The Complete Jewish guide to Britain and Ireland is the only resource for everything you need to know to embark on a trip through Jewish Great Britain. Travel writer and journalist Toni Kamins catalogs information on well-known sights and little-known treasures as varied as the beautiful Moorish West London Synagogue, the Manchester Mikveh, the lost Jewish Cemeteries of Glasgow, and the Jewish Museum of Dublin, as well as transportation, lodging information, and places to buy kosher food. Selected photographs and maps fill out the picture.
Kamins also recounts nearly one thousand years of related history-from the first appearance of Jews on the British Isles following the Norman Conquest, through the Crusades and the Expulsion, to the Restoration and up to the present day. She focuses on the turbulent and captivating histories of England, Scotland, and Ireland through the prism of the Jewish experience. The Complete Jewish Guide to Britain and Ireland has everything you will need to make your trip a success-and put it into a historical context that will make it even more worthwhile.
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About the Author
Toni L. Kamins is a freelance journalist and former editor. She is the author of The Complete Jewish Guide to Britain and Ireland. Her work has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Jerusalem Post. She has lived in France and traveled extensively.
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The Complete Jewish Guide to Britain and Ireland
A Travel Guide
By Toni L. Kamins
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2001 Toni L. Kamins
All rights reserved.
The History of Jews in England
Jews came to England fairly late compared to their arrival in continental Europe. Whereas Jews already had communities in places such as France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal, centuries before the end of the first millennium, they didn't get to England until 1066. In that year, a small group of Jewish financiers came from northern France along with William the Conqueror and his armies from Normandy. The majority were French, although some of the Jews in that group had lived in Germany, Italy, and Spain.
Some one hundred years later, Jews had settlements throughout England. London, the most vital of England's Jewish communities, was the site of the country's only Jewish cemetery. Other important communities could be found in Bristol, Winchester, Oxford, York, Norwich, and Lincoln. While Jews lived under Norman rule, they enjoyed a high degree of freedom and had many rights. But early in the twelfth century, public and governmental anti-Jewish sentiment began to emerge.
England's first known blood libel (see below) occurred in Norwich in the East Midlands in 1144. Other such incidents took place in Gloucester in 1168, Bury St. Edmonds in 1181, Bristol between 1181 and 1183, and Winchester in 1192. But by the end of the thirteenth century, such calumny had disappeared from England.
The Blood Libel
Employed throughout history as a pretext for the murder and persecution of Jews, the blood libel or ritual murder alleges that Jews hunt and kill Christians (usually children) and use their blood in the baking of Passover matzoh and for other religious rituals. It has its origins in an absurd notion that Jews hate people in general, and Christians and Christianity in particular. In addition, it takes some of its power from the superstition that Jews are not human and have to ingest potions so that they may appear human.
The myth of the ritualistic use of human blood by Jews goes back to ancient times when pagans, who used human blood in sacrifices (a practice forbidden to Jews), misunderstood the Jewish ritual of removing all blood from meat by salting.
The superstition evolved into a myth perpetuated by the Greek empire at a time when there was considerable tension between Jews and the Greek governors of large parts of what is now the Middle East. Along with Christianity, the myths made their way into Europe, and by the Middle Ages they had become firmly rooted.
Europe's first clear case of blood libel against Jews was in England in 1144. But it quickly spread throughout Europe, where the Middle Ages and early modern times saw numerous trials and massacres of Jews as a result. An integral part of European lore, the blood libel was used well into the twentieth century, most notably in Czarist Russia, by the Nazis, and in the mid-twentieth century by the Soviet Union in its anti-Israel propaganda.
Throughout the twelfth century, Jews in England were subject to a variety of special taxes and fines. Criminal charges against individual Jews, whether true or false, often resulted in a fine for the entire community. One such fine occurred in 1130, when the Jews of London had to pay a total of £2,000 because one Jew was charged with murder.
