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The historiography of Anglo-Jewry, 1892-1992

Aubrey Newman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The historiography of Anglo-Jewry, 1892-1992* AUBREY NEWMAN Two pleasurable duties incumbent on an incoming president of a society such as ours are to pay tribute to one's predecessor, and to give some sort of explanation or justification of one's own particular role. Firstly, therefore, in Dr Stefan Reif the Society has had a president who has served it very well indeed. He is a scholar of the first order, an expositor of his subject second to none, and an administrator of the highest level. In all of these he has graced the Society and has pointed it in the directions he feels we ought to be going if we are to survive for a further hundred years. His work as head of the Geniza Unit of Cambridge University Library is exemplary, showing that it is not sufficient merely to be aware of the academic importance of one's subject, but essential also to raise public awareness of scholarly activities, and in consequence how vital is the ability to raise a substan? tial part of the money required to keep them afloat. It is indeed a commentary on our times that scholars have to be not merely at the top of their profession in purely scholastic terms, but fully aware of the funding required for the work they are doing. We no longer live in ivory towers - even if we ever did so - and Stefan Reif is an outstanding example of our needs to excel in both of these worlds. The second part of my task, to explain why I am here, is more difficult, for to tell the truth I should not be here at all. Some years ago the Society decided that the centenary of its foundation should be marked in some suitable manner, and one of the ways in which we are doing this, in conjunction with the Institute of Jewish Studies at UCL, is to sponsor an international conference to which have been invited not only a large number of scholars with international reputations but also, and indeed most importantly, the members of the society as well as the public at large. The subject of this conference is the migration of Jews out of Europe between 1850 and 1914, and the impact this migration has had on Jewry as a whole. Study such as this is vital for our understanding of world Jewry, and is entirely appropriate to our centenary year. The other decision taken by the Society was to invite one of its past presidents to take office again in its centenary year. There is ample and indeed good preced? ent for this, in that when the Society celebrated its fiftieth and seventy-fifth anniversaries it elected on both occasions one of its former presidents, Cecil Roth. I should perhaps point out that the Society could not follow the example exactly, since Cecil at the seventy-fifth anniversary remarked that this was now the ninth * Presidential Address delivered to the Society on 29 October 1992. 215</page><page sequence="2">Aubrey Newman time he had served as president. The only other president to come near this record was Lucien Wolf, who served merely for seven years. At the same time we have shown ourselves different from almost every other society celebrating its centenary: we have not one but two centenary years, for the inaugural meeting at which the decision to found the Society was taken fell in the early summer, on 3 June 1893 - that is, at the end of one of our presidential years - while the first presidential address was given that autumn, at the first business meeting of the Society on 11 November 1893, in other words, in the succeeding year. We there? fore had the opportunity of electing not one but two past presidents. There was no doubt about one of those two. It was common ground that it should be Vivian Lipman who would repeat the part taken by Cecil Roth. This, alas, was not to be; it is for me a matter of the deepest and most sincere regret that it is not Vivian standing before you today delivering what would have been without doubt a masterly lecture. In his place, however, I hope that it will be possible to present a paper which might reflect some of the things he did for this Society. An appropriate theme for a presidential centenary address might well have been a history of the Society over the past hundred years - had it not been that the Chairman of the Programme Committee has reserved a similar topic for himself. That will certainly be a lecture with a great deal to tell us about the work of the Society, its aims and ambitions, and the extent to which they have been fulfilled. It might even discuss the directions in which the Society could contemplate moving over the next century. On the other hand, there is undoubtedly another, parallel, topic which I feel warrants our attention, and indeed one which impinges on the work which scholars such as Vivian undertook but which he himself could not have taken on. The topic I have chosen allows me, among other things, to try and make some assessment of his work in the context of that of many other contributors to our understanding of Anglo-Jewish history. Putting such authors firmly into the perspectives both of the study of Jewish history in general and of Anglo-Jewish history in particular is a subject which has aroused passions in the past - it is amazing what topics are capable of arousing passions, not least of all among Anglo-Jews - and indeed it is one which has begun to arouse yet again a great deal of disagreement. Since it affects the way in which we examine, interpret and even promote the study of Anglo-Jewish history, it is one which has always affected this Society. It affects our own very nature as historians analysing the problems of Anglo-Jewish history. Since it is the duty of this Society specifically to foster the proper study of Anglo-Jewish history it is the more appropriate for me to open this, the first of our centenary years, by trying to draw up such a balance sheet. In looking at the ways in which Anglo-Jewish historiography has changed over the past century let me first of all turn to certain particular episodes and themes, rather than try to move chronologically and perhaps tediously over each year in turn. There are, however, some