The Construction of the Great Synagogue in Stockholm, 1860–1870: A Space for Jewish and Swedish-Christian Dialogues
Scholander was not happy with the plot bought for the construction of the new synagogue, located in the vicinity of the newly formed city center in the Swedish capital. As the plot was increasingly surrounded by new, tall houses, the sacred building he had in mind, positioned at a central site where it could be easily seen in the city, was no longer possible to build. Scholander’s letter quoted above does not only reveal his naïve understanding of Jewish history—synagogues were often located in backyards during the Middle Ages, hiding from public view (Stiefel 2016a)—but also portrays his hyperbolic language aimed at convincing the Jewish lay leaders of the need for a new plot. This desire was shared by some members of the Mosaic Congregation, and as a result, different ideas related to the geographical location for the new synagogue were discussed for five years, between 1863 and 1868, before construction could begin.Constructing a churchly monument in a narrow courtyard cluttered with privies is a plainly foolish proposal, and therefore I can no longer partake [in this process] in front of the congregation [at the meeting], especially since I […] have always considered [the site] a last resort.
1.1. Stockholm: A Capital of a Largely Homogeneous Swedish-Christian Population
1.2. Synagogues as Places on the ‘Frontier’
1.3. The Great Synagogue as Space for Discussions on Jewish Belonging in Sweden
2. The Synagogue’s Geographical Location: Discussions on Visibility
2.1. The Role and Influence of the Swedish-Christian Architect
2.2. Internal Difference on the Synagogue’s Visibility
2.3. The Mosaic Congregation Board’s Emphasis on Sanctity
The lay leaders argued that the plot on Wahrendorffsgatan was best of all the available sites in central Stockholm, not only because they did not agree with the sub-group’s concerns about the geographical location, but also because the location would be a tranquil, peaceful, and devotional place, adequately serving as a site for activities linked to the community’s religious life. The leadership thus emphasized the synagogue’s sacred role before its social function.Our plot [is] particularly appropriate, since it offers the synagogue and those who visit it the calmest, most peaceful site. [Although designated by others as an inconvenience, the geographical location] should, on the contrary, be considered one of the most essential advantages of our plot. Regarding the state of the surroundings, the synagogue would be positioned between two scenic gardens, a location that can only have a favorable impact on church visitors and summon their minds to peace and devotion.
3. The Synagogue’s Religious Architecture: Discussions on the Jewish Public Presence
3.1. The Synagogue’s Architecture
His emphasis on a limited budget for the building’s construction portrays the project’s clear design boundaries. With these restrictions in mind, his choice of style was clearly not only the result of architectural creativity. The finished building on Wahrendorffsgatan fitted the customer’s needs for neatness, worthiness, devotion, and budget, as well as the plot’s rectangular shape.The plot’s dimensions have not allowed freedom to strive for the unusual in terms of the building’s plan, and […] the simple, rectangular floor plan, together with a design for the biggest space, create the easiest executable construction, and thereby also the smallest cost of construction. [In the architectural plan, I] seek doting forms, a character that as much as possible reminds [me] of the monument’s solemn, serious purpose, and thus unite with the [desire] for architectural neatness.
3.2. Discussions on the Mikveh
3.3. Discussions on Mixed Seating
The discussions on mixed seating underlined the various opinions that existed within the Jewish community. Some members, possibly inspired by the American examples, endorsed a stronger Reform-inspired, modernized version, while perspectives on economy, liturgy, and gender were used by others to prevent sudden changes. In this example, the lay leadership listened to the Christian architect, the Chief Rabbi, and the Culture Commission, not the other members of their community, and voted to continue with the separated seating in June 1870.Surely everyone, who during all events in life—joyful or sorrowful, indoors and outdoors—always prefer being surrounding by their loved ones, would also prefer to be surrounded by them in church, and through them be spurred to greater devotion?
4. The Synagogue’s Inauguration: Circulation and Challenge of Jewish Narrative
4.1. Descriptions of the Synagogue’s Architecture
Indeed, all newspapers commented on the synagogue’s geographical position. Nya Dagligt Allehanda and Dagens Nyheter both published the following statement:The whole thing is a beautiful testimony to both the great artistry of the architect and the scrupulous labor of the entrepreneur, and all the workers […], and it has become an ornament in our capital.
The degrading note about the Jewish religion should not be missed in the above quote, especially since it is put in opposition to the accomplished architecture. Aftonbladet, on the other hand, stated that:Perhaps some Mosaic tradition inflicted this obscured location onto the building, which to a large extent is lost to the capital, and which could have been one of its most distinguished architectural embellishments.