Despite such financial hardships, England's Jews prospered and the taxes on their wealth and property became a significant source of the kingdom's revenue. Financiers such as Aaron of Lincoln, whose estate became the property of the Crown when he died, were responsible for the construction of buildings throughout the realm.
But high taxes were not the only difficulties Jews had to endure. As it had on the European continent, the zeal of the Crusaders to liberate the Holy Land from non-Christian influences took a toll in Jewish lives. Many London Jews were murdered during a riot that followed the coronation of Richard I in 1189. Small and large communities fell victim, in one way or another, to riots. The Jews of Dunstable converted to Christianity, the Jews of Lynn were massacred, and the Jews of Norwich, site of the first blood libel some years earlier, met the same fate as those of Lynn. In York, in March 1190, the entire Jewish community decided to commit suicide rather than face a massacre at the hands of an angry mob. It should be noted here that when England had to pay a ransom for the release of Richard I from captivity, the Jewish share was three times that of the rest of the population.
It is difficult to know for sure which Jewish crime, so to speak, was the greater — the rejection of Christianity or the fact that so many Christian noblemen and commoners owed money to Jewish moneylenders. Murder and mayhem against the Jewish community were never enough; the perpetrators were intent on reneging on their legitimate debts by destroying all records. But this didn't just prevent Jews from getting repaid, it also prevented the Crown from collecting taxes on Jewish income. The negative impact on the income of the Crown was profound and Richard I was forced to take action. In 1194, he created a special office, staffed by both Jews and Christians, for storing duplicate copies of transactions negotiated with Jews. This Ordinance of the Jewry thus protected debt records in case the originals were destroyed. Even the original draft of the Magna Carta contained a stipulation that limited Jewish collection of debts from an estate of someone who had died.
The Ordinance of the Jewry eventually became an Exchequer of the Jews, a national office charged with overseeing the regional ordinances. In addition, the Crown established the office of the Presbyter Judaeorum, an expert on Jewish issues whose job was to advise the Crown in those financial and related matters.
According to the Torah (the basic document of Jewish law), Jews are forbidden to loan money at interest to other Jews, and there are a number of interpretations of the Torah's wording that go so far as to eschew the taking of interest from anyone. Likewise, the Roman Catholic Church was opposed to the charging of interest in any form. Nonetheless, when merchants, governments, and individuals were in need of funds and they had none of their own, they borrowed it from the wealthy who loaned it at interest.
Jews were not the only people in the money-lending business — this type of commerce crossed religious lines despite the Church's stand against it. Money was borrowed from priests, merchants, landowners, and even Popes. In much of Europe, Italian merchants, such as the Lombards, the Medici, and the Caursini, competed with Jews in the lending of money at interest. But as Jewish interest rates were regulated by the various governments, their terms were far better.
In the Middle Ages, money lending became a critical source of Jewish income because Jews were excluded from virtually every other occupation. In some cases they were specifically limited to earning a living by lending money, and interest rates that Jews could charge were strictly regulated. Indeed, interest charged by non-Jewish parties was much higher. But all that regulation begs the question: Just who did run the money-lending business, Jews or the governments that regulated them; and whose income was dependent on the tax income derived from them?
Exorbitant taxes continued throughout the reigns of King John and King Henry III. But it was during the time of Henry III that things went quickly from bad to worse.
In 1222, the (Church) Council of Oxford set the stage for more difficult times to come when it promulgated its own version of the Fourth Lateran Council's Anti-Jewish laws. That council, which was convened in Rome in 1215 by Pope Innocent III, had a dramatic effect on the daily lives of Jews throughout Europe because it mandated numerous restrictions on their daily life and their means of earning a living. A contemporary account of Jewish life in England from 1066 to 1738 lists the following:
No Jew shall remain in England unless he performs some sort of service for the King. As soon as possible after birth, any Jew, male or female, shall serve in some manner;
There shall be no synagogues in England except those that were in existence at the time of King John;
Jews shall worship in their synagogues in a subdued tone, in such a way that Christians will not be able to hear them;
No Christian woman shall suckle or nurse any Jewish child, and no Christian man or woman shall be the servant of any Jewish man or woman, nor eat or stay with them in their home;
No Jewish man or woman shall eat or buy meat during Lent;
No Jew shall denigrate the Christian religion or dispute about it in public;
No Jew shall have carnal relations with any Christian woman, nor any Christian man with a Jewess;
Every Jew shall display his badge of identification [in England the badge depicted the tablets of the Ten Commandments];
No Jew shall in any way hinder any other Jew who wishes to convert to Christianity;
No Jew shall be allowed in any town without special licence [sic] from the King, except those towns where Jews customarily reside.
