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The Earliest Jewish Friendly Society in England, "Rodphea Sholom"

B. A. Fersht

<plain_text><page sequence="1">10. Chebrah Rodphea Sholom1 THE SOCIETY OF "PURSUERS OF PEACE" Notes upon the first Jewish Friendly Society in England. When in the eighties of the last century, the Jewish Friendly Society movement gained impetus by the establishment of an Order?the Achei Brith?upon the lines of the large non-Jewish fraternal organisa? tions, and also largely based,?as their founder stated,?upon the Independent Order of B'nai Brith in America, the advocates for the movement were not aware that a Jewish Friendly Society had then been in existence in London for 150 years, and that the ideals of that society had expressed the communal interest in two forms,?the Jewish and religious form and the economic, more commonly referred to as the "thrift" movement. *More correctly spelt Rodphe Shalom.</page><page sequence="2">THE EARLIEST JEWISH FRIENDLY SOCIETY IN ENGLAND. 91 The nucleus of the first Jewish Friendly Society was the Chebrah "Rodphea Sholom"?"Pursuers of Peace," and was established during the first half of the eighteenth century. This Society continued its existence until 1893. None of its records survive, except a copy of the Rules registered in 1797 and subsequent amendments up to 1837, and a ledger account with the New Synagogue during the years 1816-18 showing that the "Rodphea Sholom" deposited their funds with the Synagogue, and received an annual interest. The ledger indicates that the New Synagogue acted in the capacity of Banker to a number of similar Chebrahs. It is possible that the Chebrah Kadishah shel Qemiluth Hassadim (Holy Society of Lovingkindness), which formed the original nucleus of the Western Synagogue (C. Roth, Records of the Western Synagogue, pp. 25, 26), was also a Friendly Society. The Takkanoth (Rules) drawn up in 1767, provided for a weekly subscription and imposed the duty upon members to watch at the bedside of a sick member or form a Minyan morning and evening during the period of a member's Shivah, but there is no evidence that money benefit was provided. A further reference is to be found on page 27 of the same records, that offerings made at the Synagogue situated at the house of one, Wolf Liepman, were devoted to this Chebrah. It is doubtful whether donations would be accepted if money benefits were paid; it has been the pride of the modern Friendly Society and treated as a tradition, not to accept donations towards their benefit funds, except where the benefit con? sisted of services and was subsidiary to the main principles of the Society. In 1909 the present writer first drew attention to the Chebrah Rodphea Sholom?in the Jewish Chronicle, (November 5th) and indi? cated its importance. The document which then came into his hands, dated 22nd May, 1797, was a copy, on parchment, of the Rules deposited with the Registry of Friendly Societies, the document referred to above. Under the early Friendly Societies Acts, Rules were sworn before a Commissioner and confirmed at the Quarter Sessions and then deposited with the Registry. This document was confirmed at the quarter sessions held on the 23rd October, 1797, described as:?</page><page sequence="3">92 MISCELLANIES. "Rules and Orders to be observed by the Friendly Society called Rodphea Sholom (Pursuers of Peace) held at Mr. Capadus' house, the 'Sign of the Crown,' Mitre Court, Aldgate, settled by a Com? mittee, and agreed by the whole Society on the 22nd May, 1797." But these rules were an amendment of former rules, though no trace of these rules exists. In a draft of a later amendment, dated 1829, appears a statement that the body was "Established nearly a century. . . ." Further evidence is supplied by the note:? "It must be proved to the Court that the former Rules of the Society have been dissolved according to the Act of Parliament." This refers to the Act of 1796, the second of the Friendly Societies Acts. The amendment of 1829 came into the hands of the late Dr. Israel Abrahams, who contributed an article upon the Chebrah to the Jewish Guardian of September 17th, 1920, but he dealt with the rules as if they were the original, and as if the Chebrah had been established in 1829. The truth of the title "Chebrah Rodphea Sholom"?"Pursuers of Peace"?appears to be belied by the preamble:? " Whereas the Treasurers and the rest of the members of the Com? mittee appointed to investigate the concerns of the Society, found the late Rules and Orders of the Society to be extremely irregular and burthensome to the members of the