While the text comments on the relationship between the Jewish inner discourse and the outer architecture, it also echoes the opinions of the Jewish lay leaders. Overall, the newspapers, however, linked their wish for a better location to the architectural achievements of the Swedish-Christian architect, not the desired visibility of Jewishness in Stockholm, and the Jewish community was indeed sometimes blamed for inflicting such an unfavorable location upon a Swedish-Christian architect’s work.One has, […] not without reason, regretted that this magnificent building has been given such an obscured and narrow location. We assume that the Mosaic Congregation, not without calculation, has chosen this position, which has the advantage that the congregation, whose greater festivals as well as days of Sabbath occur on other times than those of the rest of the city population, is not disrupted by the noise and movement on common streets and places.
While commenting positively on the newly received Jewish emancipation in 1870, the newspaper still expressed antisemitic imagery by mentioning the imagined Jewish wealth and religious particularity, as well as insinuating the existence of a ghetto. The author expressed gratitude that judar (Jews)—notice the word, which was never used by the Mosaic Congregation—were finally a visible part of the Swedish society, but also explained the synagogue to be a physical embodiment of the increasing power of Swedish liberalism, which is why it deserved a better location in the city. Although largely circulating the Mosaic Congregation’s narrative, the local and national press clearly downplayed the building’s inherent Jewish status and challenged Jewish belonging to the Swedish society when not following the alleged script or interview derived from the Jewish community’s leadership.We have recently broken the last problem in our society, which eliminated Jews from Christian societies and forced them to hide their wealth and religious cult in their particularly narrow and dirty quarters.
4.2. The Inauguration Service
Although not created as a result of the emancipation, the synagogue was inaugurated in the same year that emancipation was granted, making the building a physical reminder of the year Jews became Swedish citizens with equal rights. Lewysohn’s speech was praised in the local press as a ‘lovely and lively lecture’ (Aftonbladet 1870), executed with ‘a beautiful and also rather truthful moral’ (Nya Dagligt Allehanda 1870c). Dagens Nyheter complemented the rabbi’s ‘ex tempore’ style (Dagens Nyheter 1870b), admiring his speaking qualities. The journalists specifically paraphrased, with impressive accuracy, the Chief Rabbi’s hope for a humanity united in peace and love, emphasizing his concluding prayer for the fatherland, Swedish politicians, and all gathered.In a growing number of countries, confessional difference is no longer the foundation for difference before court and law. And we greatly appreciate being able to experience this inauguration holiday, which takes place in the same year that one of the most beautiful pages was written in Sweden’s cultural history. This year is also engraved above the entrance to our new temple, encouraging memories to be attached to this year, not only for us, my fellow brothers in faith, but also for all friends of the fatherland, for every friend of humanity, for every friend of justice and truth!
The referenced war was the Franco-Prussian war, and due to the closeness between Swedish and German cultures, it can be assumed that the money box must have aided German soldiers. Perhaps emphasizing Lewysohn’s statement that Jews were now Swedish citizens, taking on the challenge to transform the world into a better place, the journalist painted a picture of a generous community, concerned about social and political issues, who were practically engaged in helping humanity when needed, thus communicating the Jewish intended narrative.It deserves to be mentioned, that two moneyboxes were exhibited at the send-off service in the old synagogue for contribution of money for this year’s sick and wounded on the battlefield. These moneyboxes would hereafter be exhibited for some time in the new synagogue.
Conflicts of Interest
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Letter from Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander to the Mosaic Congregation on 21 January 1863, appendix 9 in protocol 5, 3 May 1863, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, Jewish Community in Stockholm, Swedish State Archive (JCS-SSA). My translation from Swedish. Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander and the Mosaic Congregation alike used the word kyrklig to describe the new building on Wahrendorffsgatan. Despite being translated as ‘sacred,’ I use the literal translation ‘churchly’ to emphasize the Swedish word’s close relationship to kyrka (church).
David Biale has conceptualized the existence of ‘Jewish cultures.’ Arguing that the term ‘Judaism’ upholds a hegemonic discourse, and proving that Jewish populations throughout time have always lived in a give-and-take relationship with the non-Jewish environment of their habitation, he argues that local customs are absorbed, with the consequential bend of some Talmudic laws. Affected by their historical and spatial locality, each Jewish population thus constructs its own version of ‘Jewishness’ (Biale 1994, pp. 41–45; Biale 2002, pp. 17–26). The concept of Jewishness has, furthermore, been argued as more encompassing than Judaism, as it includes real, imaginary, and representative elements of Jewish constructions and reproductions of cultural elements (Auslander 2009, pp. 48–49; Hödl 2009, pp. 382–87; Lerner 2009, pp. 44–45). In this article, Jewishness is, furthermore, understood as unique to each sub-group within the historical and spatial locality of Stockholm. It deserves to be mentioned that this approach has been criticized by, for example, Moshe Rosman. He argues that the fragmentary ‘multiperspectivism’ of Biale’s concept only replaces the former master-narrative, thus defeating the purpose of the postmodern, constructivist approach (Rosman 2007, pp. 16–18). Since the concept of Jewishness, however, allows for various Jewish experiences of and perspectives on the world to exist at the same time, I find it appropriate for this study.
