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The Historian in Two Worlds

Aubrey Newman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Historian in Two Worlds* AUBREY N. NEWMAN, M.A., D.Phil., F.R.Hist.S. The Presidential address of any learned society has a ritual of its own, and any incoming President deliver? ing his address has to follow a fixed pattern. He is expected of course to pay tribute to his predecessor; he usually dwells upon his own lack of any qualifications for the office; and he not infrequently produces a paper which all too often serves only to prove that latter point. I can only hope that I will not conform to that third point of expectation. Let me begin, however, by paying a tribute to the outgoing President, Raphael Loewe. It is a task which I do joyfully. He himself is a scholar of very high standing indeed, not only in this country but all over the world among other such scholars, and he holds his appointment in an institution of learning well known also over past generations as a centre for Jewish studies. Add to that that Raphael Loewe's own family has produced several scholars of such standing as himself, not least of whom of course was his own father, and it becomes clear that we have indeed had a President who has represented worthily not merely the Society but all that the Society has represented over the years since it was founded. On behalf of the Society I would thank him most sincerely for his services during the past two years; I know that I voice the sentiments of all of us if I say that the honour we have received from his two years of office is far greater than that which he may feel has been done to him, and we are glad that he will be able to continue to help this Society over the years to come. But in addition to our tribute and thanks to Raphael I should like to pay tribute to his predecessors in office. This Society has been fortunate in both the academic standing and the quality of its Presidents, who have been drawn from men of high standing in the Anglo Jewish community or men of letters?sometimes in? deed both. Some I have had the privilege of knowing and have had great kindnesses and help from them. But the one whom I must this evening single out for mention above all others is Cecil Roth. Those of us who had the pleasure of being students in Oxford while he was there and therefore had the privilege of meeting him, of becoming imbued with his own love of Jewish and particularly of Anglo-Jewish scholar? ship, will never forget the influence which he had upon us. For many of us Cecil Roth epitomised the * Presidential Address delivered to the Society on 19 October 1977. Jewish Historical Society, and it certainly gives me a feeling of the continuity in the activities of this Society to reflect that it is essentially thanks to him that I stand before you this evening. It will always give me plea? sure to remember the courtesy and kindness he would invariably show to even the youngest and most junior of possible recruits to the ranks of researchers into the highways and byways of Anglo-Jewish history. Looking at the long list of Presidents of this Society, I see one feature which does, however, stand out; few of them have been practising academics, by which I mean that few have been teachers or researchers in university institutions, and few of those have been primarily appointed in non-Jewish subjects. It is with this juxtaposition of Jewish and non-Jewish areas of study that in essence I want to deal this evening, with the impact that this must have upon all of us who are in any way interested in the promotion of Jewish histori? cal studies at all levels. Here are the two worlds in which the Jewish historian must dwell. But certainly let me begin with the straight assertion which I promised you in my opening, the feeling I have that in terms of the formal study of Jewish history I am probably the least well qualified of all your 'profes? sional' Presidents. When I look around and see so many better-equipped persons in the audience I feel even more ashamed of my temerity in daring to stand before you this evening. My only excuse is my exten? sive training in non-Jewish historical techniques and that of course is the text and basis of this evening's paper. Some years ago a notable Anglo-Jewish author?or perhaps Scottish-Jewish author would be a fairer des? cription?published a volume of autobiography in which he described the ways in which, as a boy, he had straddled two distinct worlds, the Jewish and the non Jewish, and if my title echoes the title ofthat volume it is of course no accident. For my theme this evening is precisely that straddling which the historian of modern Jewry is forced to undertake if he is to make his subject acceptable and meaningful. Indeed, the title is very much an understatement, for all historians have two worlds in which they operate, and the historian dealing with Jewry might well have five, six, or even seven worlds in which he must exist before his work can be considered as fully competent. The two worlds of all historians are the world of the specialism in which he is engaged in studying and the world of his own nature and being. It is always pos 1</page><page sequence="2">2 Aubrey N. Newman sible and sometimes only too likely that the historian will immerse himself completely in his subject. It is not unknown for the historian of the eighteenth cen? tury, for example, to find that the events of that century have become more real to him than the world in which he has his physical being. Similarly, the