Talmud Torah Hebrew Congregation has its origins in the expansion of
Melbourne’s Jewish community prior to World War II and the post-Holocaust
European immigration of the late 1940s and early 1950s.
congregation began with a private Minyan (prayer service) held in the home
of Joseph Fisher from about 1932. In 1938 premises were found at 40
Mitford Street, where services were held and a part-time Talmud Torah
school provided after school and Sunday morning instruction in the Jewish
religion. As Jews fled their homelands in Central and Eastern Europe in
the lead up to World War II and the impending catastrophe, many settled in
Melbourne. Increased numbers put pressure on the facilities as well as
making it clear that the congregation faced a solid future. At peak times,
services took place in halls in Acland Street, St Kilda, and Hennessy
premises were acquired at 26 Avoca Avenue in 1942. The existing house was
renovated to serve as a home for the congregation through the turbulent
post-war years until the further increase in numbers led to another move.
The house was used for prayer services as well as for a Talmud Torah
(part-time religious school) that grew to become one of Melbourne’s
largest. The building was later sold and became a Scout Hall and remains
as such to this day.
early 1950s President Abe Sicree realised that the congregation had
outgrown the Avoca Avenue premises. Independently he decided to buy the
current site of the congregation at 39 Dickens Street with the intention
of ensuring the congregation has sufficient room for synagogue, school and
communal hall. The foundation stone was laid on 26 February 1956 by past
president Aaron Cohen JP in the presence of the then president S. Gandel.
Mr Popper was the architect. The building was completed and opened in
September 1957, in time for the High Holidays. The following year Rabbi
Chaim Gutnick arrived and is still serving as Chief Minister in 2002.
Cantor Avraham Adler was also appointed in 1958. He was succeeded by
Cantors Natan Mittelman and Yitzchak Levi.
early 1950s there was increasing interest in the Jewish community in day
schools rather than part-time Jewish education. For many years the
congregation had hosted a Jewish kindergarten. Now, administration of
Moriah College, founded in 1954, would become an intrinsic part of the
congregational activities reflecting the concern for education of future
generations. The foundation stone for the college adjoining the synagogue
was laid on 4 December 1960 by S. Hamery. Though the college has ceased to
exist as a separate entity, congregational support for Jewish education
continues. The school building, complementing the Leo and Frances Lawrence
kindergarten complex at the rear of the premises, was subsequently taken
over by Mt Scopus College and more recently used by the Yesodeo Hatorah
synagogue was originally designed to hold 427 men and 213 women. The
imbalance, which reflected social attitudes at the time of construction,
was typical of many congregations but soon proved inappropriate in light
of changing attitudes. In addition, membership had again grown.
Accordingly, during the presidency of Mottel Roth in 1973 a major
expansion of the building was undertaken. Works carried out by L. U.
Simons to enlarge the complex included raising the roof, the addition of
further women’s gallery space and reorientation of the direction of the
synagogue. The reconstructed building, now able to seat 538 men and 530
women, was dedicated on 16 September 1973. The foundation stone for a new
communal hall, named Daniel and Tola Karafka Hall, was laid by B.
Rosenwacg on 28 March 1980.
of the synagogue is typical of post-war Orthodox synagogues, including
(three) separate upstairs ladies’ galleries. Features of the building
include the Aron Kodesh (holy Ark housing Torah scrolls) and its
accompanying stage, including seating for the rabbi and officials. The
stained-glass windows depict festival motifs and were designed by Adele
Shaw. The minor chapel at the rear includes the reference library of
religious tomes and has been dedicated to the memory of a long-serving
communal official and teacher, the Reverend Haim Yoffe.