History of the Jews in England
The history of the Jews in England goes back to the reign of William the Conqueror. The first written record of Jewish settlement in England dates from 1070. The Jewish presence continued until King Edward I's Edict of Expulsion in 1290.
After the expulsion, there was no Jewish community, apart from individuals who practised Judaism secretly, until the rule of Oliver Cromwell. While Cromwell never officially readmitted Jews to Britain, a small colony of Sephardic Jews living in London, was identified in 1656 and allowed to remain.
The Jewish Naturalisation Act of 1753, an attempt to legalise the Jewish presence in England, remained in force for only a few months. Historians commonly date Jewish Emancipation to either 1829 or 1858 when Jews were finally allowed to sit in Parliament, though Benjamin Disraeli, born Jewish, had been a Member of Parliament long before this. At the insistence of Irish leader Daniel O'Connell, in 1846, the British law "De Judaismo", which prescribed a special dress for Jews, was repealed. Due to the lack of anti-Jewish violence in Britain in the 19th century, it acquired a reputation for religious tolerance and attracted significant immigration from Eastern Europe. In the 1930s and 1940s, some European Jews fled to England to escape the Nazis.
Jews faced anti-Semitism and stereotypes in Britain, and anti-Semitism "in most cases went along with Germanophobia" to the extent that Jews were equated with Germans in the early 20th century. This led many Jewish families to Anglicise their often German-sounding names.
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Jews in England
- 1 Norman England, 1066–1290
- 2 Resettlement period, 1655–1800s
- 3 Modern times
- 4 See also
- 5 References
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 External links
Norman England, 1066–1290
There is no evidence of Jews residing in England before the Norman Conquest. The few references in the Anglo-Saxon Church laws relate to Jewish practices about Easter. William of Malmesbury states that William the Conqueror brought Jews from Rouen to England. William the Conqueror's object may be inferred: his policy was to get feudal dues paid to the royal treasury in coin rather than in kind, and for this purpose it was necessary to have a body of men scattered through the country who would supply quantities of coin.
Status of Jews
At first the status of Jews was not strictly determined. An attempt was made to introduce the continental principle that Jews and all their possessions were the king's property, and a clause to that effect was inserted under Henry I in some manuscripts of the so-called Leges Edwardi Confessoris ("Laws of Edward the Confessor"). Henry granted a charter to Rabbi Joseph, the chief Rabbi of London, and his followers. Under this charter, Jews were permitted to move about the country without paying tolls, to buy and sell, to sell their pledges after holding them a year and a day, to be tried by their peers, and to be sworn on the Torah rather than on a Christian Bible. Special weight was attributed to a Jew's oath, which was valid against that of twelve Christians. The sixth clause of the charter was specially important: it granted to Jews the right to move wherever they wanted, as if they were the king's own property ("sicut res propriæ nostræ").
Attitudes of the kings
Gentile-Jewish relations in England were disturbed under King Stephen, who burned down the house of a Jew in Oxford (some accounts say with a Jew in it) because he refused to pay a contribution to the king's expenses. In 1144 came the first report in history of the blood libel against Jews; it came up in the case of William of Norwich (1144). Anthony Julius finds that the English were endlessly imaginative in inventing anti-Semitic allegations against the Jews. He says that England became the "principal promoter, and indeed in some sense the inventor of literary anti-Semitism." In his book, Julius argues that blood libel is the key, because it incorporates the themes that Jews are malevolent, constantly conspiring against Christians, powerful, and merciless. Variations include stories about Jews poisoning wells, twisting minds, and buying and selling Christian souls and bodies.
With the restoration of order under Henry II, Jews renewed their activity. Within five years of his accession Jews were found at London, Oxford, Cambridge, Norwich, Thetford, Bungay, Canterbury, Winchester, Newport, Stafford, Windsor, and Reading. Yet they were not permitted to bury their dead elsewhere than in London, a restriction which was not removed till 1177. Their spread throughout the country enabled the king to draw upon their resources as occasion demanded. He repaid them with demand notes on the sheriffs of the counties, who accounted for payments thus made in the half-yearly accounts on the pipe rolls (see Aaron of Lincoln). Strongbow's conquest of Ireland (1170) was financed by Josce, a Jew of Gloucester; and the king accordingly fined Josce for having lent money to those under his displeasure. As a rule, however, Henry II does not appear to have limited in any way the financial activity of Jews. The favourable position of English Jews was shown, among other things, by the visit of Abraham ibn Ezra in 1158, by that of Isaac of Chernigov in 1181, and by the immigration to England of Jews who were exiled from the king's properties in France by Philip Augustus in 1182, among them probably being Judah Sir Leon of Paris.