chronological points which must be made. 216</page><page sequence="3">The historiography of Anglo-Jewry, 1892-1992 In his inaugural address as the first president, Lucien Wolf made some signi? ficant remarks on the ways in which this Society ought to develop. He made a very important point when he put Anglo-Jewish history firmly within the context of Jewish history as a whole as well as within that of those non-Jewish communities within which Jews lived their own life. He argued strongly that Anglo-Jewish history is an integral part of Britain's own domestic and overseas history. I remem? ber, in my first Presidential address, describing how the Jewish historian has to live within two worlds - those of his Jewish and his non-Jewish lives - and realizing the extent to which Lucien Wolf was pointing the way in a manner which many contemporary historians would applaud. Now that we have mentioned Lucien Wolf's first lecture to this Society, let me turn to the fiftieth anniversary, the so-called Jubilee meeting. It is significant that this fell in the middle of the Second World War, at a time when we were only too aware of what was happening to Jews and Jewish institutions in Europe. It was a meeting held under the auspices of the British Academy, the Royal Histor? ical Society, and of course this Society, and it took place in the rooms of the Royal Society. Sir John Clapham welcomed the guests on behalf of the British Academy. He admitted that he knew little about Jewish history, but mentioned that he had been reading three volumes recently published on the history of the Jewish community by Salo Baron, and remarked 'I commend it to you very sincerely if copies are available' (this was at a time when it was difficult to procure in Britain books published in the USA). He had been working on a 13th-century Cambridgeshire village where he had, he said, 'met' a solitary Jew who had presumably wandered there from Cambridge; and more recently he had been working on the Bank of England - 'I was naturally interested to ascertain how far and in what way the Jewish immigrants who were coming into England were connected with that very powerful British institution.' No one could say that Clapham was unaware of the significance of Jewish history within the framework of British history in general. Sir Frank Stenton (on behalf of the Royal Historical Society), equally eminent as an historian, commented on the Jewish contribution to British historical scholar? ship. Lord Samuel also spoke, and apologized that he had not been able to be present at the original meeting in 1893 - he had been sitting his final examinations in Oxford that day! But the principal speaker was Cecil Roth. I will not at this stage repeat all he said about individual historians, the early fathers of this Society such as F. D. Mocatta, Isidor Spielmann, Israel Abrahams - in his words, hardly more than amateurs by the side of Joseph Jacobs or Lucien Wolf, who 'would probably have made for himself a truly great name as a general historian but for the self-sacrificing zeal with which he restricted himself to the Anglo-Jewish scene'. But let me turn to what he said of the purpose of Anglo-Jewish historical research. 'In the course of the last century', he wrote, 'fresh vistas have opened up. New topics have been created, with the shift of the emphasis in history to 217</page><page sequence="4">Aubrey Newman social and economic life .... We are still sadly lacking in accounts of the provin? cial Jewish communities in the Middle Ages, and still more in modern times.' He pointed out the wealth of medieval Exchequer records that were available and which ought to be published, but reported the reaction of many scholars: 'What of it? It is of no importance for contemporary conditions.' His reply, certainly relevant in terms of the 1940s, and perhaps just as much today, attacked the standard view of the medieval Jew as an urban usurper, pointing instead to the evidence from these medieval records for the existence of a large Anglo-Jewish proletariat remote from the kernel of financiers in whom the king was interested. I suspect that already Roth had been attacked as being merely an antiquarian. 'Even antiquarianism', he remarked, 'is not necessarily antiquarian'. 'Whence did Anglo-Jewry come, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries? and why did they come? Indeed for that matter we know the story of the late immigration, of the eighteen-eighties and eighteen-nineties, so important and so near to our own day, only in general terms. It is of vital importance for us to ascertain scientifically what part Jews played in the development of modern English economic life.' He pointed 'to the need to look at the history of the Trade Union movement among the Jewish workers of the East End, of Leeds, and of Manchester, of some significance in the history of British labour as well as of the Jewish proletariat.' 'What was relatively new fifty years ago [remember that he was writing in 1943] is now of respectable antiquity.Institutions still await their chronicler.' 'Such preoccupations are not unimportant; it is upon minute researches only that the edifice of history can be erected.' He spoke too of the many septuagenarians among the members present, but continued: 'I wish it were possible to speak as confidently regarding our younger collaborators. The number of new workers whom we have welcomed in the past few years has been disappointingly small. . . . If research workers were assured of a numerous and interested audience when they presented their findings, and of a regular sequence of Transactions in which their papers would obtain speedy publication, I am convinced that the participation of youth would leave us with no cause for complaint.' It is amazing how many of our current concerns were already being brought to the fore. Twenty-five years later Roth would reiterate some of these same points, even though by that time he himself had filled some of the gaps he mentioned earlier. But essentially he looked forward to the next twenty-five years 'in the happy confidence that the field is not exhausted, that much remains to do, and that even the most minute aspects of our