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Research Notes: The founding fathers of the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE): a tribute

Joe Hillaby

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 45, 2013 Research Notes The founding fathers of the Jewish Historical Society of England (JHSE): a tribute JOE HILLABY The Society was the child of the great Anglo-Jewish exhibition held at the Albert Hall, London, in 1887.1 Further material was displayed at the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Public Record Office. The initial meeting, held in the rooms of the Maccabeans on 3 June 1893, was chaired by Lucien Wolf, the foreign editor of the Daily Graphic. This, he tells us, was "very numerously attended"; "taught by our past experiences, we there and then elected officers and formed our committees." The Society was founded "to promote a knowledge of Anglo-Jewish history; to create a deeper interest in its records and relics and aid in their preservation." For Wolf, "the soul of the new movement was Israel Abrahams", a member of the staff of the Jews' College, who had graduated with an MA from University College London in 1880. In 1902 he was appointed Reader in Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature at the University of Cambridge where, four years later, he was appointed the curator of Orientaba at the Library. Abrahams served as Honorary Secretary of the Society until 1904. The second stated aim of the Society was to "determine the extent of the material which exists for the compilation of a History of the Jews in England." There can be no doubt that this was prompted by the publication of two major works on English medieval Jewry by Myer David Davis and Joseph Jacobs. Davis's interest in English medieval Jewish history had been aroused in his youth when he acquired a copy of d'Blossiers Tovey's Anglia Judaica: or the History and Antiquities of the Jews in England. . . both Printed and Manuscript as also from Records in the Tower, of 1783, reprinted by Kissinger in 2010. For the manuscripts, Tovey had turned to that remarkable work by Thomas Madox, The History and Antiquities ofthe Exchequer (1711), especially Chapter 7, "The Records of the Exchequer of the Jews". A second edition, published in 1769, was reprinted by Greenwood Press, New York, in 1969. 1 Emphasized words are subject entries in Joe and Caroline Hillaby, eds., The Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History (Basingstoke, 2013), available toJHSE members for ¿48 plus postage. 155</page><page sequence="2">Research Notes Davis's Shetaroth: Hebrew Deeds of the English Jews before i2go (1888) was the second work to be published by the Committee of the Anglo-Jewish Exhibition. His concern was to throw light on the internal life of England's medieval Jewish communities. He provides copies of the Hebrew texts, with translation, of 209 starrs in relation to contracts between Jews. All, apart from three of the famous Aaron of York, are of the thirteenth century. Nine com munities are represented, with 94 deeds from Norwich, 51 from Nottingham, 24 from Lincoln, 15 from Canterbury and 11 from London. They include the most famous of all shetaroth : the marriage contract drawn up on Friday 3 Shebat 5031 (1271), between Belle-assez, the daughter of the late Master Benedict (Berechiah of Nicole), and Benjamin, the father of the groom, Aaron, to whom Judith gave as a wedding gift "a precious volume containing all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, written on calf skin, properly provided with punctuation, Targum, Haphtaroth, and Masora". Benjamin "mortgaged all his chattels and property, real and personal as a guarantee that he will perform his part of the covenant". It is not surprising that Davis's volume was republished by Gregg in 1969. In tht Archaeological Review (1889) Joseph Jacobs published translations of Jewish entries in the Pipe Rolls for 1130/31 to 1199/1200. For the 34 years after 1169/70 he had to resort to the original manuscripts. Those who know how difficult it is to read these extraordinarily lengthy rolls will realize that this was no mean achievement. Jacobs explained that it was "my work in connection with [the] Exhibition which convinced me of the enormous mass of available material for the history of the Jews in this country, especially in its medieval phases." The result, in 1893, was The Jews of Angevin England: Documents and Records from Latin and Hebrew sources printed in manuscriptfor the first time col lected and translated. The entries relate to the years from before 690 to 1200. For Jacobs, the history of the twelfth-century English Jews "is much more full than that of France, Germany, Italy and Spain". This has recently been confirmed by Robert Chazan, who refers to the sources for English medieval Jewry as "many hundreds of times richer than those for France". H. G. Richardson, in his introduction to The English Jewry under Angevin Kings (i960), wrote of Joseph Jacobs, "the marvel is that he, who had no claim to be a professed medievalist, made accessible so much that was new and true. And what was new he had to find largely in difficult manuscripts that have since been put into print and adequately indexed to the profit of his succes sors." The JHSE has taken a leading role in such work with the publication of The Calendars of the Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews preserved in the Public Record Office. Volume I appeared in 1905, II in 1910, both edited by R. M. Rigg. The most recent volume, VI, for 1279-81, was published in 2005. The Society has now decided to complete the task begun more than a century ago of publishing the Plea Rolls. 156</page><page sequence="3">The founding fathers of the Jewish Historical Society of England: a tribute Editor's note: The necessity no longer exists for the JHSE to publish work, gen erally, in Anglo-Jewish history as the field has secured a legitimate place in both academia and commercial publishing. Occasionally, though, there is a need to support the publication of Jewish historical material, such as the medieval Plea Rolls, which would otherwise not be made accessible to a broad scholarly public. Joe and Caroline Hillaby, , eds., Palgrave Dictionary of Medieval Anglo-Jewish History (2013), available to JHSE members for £48 plus postage. 157</page></plain_text>