History - Building:
In the early nineteenth century,
Jews of Lyons were few and their community was
originally attached to the Consistory of
Marseille. As Jewish population increased, a
communal rabbinate was formed on 11 November 1849.
The first place of worship located in a rented hall
in the rue Écorche-Bœuf (now called rue Port-du-Temple),
was replaced at the end of its lease, for a flat in
the rue Bellecordière, then on 25 June 1850 a new
temple was inaugurated in the rue Peyrat (now rue
Lamp inside the Grande Synagogue in Lyon. Photo Maria Noland
On 23 October 1857, Emperor Napoleon III, by decree, created a regional Consistory which gathered communities in the departments of Rhone, Loire, Isère, Ain, Jura, Saône-et-Loire and Doubs. On 24 June 1858, the first regional Chief Rabbi took office and on 5 December of the same year, the Consistory received its charter.
On 4 May 1858, a new temple opened on the Place Bellecour in a rented hall, but the community wanted to build a synagogue that could properly represent the community. On 5 December 1859, the Consistory solicited to Senator and prefect of Lyon Claude-Marius Vaïsse a land to build a synagogue. On 3 September 1860, the city of Lyon proposed to the community a land in the Jardin des Plantes and the Montée des Carmélites in the 1st arrondissement of Lyon. The construction commission, specially created on 6 March 1861 to manage the construction project of the synagogue, issued a negative opinion about the location proposed by the mayor, and suggested the area of Customs located quai Tilsitt which was refused.
On 20 May 1863, the laying of the cornerstone took place, and the official inauguration with civilian and military authorities, and representatives of other religions took place on 23 June 1864.
History - World War II:
On 10 December 1943, while the evening worship was started since twenty minutes, the celebrant intoned the Lekha Dodi hymn and, as wanted by the tradition, he and the faithful turned toward the door to welcome the Shabbat. At this time, two hand grenades were thrown in the synagogue by people who managed to escape by car. The fact that there were only eight minor injuries can be explained by the position of the faithful at the time of the attack. The attackers were never identified.
On 13 June 1944, the French militia entered the synagogue and arrested everyone who was present. The secretary of the consistory and the prime minister of the synagogue were arrested, and the caretaker, his wife and housekeeper. All those arrested that day were first interned at Fort Montluc, then were transferred on 30 June to the Drancy internment camp, and were deported to Auschwitz on 31 July 1944.
In his testimony of 12 April 1945, Eugene Weill mentioned that when he went to the synagogue September 2, 1944, the day of liberation of Lyon, "the synagogue [is] in a dreadful state, the hall of the temple served as local of drinking militia, the plaques of soldiers killed during the War, served as targets, the Torah scrolls also, there are still sockets on the ground, lamps, chairs and benches have been ransacked, prayer books scattered."
At the Liberation, Rabbi David Feuerwerker became the Chief Rabbi of Lyon (1944–1946). It abolished the use of the organ in the synagogue during Shabbat and holidays. It celebrated, among others, the marriage of the parents of future and current Chief Rabbi of Lyon, Richard Wertenschlag.
The consistory of Lyon, located in the outbuildings of the synagogue, is the oldest Jewish institution in Lyon and coordinates educational and cultural activities of various synagogues in the Rhone-Alpes-Centre. It is also responsible for many social actions to aid the needy and sick. In Lyon, there are currently about 40,000 Jews and 35 synagogues and shrines which cover all shades of French Judaism.
The Grande synagogue de Lyon, like the Notre-Dame de Fourvière built at the same time (opened in 1870), enjoyed many technological advances in the late nineteenth century. The building was deteriorating rapidly and infiltration of water under the arches and in the aisles threatened to detect the stones of the building. The first part of the work cost 400,000 euros. For this, the Consistory, under the chairmanship of Marcel Dreyfus, asked the City of Lyon, as well as other territorial, regional and departmental collectivities. He also asked the generosity of donors and the product of multiple auctions.
The regional Chief Rabbi is currently Richard Wertenschlag and the rabbi of the synagogue is Isaac Elhadad. The Hazzan (cantor), which provides a reading of the Torah, is Gilles Kahn.
The synagogue is composed of two buildings : the first one with a facade which overlooks on the quai Tilsit and with a 160 square-meter area, and the second one with a 550 square-meter area separated from the first building by a small 120 square-meter courtyard. The access to the building is by the courtyard, through a porch located below the first building, enclosed by a wrought iron gate.
A small vestibule, open to the court by three arches, provides access to the prayer room with three wooden doors. This large rectangular room is divided into three parts: the central nave of the building height, and on each side the aisles, which are lower, separated from the nave by twelve columns recalling the twelve tribes of Israel. Each column is topped by a various Corinthian or composite styled capital. On each side, above the aisles as well as above the entrance hall, there is the gallery reserved for women with balustrades of stone columns.
Above the entrance, on the second floor, the organ in wood is damaged and requires extensive restoration. It is the former organ of the Basilica of Saint-Martin d'Ainay, sold in 1864 to the synagogue during its construction.
The synagogue has 320 wooden stalls on the ground floor reserved for men and 235 in the gallery on the first floor for women.