Plymouth synagogue sells off its family silver

English silver rimmon-im, made around 1783, from Plymouth Synagogue and a yad, or Torah pointer, are up for sale in the November 25 auction at Bon-hams

English silver rimmon-im, made around 1783, from Plymouth Synagogue and a yad, or Torah pointer, are up for sale in the November 25 auction at Bon-hams

The director of the charity Jewish Heritage UK has spoken out against a congregation which is selling its historic collection of silver Judaica.

Rare silver religious ornaments from the Plymouth Synagogue will be sold at auction by Bonhams on November 25. Among the items are a yad (pointer) and a pair of rimmonim (decorative finials for a sefer Torah), thought to have been made in London in 1783 and considered among the most original sets known to exist; and a Torah breastplate, made in Warsaw in about 1820.

The total collection is estimated to sell for between £50,000 and £60,000.

Built in 1762, Plymouth is the oldest Ashkenazi shul in the English-speaking world and the collection is considered by experts to be the earliest and rarest set of silver prayer instruments.

But Pat Goodman, vice-president at Plymouth Synagogue, said that the synagogue had about 40 members and only one man attends on Shabbat.

She said: “We don’t use the items and we are very short of funds. I’m not sad to see the items go. We’re a dying community. There is no point keeping silver in the bank that we are not using and aren’t of value to us.

“Other shuls would have closed but we are keeping open because there are people here that think it ought to be left open.”

Adam Jacobson, a trustee at the shul, said that the money will be spent on refurbishment work for the building.

He said: “The more money we can raise, the longer the community will last. It would be desperately sad to see the end of this ancient community.

“It’s a trade-off between surrounding yourself with items of silverware and a synagogue falling around your ears in disrepair.

“Of course it’s worthwhile to sell the items — it’s one of the most historic communities in the country and it’s part of our Jewish heritage.”

But Dr Sharman Kadish, director of Jewish Heritage, said she was shocked at the news.

“This is a huge shame,” she said. “There are lots of other options that they could take to raise funds.

“They should apply for grant schemes rather than sell off the family silver. Selling the assets of the congregation should be a last resort.

“The building doesn’t have any major problems so I’m very sad to hear about this. Those items are part of the history of the community.”

The Jewish Museum is aware of the sale but was not yet ready to comment on whether it will bid for the items.

    Last updated: 4:20pm, October 8 2009