In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section England

  • Introduction
  • Historiography
  • Anthologies
  • Reference Works
  • Primary Texts and Document Collections
  • The Zionist Movement in Britain, 1887–1917
  • The Jews in Scotland and Ireland

Jewish Studies England
David Cesarani
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 October 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0004


The Jewish presence in England dates back to the Norman Conquest. Jews were expelled from England in 1290, and they were kept out for almost three hundred years. Spanish and Portuguese Jews filtered back into England in the mid-17th century, but they did not constitute a community. Their presence was officially recognized by the government of the Protectorate, under Oliver Cromwell, in 1655–1656. In the century after the readmission, there was a steady, if numerically modest, influx of Jews from central Europe and North Africa. By the 1750s, Ashkenazi Jews were preponderant, even if Sephardi Jews dominated communal institutions. The Jews labored under manifold restrictions as aliens (if foreign born) and nonconformists until the mid-19th century, and an attempt to engineer the naturalization of foreign-born Jews in 1753–1754 triggered widespread opposition. Protestant dissenters and Roman Catholics were relieved of civic disabilities in 1828–1829, but Parliament (mainly the House of Lords) denied civic equality to the Jews, preventing them from serving in local and municipal government or sitting as MPs. Consequently, leading English Jews campaigned for the relief of disabilities. This campaign lasted from 1830 to 1858 and stimulated the modernization of communal institutions. Between 1881 and 1914 an estimated 120,000 eastern European Jews settled in Britain. The sudden, swelling of numbers stimulated antagonism that culminated in the 1905 Aliens Act. Nonetheless, the immigrants created a range of institutions to meet their religious, cultural, and social needs, and for a while, Yiddish publishing and theater flourished. Despite their whole-hearted contribution to the war effort, the status of English Jews eroded during World War I. Sections of the press voiced accusations of “shirking,” disloyalty, and economic opportunism. Anti-Jewish riots in several cities in 1917 were directed at foreign-born Jews who were immune to conscription. The Russian Revolution promoted a “Red Scare” that fastened onto Russian-born Jews. The Protocols of the Elders of Zion reached Britain around 1920. Discrimination against “alien Jews” was practiced by the national and local governments, notably with respect to public housing, while social exclusion was the norm and anti-Jewish stereotypes flourished in popular culture. At the same time, the children of immigrant Jews began to move out of the first areas of settlement and the “immigrant trades,” taking up a wider range of occupations. During the 1930s, Jews faced antipathy from right-wing political groups, notably the British Union of Fascists. Nevertheless, 11,000 German Jews settled in Britain between 1933 and 1938, followed by an influx of over 50,000 in the two years before the Second World War. The arrival of “refuJews” caused widespread hostility, however, and anti-Semitism burgeoned during the Second World War, reaching a climax during the clash between the British and the Jews in Palestine between 1945 and 1948. This antagonism eventually subsided, in large part due to the revelations about the Nazi genocide against the Jews. The Jewish communities had by now largely relocated from inner-city districts to the suburbs of a dozen British cities. Jews were overrepresented among those with a higher education, in the professions, and in a spectrum of cultural activities, notably in print journalism and the electronic media. Nevertheless, large numbers still made their living from small businesses, retail businesses, and being self-employed in occupations.

General Overviews

The Jewish Historical Society of England was formed in 1893, but its agenda was apologetic. For decades the Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (TJHSE) published articles that dwelt on medieval Jewry in order to show how rooted Jews were in English history, pieces that celebrated the readmission of the Jews in 1656, or biographical studies that highlighted successful individuals who made a “contribution” to England—mainly in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Authors did not dwell on anti-Semitism, and they ignored the presence of Jews from eastern Europe. This agenda is reflected in the early histories, notably Wolf 1934, Roth 1964 and Hyamson 1951. For decades, Cecil Roth was the only Jewish historian to hold a university position. The immigrants who formed the modern community barely appear in Jewish history writing until the volume produced in connection with the Tercentenary celebrations in 1956 (Lipman 1961). Finestein 1957 is an essay on the “new community” that emerged in the years 1880–1920. Roth 1964, Lipman 1954, Lipman 1961, Lipman 1990, and Finestein 1957 were written by historians who were academically trained, if not employed by the universities, and these historians dominated the early historiography. Alderman 1992 and Katz 1994 were the first comprehensive histories by professional historians. Endelman 2002 represents the maturity of work in the field.

