Surely over 300 years of Roman occupation, some Jews must have reached Britain. There are, however, no written records. The Jews would have been largely urban. The Anglo-Saxon invaders destoyed the urban culture of Roman Britain and this probably included the Jews in those towns. We know there were Jews in Anglo-Saxon Britain, in part because there were laws concerning Jews. We do not, however, have details on Jewish communities are know where these Jews came from. There are written records of Jewish during the Norman era. Some Jews arrived with William the Conqueror (1066). Anti-semitism developed in England as in the rest of Western Europe. The accusation of the Blood libel appears to have originated in England (12th century). Edward I expelled England's Jews (1290). Thus for nearly four centuries there were no Jews permitted in England, although a small number apparently practiced their religion in secret. A small group of Sephardic Jews were uncovered in Londpn during the Civil war era (1656). Lord Proctor Oliver Cromwell decided not to expell them, in part because of his financial situation. Even so, the prohibition on Jews was not rescinded. The Jewish population continued to be very small. The concern over emancipation was shown with the Jew Bill (1753). The process of emancipation was gradual, but the kep step was probably allowing Jews to become members of Parliament (1858). One of England's greatest priminister was Benjamin Disreali. Full emancipation was not achieved until later (1890s). These steps and the absence of violence aimed at Jews gradually resulted in England acquiring a reputation for tolerance. Englad's Jewish population remained relatively small. With the rise of the NAZIs in Germany, Jews began fleeing Germany and areas seized by the Germans (Austria and Czechoslovakia, England allowed only small numbers of Jews to enter (1930s). An exception was the Kindertransport children. Britain's Jews were spared the Holocaust, because the Germans were unable to invade. The Germans did arrest and deport Jews from the Channel Islabds. Britain's small Jewish community is today vibrant even with rising abti-semitism.
Surely over 300 years of Roman occupation, some Jews must habe reached Britain. There are, however, no written records. The Jews would have been largely urban. The Anglo-Saxon invaders destoyed the urban culture of Roman Britain and this probably included the Jews in those towns. Anglo-Saxon sources report Jewish slave traders that who bought slaves for the Roman market. Given the source, we are not entirely sure of the accuracy.
As far as we know, there were no Jews accompanying the Anglo-Saxon tribes invading Roman Britain. Thus Jews in Anglo=Saxon Britain would have had to have Jews already there or who reached Britain fter the conquest. We know there were Jews in Anglo-Saxon Britain, but very little is known about them or the numbers involved. There are almost no references to the Jews in surviving Anglo-Saxon records. But a few brief references provide some clues. Some sources think that the Jews in Anglo-Saxon England were mostly mostly continental visitors. There were laws concerning Jews. We also note religious references envolving Easter. There are, however, no details on Jewish communities are know where these Jews came from.
viking invaders conquered much of Britain (9th century). I do not think there were Jewish communities in Scandanavia at the time. Nor do I have any information at this time on Jews in the areas of Britain controlled by the Vikings--the Dane Law.
There are written records of Jewish during the Norman era. William the Conqueror defeated King Harald at Hasings, ending the Anglo-Saxon era (1066). Some Jews arrived in England soon after the Norman conquest (1066). These Jews were from William's possessions in Normandy. Jew there and other Christian principalities lived very constrained lives. One of the few occupations allowed was money lending. Jews were prohibited from owning land and engaging in the trades. Finance was an area open to them because the Church ruled that charging interest on loans was usury and sinful. Thus lending money was a rare area open to Jews. William of Malmesbury reported that William I invited a group of Jews from Rouen (1070). He reportedly thought that their commercial skills would help make his new possessions more profitable. Not a great deal is known about the Jews in Norman England. While we know some Jews accompanied William, it is not known just what their status was. It is believed that some were involved with William's finances. At first they were needed and received protection from William. There is no actual documentatiin such as a charter issued by William to confirm their actual status. After William their status appears to have been essential alienes in a Christian realm. This was initially something as an advantage in Feudal Europe in that their lives were not hemmed in by the Feudal system. They could inherit property and actually had more rights than peasants tied to the manor. Norman sources show that Jews wre working as doctors. [Jacobs, p. 269.] Norman documents also confirm that considerable superstion was associated with Christian attitudes toward Jews. [Jacobs, p. 153.] Anti-semitism developed in England as in the rest of Western Europe. The accusation of the Blood libel appears to have originated in England (12th century). We are not entirely sure as to the origins of the anti-semitism. It is likely that the Church paid a major role. Merchants who competed with the Jews may have also been involved.
The fortune of the Jews of England deteriorated very rapidly. The monarchy which had borrowed from the Jews began to tax them. Henry II (1154-89) instituted a tillage of one quarter of their possessions was on London Jews. As hostility developed against the Jews, their situation deteriorated. Finally their assets were expropriated and they were expelled after only two centuries.
