Edinburgh’s Jewish community

There is no firm evidence of Jewish settlement in Scotland in the middle ages, indeed the first Jewish communities in Scotland were not established until the 19th Century.  The first Jews came to Scotland in the late 1600s and in the 1700s, as medical students, university teachers, or as merchants and craftsmen. Julius Conradus Otto, a converted Jew from Vienna, became Professor of Hebrew and Oriental Languages at Edinburgh University in 1641, while the merchant David Brown was in Edinburgh by 1691. Joseph de Castro Sarmento, originally from Portugal, graduated in medicine at Marischal College, Aberdeen, 1739. Herman Lyon came to Edinburgh from Prussia in 1788, and was a dentist and “corn operator”. He obtained a burial plot for himself and his family on Calton Hill in 1795.

The first Jewish community was established in Edinburgh about 1816, when a synagogue was established in a lane off Nicholson Street. A small cemetery was opened in Braid Place in 1820. As the community flourished, bigger premises were used for worship, other institutions were set up, and cemeteries opened in Echobank and Piershill.

In 1898, a synagogue was opened in a converted chapel in Graham Street.  There were other small congregations, such as Richmond Street, Roxburgh Street and Dalry.

In 1911, there were around 2,000 Jews in Edinburgh.

Under the leadership of Rabbi Dr Salis Daiches, between the wars, various small congregations were united, and a new purpose-built synagogue, still in use today, was opened in Salisbury Road in 1932.

The present Jewish population of Edinburgh is estimated to be between 500-600.

There are 4 Jewish burial grounds in Edinburgh:

Sciennes House Place (Braid Place) 1820-1867

Echo Bank (Newington) 1869-1961

Piershill  since 1890

Dean (Liberal)  since 2008

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