The Amsterdam shelter synagogue

Duchan during shacharit on Shabbat in Snoge was introduced in Amsterdam around 1666 when Sabbatai Zevi was regarded to be the mashiach. The idea was to prepare the kohanim for the service after the upcoming rebuilding of the temple. When however it became clear that Sabbatai Zevi was a fake, the question arose: stop the Duchan or continue. Should we stop, because there was no reason for it (Haham Sasportas), or continue as it was started, and after all it is a mitzvah (Haham Aboab). It was decided to continue with the Duchan on the condition that it would stop in case the continuation of the services would stop for whatever reason. (* see below)

Comparable, Duchan on Shabbat during Musaph was introduced by the Ashkenazim in The Hague, but for a different reason (cholera epidemic, see Liber Amicorum voor Opperabijn A. Schuster, ISBN 90 323 0738 6, Assen 1971, pages 61-62). They applied a similar condition: continue until the Duchan would be missed once. 

As a result of this condition, the Duchan in The Hague stopped after the war, but in Amsterdam the Duchan continued after the war. Why?

This is thanks to the amazing courage of a small group of Amsterdam Jews living in hiding. On the second floor of his house in the Nieuwe Keizersgracht 33, Sal (Salomon) Mendes Coutinho held a minyan every Shabbat and Yom Tov. The services in this “shelter synagogue” started in the fall of 1943. The last service was on liberation day, the Shabbat of 5 May 1945. As the minyan continued the whole war, first in the Snoge, and when that became impossible, in hiding, we have the Duchan till this very day.

The non Jewish artist Anton Witsel (1911-1977) who lived on the street level, made two drawings to document these services. These drawings are exhibited in the ma’amad (boardroom) of the community. They are dated 27 September 1944 (Yom Kippur) and 8 October 1944 (hosha’ana rabba). We blow the shofar during the hosha’anot. This explains why there is a shofar on this drawing. One of the attendees was rabbi Yehoshua Neuwirth, the author of the famous and very important book שמירת שבת כהלכתה, first published in 1965.

From September 1944 till the liberation in May 1945, Coutinho kept a notebook. This notebook is now kept in the Ets Haim Library. Some parts are related to the Services at his house. That part can be found here. The full document, including background information by the hand of Prof. Bart Wallet, can be found here.

The Snoge shows we survived the inquisition. These drawings show we survived the holocaust.


Not related to this, but important to note is that Sal and his wife Liesje (Elisabeth), next to the shelter synagogue on the second floor, had a mikva in the basement, organized taharot (washing of the dead) and buried Jews which died in hiding during the war, see notebook mentioned d above.


More on this can be read in two attached articles, one from the Internet (with translation to English) and one from Habinjan, issue 38-1984 (Dutch only) by dr. H Boas.

witsel-Kipur.jpg (243524 bytes)  witsel-HR.jpg (93948 bytes)  Mi Shebeerach 8 oktober 1944.jpg (170977 bytes)
Left: Yom Kipur, 10 tishri 5705, 27 September 1944. As most attendees were Ashekanzim, they wear a "kittel". The man with the top hat is probably Coutinho.
Middle: Hosha'ana Raba, 21 tishri 5705, 8 October 1944. The names of the attendees can be found in the web article. The man holding the Sepher Tora is Identified as Mr. Salomon (Sal) Waas. The boy is probably his son, Isaac (Ikey) Waas.
Right: list of Mi Sheberach for Rosh Hashana 5705, 8-9 October 1944, showing names of both Ashkenazi (first two) as well as Sephardi (last two) rabbanim. It is uncommon to mention Ashkenazi rabbanim, but this was most probably done because of the mixed Sephardi-Ashekenazi nature of this shelter synagogue minjan. 

The four rabbanim are:

·         Eliëzer ben Naftalie: rabbi L.H. Sarlouis (1884-October 1942), Ashkenazi, chief rabbi of Amsterdam,

·         Simon ben Semuel: rabbi Simon Dasberg (1902-Feb 1945), Ashkenazi, deputy chief rabbi replacing the deported rabbi Serlouis, who apparently was still assumed to be alive at that moment,

·         Haim Benjamin de David Ricardo (1872-May 1944), Sephardi , Ab Beth Din (there was no Chacham before the war)

·         Eliahu de Moshe Frances (1878-September 1942), Sephardi, senior rabbi.

Apparently they were not aware of the fact that Sarlouis  and Frances  were not alive anymore at that moment. Both died already in 1942.

This list was found in an old "11-months register". 


Liber Amicorum

בקהלת האשכנזים בהאג בהולנד הכהנים היו נ"כ ג"כ מדי שבת בשבתו ודוקא בתפלת מוסף
המהג הזה מאורע בעת שהיה חולירע בעיר. ויהי אחרי המגפה נמשך המנהג עד המלחמה העולמית השניה אמנם בהגבלה אחת והיא: אם יארע אעי' פ"א שאין כהן או לוי בבה"כ יבטל המנהג
 וזוכרני כי אירע בשבת אחת שראו אחר הש"ע של שחרית שאין שם כהן אז מהרו ורצו לקרא כהן א' שגר קרוב בשכונת בה"כ כדי שלא יבטל המנהג


(*) Recent research (2021-5781) carried out by Rabbi Serfaty as a result of the lockdown of services  from 21 March till 3 July 2020; (15 weeks and 18 parasot) due to the Corona pandemic revealed that there is no evidence for this condition other than the oral tradition in the Cohen Paraira family. Rabbi Serfaty therefore ruled to continue the Duchan after the reopening. He wrote an extensive responsa (שו"ת) on this (see also an English summary). Further, he proposed that as off the Corona pandemic, Duchan should also be done on Rosh Chodesh.
On the first day of Rosh Chodesh Tishri 5781, 8 August 2021, the Duchan was instituted on Rosh Chodesh during weekdays. See the responsa (Duchan) by Rabbi Serfaty on the subject, and a recording of this historical first Duchan during weekdays ever. Read also this article by Mr. R. Vis. (Dutch). In June 2023 Haham Toledano instructed to discontinue Duchan on Rosh Chodesh.


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