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A Plea for a Genealogical and Historiographical Section of the Jewish Historical Society of England

Bertram B. Benas

<plain_text><page sequence="1">A Plea for a Genealogical and Historiographical Section of the Jewish Historical Society of England By Bertram B. Benas, B.A., LL.B., J.P. Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England, January 12, 1937. The purpose of my paper is to plead for the co-ordination and systematisation of efforts in the spheres of Anglo-Jewish genealogy and historiography and the setting up of a genealogical and historio? graphical section in that behalf by our Society. That there has been much individual and a certain measure of co-operative endeavour in such genealogy and historiography is evident from the amount of published material available, either readily or upon investigation, and it may be safely conjectured that there must be very much more, most probably on the genealogical side, which is unpublished and inacces? sible. Anglo-Jewish historiography in the wider sense covers a large field and includes records both personal and local, the spheres of genealogy, institutional history and topography. These spheres are not mutually exclusive and at times and in places overlap. The field of Anglo-Jewish historiography in general was comprehensively sur? veyed in the Presidential Address delivered by the Rev. S. Levy, M.A., at the inaugural meeting of the session 1907-1908 (see Trans, vi). The survey, however, dealt with Anglo-Jewish history as a whole, and our more urgent need is the Anglo-Jewish history of the parts. Quoting Dr. Cecil Roth's Presidential Address, 1936 : " We English Jews have our roots deep in this country, not in the capital alone. g 81</page><page sequence="2">82 PLEA FOR GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORIOGRAPHICAL SECTION Yet, of all places . . . three only have had their chronicle more or less comprehensively compiled." (See Bibliographical Note A.) The same writer observed in " The Portsmouth Community and its His? torical Background" (Trans, xiii, p. 180): "Hitherto (it has been said before, but it is none the less true) the study of Anglo-Jewish historiography has been rigorously confined to London. The general picture has been thrown completely out of perspective by this fact. Before we can construct a true picture of Anglo-Jewish life in its historic development, it is necessary to take into consideration, too, the communities of the Provinces ". When we survey the work accomplished in the sphere of genealogy there is more to report but obviously there is more to be done. The area has been charted by Mr. Wilfred Samuel in his address to the Society of Genealogists entitled " Sources of Anglo-Jewish Genealogy " (The Genealogist's Magazine, December 1932, vol. vi, and reprinted as Jewish Museum Publications No. 2, 1933). (See Bibliographical Note B.) Taking the sphere of Anglo-Jewish historiography first, in a dis? cussion before our Society some forty years ago dealing with the scope of its objects, my late father (Baron Louis Benas) is recorded as having observed1 that " Anglo-Jewish history contained material for scores of learned volumes. For instance, the history of the provincial and colonial congregations had not yet been written." I have thus a traditional interest in continuing the plea implicit in those observa? tions. The field is still for the most part uncultivated. The first requisite is a survey of congregational records, and this survey should be directed from a central guiding source, properly equipped for its task. There is a pre-requisite, and that is salvage. The condition of historical material in Anglo-Jewry to-day suggests that the need for salvage is pre-eminent over that of safe custody. I wish it were possible to be satisfied that congregations generally had reasonable storage accommodation devoted to records. There can hardly be a congregation whose records, historically speaking, are valueless. The solution of the difficulties appears to lie in the estab? lishment of a central organisation capable of acting for the congrega 1 Jewish Chronicle, December 25th, 1896.</page><page sequence="3">PLEA FOR GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORIOGRAPHICAL SECTION 83 tions in the matter of records in a manner similar to that of the vari? ous antiquarian societies recognised by statute for the purpose of the charge, superintendence, and custody of manorial documents.2 Such an organisation would be the appropriate body to stimulate the his? torical consciousness of a congregation, or to help in upholding it, to advise as to collation and custody of material, if necessary to take up the work in its behalf and generally to assist in achieving the aims in view. It seems to me that our Society has an unchallengeable claim to occupy that position, but my plea puts it higher, namely that it is not alone a claim but a duty. Our Society can only have jurisdiction by consent. What, however, we cannot do by authority, we may hope to influence by such persuasive reasoning as we may be able to bring to bear. Personal contact between representatives of our Society and the local units of the communities may help to provide the link. Such informal contact may, if the idea of co-operation is accepted, be followed by more formal " visitations " which can afford the opportunity for a survey of material and conditions, and subsequent report. Salvage and conservation of written and printed records and movable " museum " material may on the one hand call for local muniment equipment, equipment which is either in being or capable of formation, or on the other hand may call for deposit under the auspices of our Society at some central place, normally by preference London. Library and museum accommodation for Judaica and Hebraica has never been more abundant in the metropolis than at present, and the assembling of personal endeavour from among those associated with such libraries should undoubtedly help towards the best utilisation of the material collected. However, where local storage is possible, decentralisation may have the additional advan? tage of local accessibility with that of stimulating the activities of potential local historians. The sight of, at least, a muniment chest has its value to the historically minded. The newer academic foun? dations in the great centres of civic life in the country?all situate in the areas which include or are in relative proximity to the larger 2 See the Law of Property Act, 1922, s. 144A (3), (4) and (7), and the Manorial Documents Rules, 1926, made thereunder.