• Minute book of the Newport Hebrew Congregation from 20 February 1860 to 18 October 1894

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This is the first minute book of the Newport Hebrew Congregation. Inside the cover is written: “Minute Book Newport Congregation July 20th 5619” and then in smaller writing “Written by H.W. Phillips Hon Sec Dec 1874”. The date 1860 has been added in blue ink. There is also a yellow printer’s manufacturer label for H. Mullock of Commercial Street, Newport. The entries are hand-written in English with some Hebrew words. At first, the pages are numbered in manuscript at the top outside corner; this was abandoned after page 98 (24 August 1873). Despite the poor condition of the book, the pages are generally in order except that page 2 appears after page 62, and there seem to be two pages numbered 3!

The book lists subscriptions and donations from members of the new synagogue. The displaced page 2 records: “A meeting was called on the 6th March 1959 at the vestry rooms of Newport Synagogue for the purpose of taking into consideration the means of raising funds to build a wall for a Burial Ground Sir Charles Morgan. Bart. Having kindly presented the Jews of Newport with a piece of land adjoining the Newport Cemetery at the intersession of Mr John Isaac and also to make [?] and form a code of laws and regulations for the guidance of the Congregation, Mr Abraham Isaacs Warden and President in the Chair.” A proposal was carried unanimously “that £20.0.0 be collected amongst the members of the congregation towards building the wall for the burial ground and he [?] Mr Isaacs pledges himself to endeavour to obtain subscriptions from the various congregations throughout England and from whatever source he can towards defraying the rest of the cost and should there be more money collected than is required the balance shall be divided amongst the subscribers or devoted to any other purpose that may be agreed upon by the committee.” The following page records the donations.

Pages 3-12 record resolutions “passed into law” in English with some Hebrew. They include the form of prayer, times of and conduct during the service, subscriptions and treasurer’s duties, non-payment of subscriptions, election of warden and treasurer, change of treasurer and alterations to the synagogue, any money in hand over £10 to be banked and not withdrawn without agreement at a special meeting, payment and transfer of seats, and a system of fines. The final rule (number 44) stipulates “that every member sign his name to the code of laws as signifying his willingness to be governed by them”. These were “read over and confirmed May 22nd 1859”; eight signatures follow.

Generally they met half-yearly to present accounts, elect officers (warden and treasurer), with the occasional special meeting.

A special general meeting was held on 10 April 1870 in the Committee Room at Newport Synagogue “to examine and chose from the tenders for the New Synagogue. The plans, specifications and several tenders having been examined and discussed it was unanimously resolved that the order for the works be given to Mr [name illegible] whose tender for £675 being the lowest and that Mr Lawrence the architect being instructed to proceed with the greatest possible speed to draw out the agreement and get the works commenced without delay.” It was then “carried unanimously” that “the president Mr Abraham Isaacs should lay the foundation stone.” The subject then changed: “A subscription was then opened by Mr A Isaacs in aid of the distressed Jews in Palestine when the sum of one pound eighteen shillings was collected which together with two guineas voted from the congregational funds was ordered to be sent up to the London Committee.”

Subsequent minutes (19 February 1871) note that the consecration of the new synagogue should be postponed to invite the Chief Rabbi Dr Herman Adler to do it when he opens the new Bristol synagogue. It was also carried unanimously that "all the members of the Newport Congregation who had subscribed towards the building fund of the new Synagogue should be considered as the founders - and should any such member leave the town he shall still hold in the same position and should he at any time return he shall be entitled to have the same seat returned to him even tho' he should not be in a position to pay his subscriptions and any person taking the seat shall be apprised of this resolution and be under an obligation to give it up."

A special meeting on 3 November 1872 agreed that “Mr Phillip Benny [?] be engaged as a [Hebrew word – reader?] Lecturer and Hebrew and English teacher to this Congregation at a salary of £100 per annum.” The subsequent page lists promises (ranging from £15 to one guinea) for quarterly payments for his salary for a year.

An item has been inserted before the first page which appears to be an anonymous and undated judgement concerning a dispute between members. It would appear that the police were called following an “indiscretion” in the synagogue, possibly a dispute concerning seat allocation. Both parties are criticised; the original action was considered wrong and the response involving the legal authorities inappropriate.

The minute for 9 September 1894 discusses arrangements while the mikvah (ritual bath) at Cardiff was closed for alterations: “…requested the Newport Congregation to allow the use of their mikvah, the application being made chiefly on behalf of poor persons, it was decided that one dozen tickets each time, be sent to the Cardiff [Hebrew Ladies’ Benevolent] Society for free distribution, that a charge of 18/- be made for the same, the Gas consumed being a serious charge on the finances of the Congregation…”

The final minute here was an annual meeting to elect officers, held on Sunday 18 October 1894. There follow some blank pages. Accounts (including subscriptions paid) are at the back. The subsequent minute book for the period from 1894 to 1923 was not found with the other minute books and may be lost.

Newport Monmouthshire Hebrew Congregation was founded in 1859 by orthodox Jews meeting at a temporary synagogue in Llanarth Street. A synagogue at Francis Street was opened in 1869 and consecrated by the Chief Rabbi Dr Herman Adler in 1871. In 1934 the congregation moved to the Nathan Harris Memorial Hall in Queen’s Hill which was converted to a synagogue. In 1997 this synagogue was closed, and the congregation moved to the Prayer House by the Jewish Burial Ground on Risca Road. Within 20 years the congregation had dwindled to a few members able to attend and this too had ceased to hold services.

- “History of our Shul. The First Hundred Years", published by Newport Congregation in 1959;
- Oral history interviews with members of the Newport Mon Hebrew Congregation, recorded in 2018 by JHASW.

Depository: Gwent Archives.

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