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The history of our community

Our community was founded by Dr Eduard Kley in 1817 as the Neuer Israelitischer Tempelverein zu Hamburg (in Hebrew: Kahal Beit Chadash). From 1868, our community was officially referred to as the Israelitischer Tempelverband and was the legal equal of the second traditional Orthodox Israelitischer Synagogenverband zu Hamburg (Bornplatz synagogue). In 1938, the corporation status of our community was illegally revoked and our synagogues were defiled and confiscated.  Many of our members were killed in the Shoah or were able to flee.
Our community was finally able to resume its work in 2004, with a particular focus on maintaining the architectural and cultural heritage of our community. One of our main aims is that Hamburg should once again have its own progressive temple (synagogue). In 2021, our community asked the Hamburg State Senate to confirm the continued corporation status of the community and requested cultural, financial and social equality with the Orthodox Jüdische Gemeinde Hamburg. Until now, this restitution has not been made but would be warmly welcomed, if not for anything more than ethical reasons.

Pioneers of Reform Judaism

Along with Israel Jacobson, Carl Siegfried Günsburg and Leopold Zunz, Dr Kley was one of the very first pioneers of Reform Judaism. He started out as a preacher at Israel Jacobson’s private Reform temple (initially in Seesen and later in Berlin).
From 1817, Dr Kley was Headteacher and Director of the newly established Israelitische Freischule am Zeughausmarkt 12 in Hamburg (now the Anna-Siemsen-Schule) and, together with 65 housefathers, established in 1817 one of the first Jewish Reform communities in the world that still exists to this day.


From Hamburg to America

In addition to the new liturgical prayer book that followed the “Hamburg rite”, Dr Kley also introduced songs in German. The new prayer book of the Tempelverein was the first comprehensive Reform Jewish liturgy. It no longer focussed on the restoration of the Temple in Jerusalem and replaced these sections with passages about justice for all nations, for example. This resulted in a major conflict between the Progressive and Orthodox Jews of Hamburg. In 1818, the community moved into its first temple in Erste Brunnenstraße in Hamburg’s New Town, opened by Meyer Israel Bresselau, Lazarus Gumpel and Ruben Daniel
Warburg. Known as the Hamburg Temple, this was the first Reform synagogue in the world with an organ, mixed choir and sermons held in German. The community grew quickly and the decision was made in 1840 to construct a new temple in Poolstraße. This was heavily financed by Salomon Heine and Lazarus Gumpel. The Tempelverein quickly
grew from 65 members in 1817 to nearly 600 by 1841, partially comprising wealthy members of the Jewish intelligentsia that developed as a result of the Jewish emancipation and equality laws arising at this time.
The opening of the new temple and affiliated homes in Poolstraße was celebrated a few days before Rosh Hashanah on 5 September 1844 and remained in the ownership of the Israelitischer Tempelverband until their forced sale below value in 1937. The temple was severely damaged by bombing in 1944 and became derelict thereafter. The apse was used as residential housing until the mid-1980s and the organ gallery is still rented out to this day.
On Chanukah in 2020, the City of Hamburg, following protests by our community, decided to buy the land and develop it. It would be a welcome move to restore the most important synagogue in Progressive Judaism so that it could once again be used by a congregation.





The original home of Reform Judaism 

Services were already being held in the style of the Hamburg Temple in 1820 at the time of the Leipzig Trade Fair, bring the Jewish Reform movement to global attention. From 1842, the first Reform temples were built in the US based on
the Hamburg archetype. Some of the first communities to adopt our siddur were Temple Har Sinai in Baltimore and Temple Emanu El in New York. Our community celebrated its centenary in 1918. A centenary publication was issued to mark the occasion.
The Reform movement in the US, which is still based on the Hamburg model, now has over 2.2 million members, making it the most influential denomination of Judaism. As a result, the Israelitischer Tempelverband and its cultural heritage are, to this day, of enormous significance to Progressive Jews around the world.


Synagogue music blossomed as a result of these reforms and the compositions of Louis Lewandowski, Moritz Henle (Laupheim/Hamburg) and Leon Kornitzer (Hamburg/Haifa) shaped the musical development of our community. We want
to build on this tradition.

The Bauhaus-style Oberstraße Temple

The community changed and evolved as a result of the Chief Rabbi of Hamburg Dr Bruno Italiener and the famous cantor and musician Leon Kornitzer. The community continued to grow and numbered over 800 members by 1935. As a
result, the Board, along with architects Felix Ascher and Robert Friedmann, decided to build a new, modern temple at Oberstraße 120. The building was inaugurated in 1931 and housed two synagogues with space for 1,200 people and was the largest progressive synagogue in northern Germany.

Our community celebrated its 120th anniversary in 1937. It was marked withspeeches and a community celebration. The Oberstraße Temple was defiled, damaged and closed during Kristallnacht in 1938 and had to be sold off to the
City of Hamburg. It survived the war practically intact. After the Shoah, the properties were processed by the Jewish Trust Co. and the Oberstraße Temple was sold to Germany’s NDR broadcasting company, which uses the building to
this day.

After the Oberstraße Temple was closed and Chief Rabbi Dr Italiener Z’’L fled to the UK, the last service for our community before the Shoah was held by Rabbi Dr Joseph Norden Z’’L in the former lodge (now the Kleine Kammerspiele room) of the B’nai Brith order in der Hartungstraße 92. Rabbi Norden was deported to Theresienstadt along with Rabbi Regina Jonas (the world’s first female rabbi, who also served communities in Hamburg) and died there.

Continuation of the community after 2004


Since 2004, we have been continuing our work as the Israelitischer Tempelverband and currently have over 300 members once again, making us the third largest progressive Jewish community under the umbrella of the Union
of Progressive Jews in Germany (UpJ).  We offer a warm welcome to Jews from all over the world.
Our community strives towards a vibrant, tolerant, egalitarian and diverse form of Judaism in Hamburg. For the future, we want to build on the past and turn Hamburg into an international centre for progressive Judaism once more.
This includes opening our own temple and community centre in Hamburg, as well as establishing the legal, social, financial and cultural equality of our community as an independent corporation.

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