In 1168, when concluding an alliance with Frederick Barbarossa, Henry II seized the chief representatives of the Jews and sent them to Normandy, and imposed a tallage on the rest of the community of 5,000 marks. When, however, he asked the rest of the country to pay a tithe for the Crusade against Saladin in 1188, he demanded a quarter of all Jewish chattels. The so-called "Saladin tithe" was reckoned at £70,000, the quarter at £60,000. In other words, the value of the personal property of Jews was regarded as one-fourth that of the whole country. It is improbable, however, that the whole amount was paid at once, as for many years after the imposition of the tallage, arrears were demanded from the recalcitrant Jews.
Aaron of Lincoln is believed to have been the wealthiest man in 12th century Britain. It is estimated that his wealth may have exceeded that of the king. The king had probably been led to make this large demand on English Jewry's money by the surprising windfall which came to his treasury at Aaron's death in 1186. All property obtained by usury, whether by Jew or by Christian, fell into the king's hands on the death of the usurer; Aaron of Lincoln's estate included £15,000 worth of debts owed to him. Besides this, Aaron's large fortune passed to King Henry but much of it was lost on the journey to the royal coffers in Normandy. A special branch of the treasury, known as "Aaron's Exchequer," was established in order to deal with this large account.
During the earlier years of Henry II's reign Jews lived on good terms with their non-Jewish neighbours, including the clergy. They entered churches freely, and took refuge in the abbeys in times of commotion. Some Jews lived in opulent houses, and helped to build many of the abbeys and monasteries of the country. However, by the end of Henry's reign they had incurred the ill will of the upper classes. Anti-Jewish sentiment, fostered by the Crusades during the latter part of the reign of Henry, spread throughout the nation.
Persecution and expulsion
On November 17, 1278, all Jews of England, believed to have numbered around 3,000, were arrested on suspicion of coin clipping and counterfeiting, and all Jewish homes in England were searched. At the time, coin clipping was a widespread practice, which both Jews and Christians were involved in, and a financial crisis resulted, and according to one contemporary source, the practice reduced the currency's value to half of its face value. In 1275, coin clipping was made a capital offence, and in 1278, raids on suspected coin clippers were carried out. According to the Bury Chronicle, “All Jews in England of whatever condition, age or sex were unexpectedly seized … and sent for imprisonment to various castles throughout England. While they were thus imprisoned, the innermost recesses of their houses were ransacked.” Some 680 were detained in the Tower of London. More than 300 are believed to have been executed in 1279. Those who could afford to buy a pardon and had a patron at the royal court escaped punishment.
Edward I increasingly showed anti-Semitism as in 1280 he granted a right to levy a toll on the rivulet bridge at Brentford "for the passage of goods over it, with a special tax at the rate of 1d. each for Jews and Jewesses on horse, 0.5d. each on foot from which all other travellers were exempt". This antipathy eventually culminated in his legislating for the expulsion of all Jews from the country in 1290. Most were only allowed to take what they could carry. A small number of Jews favoured by the king were permitted to sell their properties first. Almost all evidence of a Jewish presence in England would have been wiped out if it had not been for the efforts of one monk, Gregory of Huntingdon, who purchased all the Jewish texts he could to begin translating them.
From then until 1655, there is nearly no official record of Jews in England with a few exceptions, for example Jacob Barnet, who was ultimately arrested and exiled.
Resettlement period, 1655–1800s
Hidden Jews in England
Toward the middle of the 17th century a considerable number of Marrano merchants settled in London and formed there a secret congregation, at the head of which was Antonio Fernandez Carvajal and Samuel Maylott, a French merchant, who has many descendants in England. They conducted a large business with the Levant, East and West Indies, Canary Islands, and Brazil, and above all with the Netherlands and Spain.
In the 1650s, Menasseh Ben Israel, a rabbi and leader of the Dutch Jewish community, approached Oliver Cromwell with the proposition that Jews should at long-last be readmitted to England. Cromwell agreed, and although he could not compel a council called for the purpose in December 1655 to consent formally to readmission, he made it clear that the ban on Jews would no longer be enforced. In the years 1655–56, the controversy over the readmission of Jews was fought out in a pamphlet war. The issue divided religious radicals and more conservative elements within society. The Puritan William Prynne was vehemently opposed to permitting Jews to return, the Quaker Margaret Fell no less passionately in favour, like John Weems, Minister of the Church of Scotland. In the end, Jews were readmitted in 1655, and, by 1690, about 400 Jews had settled in England.
