The United Synagogue was established for charitable purposes by the United Synagogue Act of 1870. It was formally registered as a charity on the 2nd June 1965.

The Schedule to the Act was previously the major constitutional document of the Charity. This has subsequently been augmented by the Statues of the United Synagogue, passed by the United Synagogue Council in April 1999, which set out the Charity's objectives, its role and powers and those of its Honorary Officers (Trustees) and its Council; by the Byelaws, which set out the system of governance of local synagogues; and by the Election Regulations, which set out the procedure for electing the Board of Trustees every three years.

The relationship of the United Synagogue and its Affiliates is governed by the Affiliate Scheme.

The Board of Trustees
The Board of Trustees (also known as the United Synagogue Honorary Officers, or USHOs) have overall responsibility for the activities of the United Synagogue. They are elected by the Council of the United Synagogue (see below) every 3 years. The last elections took place in July 2011.

The Board of Trustees consists of a President, three Vice-Presidents and three Treasurers. Trustees serve for a three-year period and may be re-elected for a further three-year period in the same position. They may go on to serve similarly in other Trustee positions. The powers of the Trustees are set out in the Statutes.

Responsibility for the religious direction and guidance of the United Synagogue is vested in the Chief Rabbi.

While no formal policy for the recruitment of Trustees exists as such, the constitution provides that a Trustee must have prior experience of serving on the Board of Management at one of the network of local Synagogue Communities for which the United Synagogue is the umbrella body and where the majority of the Charity's activities take place. Trustees who stand for election must have had wide experience of lay leadership in the general Jewish Community for which they are taking responsibility. 

The Board of Trustees meets, on average, once a month to take strategic and policy decisions. These meetings are attended by the Chief Executive, Director of Finance and the Company Secretary to provide operational advice as required. In addition other Divisional Directors are invited as appropriate.

The Board of Trustees has various sub-committees convened for the better working of the Charity, and the membership of those committees comprises Trustees as well as other individuals, lay and professional. These sub- committees have such delegated decision making powers as are set out in their own terms of reference.

The Council of the United Synagogue
The Council represents the voice of the membership of the United Synagogue, and has retained four powers from the days when it was the Trustee body of the charity:

  • To elect and remove Trustees;
  • To consent to proposed amendments to the constitution of the United Synagogue;
  • To admit/discontinue the membership of any synagogue to the United Synagogue;
  • To consider the Budget and accounts of the United Synagogue.

The Council is elected annually by members of local synagogues at the same time as the annual synagogue elections for local Honorary Officers. Each synagogue elects a number of Council Representatives based on the number of members it has. All current Trustees are members of Council ex officio, as are the immediate previous set of Trustees. There are in addition a limited number of life members including all past Presidents. Council meets four times a year, with two of those meetings to receive the annual budget and the presentation of the annual accounts.

The Synagogues

The United Synagogue has 50 Member, 10 Affiliate and 1 Associate synagogues. 

Member Synagogues

The member synagogues are part of the United Synagogue. The day to day responsibility for running the individual member synagogues is delegated by the Trustees to local Honorary Officers and Boards of Management elected annually by the members of the local Synagogues. 

The Byelaws regulate the powers of the local Honorary Officers and the conduct of local synagogue activities. The Trustees from time to time issue guidelines or instructions to supplement the Byelaws.

The religious affairs of the synagogues are run by the local Rabbi (together with a Cantor if appropriate) and the wardens (who are part of the team of Honorary Officers) under the overall guidance of the Chief Rabbi. Professional administrators are employed at most synagogues to provide the local lay leadership with administrative support in the effective management of the community.

Local synagogues collect an annual membership subscription - the communal pay over - from their members. A proportion of this membership is paid over to the Centre for the services provided generally and to support the further development of the Charity. The remainder of the membership subscriptions are retained and administered locally according to United Synagogue rules, and are used to run the local community.

Affiliate Synagogues
These are synagogues which are constitutionally one step removed from the United Synagogue, and whose relationship to the Charity is governed by the Affiliate scheme. They are independent legal entities (sometimes independent charities) which 'affiliate' to the United Synagogue for a variety of purposes but which do not form part of the Charity. The Affiliates govern their synagogue under the Byelaws, as varied by the Affiliate scheme. The United Synagogue provides them with certain limited services for which they also pay an annual contribution. 

Click the link to see the United Synagogue Bye-laws.

Click the link to find out about Women's Officer: A New Leadership Role for our Communities.