Society, they therefore unanimously resolved that the Rules and Orders should be formed anau (!) according to the necessity of the times in the following manner and to the observances of which every member of the Society hath solemnly pledged himself by which brotherly love and kindness is by the Blessing of Cod likely to be promoted. And May the Blessings of the Almighty crown our endeavours with success. Amen." "Whereas there hath been frequent dispute in the Society on account of different persons endeavouring to domineer over each other, it shall therefore be unanimously resolved that no one but the Treasurers or Stewards and the five members called Chamisha Anashim shall have power or control over the concerns of the Society,</page><page sequence="4">THE EARLIEST JEWISH FRIENDLY SOCIETY IN ENGLAND. 93 and whoever violates this resolution shall forfeit half a guinea to the Box." Two rules which had been included in the original draft were, for some reason, not included in the final registered copy. They indicate that the words "Whereas there hath been frequent dispute" were no exaggeration. They run as follows:? "If any quarrel should arise between the Treasurers or Chamisha Anashim and any of the other members of the Society, or that any of them should abuse the Doctor, Rabbi or Shammas, as touching their conduct in the business of the Society (or any of them should send their wives and children to abuse them)?it shall be in the power of the Treasurers and Chamisha Anashim to fine him or them; and which fine, he or they must pay within fourteen days, or be under the benefit until it is paid. "If any member of the Society, or the Shammas, should act contrary to any of the Rules of the Society and the Treasurers and Chamisha Anashim should fine him; and he should imagine that it is not in his power to fine him, he may choose thirteen members who are to be summoned by the Acting Treasurer, and their award shall be final, without any appeal, either to the Laws of the Jews or Christians; and whoever acts contrary to this shall fine one guinea to the Box. And if these fines are not paid within thirty days they shall not receive any Benefit from the Society; and if not paid after thirty days, shall be excluded the Society. And he that requires the thirteen members to be summoned must give the Shammas one shilling; and no one can demand thirteen members to be summoned unless he is within the benefit; and neither can anyone be entitled thereto unless they had first been before the Treasurer and Chamisha Anashim." Apparently the Chebrah Rodphea Sholom as a Friendly Society was typical of the non-Jewish Society of that date. The irregularity of these Societies created scandals and the early Friendly Societies Acts were introduced to deal with these scandals. The rules clearly show that members were paying contributions and were entitled to benefits, but that was not their only object. That was only the "thrift" side of the work, probably forced upon them by economic conditions.</page><page sequence="5">94 MISCELLANIES. The religious life was strongly developed and was closely inter? twined with the "thrift" side. Provision was made in the rules for the appointment of a Rabbi. His duties were defined in the 29th and 32nd Rules:? "The Rabbi is to be allowed Three Pounds per year, for which he is to expound on every Sabbath day the certain portion of the Law or the Prophets, etc., by way of lecture. He is also to attend morning and evening during the different Shivangs (Shivas) that may happen in the manner that is customary in the Jewish Nation. He must likewise attend on the First Night of Pentecost and Hashanah Rabbah (as mentioned in article 4th) for which he shall be allowed Five Shillings each time out of the Box, on condition that he attends the full time of meeting, otherwise he shall not be allowed anything if he neglects his duty in any of the aforementioned things he shall fine Sixpence each time for such neglect." The Rabbi of the Society is to expound the Law, etc.? "as mentioned in the Rule 29 and Ten Members are to be drawn as they stand in the book alphabetically to attend the said Lecture from the hour of Two to Three in the afternoon of every Sabbath for the space of one month. And on neglect thereof shall fine Threepence to the Box. The place where the Rabbi is to deliver the said Lecture must be at one of the members' Houses and which (to prevent dis? pute) shall be sold to the highest bidder on the Nights of Pentecost and Hoshana Rabba, and whoever purchased it must pay the money on demand; he must also not be in arrears to the Box to the amount that excludes him from the benefit; which if he shall it shall immedi? ately be re-sold to another." In this connection duties were also enjoined upon the members. The fourth rule provided that:? "The members are all to assemble and meditate in the Law and the Prophets, etc., as is customary in the Jewish nation and every member shall pay Three Pence whether present or not." This was a special contribution for or from the member. The Treasurer was allowed to "take from the Box an amount equal to</page><page sequence="6">THE EARLIEST JEWISH FRIENDLY SOCIETY IN ENGLAND. 