King Charles II (1630-1685). John Michael Wright. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 531.
ith the death of Cromwell and the restoration of the Stuart monarchy in 1660, the Jews were understandably nervous and there was in fact a marked revival of anti-Jewish moves, notably among the merchants. As early as 30 November 1660, City circles in London petitioned the newly enthroned Charles II to reverse the policy of the “usurpers” and expel the Jews, whom they accused of having revived the allegedly exploitative usurious practices of the time before the expulsion of 1290 and -- in a repeat of a slightly earlier smear campaign -- to have planned to buy St. Paul’s Cathedral and turn it into a synagogue. To this end, a revitalized Whitehall Conference was demanded; in the meantime, the imposition of heavy taxes on the Jews both as individuals and as merchants was requested. Charles II, however, no less interested than Cromwell in maintaining an active Jewish commercial presence in the country, almost certainly aware of the Amsterdam Sephardim’s sympathy with (and possibly financial support of) the Stuarts, and in general not susceptible to religious partisanship, refused to act on the petition and passed it along to the House of Commons, which did not act on it either. Four years later, when the Conventicle Act of 1664 came into force prohibiting “conventicles” (defined as religious assemblies of more than five people not in conformity with the Church of England) -- and similarly opposed by Charles – an attempt was made by individuals close to the native merchants to exploit a measure designed primarily to repress Christian nonconformity as a means of blackmailing the Jewish community into paying protection money to avoid prosecution. Menasseh ben Israel's old associate Dormido, who had remained in London, along with two other members of the governing body of the recently established Sephardi synagogue petitioned the king for protection. Charles’ Privy Council responded on 22 August 1664 that no orders had been given to disturb the Jews and that they could continue to live as before, “so long as they demean themselves peaceably and quietly with due obedience to his Maties Laws & without scandal to his Government” (Endelman, Jews of Britain, 27; Katz, 140-42; Rubinstein, 46-47).
In 1667 the Court of King’s Bench ruled that Jews might give evidence in courts of law by swearing only on the Old Testament and in 1677 a case was moved from London to Middlesex because all the sittings of the London court were on a Saturday and the chief witness, being a Jew, could not appear on that day. Charles’ Declaration of Indulgence of 15 March 1672, while primarily an attempt to extend religious liberty to Protestant nonconformists and, especially, Roman Catholics by suspending execution of laws designed to penalise recusants from the Church of England, also provided protection to the Jews, if only incidentally (Endelman, Jews of Britain, 36). Near the end of Charles’ reign, in 1679, the Bishop of London, Henry Compton, together with Sir Peter Pett, a leading lawyer – both, not coincidentally, strongly anti-Catholic -- suggested that Jews be legally confined to ghettos as in much of the continent, a proposal supported by the then Lord Privy Seal, the Earl of Anglesey. Charles did not respond and simply ignored the proposal.
King James II (1633-1701). John Michael Wright. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 366.
James II, whose privately held Catholic faith was tolerated, was also unresponsive to anti-Jewish moves, his primary concern being to shield the Catholic population as far as possible from laws and actions directed against non-Protestants (hence Jews as well as Catholics) and non-Conformists. During his short reign (1685-88) he attempted, without success, to revive his predecessor’s Declaration of Indulgence of 1672, which had called for suspension of the penal laws against Roman Catholics and Protestant dissenters but had been shot down by Parliament in 1673, the year after its issue, and replaced by the first of the so-called Test Acts, requiring anyone about to enter public service in England to deny the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and to take Anglican communion (Katz, 140-41; Endelman, Jews of Britain, 27-28; Rubinstein, 45). This meant essentially that neither Catholics nor Jews could hold civil office or become Freemen of the City of London. Equally, Jews were barred from attending the ancient English universities, or entering certain professions, since these required the taking of an oath “upon the true faith of a Christian,” or, in the case of the universities, being a communicant of the Church of England and subscribing to the Thirty Nine Articles (Jews of Britain, 36). All in all, despite being native born or permanently resident in England and in some cases “endenized” (acquiring some of the rights of native born citizens), London’s Jews were still excluded from any number of key positions that required an oath taken on the Holy Sacraments. For most of the seventeenth century London’s Jews, in Professor David S. Katz’s words, were “neither alien nor citizen. They were foreign in speech, dress, and manner, and must have seemed hardly touched by their place of residence at all” (156, 242). The tone of Pepys’s diary entry for 14 October, 1663, in which he recounts a visit to the original Sephardi synagogue in Creechurch Lane, is probably not uncharacteristic of English attitudes: “Lord! To see the disorder, laughing, sporting, and no attention but confusion in all their service, more like brutes than people knowing the true God, would make a man forswear ever seeing them more and indeed I never did see so much, or could have imagined there had been any religion in the whole world so absurdly performed as this” (283-4).
