T O P I C
A Chronology of the Jews in Britain , The Jewish Historical Society
Paul Vallely reports on 13 June 2006 Jews were banned from this country for three centuries, until Oliver Cromwell allowed their return. Today, a ceremony in London celebrates that decision 350 years ago, and the key role they have played ever since.
The first record of Jews living in England dates from Norman times. Just after 1066, William the Conqueror invited a group from Rouen to bring their commercial skills and incoming capital to England. In the Middle Ages, lending money with interest - usury - was considered a sin and forbidden to Christians so medieval monarchs used Jews as moneylenders. The outsiders financed royal consumption, adventures and wars - and made themselves rich in the process. By 1168, the value of the personal property of the Jews (around £60,000) was regarded as a quarter of the entire wealth of England. And when Aaron of Lincoln died not long after - all property obtained by usury passing to the king on the death of the usurer - Henry II inherited the then massive sum of £15,000.
During Henry II's reign, Jews lived on good terms with their Christian neighbours. In the process helping to fund many abbeys and monasteries. In return they were allowed to take refuge there as clerics and Popes routinely stirred up ill-feeling against the Jews as the "killers of Christ". Ill will was fed by the Crusades, in which the Jews were as much a target of the righteous sword-wielders as were the infidel Saracens.
One of the most popular myths was known by Jews as "the blood libel", which appears to have originated in England in an accusation against William of Norwich in 1144. It suggested that he and other Jews killed a young Christian boy to use his blood in the ritual preparation of unleavened bread for the Passover ritual. This claim spread from England to France and Spain and throughout Europe in medieval times and resurfaced in 20th century Nazi propaganda. Barons, to whom Jews lent money, encouraged the mob responses to such claims, as Jewish homes were ransacked and records of their debts destroyed.
(Note: To understand the background read ‘Mistress of the Art of Death’ by Ariana Franklin about the investigation in 1171 by a female doctor into the claimed murder of a boy by the Jews)
In 1218, in what became the precursor of worldwide anti-Jewish laws, Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, made Jews wear a badge - an oblong white patch of two finger-lengths by four - to identify them.
At the end of the 12th century, as part of an epidemic of religious fervour during preparations for Richard the Lionheart's Third Crusade against the Saracens, massacres of Jews were staged at Stamford fair, in Bury St Edmunds and, most notoriously, in York. In 1190 the city's Jews were given refuge in Clifford's Tower at York Castle and besieged by a mob demanding they convert to Christianity. Most of those inside committed suicide; those who surrendered were slaughtered. By 1290 the inevitable happened when Edward I - who had found an alternative source of finance in the Italian merchants known as the ‘pope's usurers’ - banished the Jews from England.
After the Expulsion it is impossible to say how many lived in England - though there were probably less than 100 at any one time - but without a synagogue or official recognition, they did not constitute a community.
There was no Inquisition in England and they became a useful political tool in the dispute with Spain and Portugal. For example Henry VIII imported Jewish rabbinical advisors to help find a Biblical way out of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, the first of his six wives. He also welcomed Italian Jewish musicians to his court.
From the mid 16th century onwards, Jews entered England as Spanish and Portuguese merchants. They lived a double life, practising Judaism in secret while in public attending Lutheran churches, somehow observing feasts, fast-days and some dietary laws. The authorities turned a blind eye to their private religious activities
Toward the middle of the 17th century many Marrano merchants settled in London and formed a secret congregation, the head of whom was Antonio Fernandez Carvajal. They conducted a large business with the Levant, East and West Indies, Canary Islands, and Brazil, and above all with the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal. They gave Cromwell and his secretary, Thurloe, important information as to the plans both of Charles Stuart in Holland and of the Spaniards in the New World (see L. Wolf, "Cromwell's Secret Intelligencers"). Outwardly they passed as Spaniards and Catholics; but held prayer-meetings at Cree Church Lane and became known to the government as Jews by faith.
