Francis Lyon Cohen was born on 14 November 1862 in Aldershot, Hampshire, England, eldest son of Woolf Henry Cohen, a marine store dealer and later tobacco manufacturer, and his wife Harriett, née Phillips.
He was educated at Jews’ College, London, from 1879 and attended lectures in arts at University College, London. In 1883 he passed the intermediate music examination of the University of London as a private student.
Rev Cohen held many posts before his official rabbinical ordination in 1905 – in South Hackney, London (1883-1885), Dublin Synagogue (1885-1886) and the Borough New Synagogue in London (1886-1904).
He served as the first Jewish chaplain of the British Army (1892-1904), was a founder of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade and in 1893 originated the annual military Chanukkah service.
On 14 December 1886 at the Great Synagogue, London, he married Rose, daughter of the celebrated Reader of that Synagogue, the Rev. Marcus Hast.
He was editor to the choir committee of the United Synagogue, served as music editor of the Jewish Encyclopaedia, and also lectured at Oxford.
In 1904 he was appointed chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney Australia and after obtaining his rabbinical diploma in London, he emigrated there in 1905.
Throughout his life Rabbi Cohen, who was an excellent musician, maintained an active interest in Jewish music. He published a number of works including:
A Handbook of Synagogue Music for Congregational Singing (with B.L Mosely, 1889) and The Voice of Prayer and Praise (with D.M. Davis, 1899 and 1914) – affectionally known as ‘The Blue Book’.
In addition to his work as an editor, Rabbi Cohen published several articles on the use of music in the Synagogue, including Song in the Synagogue (1889); Synagogue Music; Its History and Character(1883) and Synagogue Plain-Song (1897).
He also composed his own arrangements for use in the Synagogue, many of which were published in Lyra Anglo-Judaica.
In Australia Rabbi Cohen was active in all facets of Jewish communal life. He was president of the New South Wales Board of Jewish Education and helped to found the New South Wales Jewish War Memorial, Darlinghurst. He also worked for many philanthropic institutions including the Chevra Kadisha, the Sir Moses Montefiore Jewish Home for the aged and the local branch of the Anglo-Jewish Association. He was also involved in the Jewish Literary and Debating Society of Sydney.
He joined the Australian National Defence League. Appointed chaplain of the Australian Military Forces in 1909, during World War I he was vice-president of the Universal Service League and campaigned for conscription. In 1929 he was awarded the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers’ Decoration.
In 1928 he published the Jubilee History of the Great Synagogue, Sydney. He had the reputation of being a fine public speaker and was an active Freemason.
Rabbi Cohen died in Potts Point on 26 April 1934.