One of the most amusing scenes in Anglo-Jewish history occurred on October 14, 1663. A mere seven years had passed since Oliver Cromwell had found no legal bar to Jews living in England (hence the so-called “return” of 1656). A small synagogue was opened in Creechurch Lane in the City of London, forerunner of Bevis Marks (1701), the oldest still-extant place of Jewish worship in Britain. The famous diarist Samuel Pepys decided to pay a visit to this new curiosity to see how Jews conducted themselves at prayer. What he saw amazed and scandalised him. As chance or providence had it, the day of his visit turned out to be Simĥat Torah. This is how he described what he saw: And anon their Laws that they take out of the men, four or five several burthens in all, and they do relieve one another; and whether it is that every one desires to have the carrying of it, I cannot tell, thus they carried it round about the room while such a service is singing.…But, Lord! to see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention, but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this. This was not the kind of behaviour he was used to in a house of worship.


Sacks, Jonathan. Essays on Ethics: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible . Maggid Books & The Orthodox Union. Kindle Edition.