District prayer places
After the assassination of Pleve in 1904, liberal general, prince Svyatopolk-Mirsky, was appointed Interior Minister. As the owner of the settlement of Mir - then one of the largest centers of Jewish scholarship in Russia - the new Minister was well acquainted with the life of Jews. In October 1904 Svyatopolk-Mirsky presented to the Committee of Ministers a memorandum, pointing out that the Choral Synagogue was no longer sufficient for the growing Jewish community and that the Jews living in the outlying districts of the city could not reach it on Saturdays since the Jewish religion prohibited traveling on this day. In the opinion of the Minister, the 1869 resolution of the Committee of Ministers was obsolete and the government ought to allow the Jews to reopen several prayer places around the city. This proposal was accepted by the Committee.
Eleven houses of prayer were opened in different districts of the city with the permission of authorities during the 11 years from 1905 to 1916. In 1905 the Jewish residents of the Rozhdestvenskaya section were the first to regain their right to a prayer place. Afterwards, prayer houses were opened in the Vyborgskaya and Petrogradskaya districts, the Moskovskaya section, Vassilyevsky Island, the Shlisselburg area, and Okhta. In addition, between 1905 and 1910 the authorities permitted additional prayer rooms in private apartments during the Autumn holidays and Passover. In 1910 the rabbi of the Choral Synagogue petitioned the authorities to stop this practice in order that the boards of district prayer sites might control donation collection for the community's needs during holidays.
The district houses of prayer enjoyed full independence. Their Boards were established according to the 1877 rules, but the annual fee which gave community members a vote amounted to three rubles, making district communities more democratic. At the same time, the district communities took part in elections and maintenance of the spiritual rabbis of the city, and also paid for the maintenance of mikvas and the cemetery. Prayer rooms were located either on rented premises or in buildings of Jewish organizations, for example, in the almshouse building on Vassilyevsky Island, or in the "Ivrio" society building on Troitskaya street. In 1914 a prayer room was opened in the St. Nicholas military hospital in connection with a large number of Jewish soldiers wounded at the front.
Sometimes, when worshippers were expected to arrive in large numbers, the boards of district prayer places rented special premises for the Autumn holidays and Passover and announced the venues in newspapers. One such venue was the Pavlova Theatrical Hall at 13, Troitskaya street. In 1913, the sukkah for the Feast of Tabernacles was built in the Yusupov Gardens on Sadovaya street near Sennaya square, one of the city's first districts in which Jews had settled as early as the 1820s. However, every time Jewish individuals petitioned for permission to open public prayer rooms in their own apartments, they met with refusal.
The authorities rationalized their refusal by saying that apartment owners would thus gain personal profit. Places of public worship also had to conform to certain sanitary rules. Other considerations were unimportant. Thus, for example, in 1906 a retired private, shoemaker Itzhak Berka Gor, resident in Novaya Derevnya, petitioned for permission to open a prayer place in his own apartment. The district police officer reported that the petitioner was trustworthy and had no police record, but added that in 1886 the petitioner was expelled from St. Petersburg because, as the owner of a brothel, he failed to register one of his girls. Paradoxically, Gor was refused on the grounds of his apartment's small size.
Interior of the prayer room in the St. Nicholas military hospital