95 Three Pence per member to defray the expenses of the meeting," probably to pay for refreshments. If the amount did not suffice, there was an injunction upon the Treasurer to pay the difference "out of his own pocket." It was the duty of the Shammas to acquaint every member with the meeting place. On these nights no member was allowed "to bring up any subject whatever," nor was a member allowed to send a deputy, "not even his own son. Whoever does in either case shall fine Two Shillings and Six Pence." Like the modern Society, the members of the Rodphea Sholom did not ignore "feasting." Whenever the Treasurer, the Chamisha Anashim or the Thirteen Members met, they were allowed to take 35. out of the "Box" for refreshments. At the quarterly audit they were allowed 2s., and, if there was no feast at the yearly audit, they were allowed ?1 Is. Od. out of the "Box" for their expenses, and the rules provided that:? "Every third year there shall be a Feast for the expense of which the Treasurer may take to the amount of Nine Pounds out of the Box and every member must at the Feast give the Shammas six? pence or be under the benefit till it is paid and on these years in which there is no Feast the Shammas shall have Ten Shillings and Six Pence out of the Box." Evidently the latter was to compensate the Shammas or Collector for the loss of the sixpences which he collected at the Feast. The Society had no President nor was provision made for a Secretary. The paid officials, other than the Rabbi, were a Doctor and a Shammas who also acted as a Collector. This is probably the origin of a Collector in the Friendly Society, as no such official was or is engaged in non-Jewish mutual Friendly Societies. The Society was .governed by a Head Treasurer, two sub-Treasurers and the "Chamisha Anashim." Contributions were paid to the "Box" and the Treasurer paid benefit from the "Box." During its earlier period the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows also referred to the Fundas the "Box." The members were subject to many fines. If the fines were strongly enforced there should have been considerable revenue. It is doubtful, however, whether all these fines were paid.</page><page sequence="7">96 MISCELLANIES. The Treasurer had the right to admit new members. The only meetings held were the four quarterly audits. The fourth or annual audit was the "Cheshbon Zedek," when the Treasurers and the Chamisha Anashim were elected. The Treasurer prepared a list of members who were eligible. Those who were chosen and refused to act were fined. These officers were assisted from time to time by a body called the "Thirteen Members." The Chebrah consisted of only twenty-one members when the 1797 amended rules were passed,? eight officers?the Head Treasurer, two sub-Treasurers, the Chamisha Anashim?and thirteen lay members. The final rules provided;? "For the better regulation and benefit of the Society and the due observance of the foregoing Rules, it is resolved that those members who formed these rules and whose names are subscribed thereto shall at all times have a right if they think proper to sit at the Table when any subject matter that requires deliberation is agitated concerning the interest of the Society; as also on the Four Quarterly Audits; and when there is a necessity for calling the Thirteen Members as many of them as are then living, and chuse(!) to attend shall be of that number to take care that no alteration of the afore-mentioned rules shall be made to the detriment of the Society nor in opposition to these Rules, and if the Treasurers or Chamisha Anashim should act at any time contrary hereto they shall each fine as follows, viz. The Treasurers One Guinea each and the Chamisha Anashim half a Guinea each to the Box and be under the benefit until it is paid." In later years the membership was limited to 131. Many precautions were taken against defalcation. When an Assistant Treasurer had to pay money to the Head Treasurer, the rules provided that he must be accompanied by his co-Assistant Treasurer and two of the Chamisha Anashim. If one Treasurer was not available, the Shammas took his place. Before an acting Treasurer could leave town for a period exceeding fourteen days he had to settle accounts first with his colleagues. The contribution was small?i\?. per week. That was only fc?. less than some non-Jewish societies. Provision was, however, made for an increase in the contribution if the money in the "Box" declined,</page><page sequence="8">THE EARLIEST JEWISH FRIENDLY SOCIETY IN ENGLAND. 