Jew Bill of 1753
During the Jacobite rising of 1745, the Jews had shown particular loyalty to the government. Their chief financier, Samson Gideon, had strengthened the stock market, and several of the younger members had volunteered in the corps raised to defend London. Possibly as a reward, Henry Pelham in 1753 brought in the Jew Bill of 1753, which allowed Jews to become naturalised by application to Parliament. It passed the Lords without much opposition, but on being brought down to the House of Commons, the Tories made a great outcry against this "abandonment of Christianity", as they called it. The Whigs, however, persisted in carrying out at least one part of their general policy of religious toleration, and the bill was passed and received the royal assent (26 Geo. II., cap. 26).
Improvement of relations with the Jewish community
Emancipation and prosperity, 1800s
With Catholic Emancipation in 1829, the hopes of the Jews rose high; and the first step toward a similar alleviation in their case was taken in 1830 when William Huskisson presented a petition signed by 2,000 merchants and others of Liverpool. This was immediately followed by a bill presented by Robert Grant on 15 April of that year which was destined to engage the Parliament in one form or another for the next thirty years.
In 1837, Queen Victoria knighted Moses Haim Montefiore; four years later, Isaac Lyon Goldsmid was made a baronet, the first Jew to receive a hereditary title. The first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, Sir David Salomons, was elected in 1855, followed by the 1858 emancipation of the Jews. On 26 July 1858, Lionel de Rothschild was finally allowed to sit in the British House of Commons when the law restricting the oath of office to Christians was changed; Benjamin Disraeli, a baptised Christian of Jewish parentage, was already an MP.
In 1868, Disraeli became Prime Minister having earlier been Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1884 Nathan Mayer Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild became the first Jewish member of the British House of Lords; again Disraeli was already a member. (Though born a Jew, Disraeli's baptism as a child qualified him as eligible for political aspirations, presenting no restrictions regarding a mandated Christian oath of office.)
By 1880 the flourishing Jewish community in Birmingham was centred on its synagogue. The men organised collective action to defend the reputation and promote the interests of the community. Rituals regarding funerals and burials brought together the rich and the poor, the men and the women. Intermarriage outside the community was uncommon. However, the arrival of East European Jews after 1880 caused a split between the older, assimilated, middle-class Anglicized Jews and the generally much poorer new immigrants who spoke Yiddish.
By 1882, 46,000 Jews lived in England and, by 1890, Jewish emancipation was complete in every walk of life. Since 1858, Parliament has never been without practicing Jewish members. Synagogues were built openly, occasionally across the country as large, architecturally elaborate classical, romanesque, Italianate or Victorian gothic buildings such as Singers Hill Synagogue, in Birmingham. However, not all grand examples survive: for instance Dalston Synagogue (counter-intuitively) in Newington Green, North London in the last-mentioned style was in poor repair so its congregation sold its land for building of an apartment block and relocated in 1970.
1880s to 1920
From the 1880s through the early part of the 20th century, massive pogroms and the May Laws in Russia caused many Jews to flee the Pale of Settlement. Of the East European Jewish emigrants, 1.9 million (80 percent) headed to America, and only 140,000 (7 percent) to Britain. The chief mechanism was chain migration in which the first successful member(s) of the chain send information, local currency (and sometimes tickets or money for tickets) to later arrivals.
By 1919, the Jewish population had increased from 46,000 in 1880 to about 250,000, who lived primarily in the large industrial cities, especially London, Manchester and Leeds. In London, Jews lived primarily in the Spitalfields and Whitechapel areas, close to the docks, and hence the East End became known as a Jewish neighbourhood. Manchester, and neighbouring Salford, were also areas of heavy Jewish settlement, particularly the Strangeways, Cheetham and Broughton districts. Unlike much of the Jewish community in Poland, the Jewish community in England generally embraced assimilation into wider English culture. They started Yiddish and Hebrew newspapers and youth movements such as the Jewish Lads' Brigade. Immigration was eventually restricted by the Aliens Act 1905, following pressure from groups such as the British Brothers League. The 1905 legislation was followed by the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919.
Service in the First World War
About 50,000 Jews served in the British Armed Forces during World War I, and around 10,000 died on the battlefield, while Britain's first all-Jewish regiment, the Jewish Legion fought in Palestine. An important consequence of the war was the British conquest of the Palestinian Mandate, and the Balfour Declaration promising a home for the Jewish people in Palestine.