world in which he has his physical being must have an impact upon him from his earliest education, and from it he derives the various stimuli which make up his own character. It is not at all new to say that the scholar can find the two becoming confused in his mind; the portrait of the absent-minded academic who has no thought for the world about him is well enough known. Nor is it saying anything new to point out that the experiences of the contemporary world can be of great assistance to the academic. Edward Gibbon commented in his autobiography of his own military service during the Seven Years War: The discipline and evolutions of a modern Battalion gave me a clearer notion of the Phalanx and Legions, and the Captain of the Hampshire Grena? diers . . . has not been useless to the historian of the Roman Empire. Similarly, it is neither unknown nor unusual to find that one set of professional interests matches another, so that, for example, the result has been a widening of concepts of medical or legal history. In a different way it was noticeable after the war that those scholars who experienced the horrors of living under German occu? pation were never able to regard their academic studies in the same light as before. What I am suggesting, however, is that the prob? lems facing the historian of modern Jewry are much greater and require a much wider range of under? standings than might be inferred, and to illustrate my contention I should like to draw a number of examples from various aspects of recent Anglo-Jewish history and historiography. Let me begin by pointing out the obvious. If we are discussing Anglo-Jewish history in the post-Resettlement era then we must of course recognise that we are discussing an immigrant com? munity. Therefore we must begin by understanding the nature of the communities into which these immi? grants came. That is a deceptively simple statement, but there is so much involved in it. We are saying that the historian of Anglo-Jewry must be au fait with a wide complexity of British social, economic, and poli? tical history covering a period of more than 300 years. I wonder how many people appreciate the revolution that has overtaken the study of British history during the past 30 years. It is not merely that many more sources of information have become available over these years?though that is in itself very true. Nor is it only that we have been busy asking old sources of information many new questions. But there are also very many different ways of examining the past. The development of the social sciences, the potentialities of quantification in historical methods, sociological analyses have all played a very lively part. We have seen, for example, the emergence of'oral history', or, as many would prefer to term it, 'oral evidence', as a very valuable potential tool for the near contempor? ary historian, and historians have equally well found the computer useful in the handling of masses of material which earlier generations would have been unable to examine purely for want of time. At my own University?Leicester?there have also been de? velopments in the field of local history and above all of urban history which have caused historians to appre? ciate vast new dimensions. All these factors have meant that the historian who wishes to understand how British history 'worked' during the past three centuries has a much more difficult task than he had a generation ago. Certainly it is difficult to find much of this deve? loped in the monographs or in the text-books. Indeed, in so many cases even the basic monographs have not yet been written, so that while the traditional concepts have come under challenge there has as yet appeared no consensus of what should be the new orthodoxy. The new wave of studies with a Marxist Determinist dimension of thought has only just reached its peak, so that there are working historians spending the whole of their academic careers plumbing some tiny aspects of these developments. And yet we demand of our modern Anglo-Jewish historians an acquaintance with all these factors before they can even begin to study their basic subject. Secondly, the historian of that immigrant com? munity must understand the communities from which those immigrants came, the background of his basic material before they even land in this country. It has often struck me how proud many historians are of recognising the differences, say, in the eighteenth cen? tury between the Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewish communities. If only the differences were as clear-cut as that. Look at the differences between the Jews of Morocco or of northern Italy, or between the Jews of Italy and the Jews of the Levant, to say nothing of the Jews of Italy and the erstwhile Marrano Jews of Amsterdam and the Netherlands. And yet these are all Sephardim. Look also at the differences between the Jews of Germany and the Jews of Poland or Lithuania during this same century, all of whom could quite correctly be lumped together under the same heading; they are all Ashkenazim. It becomes obvious that to be able to understand the nature of the Jewish immigrants</page><page sequence="3">The Historian in Two Worlds 3 into this country there ought to be a depth of under? standing of various streams of European and non-Eur? opean communities and that this too must be recog? nised as another of the basic 'tools of the trade'. There is another facet of this same problem, a reflection of the basic 'two worlds' approach which I mentioned earlier. This is the issue of