History of the Jews in Wales
The history of the Jews in Wales starts with the establishment of Jewish communities in South Wales in the eighteenth century CE. In the thirteenth century, shortly after Wales was conquered by Edward I of England, he issued the 1290 Edict of Expulsion expelling the Jews from England, and executed over three hundred English Jews. There is no known account of the contemporary situation in Wales and no testimony that Jews were living there at that period. Between 1290 and the formal return of the Jews in 1655, there is no official trace of Jews as such on English soil and the same is true for Wales.
Major Jewish settlement in Wales dates from the 19th century, although there are records of Jewish communities from the 18th century as well.
Like the rest of Western Europe, Wales has traditionally been a majority-Christian country. This has meant that Jews have experienced minority status, but that there was some familiarity with certain Jewish scriptures.
The medieval Welsh clergyman and author Gerald of Wales (c. 1146 – c. 1223) wrote an account of his journey through Wales in 1188, the object being a recruitment campaign for the Third Crusade. In his account of that journey, the Itinerarium Cambriae (1191), he gives an obviously allegorical account of a Jew and a Christian priest travelling in Shropshire, England, but makes no reference to Jews in Wales.
In 1282 with the fall of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native Prince of Wales of direct descent, Wales became subject to Edward I of England. He decreed the expulsion of Jews from England in 1290; whether this affected Wales, where the writ of the English king was for a long time limited to the implanted boroughs and some of the Marcher territories, is not known. The Welsh chronicle Brut y Tywysogion refers to the event but only in the context of Jews in neighbouring England.
Early modern period
In England, between 1290 and their formal return to that country in 1655, there is no official trace of Jews as such except in connection with the Domus Conversorum, which kept a number of Jews who had converted to Christianity within its precincts up to 1551 and even later. There is no comparable evidence for Wales.
The BBC notes, "The oldest non-Christian faith [in Wales] to be established was Judaism, with a presence in Swansea dating from around 1730. Jewish communities were formed in the next century in Cardiff, Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypridd and Tredegar."
The rapid expansion of the coal mining industry in the 19th century lead to major economic growth and a vast increase in immigration to Wales. The Jews were one group who immigrated to Wales in large numbers during this period, leading to the founding of new Jewish communities, particularly in the heavily industrialised South Wales Valleys. A synagogue was founded in Merthyr Tydfil in 1875, and by the end of the century, most towns in the Valleys were home to small Jewish communities and trading stations. Generally, these communities appear to have been well tolerated, though there were some notable exceptions. In 1911 antisemitic sentiment came to a head in the Tredegar area, where working-class mobs attacked Jewish-owned businesses, causing thousands of pounds worth of damage. Early 20th-century Welsh Jewish society is featured in the 1999 film Solomon & Gaenor, which is set at the time of the Tredegar riots.
Jews continue to flourish in Wales, being augmented by refugees from Nazi-dominated Europe in the late 1930s. The modern community in South Wales is centered in the Cardiff Reform Synagogue and the Cardiff United Synagogue. The synagogue of Merthyr Tydfil, the major one north of Cardiff, ceased to hold regular services in the 1970s and was later sold. It is a Listed Building.
Notable people of Welsh-Jewish Jewish background include:
- Louis Barnett Abrahams
- Dannie Abse
- Leo Abse
- Sacha Baron Cohen, father Gerald of Welsh-Jewish origin
- Maurice Edelman
- Raymond Garlick
- Albert Gubay
- Michael Howard
- Joe Jacobson
- Greville Janner
- Susan Mendus
- Michael Moritz
- Lucy Owen
- Jon Ronson
- Bernice Rubens (26 July 1928 – 13 October 2004) was a Booker Prize-winning novelist whose work focused on the more disturbing aspects of human behaviour
- Gerald of Wales. The Itinerary through Wales and the Description of Wales, trans. Richard Colt Hoare (Everyman's Library), p. 137.
- Thomas Jones (ed.), Brut y Tywysogion, Peniarth MS. 20 (Cardiff, 1941), p. 229b.
- "Multicultural Wales". British Broadcasting Company. Retrieved 6 December 2007.
- Endelman, Todd M. (2002). The Jews of Britain, 1656–2000. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. p. 130.
- Endelman, Todd M. (2002). The Jews of Britain, 1656–2000. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. p. 162.
- "Valley G's wicked Welsh rootz". BBC News. 28 March 2002. Retrieved 22 November 2006.
- Bermant, C. (1969) Troubled Eden: an Anatomy of British Jewry; pp. 59–61. London: Vallentine Mitchell
- Davies, G. (ed.) The Chosen People: Wales and the Jews. Seren (March 1, 2002) ISBN 1-85411-309-7 ISBN 978-1854113092
- Henriques, U. R. Q. (ed.) (1993) The Jews of South Wales: Historical Studies. Cardiff: University of Wales Press
- Roth, C. (1950) The Rise of Provincial Jewry, 1950, p. 104 (Susser Archive – available on-line)
- Jordan, G., Heyman, C., Lavine, E., Parry-Jones, C., Soffa, D. & Weedon, C. (eds.) (2012) Hineni: Life Portraits from a Jewish Community. Cardiff: Butetown History & Arts Centre
- Articles and miscellanea
- "The Jewish Communities of South Wales". Shemot July 1994 vol. 2/3
- "The Jewish of Merthyr Tydfil". Shemot September 1998 vol. 6/3
- "A Vanished Community – Merthyr Tydfil, 1830–1998" [clarification needed] September 2001 vol. 9/3
- Mars, Leonard "Celebrating diverse identities, person, work and place in South Wales"; in Identity and Affect: Experiences in a Globalising World, Campbell, J. R. & Rew, A., eds. London: Pluto, 1999, pp. 251–274 (This is about a Jewish doctor who was a member of the Swansea community)
- Mars, Leonard "Cooperation and Conflict between Veteran and Immigrant Jews in Swansea", in: Religion and Power, Decline and Growth: sociological analyses of religion in Britain, Poland and the Americas, [London]: British Sociological Association, Sociology of Religion Study Group, 1991, by Peter Gee & John Fulton, eds.; pp. 115–130
- Alderman, G. "The Jew as Scapegoat? the settlement and reception of Jews in South Wales before 1914", in: Trans JHSE; XXVI (1977)
- James, E. Wyn, ‘ “A’r Byd i Gyd yn Bapur . . .’ Rhan 3: Dylanwadau Rhyngwladol – Sansgrit a Hebraeg’, Canu Gwerin: Journal of the Welsh Folk-Song Society, 27 (2004), 34–47 ISSN 0967-0599.
- Cardiff Jewish Roll of Honour WW1, based on 1919 Western Mail
- Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen & Women (AJEX) consecration and unveiling of War Memorial 1939–1945 at Cathedral Road Synagogue