</page><page sequence="4">PLEA FOR GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORIOGRAPHICAL SECTION Jewish communities?may provide sources whence capable scholars may be enlisted for service in the cause. Centralisation of material in London does not preclude the existence of a local repository for con? temporary records, records which in due course can be transferred to London to make way successively for later records to be housed locally, and thus the process can periodically recur. The form which the local muniment repository should take is a matter to be determined between the advisers and the advised. It might range from the simple deed-box or fireproof cupboard to a capacious muniment room with lighting and other appropriate equipment. In Synagogues of the future such a room might well be provided for in the plans? in those existent the equipment would need to be improvised. A room exclusively for the purpose within the synagogue building may be available in some cases?in others some form of muniment reposi? tory within a room otherwise utilised may be able to be requisitioned. The writing of the local histories, if such histories are to be ade? quate, can only be built as a superstructure upon the foundation of historical material properly collated. Thus only can historiography be duly extended. The dissolution, amalgamation and expansion of congregational entities, which current conditions tend towards effect? ing, make the need for both the salvage and the conservation of historical material all the more urgent. The sphere of genealogy represents a problem of greater difficulty, but attention to the congregational records may well result in a wider and deeper interest in family history, a better endeavour to preserve the materials for its recording, and a larger number to help in its presentation. Many old prayer books contain on some of the un printed pages what is virtually a family register. Too often these books are disposed of indiscriminately. The organisation for congre? gational history which I have previously suggested would enable this material to be conserved and enlisted. Its ingathering may have to belong to a later period of renewed effort. My desire in this behalf is, in a general form, being anticipated by the gradual collation of the manuscript genealogical material in the library of the late Lucien Wolf, now in the Mocatta Library. His articles on " Old Jewish</page><page sequence="5">PLEA FOR GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORIOGRAPHICAL SECTION 85 Families in England " have been substantially reproduced in his volume of Essays in Jewish History published by our Society, con? stituting, as it were, a narrative introduction to the valuable material he had collected. An encouraging stimulus would be afforded by knowledge of the fact that a Society such as ours would always be ready and willing to afford assistance to those who sought to collect materials for family history and to guide them to assemble those materials for the compilation of an authentic genealogy. If the Society could find it possible to provide the personnel for the work, those in need of such services could be brought into contact with those prepared to render it. Guidance or collaboration would prevent both wastage of genealogical material and inaccurate compilation. The setting up of machinery within our Society to develop and aid this work would form an endeavour worthy in itself and of particular appropriateness in view of the individual efforts made in this sphere by some of our founders. Our Society could also act as a clearing house of information equipped with a register of pedigrees and genea? logical material, and with a note of the privately printed or typed or written works which might be rendered accessible to accredited en? quirers by permission of their possessors. Dissociation from the Jewish community on the part of Jews, either in its active or passive form, in some spheres and a lack of a genealogical consciousness in other spheres can result in the extinction or dispersion of the sources of genealogical material. No time is to be lost while contact with the Jewish community is retained to secure as much information as will enable the genealogy to be as fully recorded as possible, and where the Jewish consciousness still remains strong in other directions some of it might be usefully devoted towards the development of an interest in the records of that historic unit of Jewish life, the family. It is the fact that instances are to be found where active or passive dissociation from the Jewish community has co-existed with an in? terest in the family genealogy, but such exceptional cases cannot justify inaction in respect of a movement towards the organised efforts above adumbrated. Both in the spheres of genealogy and local history we shall, I doubt</page><page sequence="6">86 PLEA FOR GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORIOGRAPHICAL SECTION not, be assisted by our historical friends outside the community when? ever we seek their aid. The participation of Jews as Jews interested in their own genealogical research and their own local history in the work of the local antiquarian societies is greatly to be encouraged. It is believed that a survey of the Transactions of such societies would show that contributions Jewish or non-Jewish upon either subjects relating to Jewry are very rare. The general spreading of the fellow? ship in these spheres of Jewish scholarship between Jew and Gentile, which has ever been the proud record and has become a tradition in the Jewish Historical Society of England, is greatly to be desired. The primary duty in this behalf rests upon Jewry itself. Let it not be said of us, as in the words of the author of the Song of Solomon, " they made me keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept ". (Song of Solomon, i, 6.) Let it be rather said of our records, in the words of the Book of Kings, " Are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles and let us hope that those Chronicles will be preserved and open for us all. Bibliographical Notes. A Of the three places referred to by