King William III 1650-1702). Studio of Sir Peter Lely, Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 1902.
The Glorious Revolution (1688-89), which ended the reign of the Stuarts and brought the Netherlandish Protestant William of Orange to the British throne as William III, was generally welcomed by the Sephardi population of London (a little over 500 families at the time), probably because they thought that, under William, London would be transformed into a city where Sephardi Jews would feel as secure and at home as they had long felt in Amsterdam. It would even seem that William’s expedition to England at the head of his Dutch army – and thus the ouster of the Stuarts – was largely financed by Sephardi Jews, one of whom, Francisco Lopez Suasso of The Hague, is believed to have advanced the prince of Orange an enormous loan, to this end, of two million crowns, at no interest and with no guarantees (Roth, 184; Katz, 157; Endelman, Jews of Britain, 28-29). Nevertheless, proposals were still being brought forward and acted on that placed burdens and restrictions on Jews alone. At the end of 1689, for instance, the House of Commons passed a resolution ordering the introduction of a bill that would levy a £100,000 tax on the Jewish community over and above their normal taxes. From 1689 to 1691 Jewish merchants were thus obliged to pay a poll tax of £20 a head, twice the amount levied on other so-called “merchant strangers” (Rubinstein, 46).
Still, with the passage of time, more and more Jews, especially the wealthier native-born Sephardim, were participating in English social life “with little obstacle,” as Cecil Roth puts it (195n2), acquiring property, sometimes intermarrying with gentile women, attending the theatre (Roth, 207-27). As early as 1723, for instance, Jews had come to hold high office in Masonic lodges and, according to one contemporary report, the well known traveller and adventurer Simon von Geldern (1720-74), the great-uncle of Heinrich Heine, having taken refuge in England after the discovery of a too gallant relationship with a lady of high birth, was one day observed playing piquet with Their Majesties in St. James Palace (Heymann 343). “There is no question,” according to Todd Endelman, “that the Jews’ position in England at the end of the seventeenth century was superior to that of Jews in other European states – in large part . . . because the state ignored their presence most of the time and left their legal status ill-defined” (Jews of Britain, 37). For example, a bill brought forward in 1698 “for the more effectual suppressing of Blasphemy and Profaneness” and aimed primarily at Unitarianism, the spread of which was a long-time concern of the religious authorities, made offenders liable to three years’ imprisonment. When it came back from the House of Lords, an amendment had been added that would have rendered all those openly professing Judaism also liable to prosecution. The Commons, however, overwhelmingly rejected the amendment by 140 votes to 78 and Jews continued to practise their religion unmolested.
Katz, who tells of this bill, gives a further, vivid example of the improved status of the Jews in the last year of the seventeenth century. On Saturday, 18 November 1699, according to a contemporary report, William III “dined with Mr. Medina, a rich Jew, at Richmond” (to whom, it seems worth pointing out, he was in debt for substantial financial aid in the War of the Spanish Succession), thus marking the first occasion on which an English monarch had called upon a Jew in his home. Seven months later, in June 1700, Solomon de Medina was knighted by William at Hampton Court, “the first Jew to be so honoured,” albeit “the last,” as Katz acknowledges, “for a century and a half.” Both events, however, are viewed by Katz as “symbolizing for contemporaries, as they do for us, that Anglo-Jewry had arrived” (187-88). Several decades later, Samson Gideon (1699-1762), the London-born son of an immigrant Portuguese trader with the West indies, having demonstrated his skill as a financier and become “the most noteworthy financier, Jew or Christian, of mid-eighteenth century England” and one of the wealthiest men in the country” (Sutherland, 387-88), was called upon as an adviser to the British government, underwrote the National Debt, and used his fortune to finance the army during the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and the Seven Years' War of 1756-63. He had a handsome country house built for himself (Belvedere in Kent, demolished in 1957), married a Christian woman and had his children baptised and brought up in the Church of England. His son was educated at Eton (Sutherland, 389).