Meanwhile public opinion in England had been prepared by the Puritan movement for the readmission of the Jews into England. Petitions favoring readmission had been presented to the army in 1649 by two Baptists of Amsterdam, Johanna Cartwright and her son Ebenezer ("The Petition of the Jews for the Repealing of the Act of Parliament for Their Banishment out of England"); Many were moved in the same direction by mystical Messianic reasons. Their views attracted the enthusiasm of Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel, who in 1650 published his Hope of Israel, in which he advocated the return as a preliminary to the appearance of the Messiah in which he advocated the view that the Messiah could not appear till Jews existed in all the lands of the earth. According to Antonio de Montesinos, the Ten Tribes had been discovered in the North-American Indians, and England was the only country from which Jews were excluded. If England admitted them, the Messianic age might be expected.
In 1656 Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel petitioned Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector after the defeat of Charles 1 in the Civil War, asking for his community to have the right to settle. That petition was a catalyst for change.
Cromwell held the Whitehall conference called to decide the issue. The lawyers were happy while clerics and financiers were opposed. To stop them reaching the wrong decision Cromwell gave the rich Jews of Amsterdam permission to come to London and transfer their vital trade interests with the Spanish Main from Holland to England. While the result was inconclusive - the fact that the debate took place at all effected a change in the climate of tolerance. Crucially, the conference accepted that the 1290 Edict of Expulsion applied only to Jews resident in England at that date; technically there was no barrier to resettlement. For a Jew, renewed hostilities with Spain also meant it was safer for a ‘hidden Jew’ to come out as a Jew than be taken as a Spaniard.
Under Cromwell, in 1656, it finally “became possible, for the first time for three and a half centuries, for Jews to live, trade and worship openly and, for the most part, untroubled in the City of London” (Schama, History of Britain II:234-35).
In 1655 Antonio Fernandez Carvajal (1590 - 1659) became the first naturalised British Jew when he and his two sons were granted ‘denizenship’ as English subjects (the patent being dated August 17 of that year). When war with Spain broke out in the following year, his property in the Canaries was liable to seizure, as a British subject. Oliver Cromwell made arrangements for Carvajal's goods to be transported from the Canaries in an English ship which sailed under Dutch colors.
In December 1656 Antonio Fernandez Carvajal acquired land for a Jewish cemetery which was a public statement of existence. In 1657 his hitherto private synagogue in Creechurch Lane was extended to accommodate more worshippers. In 1659, his memorial service was attended by Samuel Pepys.
Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and Poland founded their first synagogue in 1692 in Broad Street, Mitre Square. The magnificent Spanish and Portuguese Jews' synagogue in Bevis Marks, a road in the City of London, followed in 1701.
Subsequently, despite anti-Jewish agitation in the early years of George II’s reign, the King was not inclined “to reverse the arrangement that had become established under the Protectorate… [and] the legality of the practice of Judaism in England at last received indirect parliamentary recognition in the Act for Suppressing Blasphemy of 1698” (Encyclopedia Judaica VI:754). However, British Jews seeking naturalization and the right to participate in the political process—voting, holding elected office or a government job—continued to be excluded by requirements that they receive the Sacrament and swear an oath as Christians. This constraint lessened when Britain sought to encourage settlement in America by passing the Plantation Act in 1740, which removed the obstacle of a Sacramental Test for Jews who “inhabited or resided, or shall inhabit or reside for the space of seven years or more” in America.