Dr. Cecil Roth as having their chronicles more or less comprehensively compiled, one is the City of Liverpool. Five monographs have been written dealing with the history of Liverpool generally, three of them by my late father, whose pioneer work in this sphere has been regarded as authoritative and a model of its kind. In a letter to the present writer dated January 28th, 1935, in which he observes, relating to my father's Records of the Jews in Liverpool, " I have treasured a copy . . .for some years," Mr. Wilfred Samuel writes: " For a long time Liverpool was the only Ashkenazi congregation in the United Kingdom whose history had been written by one of its own members?and even to-day there are but few congregations?perhaps four or five?that have followed</page><page sequence="7">PLEA FOR GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORIOGRAPHICAL SECTION 87 Liverpool's example." The first of his studies is called " The History of the Liverpool Jewish Community." (Jewish World, August, 1877) reprinted as a monograph. The general statement by Lucien Wolf (Trans., vii, p. 209) as to the authorship of the histories of provincial congregations which appeared in the Jewish World is incorrect in relation to the Liverpool article. (See Trans., Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, infra, p. 46. Magna Bibliotheca Anglo Judaica, p. 91.) The second is entitled " Records of the Jews in Liverpool " (Trans. of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire, vol. 51 (new series), vol. 15, 1901) reprinted as a monograph. Some of the materials my father read before a meeting of our Society in London, but the local society which he joined as far back as 1864, and on whose Coun? cil he served for many years, extracted from him a promise that he would reserve the paper in its full form for reading before one of its meetings and give it the right of publication in its Transactions on the grounds of general local interest. The third is entitled, " The Evolu? tion of Literary Efforts in Liverpool Jewry ". (Jewish Chronicle, November-December, 1906, reprinted as a monograph.) Several years later the Council of the Historic Society of Lancashire and Cheshire invited me to prepare a paper out of the materials I had already collected dealing with " The Later Records of the Jews in Liverpool ", which was published in volume 80 of its Transactions. In 1930 there appeared a monograph entitled " Hope Place in Liverpool Jewry ", by the late Philip Ettinger, with a preface by Rabbi I. Raffalovich, and a foreword by the present writer, being annals and records of the New Hebrew Congregation, then called the Hope Place Congregation, 1830-1930, with notes of the history of Liverpool Jewry during the same period. The other two places chronicled, to complete Dr. Cecil Roth's list of three, appear to be London and Birmingham, the history of the London community being by Mr. Elkan Adler, M.A., published by the Jewish Publica? tion Society of America, and a monograph on Birmingham Jewry by the late E. Lawrence Levy, with a foreword by the Rev. Dr. A. Cohen, M.A., both of Birmingham. Other communities have been</page><page sequence="8">88 PLEA FOR GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORIOGRAPHICAL SECTION dealt with either by way of inclusion in surveys of larger areas, or, as for instance in the case of Portsmouth, the surveys deal with the origins or earlier history exclusively. B Reference may be made to the introduction to the Bibliography published in connection with the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibi? tion of 1887. The article is entitled, " Manuscripts of Anglo-Jewish History," the authors of which were the editors, the late Dr. Joseph Jacobs and Lucien Wolf, wherein, on page xxv, it is stated : " For Anglo-Jewish biography and genealogy?two branches of history which remain as yet unexplored?the manuscript materials are abun? dant." At the foot of the page the authors continue: " Of actual pedigrees the only extensive collection will be found mentioned in the Catalogue of the Exhibition, p. 31, No. 762, where a list is given. They number about sixty, and have been compiled from synagogue records, the Archives of Heralds' College, Family Documents, etc." If reference is made to the Catalogue it will be found that they were collected by Lucien Wolf and are now in the Mocatta Library. There is, of course, much genealogical material in the Jewish Encyclopedia with its valuable bibliographical notes. A sympathetic interest in a practical form has manifested itself outside the ranks of those who are members of the Jewish community. A recent illustra? tion is to be found in the volume entitled Notable Families among the Sephardic Jews, by Dr. Isaac da Costa and others (Oxford Univer? sity Press). Our President, Dr. Cecil Roth, is a collaborator in this work, but the only Jewish member of the group of contributors. For a further illustration, see second footnote on page 147 in the volume edition, and page 4 in the reprint, of Mr. Wilfred Samuel's " Sources of Anglo-Jewish Genealogy " (supra). As to the material for Anglo Jewish genealogy generally, see Sims' Manual for the Genealogist, Topographer and Antiquary, in the section on Records of Jews (page 428 in the edition of 1828). In relation to the closely allied</page><page sequence="9">PLEA FOR GENEALOGICAL AND HISTORIOGRAPHICAL SECTION 89 subject of Anglo-Jewish Heraldry, reference may be made to our Transactions, ii, which contains the Presidential Address by Lucien Wolf entitled " Anglo-Jewish Coats of Arms ", and the article en? titled " Coats of Arms " in the Jewish Encyclopaedia may also be usefully consulted. On Jewish Genealogy in general reference may be made to the article " Genealogy " in the Jewish Encyclopedia. In Magna Biblio theca Anglo-Judaica under the heading of " Bibliography " will be found a number of family narratives, some of which contain pedi? grees. The earlier editions of the Jewish Year Boo\ collected much useful genealogical and heraldic material and it may be noted with reference to the first portion of this paper that both the earlier and more recent issues of the annual volume have contained useful notes relating to the history of the several communities. Occasional notes on Jewish family history are to be found in the volumes of the Anglo Jewish press, notably the Jewish Chronicle.</page></plain_text>