For Jews, enlightened Edinburgh can be traced to 1691, the year in which the minutes of Edinburgh Town Council recorded the application of David Brown, a professing Jew, to reside and trade in the city. Whilst it appears that there was an organised Jewish Community by 1780, the first Jew to buy a burial plot in Edinburgh was Herman Lyon. He came to Edinburgh from Germany in 1788 and described himself as a dentist and corn operator. The term corn operator has no agricultural significance: Herman Lyon was in fact a chiropodist and wrote a remarkable book on corns. In 1795 he petitioned Edinburgh Town Council to purchase a plot of land on Calton Hill for a burying place for himself and his family. There is no trace of the burial plot on Calton Hill today, but it is marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1852 as "Jew's Burial vault".
The Edinburgh Jewish community in 1816 consisted of 20 families. In 1825, the community acquired a tenement in Richmond Court and converted and equipped it for use as a Synagogue with 67 seats. This served the needs of the Community for 43 years. By the turn of the century, the community numbered 500 and had acquired a chapel in Graham Street for conversion into a Synagogue.
In 1909 the Edinburgh University Jewish Society was founded, and is the oldest in Scotland, and possibly in Britain
In 1918, Dr Salis Daiches became minister of the Edinburgh Hebrew Congregation. During the course of his ministry, which lasted 27 years until his death, he had a profound effect on the Jewish community. He united the community into a single cohesive unit and at the same time acted as spokesman for the Jews in Scotland during the troubled inter-war years. The Synagogue in Salisbury Road, built in 1932 to accommodate 2000 people, is a tribute to his leadership and vision.
On Dr Daiches' death in 1945, the community appointed Rabbi Dr Isaac Cohen, who subsequently became Chief Rabbi of Eire.
Rabbi Dr Jacob Weinberg was appointed in 1961. He followed the Daiches tradition of being an ambassador to the non-Jewish community. His erudition was reflected in the adult classes he ran in the Extra Mural Department of the University of Edinburgh. He educated a generation of Scots to be knowledgeable about the Psalms, the Dead Sea Scrolls, Modern Hebrew, Agnon and Maimonides.
During these years, the community was fortunate to have the services of three wonderful chazzans, Rev. Zucher, Rev. Brysh and Rev. S. Knopp, who were all members of the same family and who encouraged each future generation to serve in Edinburgh. Rev. S. Knopp took early retirement to join his family in Israel in 1982.
Rabbi (then Rev.) Dr Daniel Sinclair of Jerusalem conducted the High Holyday Services in 1983, and was appointed minister in 1984. When he returned to Israel in 1987, he had raised the standard of Hebrew education in the community and had left behind an enthusiastic group of teenagers knowledgeable in Jewish matters, able to conduct the services and read the Law. Dr Sinclair has since been appointed to the prestigious post of Principal of Jews College, London, and is now back in Israel.
Rabbi Shalom Shapira, also of Jerusalem, and a Sabra, was appointed in 1988. His pastoral and spiritual care for members of the Community, ably assisted by his wife Rachel, has enabled Judaism to thrive in Edinburgh in the 90s.
Rabbi David Sedley was appointed in August 1996 and brought the freshness of youth into the Community. Along with his wife Alit, and family Avi and Shoshana, they made a great impression on young and old alike. In 2000, they left for a post in Leeds, and have since returned to Israel.
Rabbi David Katanka was officially appointed as a part-time Rabbi in February 2002, although he had been conducting frequent services since the Sedley’s left. As well as Rabbi, he was also a wonderful chazzan, which added much to the services.
Rabbi David Rose was appointed in May 2003, and is still bringing vitality to the Community in all that he does. He provides hospitality for both Community members and visitors alike – no one is ever turned away.