  • Alderman, Geoffrey. Modern British Jewry. Oxford: Clarendon, 1992.

    This is a deeply-researched and readable narrative that presents the Jews in England prior to “emancipation.” It tells the story of the fight for civic equality, and then devotes equal attention to the Jewish immigrants who arrived beginning in the 1880s. Alderman captures the main trends between the two world wars, but the structure sometimes makes the narrative hard to follow.

  • Endelman, Todd. The Jews of Britain 1656–2000. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520227194.001.0001

    An outstanding survey, drawing on recondite research and state-of-the-art publications. Endelman writes beautifully and encompasses every aspect of Jewish social, economic, and cultural life. His discussions of internal Jewish politics and the place of Jews in the British polity are always nuanced and sensible. This is now the standard work, and the bibliographical references offer sure guidance to further reading.

  • Finestein, Israel. A Short History of Anglo-Jewry. London: Lincolns-Prager, 1957.

    Commissioned by the World Jewish Congress for educational purposes and intended to fill a gaping hole—the lack of published work on Jews in England—this is a work of astonishing concision. Finestein’s gentle, mannered style conceals sharp insight.

  • Hyamson, Albert. The Sephardim of England: A History of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Community 1492–1951. London: Methuen, 1951.

    A largely uncritical narrative, but packed with information on the Jews who formed the spine of the community from the 1650s to the 1750s.

  • Katz, David. The Jews in the History of England, 1485–1850. Oxford: Clarendon, 1994.

    Katz deals brilliantly with the circumstances of the “readmission,” the first Jews and their precursors, the fragile character of the early organized community, and the growth of institutions and assurance in the 18th century building up to the emancipation campaign.

  • Lipman, V. D. Social History of the Jews in England, 1850–1960. London: Watts, 1954.

    Originally Lipman’s lecture notes for a University of London extension course, the book was the standard work on the modern period for decades. It is crammed with valuable data on demography, economic activity, and geographical distribution. Lipman provided the first sourced chapters on the social and economic lives of the immigrants, the attitude of “native Jews” to them, and hostility to unrestricted Jewish immigration.

  • Lipman, V. D. Three Centuries of Anglo-Jewish History. London: Jewish Historical Society of England, 1961.

    A key collection heralding a more professional approach and boasting a succession of historical chapters, commencing with the “resettlement” and ending with the “new community,” 1880–1918, that opened the door to new topics.

  • Lipman, V. D. A History of the Jews in Britain since 1858. Leicester, UK: Leicester University Press, 1990.

    Lipman died before completing this survey history. It distills his accumulated knowledge and wisdom concerning the character of Victorian Jewry, the nature of the mass immigration, and the conflict as well as cooperation between the old and new communities that emerged in the late 19th century. It is packed with data, accessible and reliable until the later chapters covering the period after 1918.

  • Roth, Cecil. A History of the Jews in England. Oxford: Clarendon, 1964.

    Originally published in 1941, this work reflects the gratitude of English Jews that they were in England. Roth’s narrative ends in 1858, summing up everything thereafter in two pages). It is outdated but still valuable for his pioneering archival research on the medieval community, the “readmission,” and the 18th century.

  • Wolf, Lucian. Essays in Jewish History. Edited by Cecil Roth. London: Jewish Historical Society of England, 1934.

    A summation of Wolf’s pathbreaking endeavors, reflecting his idiosyncrasies, such as his obsession with the Cromwellian period, his veneration of the Rothschilds, and Sephardi “notables.” The essay on “The Queen’s Jewry, 1837–1897” is, however, a sharp and insightful study that repays attention not least because of his personal familiarity with many of the issues and personalities.

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