< Back

Book Notes: The Jews in the History of England, 1485-1850, David S. Katz

Aubrey Newman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Book Notes The Jews in the History of England, 1485-1850, David S. Katz (Clarendon Press, Oxford) 447 pp. biblio., index. ?40. Modern British Jewry, Geoffrey Alderman (Clarendon Press, Oxford) 397 pp. no biblio., index. ?40. More than fifty years have passed since the publication of Cecil Roth's History of the Jews in England, and inevitably much has changed since then. A great deal of factual research has had to be incorporated into the 'standard' histories, and, even more importantly, there has been a substantial widening of approach. While Roth felt that the pattern of Jewish acceptance in Britain had been virtually completed with the achievement of 'political emancipation' more recent historians are more interested in the ways in which the enormous increase in immigration at the end of the 19th century were observed in and by the existing Anglo-Jewish community. Above all there is the realization that Jewish history cannot be viewed in isolation, that it is essential to place it within the context of the 'host' community, to understand how those hosts reacted to the Jewish presence, and how the hosts and guests related to and were affected by each other. Clearly, then, it has been time for reassessing Anglo-Jewish history, and for replacing Roth's originally very significant book. Oxford University Press are therefore to be congratulated on their decision to invite two historians to rewrite modern Anglo-Jewish history. David Katz's book, published later than Geoffrey Alderman's, covers the earlier period. In his sustained argument for the closest interconnections between Jewish and non-Jewish history he presents a large number of new insights. He produces a striking analysis of James IPs altitudes to the Jews, and of the linkage between the king's decision to assert the rights of residence of Jews in England with his attempt to protect Roman Catholics and Protestant nonconformists from the operation of the various penal laws. Elsewhere Katz examines the 18th and early 19th centuries with the same clear-sightedness and willingness to put accepted concepts under close scrutiny. He introduces into the main story a wide range of topics and ideas, and binds the period into a closer unity. This is without doubt one of the most important surveys of Anglo-Jewish history to appear for many years. There are however some considerable problems of approach associated with this volume. Katz has chosen to begin his study with the advent of the Tudors in 1485, which he rightly terms a 'non-date' in Jewish history. It must therefore be asked why he decided to exclude the medieval period. If one of the needs of modern Anglo-Jewish historiography is to examine how Jews and non-Jews inter? acted with each other, how Jews tried to find an acceptable place in the host community, and above all how that host community was affected by the presence of Jews, then it would appear that the medieval period is highly relevant. Again, having decided to begin with the early-Tudor period, to discuss the evidence for the existence of a Jewish community in England during the reign of Henry VIII, and to conclude that such a community existed more or less openly, it is difficult to understand why so much of his limited space is devoted to issues 266</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes which are largely peripheral to the broad theme he has decided to adopt. There seems little justification to suggest a significant linkage between this community and the king's 'Great Matter', his search for a royal divorce. Katz analyses the ways in which Henry sought support for his arguments from various Jewish scholars, but the limited extent to which Jews in England might have been involved seems hardly to warrant the allocation to it of almost a tenth of the book. Equally, while Katz makes a strong case for Roderigo Lopez's involvement in the plot to murder Queen Elizabeth, it is a little surprising to read that 'the entire question of Jewish involvement in the numerous plots and intrigues against Queen Elizabeth I has been one of extreme sensitivity for Anglo-Jewry, to the extent that suggesting any guilt by individual Jews was tantamount to a declaration of anti-Semitism'. Whether Lopez's guilt warrants as much space as Katz has given it must remain a matter of argument. On points of detail this reviewer might perhaps be permitted to suggest that Katz has overestimated the success of George IPs official intervention on behalf of the Jews of Prague and ignored the pressure from the Bohemian nobility. Or, again, it might be suggested that the 'Union' in 1834 between the three main London Ashkenazi synagogues was as much a logical development of earlier agreements to ensure an equitable distribution of their charity payments. Alderman's book covers a period of Anglo-Jewish history which has been the subject of a great degree of controversy, but much of what he says would be accepted by most readers. On the other hand, as 'the hornet' of Anglo-Jewry, he has his own agenda in Anglo-Jewry, and it is easy for those who recognize the issues on which he has campaigned in the past to identify them in this work. His accounts of the elections as Chief Rabbi of Joseph Hertz and Israel Brodie are incomplete, and he is less than just in his analysis of the relations between the United Synagogue and the Federation of Synagogues over these elections. Above all, his picture of Joseph Hertz is open to further analysis. He criticizes as an example of 'unfortunate phraseology' Hertz's description of the basic religious position of the United Synagogue as 'Progressive Conservatism' - by which he meant religious advance without the loss of traditional Jewish values and without estrangement from the collective consciousness of the House of Israel - without realizing the connotations which that phrase has acquired since it was first used in 1931. Indeed his description of Hertz's altitude to non-Orthodoxy is breathtak? ing for anyone who has had the slightest knowledge of the bitter controversies which erupted in the United Synagogue between its honorary officers, exemplified by Sir Robert Waley-Cohen and Chief Rabbi Hertz. In more general terms, like many other historians, Alderman still fails to give due appreciation to provincial Anglo-Jewry both in the past, and to the problems created by its growing weaknesses for the future. Viewed together, there is clearly a considerable element of overlap between these two books, which might have been eliminated by more careful planning. Their respective accounts of the early years of the Jewish Chronicle, for instance, 267</page><page sequence="3">Book Notes might at first sight be thought to be concerned with two different newspapers. It is unfortunate too that while Katz provides a very valuable bibliography, Alderman's extensive footnoting and scholarship is not consolidated in a similar way. Inevitably these books will be compared with that of Cecil Roth, while Alderman's will be contrasted with the similar work by the late Vivian Lipman. While much of Cecil Roth's work still points the way for his successors, Vivian Lipman managed to concentrate on purely historical issues. The verdict must inevitably be that while Katz and Alderman will both be added to the select list of books on Anglo-Jewish history 'which need to be read', neither Roth nor Lipman can be discarded. Aubrey Newman</page></plain_text>