattered to the four winds of heaven—reproached—oppressed—persecuted—subjected to civil disabilities even in Christian lands—we see in them a perpetual and irrefragable testimony to the truth of the sacred records—and a memorial both to Jew and Gentile of the faithfulness and severity of a righteous God. Yet we know that very faithfulness is pledged to restore and heal. To use the striking simile of Isaiah, the teil tree and the oak, whose substance is in them when they cast their leaves, will hereafter vigorously shoot forth. Israel shall return and shall be saved, even the remnant whom the Lord their God shall call. Would that the spirit of fervent supplication were largely poured upon the Gentile churches, to join with the whole heart in the concluding petition of the prayer, which has led us to this digression—

"O hasten the time, when every knee shall bow before thee, every tongue praise and celebrate thy great and holy name, and when all nations shall willingly submit to the power of thy dominion, as it is written. In that day the Lord alone shall be acknowledged, and his name be One. Amen.

"The rest of the ceremony consisted in the reader bearing a roll of the law and chaunting, the congregation at times murmuring a responsive cadence; the choir in melodious strains ascribing glory to the Lord. Then followed the payer for the Royal family above alluded to, succeeded by a chaunt and chorus. Then the 29th psalm, during the singing of which the roll of the law was deposited in the ark, and the curtain drawn over it. And, finally, after a concluding prayer, the Hallelujahs of the 150th psalm were sung in masterly style with almost overpowering effect.

"It was impossible to quit the deeply interesting scene without a powerful conviction that every Israelite ought to be regarded with affection.

"It is through them that God was pleased to give unto us the first oracle of divine truth, and they and their destiny as a nation are connected with all the awful and interesting events which yet await the human race. May God reveal himself speedily unto them, as a God pardoning sin and blotting out transgression, and may they soon be restored unto the land which was promised unto them for an everlasting possession.

"In conclusion, we have to acknowledge for ourselves and for all strangers who were present on Friday, that the polite attention of Mr. Nathan, the President, and of all who had the arrangements in their charge for the reception and accommodation of visitors, could not be exceeded."

We have only to add, that we hope to hear for many years to come favourable tidings from our distant brothers, and that there may be always peace and harmony prevailing among themselves, as also between them and their neighbours of other creeds; so that the glory of the Lord may be established through them in those far-off countries where civilization has but lately taken up her abode.