Among some Whig statesmen the liberal ideas of the time had already led to a growing acceptance of arguments in favour of relieving native-born Jews of the many disabilities to which they were subject – notably exclusion from every public office and virtually all professions. It was a “hack” writer of Sir Robert Walpole, generally regarded as the first “prime minister” of Britain, who penned, most probably at the powerful Whig minister’s urging, a strongly argued pamphlet published in 1736 and entitled The Complaint of the Children of Israel, representing their Grievances under the Penal Laws; and Praying, that if the Tests are Repealed, the Jews may have the Benefit of this Indulgence in common with all other Subjects of England, in a Letter to a Reverend High Priest of the Church by Law Established. (The title page of one copy which identifies the printer as W. Webb, Paternoster Row, London, bears the notice “Seventh edition.”) Though he named himself Solomon Abrabanel and described himself in his opening sentence as “a Jew, a CIRCUMCISED JEW,” the author was in fact one William Arnall (1715-1736 or 1741), trained as an attorney, but active from a very early age as a political writer, often on behalf of Walpole and largely in the latter’s pay (Wikipedia).
Nevertheless, “it would be incorrect,” as Todd Endelman emphasizes, “to infer from this that the Jews of England no longer encountered the old vulgar prejudices or were accepted as members of the English nation, differing only from their Christian neighbours by virtue of their religion. The Sephardim of England, like Jews everywhere in early modern Europe, continued to be seen as a distinct national group, with their own peculiar cultural habits, mental outlook, religious customs, historical memories, and future hopes for national redemption. Moreover, however willing they were to tolerate Jews, Englishmen continued to view these differences in a negative light. [. . .] In both learned and popular discourse, Jews were still viewed as an obstinate people, clinging to old superstitions, refusing salvation, harbouring hatred toward Christendom” (The Jews of Britain, 37). In spite of his role as adviser to the government and his significant financial contribution to overcoming the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, Samson Gideon became the whipping boy of the opposition to a bill passed in 1753 (the so-called “Jew Bill” -- to be discussed in the next section of this study -- repealed at the end of the same year because of popular objection to it and not in fact supported by Gideon!), that would have made it possible for wealthy foreign-born Jews to be “naturalized” by act of Parliament, without having to swear by the Holy Sacrament -- i.e. freed from the restrictions imposed on the foreign-born while remaining subject to those imposed on all unconverted Jews, including the native-born. In Thomas Fitzpatrick’s dramatic skit, The Temple of Laverna (1753), Gideon appears in loose disguise as “the mighty Caiphas, the very Atlas of the State” -- a stereotypically “cunning” Jew, his seeming integration into gentile society being in reality a façade to allow him to wield a wider influence within the Christian world, while remaining “as true an Israelite as ever dwelt in Jerusalem.” In a print of the same year, The Grand Conference or the Jew Predominant, Gideon is represented sitting at a table with Henry Pelham, the Whig Prime Minister at the time of the passing of the “Jew Bill” in 1753, and Pelham’s brother, the Duke of Newcastle, who introduced the Bill to the House of Lords. Gideon is seen offering the brothers a bag of money containing £200,000, collected as a bribe by the Jews of England in order to expedite the immigration of their brethren waiting impatiently in the West Indies and on the European Continent. To reinforce the image of Gideon as the typically mercenary Jew, always a foreigner and outsider, he is shown as speaking with an accent characteristic of more recent Ashkenazi immigrants rather than of Sephardim, especially a Sephardi born in London and completely at home in upper-class English society (Felsenstein, 206-09).
The Ashkenazi Jews Arrive from Germany and Eastern Europe
A new element added to the widespread negative or at best ambivalent view of Jews. The Sephardim immigrating to England in the eighteenth century in response to renewed inquisitorial activity in Spain and Portugal were often impoverished. Some were so destitute that they could not afford the fare, so that the Sephardic synagogue in London had to arrange with British captains to pay their passage on arrival. Still more significant was the increasing immigration from Central and Eastern Europe of Ashkenazi. As the website Judaism 101 explains, “there are several subgroups of Jews with different cultures and traditions: Ashkenazic — descendants of Jews from France, Germany and Eastern Europe; Sephardic — descendants of Jews from Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East; Mizrachic — descendants of Jews from North Africa and the Middle East Other subgroups are Yemenite, Ethiopian and Oriental.