The ‘national identity’ is understood as a constructed group belonging. As argued by Eric Hobsbawm, any national identity is invented and constructed, adapted to give the modern, political condition a false but cohesive history (Hobsbawm 1992, pp. 1–5). Benedict Anderson describes the nation as an ‘imagined community’ since its members do not know each other ‘yet in the mind of each lives the image of their communion’ (Anderson 2006, pp. 5–6). Since the national identity of the modern nation needs to exclude others in order to exist, it is in itself at odds with the existence of religious and ethnic minorities.
The emancipation in 1870 did not lift bans on the requirement of cabinet ministers to be baptized into the Lutheran faith. Jews were, therefore, forbidden to hold a position in the Swedish government. This changed in 1951 with the Religious Freedom Act.
The organ was used for the first time in 1810 by the Jewish community in Seesen, and it was approved as a synagogal instrument at the German-Jewish rabbinical conference in 1845 (Frühauf 2009).
For example, more than a ninth of the 900 community members met up at the home of the wealthy, bourgeois Bonnier couple on Drottninggatan (Queen’s Street) 11, some 700 m from the plot, in 1863 to attend a philanthropic community auction for the benefit of the new synagogue. See: Appendix B in protocol 21, 30 March 1863, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/32, JCS-SSA.
Letter from Wilhelm Davidson, David Hirsch, and Eduard Josephson to the Mosaic Congregation, written on 22 December 1860, appendix E in protocol 23, 26 December 1860, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/30, JCS-SSA. My translation from Swedish. The community’s use of cubits and the word ‘temple’ might suggest that they conceptualized the new synagogue in relation to the earlier Temple of Jerusalem. Cubits was, however, the standardized unit system in Sweden until the 1880s, and, as will be argued below, the word ‘temple’ was used widely by the leadership to explain the building’s sacred purpose, while not necessarily mentioning its religious affiliation. Nonetheless, as will be shown further down in the article, the synagogue was seemingly modelled on the Temple of Jerusalem, and although sources do not reveal any discussions on the actual size of the synagogue, conceptual links might have existed.
Appendix A in protocol 4, 18 April 1861, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/31, JCS-SSA.
The city architect was responsible for designing public buildings.
Appendix A in protocol 4, 18 April 1861, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/31, and appendix 9 in protocol 5, 3 May 1863, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, JCS-SSA. My translation from Swedish.
NS037-BN-1867-56-60, Stockholm’s Older Building Designs, Stockholm City Archive (SOBD-SCA).
Appendix 3 in protocol 14, 26 December 1866, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/36, JCS-SSA.
The Swedish word refers to a monument raised to memorialize a person or event. Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander, however, uses it to refer to the hoped-for impact of the building—both its architecture and its geographical position in Stockholm.
These unnamed individuals are mentioned in Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander’s letter to the Mosaic Congregation, written on 21 January 1863, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, JCS-SSA.
General meeting, 6 March 1864, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, JCS-SSA.
The main material, on which this study is based, is from the Mosaic Congregation’s archive, every paper at the mercy of what they chose to keep and explain. It is, therefore, their responses to Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander and the sub-group, mainly directed towards the utility of the future synagogue, that dominate the narrative.
Protocol 5 from general meeting, 3 May 1863, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, JCS-SSA. My translation from Swedish.
An article from 1866, describing a gentile’s visit to the synagogue, notes the small organ alongside one of the walls (Hallandsposten 1866). Speculatively, the community wanted a bigger organ, hence asking for new designs, but the smaller organ might also have been placed there after 1865.
Architectural drawing by Gustaf Sjöberg in 1865, SE/RA/730128/01/J/J_1, JCS-SSA.
Protocol 19, 7 January 1864, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, JCS-SSA.
General meeting, 6 March 1864, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, JCS-SSA. My translation from Swedish.
Ibid. My translation from Swedish.
General meeting, 6 January 1867, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/36, JCS-SSA.