Resettlement was not a smooth process. Just as the relationship between Jew and Gentile had blown hot and cold during the medieval settlement, so it was in the new dispensation. Various coalitions of aristocrats, Christian zealots and businessmen tried to re-expel the Jews. But the new Jewish merchants were too useful. They had brought in £1,500,000 in capital which had increased by the middle of the century to £5,000,000. Marlborough's wars against the Spanish were financed by them. During the Jacobite rising of 1745 they showed particular loyalty, offering finance and volunteering for the corps raised to defend London. Their investment provided one-twelfth of the nation's profits and one-twentieth of its foreign trade. Their chief financier, Sampson 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 its own Naturalization Act (known as “The Jew Bill”), legislating a process for British Jews that removed the Sacramental Test, but continued to stipulate a Christian oath that prevented Jews from voting or holding office. Popular opposition was immediate. 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). The 1753 Naturalization Act “was received by the nation.... ‘with horror and execration.’ And great outcry against this "abandonment of Christianity". Those who had voted for it were denounced by the people… On the first day of the next session, a bill to repeal it was introduced and hurriedly passed in 1754 with the assent of both parties (Daly, Settlement of the Jews in America).
Click here for a database of the Jewish Community in mid-19th Century Britain
In 1874, Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister. His parents had had him baptised a Christian when he was twelve and he entered Parliament in 1837. During his life he was open about his Judaic inheritance, once needling a Commons opponent with the jibe that "when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon".
In 1837, Queen Victoria knighted Moses Haim Montefiore. Four years later, Isaac Lyon Goldsmid became the first Jewish hereditary peer. The first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, Sir David Salomons, was elected in 1855, and the first Jewish MP, Lionel de Rothschild, took his seat three years later when the parliamentary oath was changed from an exclusively Christian one.
The Reform Act of 1867 enfranchised all male householders and gave the vote to Jews
By 1890, all restrictions for every position in the British Empire, except that of monarch, were removed to Jews, some 46,000 of whom now lived in England.
From the 1880s onwards many Jews immigrated when they fled from the pogroms in Poland and Russia. These Jews (Ashkenazim) had a distinct East European and Yiddish culture and soon outnumbered those settled in Briitain who had a Spanish and Portuguese culture.
By 1919, the Jewish population had increased to about 250,000 primarily in cities like London, Manchester and Liverpool. They maintained a distinct culture building kosher businesses, welfare networks, Jewish schools and cultural bodies while embracing their English integration Unlike their American counterparts, British Jews anglicised their names and their customs, starting youth movements like the Jewish Lads Brigade in emulation of the British Scouts.
Families like the one which founded the jewellers, H Samuel, in Liverpool attempted to overturn prejudice and seek public office. In 1806 the city's Seel Street synagogue became the first in England to deliver sermons in English. In Manchester groups of Jewish intelligentsia were shaping new expressions of Judaism, including the Reform Movement, the political notion of Zionism and creating tools for activism which made the Jewish community strong in the traditions of British socialism and trade unionism. This in part explains why anti-semitism, which in most of Europe is most prevalent among the working classes, in Britain met stout opposition from many ordinary people, as events such as the Battle of Cable Street showed. Indeed anti-semitism has been more common among the British upper, rather than the lower, classes - a phenomenon which Ashley Perry puts down to aristocratic resentment.
‘The British consider themselves the height of civilization, the founder of democracy and the force that brought culture to much of the world," he says. But the Jews remind them that "there is one people that has lived with the British for many years which reminds them that their 'civilisation' is relatively new’.
Between 1918 and 1931 Mosley was a Tory, then an Independent Tory, and then a member of the Labour Party. He became the youngest MP in the House of Commons at the 1918 General Election. In 1930 and founded the New Party. The crushing defeat of the New Party in the 1931 general election led to it being disbanded and the creation of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). By 1936, after making little political headway, he saw the opportunity to exploit anti-Semitism for political gain. Violent clashes in the East End of London resulted in the “Battle of Cable Street” in October 1936, when the BUF and anti-fascist groups fought each other. A friend of Hiler, he party went into decline and he died through natural causes in 1980.
Britain allowed about 40,000 Jews from Austria and Germany to settle in Britain along with 50,000 Jews from Italy, Poland, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe and 10,000 Kindertransport children rescued on the eve of war.