Edward I was one of England's great warrior kings. As a prince he helped win the Barons War (1263-67) for his father. As king he sought to britain all of Britain under English control. He conquered Wales, but a quick victory in Scotand was stopped by William Wallace. The result was a long, costly war. The need for money appears yo have been a major factor in Edward's decesion to confiscate the property and expel England's Jews (1290). Many Jews were robbed and even killed during the expulsion process. Thus for nearly four centuries there were no Jews permitted in England, although a small number apparently practiced their religion in secret. Irinically, Edward also played a major role in the development of English law and is also known as Edward the Lawgiver. England became an example of anti-semitism, despite the virtual absence of Jews in the country to revile.
Anti-Semtism continued in England, despite the absence of any sizeable number of Jews. The famous Dr. Lopez, a Portuguese Jew (but, nominally at least, a convert to Christianity) was Queen Elizabeth's
personal physician. He was falsely accused of trying to poison the Queen, and Essex, Elizabeth's favorite, managed to get him condemned for treason. In consequence, he was barbarically executed (hanged, eviscerated, and quartered). A tragic miscarriage of justice. Of course there were no public synagogues in England, but certainly there were people of Jewish blood (nominally Christian, in most of the cases we know about). Another indication of Jews in England is their appearance in plays, albeit set outside England, an indicator that there were very few Jews in England itself. The most famous Jewish character is Shakespeare's Shylock in "The Merchant of Venice". An analysis of "The Merchant of Venice" tells us a great deal about English attitudes toward Jews, although very little about England's small Jewish community at the time.
Menasseh Ben Israel, a rabbi and leader of the Dutch Jewish community, contacted Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell with the idea that Jews should be readmitted to England (1650s). Cromwell although normally seen as religiously intolerant was favorably disposed to the idea. And Cromwell was largely responsible for the readmission. Cromwell's Puritnt Christianoty was largely based on the Old Testment and this predisposed him to favorable attitudes. The anti-SEmtism of the Vtholic Church may also have been a factor. The material advantages of readmitting them must have also played into hi thinking. He called for a council to consider the idea (1655). A few Marrano merchants settled in London and formed a secret congregation. They were led by Antonio Fernandez Carvajal. This group of Sephardic Jews were uncovered (1656). The English were unsure how to deal with them. Even before decesion was made, Cromwell had decided that he would no longer enforced the ban on Jews. Even so the English debatd the issue. Many pamphlets were published and there was considerable opposition. The Puritan leader William Prynne was strongly opposed, Quaker leader Margaret Fell argued in favor of the Jews. The Council was unable to reach a decesion. Cromwell decided to adopt an informal arrangement. Only a few came. A report counted 400 Jews settling in England (1690). The Jewish population continued to be very smallfor some time.
Europe began addressing the issue of the Jews. It was one of mny issues raised as part f the Enlightenment.
Samuel Maylott, a French merchant, settled in London. He had many descendants. Jews because of their language skills and internatinl onnections were able to conduct business in many countries. This was at the very time that England was beginnin its maritime outreach. English Jews began a large, prosperous business with the Levant (Ottoman Empire), East and West Indies, Canary Islands, and Brazil, and above all with the Netherlands and Spain. The first synagogue of Spanish-Portuguese Jews was completed (1701). It is now the oldest synagoge in Britain. They were the first generation of readmitted Jews to England. Jews had shown notable loyalty to the Royal government during the Jacobite rising (1745). Samson Gideon, had strengthened the stock market. Several younger Jews volunteered in the militia corps raised to defend London. Henry Pelham brought in the Jewish Naturalisation Act, commonly called the Jew Bill (1753). It received royal assent (1753). It was, howevr, rpealed the followinb year because of continued widespread public opposition (1754). This was a short-lived measure nd dealt with wealthy people, but it was a beginning.
The process of emancipation was gradual, but the key step was probably allowing Jews to become members of Parliament (1858). One of England's greatest priminister was Benjamin Disreali. There were several other prominant Jews. The Baron Rothschild was a member of the famed Rothschild family and an importt financial figure. Abraham Solomon and his siblings were respected artists. Even so, there was a kind of wide-spread genteal anti-semitism in Britain. This meant people who would not think of physically attacking Jews, but would avoid any social conract with them. Despite the small number of Jews in Britain, it is notable that that Dicken's best known villan is Fagan in Oliver Twist. And it is notable that he was drawn as a villan preying upon children. Full emancipation was not achieved until later (1890s).