The inscription was: ‘On the 17th day in the month of Nissan year 5628, this cornerstone for the Mosaic Congregation’s House of God was placed by rabbi dr Ludwig Lewysohn, chairman and head of the community, doctor of Medicine and knight Jacob Levertin, other leaders: doctor of Medicine Axel Lamm, Consul and knight Henrik Davidson, cash manager Adolf H. Schück, church leader A. C. Valentin, members of Building Committee: Albert Bonnier and Wilhelm Davidson. Architect S W Scholander, contractor: master builder A P Nilsson.’ Protocol 2, 19 April 1868, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/38, JCS-SSA.
A similar cornerstone ritual took place on 14 May 1876 before the construction of the Reform Wielka synagogue in Warsaw, as can be viewed in the permanent exhibition at the POLIN museum.
Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander’s architectural designs of the Great Synagogue from 1867, NS037-BN-1867-56-60, SOBD-SCA.
During Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander’s trip in 1863, the Reform synagogue in Berlin was discussed only in relation to its brick façade, Mannheim’s synagogue was of ‘Eastern’ style with marble colonnades and golden decorations, and Worms’ synagogue was ‘just an abandoned church.’ The synagogue in Cologne apparently deserved further details: it was a ‘splendid oriental’ building, situated on a narrow street but with a ‘Persian’ interior of golden reliefs, a blue-colored dome, white marble, and a cast-iron balcony. See: Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander’s travel diary, SE S-HS ACC1992/46, Handwritten Manuscript Collection, Royal Library of Sweden.
General meeting, 6 March 1864, and protocol 5, 3 May 1863, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, JCS-SSA.
Letter written by Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander on 28 May 1861, in appendix 7 in protocol 5, 3 May 1863, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, JCS-SSA. My translation from Swedish.
Protocol 18, 23 November 1863, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/33, JCS-SSA.
Protocol 14, 18 November 1868, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/38, JCS-SSA.
Letter from Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander written on 4 February 1869, appendix G in protocol 18, 17 February 1869, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/38, JCS-SSA.
Letter from Chief Rabbi Louis Ludwig Lewysohn to the Mosaic Congregation’s board, written on 16 February 1869, in ibid.
Letter from Fredrik Wilhelm Scholander, written on 27 April 1870, appendix F in protocol 6, 8 June 1870, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/40, JCS-SSA. My translation from Swedish.
Letter from Chief Rabbi Louis Ludwig Lewysohn, appendix G in ibid. My translation from Swedish.
Ibid. My translation from Swedish.
Appendix I in ibid.
This was the contemporary Swedish way to spell almemar, and the term was used among some Ashkenazi communities. It originally derived from the Arabic word al-minbar, meaning a platform in a mosque. When placed in a synagogue, this platform is today more commonly referred to as a bimah.
Dagens Nyheter credited Nya Dagligt Allehanda before launching into the unchanged presentation, adding only a longer section on the specifics of the organ. In turn, Aftonbladet credited Dagens Nyheter when adding an edited version of the original text to the end of their article about the ceremony. Stockholms Dagblad published Dagens Nyheter’s version, including the depiction of the organ, crediting ‘some other newspapers.’
Louis Ludwig Lewysohn’s speech can be found in appendix B in protocol 17, 6 October 1870, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/40, JCS-SSA. My translation from Swedish. Louis Ludwig Lewysohn’s italics.
Ibid. My translation from Swedish.
Plan of procession and list of invited guests in appendix P in protocol 17, 6 October 1870, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/40, JCS-SSA.
All lyrics can be found in the inauguration program, SE/RA/730128/01/A/A_1/A_1a/40, JCS-SSA.
This interpretation of the Swedish national identity was based on the values of the emerging bourgeois class. The Swedish-Jewish bourgeoisie, for example, donated money for the establishment of classical music institutions at the turn of the 20th century. They believed this act to exemplify their belonging to the Swedish nation, since these music institutions democratized art for the greater masses (Kuritzén Löwengart 2017).
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Hultman, M. The Construction of the Great Synagogue in Stockholm, 1860–1870: A Space for Jewish and Swedish-Christian Dialogues. Arts 2020, 9, 22. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts9010022
Hultman M. The Construction of the Great Synagogue in Stockholm, 1860–1870: A Space for Jewish and Swedish-Christian Dialogues. Arts. 2020; 9(1):22. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts9010022Chicago/Turabian Style
Hultman, Maja. 2020. "The Construction of the Great Synagogue in Stockholm, 1860–1870: A Space for Jewish and Swedish-Christian Dialogues" Arts 9, no. 1: 22. https://doi.org/10.3390/arts9010022