The Ashkenazi Jews began to emigrate from their homes in eastern Europe because they found themselves increasingly subject to hostile restrictions. In addition, the advancing economy of Britain provided another attraction for the poorer Jews. England, in other words, promises freedom, safety, and economic opportunity. According to a census list drawn up in 1695 in view of levying a tax to finance the war with France, there were 853 seemingly Jewish names in London’s 110 parishes, with 681 of them concentrated in six parishes alone. 598 were Sephardi and 255 Ashkenazi (‘Tudescos’). A record drawn up by one Abraham Zagache slightly over a decade earlier, just before the Glorious Revolution, had produced a figure of 414 Sephardim and an insignificant number of Ashkenazim. It seems therefore that the Jewish population of London had doubled between the reign of the last Stuart and soon after the arrival of William III, with virtually all the Ashkenazi having immigrated between 1681 and 1695 (Katz, 183-85). By 1690 the Ashkenazim in London who had at first attended the Sephardic Creechurch Lane synagogue (where the liturgy and rituals were unfamiliar to them and they were excluded from holding office or taking part in the service) had succeeded in setting up a synagogue of their own; by 1720, they outnumbered the Sephardim; and by the middle of the eighteenth century, when the Jewish population of Britain stood at seven to eight thousand, Ashkenazim made up two-thirds to three-quarters of that number – a disproportion that kept increasing with the years. Between mid-century and the outbreak of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars a further eight to ten thousand Ashkenazim migrated to Britain.
The majority of the new Ashkenazi immigrants arrived with few material resources or artisanal skills and “took to low-status itinerant trades to earn a living, hawking goods in the streets of London, buying and selling old clothes and other second-hand goods, peddling notions, gimcracks and inexpensive jewellery” – activities requiring no craft skills, and little capital or knowledge of English. In London, they were identified with the street trade in certain goods: oranges and lemons, spectacles, costume jewellery, lead pencils, belt buckles and buttons. But “their most characteristic street trade was the buying and selling of old clothes. Jewish old clothes men catered to the needs of an expanding urban population that could not afford to buy new clothing. Often they used aggressive techniques, accosting passers-by and virtually forcing them to make purchases. In addition, it was not unusual for indigent Ashkenazi Jews to be associated with criminal activity such as selling stolen goods. A fair number appeared at Old Bailey charged with passing bad coins” (Katz, 41-45).
At the same time, the immigrant Ashkenazim also included some modestly skilled craftsmen (pencil makers, glass cutters, watchmakers, tailors, hatters, shoemakers), who had been excluded from the German guilds, along with shopkeepers (active in areas such as Holborn, just outside the City of London where they were not permitted to engage in the retail trade, and in provincial towns such as Portsmouth, Liverpool and Bristol (Barnett 46), religious functionaries, and small-scale merchants and brokers, who soon took up trading and financial activities similar to those of their well-to-do Sephardi predecessors. In this way some acquired wealth, especially in the heavily Jewish diamond and coral trade with India (Yogev 154, 337-39), and distinguished themselves from their poor, generally despised fellow-Ashkenazim. Ashkenazi immigrants were particularly active in building up the East India Company. One Benjamin Levy, for instance, is believed to have been responsible for procuring the renewal of the East India Company’s Charter in 1697 (Barnett, 46). In the course of the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-centuries this group of Ashkenazi craftsmen and traders became in fact the backbone of Anglo-Jewish institutional life. “They constituted the majority of regular synagogue worshippers and members of hevrot (societies) devoted to traditional learning and practice,” in Endelman’s account. “They were also the founders of Jewish friendly societies, which, aside from providing the usual death and sickness benefits, offered a range of religious services. [. . . ] The artisans and shopkeepers also formed Masonic lodges, whose membership was largely Jewish [. . . ] and in which the dietary laws were observed.” Even the lower stratum of Jewish society, imbued with a capitalist work ethic, was in a good position to take advantage of the rapid expansion of personal consumption in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. “Street vendors moved up to shopkeeping,” as Endelman puts it; “old clothes men acquired fixed premises; shopkeepers were transformed into wholesalers, importers, and owners of emporiums; . . . hawkers of oranges and lemons became grocers and wholesale fruit and vegetable merchants (Jews of Britain, 46-47).
By the end of the eighteenth century prosperous Ashkenazi family firms in northern Europe, notably Hamburg, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, were sending younger members of their family to London, which was becoming the most dynamic trading centre in the world, in order to enhance the family fortunes. The Goldsmids from Amsterdam, starting as brokers and lenders to the government became one of the most prominent families in England -- co-lenders with Barings Bank to the government during the Napoleonic Wars, the first Jewish barristers, public benefactors raised to the baronetcy and, ultimately, in the 1860s, Members of Parliament. According to the Memoir of Sir Francis Goldsmid, Bart. (1882), “Two of Aaron Goldsmid’s sons, Benjamin and Abraham [respectively 1755-1808 and 1756-1810], rose to fortune and distinction as capitalists, and they were exclusively employed by Mr. Pitt, during the whole period of his administration, for contracting loans for the British Government to maintain the costly war against France” (ch. 1).