Today, when many fear that anti-semitism is on the rise again, they acknowledge that, in the judgement of the Jewish peer Lord Janner, "in the UK it's not as serious as it is in France, Denmark, the Netherlands or Belgium." Instead Lord Janner perceives a different threat. Today there are about 350,000 Jews in the UK - around two-thirds in London, with around 40,000 in Manchester and significant communities in Leeds, Glasgow, Brighton, Liverpool, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Gateshead and Southend. That spreads the community pretty thin.
Head north-west from central London, past Lord's Cricket Ground and St John's Wood, and a mile or so farther along, you'll find a new, low-slung, glass-fronted building tucked just off the Finchley Road. If your eyesight isn't perfect, or if you're paying more attention to your driving, you could be forgiven for assuming that it's just an office building, or even for missing it altogether.
Yet the modest sign on its third-floor window announces what could prove to be a dramatic new departure for the Jews of Britain: JW3 – the London Jewish Community Centre. Nearly 10 years in the making, at a cost of £50m, and named for the postal district (NW3) in which it sits, it is due to open this month.
Its initial menu of nearly 1,000 events features well-known figures including Kevin Spacey, Nicholas Hytner, Zoë Wanamaker and Ruby Wax, as well as the former editor of the Times, James Harding, who is now head of BBC news.
These are heady days for British Jews. On the religious calendar, they are emerging from the Yamim Noraim – the "Days of Awe" beginning with Rosh Hashanah and culminating with the fast of Yom Kippur. They're starting the Jewish New Year with a new chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, after his predecessor, Jonathan Sacks, was given a communal send-off replete with tributes from assorted prime ministers, fellow faith leaders and Prince Charles.
BBC2 has just begun airing a new series called The Story of the Jews, narrated by the acclaimed – and unabashedly Jewish – historian and broadcaster Simon Schama.
Yet the significance of – and, according to its founders, the need for – JW3 is that the Jewish community of Britain has changed seismically in recent years.
For one thing, it has grown much smaller. The numbers have shrunk by nearly half since its high-water mark immediately after the second world war, with tens of thousands of Jews marrying out, or just opting out, of the faith, while others emigrated to the new state of Israel.
Despite their major impact in areas such as the professions, science, culture and the arts, the Jews of Britain now comprise a grand total of some 260,000 souls – less than 0.5% of the population. Outwardly, they are more self-confident, especially younger Jews who have grown up in an increasingly multicultural Britain.
But you need only to have visited any synagogue for Saturday's Yom Kippur observance – with young security volunteers checking each arrival and patrolling the exterior – to be aware of an abiding, post-9/11 concern over the possibility of anti-Jewish vandalism, or worse.
Amid the controversy surrounding Israel's stalled peace process with the Palestinians, some Jews, especially university students, have also found campaigns such as the push for an academic boycott increasingly unsettling. Whatever their own views on Israeli policies, for many Jews on British campuses, "anti-Israel" invective has sometimes come to feel not a lot different from antisemitism.
Still, the main shift for British Jews is that there is no longer just one Jewish community, but a mosaic of several, in some ways divergent, communities. The only group increasing in number is the charedim, the strictly orthodox. They are still a minority within a minority, accounting for about one in seven British Jews. But their traditions and practice, and their high birth rate, have insulated them from the demographic buffeting experienced by the rest of British Jewry.
They have preserved not just the customs and clothing of the old eastern European shtetl, but a tight, inward-looking sense of themselves. Ever wary of secular Britain, the rabbis of Stamford Hill in north London, the focal point of charedi life in the capital, recently set up a hotline to invite calls on "breaches of modesty" in behaviour or dress. They're almost equally reticent about contact with the mainstream of British Jewry.
But changes in Jewish life in Britain go deeper than the divide between the charedim and the rest, says Stephen Miller, emeritus professor of social research at City University and a leading analyst of trends in Jewish identity. In the 1990s two-thirds of Jews affiliated to a synagogue were members of mainstream orthodox communities grouped largely under the umbrella of the United Synagogue, the body that picks the chief rabbi. Now, the proportion is barely 50%. Some of the decline is because synagogal movements to the religious left of the orthodox – Masorti, Reform and Liberal Judaism – have been growing, if modestly.