the insider/outsider looking at these Jewish communities. The question could, I sup? pose, in earlier generations, be posed, Ts it necessary for the historian of Anglo-Jewry to bejewish?'; now it must be posed, 'How much Jewish knowledge should be possessed by the Jewish historian of Anglo-Jewry?' If we look at some of the very important books which have been published on modern Anglo-Jewish history over the past few years?the works of Lloyd Gartner, Bernard Gainer, Bill Fishman, and Bill Williams?the point will, I think, become much clearer. Wilhams, in this context the outsider, has been able to see fresh concepts in the community he has studied and has been willing to listen and learn about various aspects of the community. Indeed, no greater love hath any community than this, that we have an outsider willing to read and try to understand the synagogue contro? versies which we are compelled to put up with! Gainer, in his study of the operation of the Aliens Acts of the early twentieth century, is able to use a considerable amount of material in non-English language sources, while both Gartner and Fishman discuss and analyse feelings and reactions that were instinctive to the religious milieux of which they are writing. Could Fishman, for instance, have been able to write his book on the Radicals of the East End without knowing that Judaism which they had to a large extent rejected? The magistrates who had to adjudicate on the breaches of the peace occasioned by the ceremonial eating of ham sandwiches outside the synagogues of the East End on Yom Kippur admitted their bewilderment at the deep emotions that were there revealed; how long will it be before the Jewish historians of those events declare themselves equally bewildered? It would seem to me to be almost axio? matic that the Anglo-Jewish historian must possess a fair degree of knowledge of general Judaica and Jew ishness. But even there it is not even sufficient to have Jewish knowledge; more specifically there ought to be an appreciation of the extent of such knowledge at any particular period of history. And here we have imme? diately another of the dilemmas of these two worlds of the Jewish historian, or of the historian of Anglo Jewry. One very distinguished Anglo-Jewish his? torian has recently tried to argue, very persuasively indeed, that it is only possible?or will soon only be possible ?to study any form of Jewish history in Israel itself. It is a persuasive argument, and yet. . . . Think for a moment of two of the leading bodies of London or indeed of English Jewry. How is it possible to understand how and why the original Jewish welfare organisation in London was termed the Board of Guardians unless one knows that that was the title of the parallel non-Jewish parochial and quasi-parochial body dealing with poor relief? Does it not also add to our understanding of the main representational body of British Jews, the Board of Deputies, to appreciate that some twenty-eight years before that body was established there was set up in London the Board of Protestant Dissenting Deputies? Surely it is clear that one requires a deeper knowledge of the 'host' com? munities than is likely to be available, say, in Israel if one is to appreciate the fuller and finer nuances of the ways in which these immigrant bodies managed to find some sort of existence for themselves? And if in the process they assimilate their own bodies to the ways of the 'host' that in itself says a great deal about the extent to which they did acclimatise themselves. Similarly, when it was decided to set up in the West End of London the first of the subordinate congrega? tions which later came to form the United Synagogue, why was it necessary to proclaim in advance 'notice is hereby given that this building now about to be con? secrated is a Branch of the Great Synagogue situate in Duke's Place, in the parish of St. James' Aldgate, in the City of London'? Any ecclesiastical historian versed in the procedures of the Church of England would have recognised the formula at once; it was the procedure laid down to establish a chapel of ease, a place of worship intended to make easier attendance at divine service but also to ensure that the new body could not become as independent a corporate body as the mother congregation; could not collect independently marriage fees; could not collect independently burial fees; could not collect independently membership fees. How many more of such instances does one have to explain to would-be research workers? In fairness, the argument operates in reverse. I remember on one occasion discussing with a very eminent non-Jewish historian who knows a great deal about English commerce and shipping the Jewish community in Hull and, with all respect to one of our very distinguished past-Presidents, whom I see sitting here in tonight's audience, he asked me how and why should there ever have arisen a Jewish community in Hull. Why (he asked) should any Jew ever want to go to Hull? Forbearing to agree with him (and again let me offer my apologies) that many of the Jews in Hull certainly did their best to leave it as quickly as possible, I had to demonstrate the significance of Hull as a point of entry for Russian Jews in relation to the railways between the east and west coasts of England, and the</page><page sequence="4">4 Aubrey N. Newman consequent significance of Liverpool in the further migration of Jews to North America. At all events let me come to a further set of issues facing our historian of Anglo-Jewry: his need to avoid insularity. It