It doesn't take any special historical insight to see that hundreds of years later, when the Germans were formulating the Nuremberg Laws — the segregative laws in Nazi Germany that preceded the Shoah (Holocaust) — they had a solid foundation on which to base them.
Between 1232 and 1255, synagogues in England were confiscated and ritual murder accusations increased. After 1253, Jews could no longer live just anywhere in England — they could only live in places where there was already an existing community.
Little Saint Hugh
In the spring of 1255, sometime around Passover, the body of a young boy, Hugh, was found in the well of Lincoln's Jewish quarter. As the well was near the house of a Jew named Copin, he was questioned and tortured and was alleged to have admitted killing the boy to obtain his blood for use in Jewish ceremonies. Copin was executed and nearly one hundred Jews were tried in London as accomplices. Eighteen were executed.
Looked upon as a saint, but never actually beatified by the Roman Catholic Church, Little Hugh was credited with the performance of miracles. His tomb, under Lincoln's cathedral, was an elaborate one that became a destination for pilgrims up until the Reformation.
The so-called martyrdom of Little Hugh is mentioned in Chaucer's "The Prioress's Tale" and was also the subject of ballads in England and France.
The Barons' War (1263–67), a civil war in which a baronial council tried to reform both local and national government, opened the Jewish community to further attack because the Jews were believed to be the Crown's partners in its fiscally oppressive policies. Cities all over England were pillaged and Jewish property was destroyed.
By 1272, when Edward I became King of England, Jewish wealth had been whittled down to nothing and the money-lending business had been taken over by bankers from elsewhere in Europe. Because Jews were no longer a great source of revenue for the Crown, King Edward issued the Statutum de Judaismo in 1275, designed to give Jews the right to engage in other forms of commerce on a trial basis. Although legally Jews could now practice trade, they were prohibited entry into the Guild Merchant, and for all practical purposes that meant trade would remain closed to them. So Jews continued to practice money lending in secret and others resorted to clipping coins — taking pieces of metal from coins circulated by the treasury. This was a serious crime and in 1278 many Jews were arrested and hanged for it — even many who had committed no crime at all.
Frustrated that the Statutum de Judaismo had failed to achieve its goal, and beset by difficult economic and political problems, Edward I expelled the Jews from England on July 18, 1290. The relatively small Jewish community of approximately 4,000 persons moved to France, Germany, and Flanders. Jews would not live in England again until the seventeenth century. This period has become known historically as the Expulsion. Though there was no organized community during this time, it is believed that a group of a few Conversos did live in England. Conversos, also referred to by the derogatory Marranos, were Spanish and Portuguese Jews who pretended to convert to Christianity while they practiced Judaism in secret. Among them were Roderigo Lopez, Queen Elizabeth I's physician, who was beheaded based on the accusation that he was trying to poison her, and Hector Nunez, who advised the Crown in its dealings with Spain. But in 1609 this group of Conversos was also expelled.
Another small community of secret Jews entered the country in 1630 and they would later form the foundation of the first Resettlement community. It's likely this group of secret Jews had at least one secret synagogue — probably in someone's house in what is now the City of London.
A combination of factors led to the Resettlement — some that were political and some that were even mystical.