Left: Lionel Nathan de Rothschild. by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim. 1835. Right: Nathaniel Mayer ('Natty') de Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild by Camille Silvy. 1861. Both Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery London. [Click on images to enlarge them.]
Nathan Mayer Rothschild, sent over to England by his father from Germany in 1798, after setting up a cloth wholesale business in Manchester, moved to London where in 1811 he founded the N.M. Rothschild & Sons banking business. The Rothschild bank helped finance Wellington’s armies on the Continent and in 1826 stepped in with an instant injection of gold to save the Bank of England. The Rothschilds were also active in alleviating the suffering caused by the Irish Famine of 1845-1849. In 1847 Nathan Mayer’s son Lionel de Rothschild, born in England, became the first unconverted Jew to be elected a member of the British parliament (though he was not able to take his seat until a decade later), while in 1885 Lionel’s son Nathan, raised to the peerage by Queen Victoria, became the first Jew to have a seat in the House of Lords.
In the course of the eighteenth century, under the influence of the Enlightenment, and as an effect of their ever greater and more successful involvement in the national economy, England’s ews began to step back from their Jewish history and traditions, as we have seen in the case of one of the most prominent of them, Samson Gideon, and become increasingly integrated into the culture and society of their country of residence. “The most salient characteristic of Jewish religious life in the eighteenth century,” Todd Endelman writes, “was its laxity and ignorance.”
A minority of Jewish men, whether recently arrived or native born, continued to practice Judaism in the traditional fashion, regularly attending synagogue, observing the full regimen of dietary, Sabbath and festival laws, cultivating Talmudic learning. . . . From mid-century, however, it is clear that such persons were not representative of the mass of Jews. The general level of knowledge and practice in England was markedly lower in the second half of the century than elsewhere in Europe. . . . The weakening of traditional practice and knowledge was most pronounced among the very rich and the very poor. . . . Among the former, laxity was widespread by the 1730s or 1740s. The laws of kashrut, for example, were observed casually or not at all. . . . The wealthy were not punctilious about the observance of the Sabbath either. . . .
Jews who acquired country homes were following a well-trodden path. Parvenu merchants and financiers routinely purchased country estates in order to display their material splendor, advance their claims to gentility – the ownership of a landed estate being the foundation of genteel status – and establish the foundation for their descendants’ entry into upper-class circles. . . . The acquisition of country homes worked to isolate their inhabitants from the Jewish community and its institutions and simultaneously to bring them into closer contact with families from the traditional ruling class, who were their immediate neighbours (span class="lqbook">The Jews of Britain, 54-57; see also Endelman, Jews of Georgian England, 118-65, and Rubenstein, 60-61).
Horatio Walpole, 4th earl of Orford (better known as Horace Walpole, writer, historian, Whig Member of Parliament and prolific correspondent), was on friendly terms, for example, with Jewish neighbours at Strawberry Hill, his striking neo-Gothic country house in Twickenham, south-west of London. “My next assembly will be entertaining,” he wrote to his friend George Montagu on October 3, 1763; “there will be five countesses, two bishops, fourteen Jews, five papists, a doctor of physic, and an actress; not to mention Scotch, Irish, East and West Indians” (Letters 5:376). Cecil Roth comments that Walpole’s “hobnobbing with a number of cultured Jews – all pillars of the synagogue – and numerous other members of his set doing the same would hardly have been imaginable elsewhere in Europe at the time” (>Essays and Portraits, 4).
Prominent Jews did similar entertaining. Thus Joseph Salvador, a wealthy Sephardi merchant (1716-86) and financial adviser to the Duke of Newcastle and his government around 1757, “gave a grand entertainment at his seat at Tooting in Surrey to a great number of noblemen and gentlemen, members of both houses of parliament” — so reported the London Evening Post of 10 July 1753 as part of the newspaper’s campaign, at the time of the 1753 “Jew Bill,” to discredit Jews and denounce their alleged wealth and influence (quoted Woolf , 106). Well-to-do Jews were also active in cultural circles, attending theatres and patronising musicians, such as Handel or Leopold Mozart when he brought his brilliant young son to London in 1764-66 (Barnett, 59; Roth, History, 209-10). If even prominent Jews were still excluded from most civic offices, that was not on account of their Judaism as such, but because, like Catholics and Dissenters, they could not take the oaths of office in the required manner (Newman 5-6).