may well be felt that if he has understood the two sets of basic problems faced already, that point has been sufficiently belaboured. But what I have in mind is his need to be acquainted with developments of a much wider significance than these two areas. Let me illustrate my arguments by one set of examples. I had an opportunity recently of examining various records relating to arrivals from the Continent into London in the first decade of this century and it reminded me that the historian of nineteenth-century or twentieth-century British history does not really need to appreciate the significance of the North Atlan? tic Conference?the system of organisation of fares, dates of sailing, etc.?which regulated the North Atlantic shipping trade and which at various stages made it cheaper to travel from the Baltic and North Germany through Great Britain to North America than travelling direct. But how far is it possible to understand Jewish settlement either in Great Britain or in the United States of America without an apprecia? tion of such factors? I have recently been reading Irving Howe's outstanding book on the Jews of New York; how much better would it have been had he been able to draw the obvious parallels between the U.S.A. and the U.K., and how instructive it is to reflect that one of the most successful students of Anglo-Jewish immigration has also been engaged in studies of American Jewish communities. Think too of the discovery that a Toronto congregation called itself'men of England' solely because of a short time its members had passed in England en route for North America; that shared experience had been sufficient to constitute them into a brotherhood, into a landsmann schaft. It is indeed not surprising to find that there is now a suggestion that the full implications of the migration of the late nineteenth century can only be understood fully and properly as the result of joint research by scholars from England, America, and Israel. At this stage it may be considered that what I am proposing is that it is very difficult to be a historian of Anglo-Jewish history and that one might as well give up. That it is not easy I will at once agree, but that it should be abandoned is very far indeed from my intention. What I am, however, anxious to argue is that, like all other fields of historical inquiry, that of Jewish history is one which is demanding and worthy of very serious attention, as well as being one which can with profit be followed by the interested amateur. I am equally concerned to show that the historians of Anglo-Jewry and the historians of what we might term the 'host' community have much to learn from each other. In some fields the connections are clear and the expertises involved are closely linked, as for exam? ple the field of medieval Anglo-Jewish history and in particular the publication of Exchequer documents; indeed, the study of Anglo-Jewry under the Angevin monarchy shows a degree of cross-fertilisation which is to be applauded. In a later period, the study of Sampson Gideon, the eminent Anglo-Jewish financier, written by Dame Lucy Sutherland and published by this Society of ours, throws considerable light upon both the eighteenth century money market and the Anglo-Jewish com? munity in London. On the other hand, there is shortly to be published an extremely valuable study of eigh? teenth-century trade between England, India, the American colonies, and the Low Countries, the research for which could only have been undertaken by a scholar with a close and familiar understanding of English and Yiddish, as well as an appreciation of the problems involved in a study of international trade in that century. The fact that there are very few able to do that work does not mean, however, that only those who are uniquely qualified should do any aspect of research into Anglo-Jewish history. On the contrary, my argument is that we should be doing far more research into very many more aspects of Anglo-Jewish history, that all of us are uniquely qualified to contri? bute not merely to Anglo-Jewish history but also to the history of the 'host' community as a whole. A commonly heard criticism of some aspects of research into Anglo-Jewish history is that it represents 'antiquarianism' rather than true historical research, that it is interested in the identification of the first Jews in some particular part of the country, in the rise and fall of Jewish communities as ends in themselves, that it concentrates upon what is ultimately 'mishpach ology' rather than history, upon family relationships of all sorts. Let me say at once that that sort of endeavour has in itself a value for other historians; it is essential to be able to identify Jewish settlements, Jewish families; and initial patterns of settlement. Surely too the identi? fication made by a former President of this society of all the ramifications of the 'cousinhood', the descen? dants of Levi Barent Cohen, and the illustration of the importance of that set of relationships in London Jewish life, has still a considerable historical and socio? logical validity. And there still remains a considerable amount of work to be done along these particular lines. If I may instance the work done in Manchester or Birmingham in the identification of Jewish early settlement, the analyses of the census materials of the 1850s and 1870s and the illustration of the ways in</page><page sequence="5">The Historian in Two Worlds 5 which these communities grew and developed?here is work done by amateurs under guidance, which will be absolutely