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Book Notes: 'From One End of the Earth to the other': The London Bet Din, 1805-1855, and the Jewish convicts transported to Australia, Jeremy Pfeffer

William D. Rubinstein

<plain_text><page sequence="1">'From One End of the Earth to the Other': The London Bet Din, 1805-1855, and the Jewish Convicts transported to Australia, Jeremy Pfeffer (Sussex Academic Press 2010) isbn 978-1845192938, xii + pp. 335, pbk ?14.66. The records (Pinkas) of the transactions of the London Bet Din exist for the period 1805-55 m tne form of two bound ledgers. They are a goldmine for historians of the Anglo-Jewish community of that period and have never pre? viously been fully exploited by historians. Dr Pfeffer's work is therefore much to be welcomed, although it has several curious features. In particu? lar, although the book's title states that the book concerns Jewish convicts transported to Australia, this subject occupies only about one third of the book; most of it is taken up by a lengthy and valuable discussion of the evo? lution of the position of the Chief Rabbi and of the London Bet Din. This discussion explains how the activities of the Bet Din affected a range of central personal activities in Anglo-Jewish life, such as divorce and conver? sion, but in England rather than Australia. Dr Pfeffer's discussion is original and based on his research in the Pinkas ledgers and in other primary sources, and adds significantly to our knowledge of the Anglo-Jewish community in this rather neglected period. The London Bet Din had jurisdiction over the religious activities of Jews in Australia during this period, except for the period when a local Bet Din was convened in Sydney in the 1830s. The remoteness of the community from Britain and from the other main centres of Jewish life, its small size and the fact that probably a majority of its male members until at least the 1840s had arrived in Australia as convicts, brought many difficult and possibly unique problems, ranging from questions arising from the presumption of death after many 232</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes years' absence to the efforts to regularize de facto sexual unions in frontier conditions, and the status in halakhah of their offspring. This section of the book centres on the lives of a small number of early Australian Jews, like Esther Solomons (whose name was often spelled 'Solomon') and the visit? ing Rabbi Aaron Levy. It makes a highly interesting and unusual contribu? tion to the history of the Australian Jewish community and deserves to become better known to historians and genealogists there. While Dr Pfeffer is aware of some of the important research which has been carried out on early Australian Jewish history during the past generation, especially by the Melbourne rabbi and historian Dr John S. Levi, he does not appear to be aware of many of the articles on this topic in the Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, or by other recent historians. Clearly, however, the author, a London-educated physics lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has done extensive and valuable research on these topics and has broken much new ground. Given its important material on England, this book might well be seen as more valuable for its discussion of the London Bet Din and the development of Anglo-Jewry than for its Australian component, Australia of course being a minor concern of London's Jewish leadership. William D. Rubinstein</page></plain_text>

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