London Sephardi Minhag

Customs of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of London | By Rabbi Jonathan Cohen (former Visiting Rabbi of Bevis Marks Synagogue)

The Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Community of London is the oldest Jewish community in Great Britain, having been established in 1656, and celebrated its 350th anniversary in 2006.

The S&P community (or "kahal" as it prefers to be known) possesses some beautiful and unique customs, and the purpose of this site is to document those that may be of general, religious or historical interest to the lay reader.

The S&P have a distinctive ritual based, it is thought, on that of pre-expulsion Spain, but also influenced by the Spanish-Moroccan and Italian rites. In their three-and-a-half century sojourn in the British Isles they have of course evolved further, developing an English Sephardi character of their own, distinct from that of their "parent" congregation in Amsterdam, or of their "sister" congregations in New York, Philadelphia and elsewhere.

In the first instance, these notes are based on my own observations growing up as a member of the kahal.

An indispensable reference is Keter Shem Tob, by Rabbi Shem-Tob Gaguine (1884-1953), an encyclopedic treatise which examines and compares the rites, ceremonies and liturgy of the eastern and western Sephardim (and Ashkenazim), paying particular attention to the customs of the S&P. However many details recorded in Keter Shem Tov are beyond the scope of this site, while many new points are introduced here that R. Gaguine did not discuss.

Companion sites

London Sephardi Music

The beautiful musical tradition of the kahal is the subject of a sister website to this one, which includes many MP3 recordings, and is still growing on a regular basis.

Jewish Table Singing

Texts, analysis and recordings of a wide range of beautiful but mostly lesser known Jewish Pizmonim (table songs), both Sephardi and Ashkenazi.

A Finial Word

This is my occasional blog on subjects of Jewish, and particularly Western Sephardi interest.