The Eastern Europe Jews brought with them a long history as entrepreneurial middlemen. They were much more likely to become entrepreneurs than their gentile neighbours, with a heavy concentration in the garment industry as well as in retailing, entertainment and real estate. London provided excellent financing opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Anti-Semitism was a serious handicap for Britain's Jews, especially the widespread stereotype to the effect that Jews were weak, effeminate and cowardly. The Zionist social critic Max Nordau promoted the term "muscle Jew" as a rebuttal to the stereotype. Challenging that stereotype was an important motivation for wartime service in the Boer war and in the First World War. It was also motivation for sports that appealed to the largely working-class Jewish youth element.
From the 1890s to the 1950s, British boxing was dominated by Jews whose families had migrated from Russia or the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Jews were heavily involved in boxing as professional and amateur fighters, managers, promoters, coaches and spectators—as well as gamblers and a certain criminal element that tried to fix fights. Their high visibility in a prestigious sport among the British working class helped reduce anti-Semitism and increased their acceptance in British society. The Jewish establishment worked hard to promote boxing among the youth, as a deliberate "Anglicisation" campaign designed to speed their adoption of British character traits and cultural values. The youth themselves eagerly participated, although the rising middle class status after the Second World War led to a sharp falloff of interest in younger generations.
The most celebrated of the Jewish athletes in Britain was Harold Abrahams (1899–1978)-– the man made famous by the film Chariots of Fire for winning the gold medal in the 100 metre sprint in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Abrahams was thoroughly Anglicised, and his cultural integration went hand-in-hand with his sporting achievements. He became a hero to the British Jewish community. However, Abrahams' quest to enter upper class British society increasingly dominated his career, as his Jewishness meant less and less to him and his associates.
Before and during World War II
Though there was some growing anti-semitism during the 1930s, which was counterbalanced by strong support for British Jews in their local communities leading to events such as the Battle of Cable Street where anti-semitism was strongly resisted by Jews and their neighbours, who fought it out on the street with Fascist elements. Consistent with its complex history, Britain was not particularly receptive to Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazi regime in Germany, and the other fascist states of Europe. Approximately 40,000 Jews from Austria and Germany were eventually allowed to settle in Britain before the War, in addition to 50,000 Jews from Italy, Poland, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Despite the increasingly dire warnings coming from Germany, at the Evian Conference of 1938, Britain refused to allow further Jewish refugees into the country. The notable exception allowed by Parliament was the Kindertransport, an effort on the eve of war to transport Jewish children (their parents were not given visas) from Germany to Britain. Around 10,000 children were saved by the Kindertransport, out of a plan to rescue five times that number.
With the declaration of war, 74,000 German, Austrian and Italian citizens in the UK were interned as enemy aliens. After individual consideration by tribunal, the majority, largely made up of Jewish and other refugees, were released within six months.
Even more important to many Jews was the permission to settle in the British-controlled Mandatory Palestine. In order to try to maintain peace between the Jewish and Arab populations, especially after the 1936–39 Arab revolt in Palestine, Britain strictly limited immigration. This limitation became nearly absolute after the White Paper of 1939 all but stopped legal immigration. During the War, Zionists organised an illegal immigration effort, conducted by "Hamossad Le'aliyah Bet" (the precursor of the Mossad) that rescued tens of thousands of European Jews from the Nazis by shipping them to Palestine in rickety boats. Many of these boats were intercepted and some sank with great loss of life. The efforts began in 1939, and the last immigrant boat to try to enter Palestine before the end of the war was MV Struma, torpedoed in the Black Sea by a Soviet submarine in February 1942. The boat sank with the loss of nearly 800 lives.
By July 1945, 228,000 troops of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, including Polish Jews, were serving under the high command of the British Army. Many of these men and women were originally from the Kresy region of eastern Poland and were deported by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to Siberia 1939–1941. They were then released from the Soviet Gulags to form the Anders Army and marched to Persia to form the II Corps (Poland). The Polish II Corps then advanced to the British Mandate of Palestine, where many Polish Jews, including Menachem Begin, deserted to work on forming the state of Israel, in a process known as the 'Anders Aliyah'. Other Polish Jews remained in the Polish Army to fight alongside the British in the North Africa and Italy campaigns. Around 10,000 Polish Jews fought under the Polish flag — and British High Command — at the Battle of Monte Cassino. All of them were eligible to settle in the UK after the Polish Resettlement Act 1947, Britain's first mass immigration law.
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