"Yet the basic structure of Jewish identity has transformed itself," says Miller. "In the 1980s and 1990s, British Jews differentiated themselves largely in terms of their level of observance. This was the single, best predictor of how strongly Jewish they felt. Now, that link is far weaker. Many of those who regard themselves as strongly identified Jews have little or no connection with religious practice.
"They may identify ethnically, culturally, socially or through an engagement with Israel; they may describe themselves as 'secular Jews'. But the research shows their sense of belonging and pride in their Jewishness are, on average, not very different from their more observant counterparts."
The good news for those who have feared for the very survival of the non-charedi community – rabbi Sacks himself, who took office in the 1990s, wondered publicly whether "we will have Jewish grand children" – is that there are signs of new life there as well. Old-style British Jewishness used to be done quietly. Synagogues were, for many, as much about tradition or habit, as active religious involvement. Now, it is a rare synagogue that does not have a programme of Jewish learning, whether for children or adults. And where British Jews once aspired above all to blend in, many are sending their children to a growing network of Jewish day schools.
That, says Benjamin Perl, an Israeli-born businessman who settled in Britain in the 1970s, may be key to sustaining a fabric of Jewish community life. In addition to helping establish a Jewish secondary school, he has been central in setting up a dozen new primaries in the London suburbs. Though orthodox himself, he also wants to bring the rest of the community into Jewish education. He estimates 65% of Jewish children now go to Jewish schools. But the figure is boosted by the far higher rate among observant orthodox families. "My aim is not just to help set up these schools as Jewish schools," he says, "but to make them the best state schools in the areas where they're located."
But what of the Jews who don't go to synagogue? The "cultural" Jews. Secular Jews. Or, in a famous quip from the cultural polymath Jonathan Miller, those who insist they aren't Jews at all. Just Jew-ish.
That, at least in part, is where JW3 hopes to make its mark. It is not ignoring the already committed. Its inaugural programme has a rich mixture of Torah and Talmud sessions, debates on Israel and other communal staples. But there will also be comedy nights, jazz sessions, dance and fitness classes, even a taxidermy workshop – after which there will be time for socialising in a kosher restaurant run by proteges of the celebrated Israeli-born chef Yotam Ottolenghi.
But with its aim to reach out further, what is most striking – and in British community terms, most audacious – about JW3 is the explicitly American Jewish model on which it is based. The project was the brainchild of the philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield, and she took her inspiration from a crown jewel of Jewish community life in the most vibrant diaspora on earth: the Jewish Community Centre on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She and her fellow funders scaled back on some of the New York bells and whistles – they had planned a swimming pool and health club. But the West Side ethos, the comfortable exuberance of New York Jews, has survived in JW3. The very name, taken from the Finchley Road postcode, is a mix of playfulness and a bid for street cred.
"Our Jewish community is so British," says Raymond Simonson, the 40-year-old CEO of the new centre. "We have always looked at our American cousins as being a bit gauche, a bit loud." But JW3 will, he hopes, "turn up the volume".
JW3 is about opening up, and opening out, he says. "We have tended to keep behind closed doors. We build buildings with high walls."
He hopes to bring in not only the widest range of affiliated Jews, but others. "People who aren't going to synagogue. People who may have married non-Jewish partners. People who haven't been involved in anything Jewish since they were teenagers." People who have stayed away because, in his words, they may have feared "they would be judged".
The sign on the window – the one so easy to miss as you weave through the traffic on Finchley Road – is only temporary, he adds. Awaiting formal council approval is a bigger, bolder, permanent one that will decorate the complex's glass perimeter wall: "JW3 – the New Postcode for Jewish Life."
Ned Temko was editor of the Jewish Chronicle from 1990 until 2005
Williams, Hywel (2005). Cassell's Chronology of World History. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. p. 316. ISBN 0-304-35730-8.