97 but it could not be raised beyond 6d. per week. In the event of sick? ness, no payment was made for the first three days. Thus, Mr. Lloyd George was not original when in the Insurance Act of 1911, a similar provision was made. The benefit was 10s. 6d. a week for the first twelve weeks and, at the expiration of that time, "if it pleased God still to afflict the member" he received 5s. 3d a week for six more weeks," but, as the Society was poor, it was stipulated not to pay to more than two members during one week. If more than two members were sick, the payment for two was divided between three or four or whatever the number might be. Members also received 10s. 6d. Shiva benefit, but they were not provided with a Minyan if they resided more than one mile from Duke's Place. In a later amendment to the rules the Society allowed "nourishment" as a benefit. This included " Oysters, if prescribed by the Doctor." Mem? bers on the sick fund could not leave home without a walking voucher. If a member desired "to walk for the benefit of the air he must have a writing from under his (the Doctor's) hand," which he had to produce to the Shammas. He could also secure a walking voucher from the Minister of the Synagogue during Shiva. A further provision was that the member could secure a walking voucher to go "to an ale-house." They did not look for big reserves in those days. The rules provided that the "Box" should not be closed whilst the stock of the Society amount to ?20. It was the duty of members to attend the sick members from 10 o'clock at night until 6 o'clock next morning, if it were found that they were seriously ill. If a member could not attend he had to pay the Shammas Is. 6d. to find a substitute, but the Shammas could act as substitute himself. He then received 6df. extra for expenses. In special circumstances, members were admitted at an early age. "If a deceased member should leave sons the eldest or any other of them who is above the age of 13 would be admitted a member without entrance fee." For a funeral of a deceased member twelve members were drawn by ballot to follow the cortege to the burial-ground. The Society paid for tombstones to be set within thirty days. ?5 was paid upon the death of a member and ?2 upon the death of a member's wife. These sums were raised by a levy.</page><page sequence="9">98 miscellanies. The signatories to the 1797 document were:? Abraham Benjamin, Head Treasurer William Noah . .. m TT -p, Treasurers Hyam Barnett . Coleman Levy . .. Eleazar Lazarus .. H. Levy . ... Chamisha Anashim S. Davis . ... Lyon Mordecai . .. The headquarters of the Society were situated in 1797 at the "Crown," Mitre Court, Aldgate, in 1832 at the "Duke of Bedford," Duke Street, in 1833 at the "Duke of Norfolk," Duke Street, and subsequently at the "Ship," Stoney Lane and Sam's Coffee House, St. James's Place, Duke Street. Intermediately they met at the "Bell Tavern" in Church Row and at the "Cutler Arms" in Cutler Street. The introduction to the rules of 1829 may serve for the present as a final note:? "To every person who considers that Providence (for the wisest and best purposes) has created man subject to numberless diseases and infirmities, the common, but certain, seeds of his dissolution; and when experience proves that the unalterable sentence 'Thou shalt surely die'?was pronounced on all men, on the young and vigorous, as well as on the aged and infirm, many arguments will not be necessary to shew the utility of such an institution for mutual support in the hour of sickness, mourning, and infirmity; also to secure to widows and orphans of members a small sum at the demise of the husband or father. . . . Such being the object, and the manner of carrying the following rules into execution, it is most piously wished, that every member may be prompted by reciprocal benevolence mutually to assist each other in the hour of sickness or calamity, and that emula? tion subsisting amongst the members be to promote the interest and welfare of THE PURSUERS OF PEACE." B. A. Fersht. Read before the Society, January 21, 1929.</page></plain_text>