The Jewish poor, Professor Endelman holds, were “no more immune to the attractions of the larger society than the wealthy. Some adopted a casual attitude toward observance of religious rites and customs [. . .] ; others failed to observe Judaism at all [ . . .] , especially those who derived their livelihood from crime.” Like the notables, the Jewish poor too absorbed non-Jewish habits and tastes, in their case “the rough and tumble ways of their impoverished gentile neighbours. [. . . ] The most striking example of their acculturation was the passion they developed for prize-fighting, both as spectators and participants” (Jews of Britain, 57-58). Daniel Mendoza (1763-1836) has long been credited with a determining role in the development of the modern sport of boxing.
The rabbi of the Ashkenazi community in London in the mid-eighteenth century (1756-63), the scholarly Zevi Hirschel Lewin, scion of a distinguished rabbinical family from Germany and Poland, complained bitterly about the falling away from Jewish law and tradition among well-to-do Jews in England. During the Seven Years’ War, when things were not going well for England, he reminded his congregation of the benefits they enjoyed under the British king and urged them to pray for him. As reported a century ago by Charles Duschinsky (born 1878), a scholar and former rabbi in Moravia before moving to England, who had access to Rabbi Hirschel’s papers,
“He reminds his congregation that they live in a country where Israel is treated with kindness and where they enjoy liberty. This was said at a time when, in Germany, Jews were required to pay, not only extra war-taxes in money, but had to give up all boxes, watches, and rings, made of gold or silver. If a tax was not paid, the community had to give hostages, and the lot of the German Jews of those days was, accordingly, not an enviable one. 'We Jews', continues R. Hirschel, 'can help the King as much with our prayers as by joining the Army.' . . . In another discourse, 'by command of the King', referring to some victory, he says: 'The King does not attribute victory to his own arms but to the help of God. We Jews have double reason to be thankful for the victory, as the King's peace will mean peace for us.’” (Duchinsky, 110; see also Barnett, 55, on Emmunath Omen, a diatribe in Hebrew by one Dr. Meyer Löw Schomberg (1699-1777) directed against the moral laxity of well-to-do Jews.)
Unfortunately, Rabbi Hirschel’s congregation was apparently not notable for its praying or even simply observing the Sabbath and Holy Days. “If you are thus keeping the holy day,” he exclaims, after having reproached his congregants for various failings, “by doing things which even the Gentiles do not do on Sundays, I ask you, ‘Why do you come to the House of God?’ God knows how tired I am of my life, when I see all your doings: I am even afraid to hear what, I am told, is happening publicly, let alone how you desecrate the Sabbath-day in private.” Duschinsky summarizes the Rabbi’s frequent scolding of his congregants: “They dressed like the Gentiles; shaved their beards, . . . associated with the English people, ate at their houses, and even went so far as to keep the Christian feasts to the neglect of their own. Christmas puddings seem to have been much favoured, and mixed marriages were not infrequent. They visited theatres and operas. There were coffee-houses which became meeting-places for card-players.” In Rabbi Hirschel’s own words,
Day by day we can see with our own eyes the decay of our people. We sin and act against the law of God; all our endeavours are to associate with the Gentiles and to be like them. That is the chief source of all our failings. See, the women wear wigs and the young ones go even further and wear decolleté dresses, open two spans low in front and back. Their whole aim is, not to appear like daughters of Israel.
Ultimately, the rabbi holds, the very Enlightenment argument about our common humanity cited by many contemporary Jews in support of their demand for full citizen rights is a modern idea foreign to and destructive of the essence of Judaism.
On the one side we claim with pride that we are as good as any of our neighbours. We see that they live happily, that their commerce dominates the world, and we want to be like them, dress as they dress, talk as they talk, and want to make everybody forget that we are Jews. But, on the other hand, we are too modest and say: We are not better before God than the Gentiles, we all come from the same stock, are all descendants of Noah's three sons, and need not keep more than the seven precepts which the sons of Noah are obligated to observe. Know you that ideas like these are the ruin of Judaism? We must be conscious that we are the chosen people of God, the kingdom of Priests, and behave as it behooves ‘Israel,’ the Princes of the Almighty. Reverse the order! Be modest in your personal ambitions, be content with the material advantages you enjoy in this country, but be not modest with your faith (Duchinsky, 114, 116, 117).
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Last modified 18 July 2020