England Related Articles in the Jewish Encyclopedia
David S. Katz, Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England, 1603-1655 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982)
David S. Katz, The Jews in the History of England, 1485-1850 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994)
‘The Middle Period’ For details of Jews between 1290 - 1609
Shakespeare and the Jews, James Shapiro, Columbia University Press 1996
The Club, The Jews of Modern Britain, Stephen Brook, Constable and Constable 1989
The Sephardim of England, Albert M Hyamson, Methuen 1951
"The Queen's Fool", by Philippa Gregory, is told from the point of view of a (fictional) Marrano girl living in England at the time of Queen Mary (BRILLIANT)
‘Mistress of the Art of Death’ by Ariana Franklin about the investigation in 1171 by a female doctor into the claimed murder of a boy by Jews
Sephardic Jews in 17th Century London and the Readmission by David J Ferdinando
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STORY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE
EXPULSION, READMISSION AND AFTER
The Jews were expelled in 1290. Oliver Cromwell allowed them to return in 1656.
In 2006, a ceremony in London celebrated the 350th anniversary of their return.
A popular myth known by Jews as ‘the blood libel’ or ‘ritual murder’ may have originated in England with the accusation against William of Norwich in 1144. It was claimed that he and other Jews killed a Christian boy to use his blood in the ritual preparation of unleavened bread for the Passover ritual. This claim spread from England to Europe and was then used in 20th century Nazi propaganda. Barons, to whom Jews lent money, encouraged mob responses to such claims as Jewish homes were then ransacked and debt records destroyed.
The Jews were expelled from England in 1290.
From the mid 16th century, Jews came to England as Spanish and Portuguese merchants. They lived a double life (called Marrano’s), practising Judaism in secret while in public attending Lutheran churches, somehow observing feasts, fast-days and some dietary laws. The authorities turned a blind eye to their private religious activities
Toward the middle of the 17th century Marrano merchants settled in London and formed a secret congregation that passed information about the Spaniards to the authorities. For Messianic reasons petitions favoring readmission had been presented to the army in 1649. Their views attracted the attention of Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel, who In 1656 petitioned Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector after the defeat of Charles 1 in the Civil War, asking for his community to have the right to settle. That petition was a catalyst for change.
In 1655 Antonio Fernandez Carvajal (1590 - 1659) became the first naturalised British Jew when he and his two sons were granted ‘denizenship’ (an inhabitant of a place) as English subjects (the patent was dated August 17). In December 1656 he acquired land for a Jewish cemetery which was a public statement of Jewish existence. In 1659, his memorial service was attended by Samuel Pepys.
Ashkenazi Jews from Germany and Poland founded their first synagogue in 1692 in Broad Street, Mitre Square.London. The magnificent Spanish and Portuguese Jews' synagogue in Bevis Marks, in the City of London, followed in 1701. The legality of the practice of Judaism in England received indirect parliamentary recognition through the 1698 Act Suppressing Blasphemy.
In 1837, Queen Victoria knighted Moses Haim Montefiore. Four years later, Isaac Lyon Goldsmid became the first Jewish hereditary peer. The first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, Sir David Salomons, was elected in 1855, and the first Jewish MP, Lionel de Rothschild took his seat three years later when the parliamentary oath was changed from being a Christian one.
The Reform Act of 1867 enfranchised all male householders and gave the vote to Jews
in 1874, Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister. His parents had had him baptised a Christian when he was twelve. He entered Parliament in 1837.
By 1890 Jews had had all restrictions to every position in the British Empire, except that of monarch, removed. 46,000 Jews now lived in England.
From the 1880’s many Jews immigrated as they were fleeing from pogroms in Poland and Russia. These Jews (ashkenazim) had a distinct East European and Yiddish culture and soon outnumbered those with a Spanish and Portuguese culture (sephardim).
The 1930’s saw the creation of the British Fascist Party under Sir Oswald Moseley which went into decline after the Battle of Cable Street in 1936.
Today there is a vibrant community with congregations ranging from Ultra Orthdox to Liberal