The Russian Tsars had barred Jews from their domains. There are instances when Russian armies conquering lands held by Lithuania and Poland would kill the Jews they found. The Russian exclusion of Jew dramatically changed with the Polish partitions (18th century). Polish kings had encouraged Jews to settle in the kingdom. Thus the acquisition of a large part of Poland brought many Jews within the Tsar's domaines. Large numbers of the Jews of Eastern Europe were unassimilated. The Tsars in the 19th century wre confronted with two major problems. One was the demand for a more liberal regime and the kind of representative government as enjoyed in the West. The other was the desire for increased autonomy on the pat of the various nationalities making up the Empire. the assasination of Tzar Alexander II (1881) brouht repression. As Western Europe moved toward assimilation and emancipation, Eussia moved in a very different direction. Tzar Alexander III initiated efforts to Russianize minority populations. And in an effort to deflect the increasing unpopularity of Tzarist absolutism, he promoted a vicious anti-Semitic campaign. Tzarist police fabricated the widely destributed the Proticols of the Elders of Zion to enflame passions against the Jews. Terrible pogroms targetted Russian Jews. The result was that Jews fled Russia in large numbers, many entering the swell of immigrants seeking refuge in Germany and the United States. While England was not a major destination of the Jews fleeing Tsarist repression, the Jews settling in England substantually reduced the country's small Jewish population.
These steps and the absence of violence aimed at Jews gradually resulted in England acquiring a reputation for tolerance. Englad's Jewish population remained relatively small.
With the rise of the NAZIs in Germany, Jews began fleeing Germany and areas seized by the Germans (Austria and Czechoslovakia, England allowed only small numbers of Jews to enter (1930s). An exception was the Kindertransport children. Britain's Jews were spared the Holocaust, because the Germans were unable to invade. An exception was the small Jewish community on the Channel Islands who were stripped of their property, arrested, and deported. Prime Ninister Churchill who received Enima deccripts began to realize from an early point what the Germans were doing. British radio broadcasts began reporting on killing operations. While Britain could do little to stop the killing, Britain played a critical rolein the Allied victory over NAZI Germany, a victory which saved the 6 million European Jews that managed to survive the Holocaust.
Britain's small Jewish community is today vibrant even with rising anti-semitism. There are about 0.3 million Jews in Britain (2011 Census), Available data is not precise beause of the number of secular Jews, some of whom do not identify or do not want to be identified with the Jewish community. This is all complicated by how Jews are efined, by religious afiliation or by etnicity. While small in number, English Jew are the fifth largest Jewish community in the world. (The only countries after the Holocaust with substantial Jewish populations are Israel and America.) Only France in Europe has a larger Jewish population. The Jewish has declinced since 1990 by some 50,000 people. It is believed this is a result of inter-marriage with non-Jews. Some two-thirds of Brotish Jews live in or near London. There are also Jewish communities in many of the former industrial citie of the Midlands and north--the largest being in Manchester. Most British Jews were born in Britain. Most have British roots dating from the 19th century as a result of both emancipation and Tsarist pogroms driving Jews to the West. There is a some higher age profile than the general public. British Jews are highly educated. More than half of Jewish children attend Jewish primary and secondary schools. The number earning advnced degrees is substantially higher than the general punlic. While small in number, British Jews since emancipation have played an important role in British life, with important achievements in academia, the arts, commerce, government, law, medicine, and the scienes. British Jews have prospered in Britain's tolerant society and strong legal system. This is more so than France where many Jews have began to feel unsafe as result of rising attacks on Jews, both sporadic street wncounters and tragic high-profile incidents. Some French Jews have moved to Britain , a simple matter within the European Union. Some British synagogues have begun French-language Shabbat services. ["Exodus ...."] Britain is a rare country where school children dare to wear a school badge based on the Star of David. And we see Jews freely wearing scull caps. A British reader writes, "There is a park in Manchestet where Jewish people go. They wear their religious clothes with [piy let or inderence]. I felt pride about Britain when i saw this for the first time."
Britain has, however, not been exempt from the rising tide of anti-semitism. Here the growing Muslim population and asetativemess is as factor. Another factor is the increasing tendency of left-wing academics and the media to demonize Israel. An English reader writes, "Anti semitism is growing in Britain according to a Television documentary which is to be shown on TV on Monday night (July 9, 2007).
England having expelled the Jews (13th century) has a rather small Jewish population. We do not have a major list at this time, but a few individuals come to mind. Probably the most significant surely is Benjamin Disreali, the famed primeminister. Another notable Jew was Baron Rothchild. HBC is particularly impressed with two modern British hisotorians, Sir Martin Gilbert and Simon Schama. We also note an English-born Jew who immigrated to America, Harry Bernstein.
Jacobs, Joseph. The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records (London, 1893).
Littlejohn, Richard. "The New Anti-Semitism," The Daily News (July 7, 2007), pp. 14-15.
"Exodus to the UK as French Jews escape antisemitism," Jewish Chronicle (February 21, 2013).
"War on British Jews," Channel 4 (July 9, 2007).
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