research forms an integral part of the wide picture - of Jewish history, of British history, even in some measure of the history of humanity.' Let me turn now to some of the issues on which there is currently discussion within what one might term the profession of Anglo-Jewish historians. One of the most important concerns the way in which many of those associated with this Society are often described - I think it may well be pejorative to use the word 218</page><page sequence="5">The historiography of Anglo-Jewry, 1892-1992 'attacked' - as being 'amateurs'. There have been comments to the effect that the Society is associated with dilettantism, filio-pietism, antiquarianism. It would be possible to argue that having a broad experience of affairs in another discipline, or in the so-called 'outside world', would be of great advantage. May I again recall that historian who remarked that the Captaincy of the Hampshire Militia was of great help for the historian of the Roman Empire? I am not sure what that word 'amateur' really means. Quite recently Professor Todd Endelman, a distinguished American scholar of Anglo-Jewish history, in reviewing two import? ant new books on modern Anglo-Jewish history, made some comments on what he terms 'the old sanitized view of Anglo-Jewish history associated with Cecil Roth and the amateur historians of the Jewish Historical Society'. Endelman includes among those amateurs Lucien Wolf, Paul Emden, Albert Hyamson, Richard Barnett, Vivian Lipman, and, I regret to say, our Chairman this evening, Israel Finestein. He argues that Cecil Roth should himself be included in this amateur group because, despite his academic credentials, his concepts were sim? ilar to those of the amateur members of the Jewish Historical Society, lacking the conceptual rigour and critical viewpoint of professional scholarship. But since he goes on to comment that Anglo-Jewry 'has a well-deserved reputation for indiffer? ence to Jewish scholars and intellectuals' ... 'The very fact that none of the Anglo-Jewish historians represented in these two books holds a permanent univer? sity-level teaching or research post testifies to the plight of Jewish historical schol? arship in Britain today,' I suspect he is really attacking the structure of university teaching and the part played in it by Jewish history and historians. It is certainly true that few historians of British Jewry have been members of university faculties, and that those who have held posts were seldom working in a Jewish field. It is certainly true that there is still only one university in this country where it is possible to secure a degree in history with more than half of the curriculum composed of Jewish history. It is true that there are few universities where it is possible to study any Jewish history at all within the framework of a mainstream history degree. And it is also true that at the present time there is a very real threat hanging over Jewish historical studies in both Leicester and Warwick uni? versities, unless they are able to secure the comparatively small sums of money needed to continue. Is it a fact, indeed, that only those who hold university positions and have been trained in their degree studies are really qualified to study Jewish history? If this were the case, there would be very few so qualified. We have an impressive roll of those who without any training in specifically Jewish history have achieved distinction as well as produced works of much importance. That is a topic to which I must return. In addition, do they have to be Jewish? A number of such non-Jewish historians have served with distinction as presidents of this Society: I have in mind Canon Stokes, Sir Hilary Jenkinson, H. G. Richardson and Pro? fessor Barrie Dobson. 219</page><page sequence="6">Aubrey Newman Is it because such scholars were mostly amateurs that they are being attacked, or is it because they cannot be enlisted to the enthusiasms which attract the modern wave of historians? Elsewhere, in commenting on what he sees as a weakening of Jewish solidarity - that is the growth of assimilation within the community - Professor Endelman maintains that this subject has not attracted much attention either from those he terms 'the amateur historians who dominated the writing of Anglo-Jewish history before the 1970s' or from professional scholars. I will leave to one side the question of how grateful he might have been to have discovered a subject which no one had previously recognized. But in talking about these amateurs he criticizes them for having approached the history of Anglo-Jewry in a spirit of uncritical admiration. He ascribes this to historians who have tended to pay more attention to 'foreign' Jews than native ones. He goes on to suggest that the imbalance of which he complains may also reflect the influence of left-wing political ideology with its preference for poor Jews rather than rich ones. There is for example an enormous emphasis on anti-Semitism. This immediately impinges on the vexed question of the arrival of our predeces? sors in this country and the ways in which they were greeted by the then great and good. A tradition was allegedly established whereby the historians of the community had to be subservient to the need to defend the rights of Jews even to exist, and to portray all as having been pure and noble. A recent description of the way in which in 1934 the diocese and Cathedral of Lincoln agreed to correct the story of the alleged martyr, Hugh of Lincoln, quotes disapprovingly from Cecil Roth's address on that occasion in which he praises Lincoln as 'the city which harbours these magnificent relics of medieval Jewry [and which] will have nothing to do with the revival of anti-Jewish prejudice'. The Jewish Chronicle then wrote that 'It is a warning to continental dabblers in medieval mire that Englishmen at any rate have broken with the Middle Ages and do not intend to undo 700 years of moral and intellectual progress'. The modern author comments that 'these constant references to English toleration are a reminder of the insecur? ity felt by those who practise Anglo-Jewish history'. But this was in 1934, and are we not to remember what