The Saatchi Synagogue, which opens tonight in north-west London, is aimed at young and disaffected Jews who are turned off by tradition. The organisers insist its services - unlike those at conventional synagogues - will not be boring. The services will be shorter, less formal and simpler, and rounded off with a four-course kosher dinner.
But many people have been upset by an irreverent advertising campaign used to launch the synagogue. One full-page advert in a community newspaper states: "At our new synagogue, this is the only thing that gets rammed down your throat." The advert is completed by a picture of a traditional kosher fishball.
Those behind the Saatchi Synagogue, in Maida Vale, insist that the advertising is simply designed to catch the eye of younger people.
Rabbi Pini Dunner, 28 - a former presenter of Spectrum Radio's Jewish programme - will run the synagogue. "It's all a question of marketing techniques," he said. "It sounds crude but I want people to come.
"What I would say to those people who have said we are offering something that is style over substance is, 'Let them come and experience it for themselves'.
"Are they managing to attract thousands of young people who have been galvanised into action by our advertising campaign? Let them target the thousands who have not responded to our campaign."
Despite its modern approach, the synagogue, established with pounds 250,000 donated by the four Saatchi brothers to honour their parents, will technically be run in the Orthodox tradition. But its tactics have been branded as distasteful by figures from both the Orthodox and liberal wings of the Jewish community.
Rabbi Michael Harris, from the nearby Orthodox Hampstead Synagogue, condemned the synagogue's campaign in a letter to the Jewish Chronicle. "It is offensive because, while there is nothing wrong with promoting one's own synagogue, to do so by denigrating others is reprehensible. A genuine invitation to participate in an Orthodox community also means conveying the reality that the benefits result from a cluster of virtues unpopular in the late 1990s: persistence, patience, self-sacrifice, discipline and commitment."
Joe Lobenstein, Mayor of Hackney and a leading lay member of the Orthodox community in London, said: "They are saying they are going to have fun during the services. If one wants fun one should go to the zoo."
Rabbi Jonathan Romain, of Maidenhead Reform Synagogue, said: "I have no problem with a new synagogue, especially if it deals with the current disillusionment. But the Saatchis are promoting a kind of gastronomic Judaism. They are aiming at their stomachs when they should be appealing to their hearts and minds." He also had misgivings about the unusual decision to give the synagogue a family name.
But not everyone disapproves. Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, head of the London L'Chaim Society and author of the controversial Kosher Sex, said: "I do not see why a glitzy advertising campaign in any way compromises substance. Why should we continue to build synagogues for people over 70? All the churches are empty, all the synagogues are empty."
Adam Dawson, chairman of the Union of Jewish Students, said he thought the synagogue was a positive development. "We would support anything that helped bring young Jewish people together," he said. "We are seen as a cross-community body and we spend a lot of time trying to bring people together."
While the new synagogue is aimed at the under-45s, Rabbi Dunner said he would not turn away older people. Mr Saatchi senior is 90, Rabbi Dunner pointed out. "He's welcome to come, of course. I don't have to invite him. It's his synagogue."Reuse content