England in the seventeenth century was a country beset by political and religious strife. In the end a civil war between the supporters of King Charles I and the supporters of the Parliamentarian military and political leader Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) erupted. Against this chaotic social and political backdrop, which was contributing to changes in religious and political belief, was a feeling among some groups that Jews should be readmitted to England. Among these groups were the Baptists and the Puritans — the same Puritans who were the first English colonists in America.
The Puritans, who believed in the basic precepts of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament — hence the name Puritans — were drawn to the Jews because of their connection to it. Such favorable feelings toward Jews did not endear the Puritans to the decidedly anti-Jewish establishment Church of England. Other Christians who favored a literal interpretation of the Old Testament and differed with mainstream Christianity about the nature of God were persecuted. Such groups were said to hold Judaistic opinions.
The English civil war ended with the execution of King Charles I in January 1649 and ushered in the period known as the Commonwealth — Cromwell was the virtual dictator. The new constitution drawn afterward, the Agreement of the People, would set the stage for Jewish resettlement. One of the first official petitions came from a group of Baptists who requested that Jews be granted the same sort of settlement and trading privileges that they enjoyed in the Netherlands. Others in England were convinced that England's troubles were the result of its maltreatment of the Jews. But there was still considerable opposition to having non-Christians living in England and an amended version of the Agreement of the People mandated that religious freedom be permitted only for those who believed in "Jesus Christ."
Eventually it was not religious tolerance or the desire to convert Jews to Christianity or Jewish financial acumen that would convince Oliver Cromwell that his position in favor of readmission was correct. It was his belief that Jews could play an important role in his dreams of Empire and he was willing to overlook their idiosyncratic religious practices in order to achieve his goals.
The mystical component came via the beliefs of one Manasseh ben Israel, a leader in the Amsterdam Jewish community. Born in Madeira and baptized Manoel Dias Soeiro, ben Israel was the son of a Converso who fled a Lisbon auto-da-fé (literally act of faith — the Inquisition ceremony that reconciled penitents, often by burning them at the stake) and settled in Amsterdam. Ben Israel's father, Gaspar, renamed his sons Ephraim and Manasseh and gave himself the name Joseph ben Israel. Many Conversos maintained vestiges of Jewish practice in secret for many generations. Some, like Joseph ben Israel, became Jews outwardly again once they were safely away from the clutches of the Inquisition. Amsterdam, with its religious tolerance and liberal atmosphere (certainly for the times) was such a safe place.
As a Jew in Amsterdam, Manasseh grew up practicing his faith and became a respected scholar, well educated in Jewish texts and Jewish theology. He earned the respect of his fellow Jews as well as Christians because of his broad knowledge of the Bible. He wrote extensively on Biblical subjects and founded Amsterdam's first Hebrew press (1626). One of his books, in Latin, was The Hope of Israel. In it he wrote about Jewish communities throughout the known world and noted that there were no Jews in England. Now the medieval word for England is Angle-Terre — as it is in modern French and Angle Terre means corner of the earth. Ben Israel believed, as did most Jews of his day (and to this day), that one of the pre-conditions of the coming of the Messiah is the dispersion of the Jewish people Kezeh ha-Aretz — the Hebrew for "end of the earth." As Angle-Terre was devoid of Jews, ben Israel felt that resettlement there would hasten the coming of the Messiah. He dedicated the English edition of The Hope of Israel to the English parliament in the hope that they would take up his cause.
Excerpted from The Complete Jewish Guide to Britain and Ireland by Toni L. Kamins. Copyright © 2001 Toni L. Kamins. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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Table of Contents
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK,
CHAPTER ONE: The History of Jews in England,
CHAPTER TWO: London,
CHAPTER THREE: The West Country,
CHAPTER FOUR: The Midlands,
CHAPTER FIVE: The North West,
CHAPTER SIX: The North East,
CHAPTER SEVEN: Wales,
CHAPTER EIGHT: Scotland,
CHAPTER NINE: Ireland,
CHAPTER TEN: Assorted Sights of Jewish Interest,
ALSO BY TONI L. KAMINS,
ABOUT THE AUTHOR,