vital for any understanding of nine? teenth-century Jewry in this country. Indeed, without such work the conference held a few years ago on the growth of provincial Jewry in the reign of Queen Victoria would have been impossible, and I must here and now thank all those who made that conference possible. What does become vital is the relating of that mass of research to the fortunes of 'host' communities, the linking of the rise and decline of such communities to the changing fortunes of particular industries and par? ticular regions. The rise and eventual disappearance of Jewish communities in the south-west of England, in South Wales, in the north-east of England can be taken as throwing considerable light on a variety of different aspects of those regions. Let me therefore take my argument further. Jewish history does not concern only the Jews. It has a con? siderable and close link with many other aspects of history, and to do justice to our non-Jewish col? leagues?both amateur and professional?they are coming to recognise this. Non-Jewish historians of Central Europe in the late seventeenth century are coming to realise that the autobiography of Gl?ckl of Hameln has relevance for them too. Non-Jewish his? torians of Leeds in the late nineteenth century are coming to admit that they cannot understand the growth of the clothing trade without understanding Jewish immigration. And I have managed to persuade a non-Jewish historian to admit that he ought not to try to write a history of nineteenth-century London development without some discussion of Jews in the East End. Let me say, however, that I can provide instances to the contrary in each of these cases, and that in particular I can point to a history of the East End of London without the mention of a single Jew there. Those of us who have these joint interests?ama? teurs and professionals alike?have this duty of bridg? ing the gulf between Jewish and non-Jewish history, to be clear in our own minds and to make it clear to others that we do have two basic sets of expertise which can in fact blend together and which can teach a great deal to each other. And indeed it is important that it has been a non-Jew who wrote the history of the Manchester Jewish community. Jewish and non-Jew? ish historians have a great deal to learn from each other, and that brings me to the crux of my argument, the part to be played by this Society over the next few years, and the crisis faced by this Society. Its aims are clear and have always been clearly stated, the promo? tion and organisation of research into, and study of, the history of Anglo-Jewry. It has done that in the past by the provision of lectures on Anglo-Jewish history as well as on general Jewish history and by the spon? soring of publications. It must of course continue to do that. It must continue to provide an attractive pro? gramme of lectures and maintain a solid core of members who find enjoyment in their history, not merely in listening but in deepening their own know? ledge of the subject. It must continue to attract the amateur in the best possible meaning of the title. It must continue to expand its interests into the field of active sponsorship of research, so that the pattern already established of sponsorship of conferences, of colloquia, of groups of individuals both in London and in the provinces being encouraged to indulge in acts of collective research, should be deepened. But we should be doing rather more than that; we must per? suade those academics who have already a grasp of the techniques which we accept as desirable in other fields of historical research to apply those techniques to Jewish historical study. We must attract the recent graduates to undertake research in Jewish history just as they do already in non-Jewish history by showing that there is no real difference, and that the patterns of one are relevant to the patterns of the other. Just as it is impossible to understand Jewish history without appreciating the history of the societies in which Jews are living, so it should be regarded as inconceivable to try to understand the non-Jewish host society without taking into account the various groups within that society of which the Jews are clearly one. But if it is to do that task adequately it must recruit new members, it must show that it is alive, it must above all have financial resources to be able to survive what all of us fear is going to be a very difficult period of time so far as total numbers of members are concerned and total finances are concerned. The title of this address was given as 'The Historian in Two Worlds', and I have suggested that this is an over-simplification. In fact it is a complete misnomer. The historian lives in one world only, and all his experiences, all his pieces of knowledge help to make up that world. I quoted the remark by Gibbon that the Captain of Hampshire Grenadiers had been of use to the historian of the Roman Empire. But the two were the same. It would be straining for an artificial effect to keep the two separate. So the Jewish historian cannot keep the non-Jewish history distinct any more than the non-Jewish historian can ignore any possible Jewish dimension of his research. This, then, is the task of this Jewish Historical Society of ours; to continue to bridge these two sets of activities, to bring them closer together, and to assist towards a clearer knowledge of that past which we here this evening are all dedicated to try to understand.</page></plain_text>

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