was happening in countries on the European mainland? Indeed they felt insecure, as did many in Britain. The need was clear: at a time when Jews were being attacked in many countries as being at best irrelevant within a European context it was surely vital that Jewish writers were able to state and defend their identity and their contributions to civilization. It is only fair again to remind a modern audience that the 'ritual murder accusation' was a medieval English invention, that even in our own century it was still being repeated as common form, and that the publishers of a popular paperback volume in a well reputed series of English history textbooks refused until very recendy indeed to alter wording which many of us found absolutely objectionable. Let me make another point: in an age when there were attacks by many Gentiles on Jewish immigration and transmigration, when the Jewish population was rising almost 220</page><page sequence="7">The historiography of Anglo-Jewry, 1892-1992 tenfold, it was important to assert the rights of free immigration into this country. Did not many writers in the 1960s and 1970s bring into the arguments over new waves of immigration the ways in which that earlier wave of immigration had managed to bring itself into line with Western traditions and customs? We can point to a very large number of works on Jewish migration into this country a century ago which were published only because of parallel immigrations in more recent years. Another study of modern Anglo-Jewish history comments on its general signi? ficance within the broad field of Jewish history. Compared with the histories of Eastern European and North American Jewry the political affairs of Anglo-Jewry have seemed miniscule. That author suggests that the study of Anglo-Jewry has been hobbled by two impediments. The first he identifies as the product of Anglo Jewish progress to modernity and what might be described as the historiographical 'emancipation contract'. Under these conditions there was a need to stress the duration of Jewish settlement in the United Kingdom and the contribution of Jews to the host society. In consequence many students of Anglo-Jewry concentrated on tracing the earliest generations of settlers and compiling hagiographic accounts of the institutions. Comment was made on the existence among the papers of the Society of a lecture arguing that there may have been Jews in Roman Britain (Shimon Applebaum, Trans JfHSE XVII [1953] 189-205); let it perhaps be remembered that this was a paper prepared and delivered by an Israeli scholar of the Roman Empire, and that it has been suggested that at another stage in his career he produced another paper proving that there were indeed no Jews in Roman Britain! The second of these restrictions was in effect a by-product of the Zionist revolution, a convention that little attention should be paid to studies which tend to show inherent life in the Diaspora communities. I would like to turn to another American historian of Anglo-Jewry, Lloyd Gartner. In a lecture he gave to this society a few years ago he suggested a different approach, postulating an organic link within Anglo-Jewish historiography over the past century, marking the essential continuity of the community (see Trans JHSE XXIX [1988] 297-309). Even though those he looked to might be termed a 'new wave' of Anglo-Jewish historians with new attitudes to history, there was still continuity, what Gartner termed a basic faith in Jewish existence within democratic British society. Gartner points to a significant feature of Anglo Jewish historiography, namely how it has reflected the ways in which historians of the 'host society' have themselves changed in the ways they look at themselves. If we ourselves are now much more conscious of such issues as labour history, women's history, or even the place of immigrants within a larger society, that is a reflection of the ways in which these topics have entered the agendas of wider society. The historians of that wider society do not ignore the writings of a previ? ous age. It is true that little modern historical writing outside the Jewish commun? ity notices certain topics - Jewish-Christian relations, cultural and religious his 221</page><page sequence="8">Aubrey Newman tory, and the post-immigrant generation. It is also true that non-Jews have been little interested in our history; although medievalists talk of economics and expul? sion, topics such as the Resettlement, emancipation and immigration win only cursory notice. And I well remember, having produced two conference volumes and begun a history of the United Synagogue, that one of my then colleagues in the History Department suggested that the only way to obtain academic pre? ferment was to concentrate on 'proper' (i.e. 18th-century British) history. There, surely, is a condemnation of non-Jewish historians for failing to understand the significance of Jewish history. Perhaps that might be regarded as a failure fully to explain the significance of minority history. And yet are not all minorities comparable, whether they are black, female or Jewish? One of the features of recent years has been the ways in which Anglo-Jewish historiography has come to terms with modern historical trends elsewhere, even though, as I would suggest, some of the accusations of so-called obscurantism have been misplaced. To take one example: a comment that when Roth compiled the catalogue of United Synagogue Archives he displayed his narrowness and antiquarianism by remarking that 1870 was an acceptable cut-off point so far as the catalogue was concerned. But Roth was writing in 1930. Does nobody now remember that until comparatively recently there was a fifty-year rule by which archives were closed until those fifty years had passed? And does no one realize that many of the post-1870 archives were still then very much in use? It is clear that we are nowadays much more aware of contemporary problems and of the need for scholars to absorb responses to such problems in our work, to be aware of the wider range of materials we need to examine as well as of the need to use new techniques. Who could once have thought of using rabbinical responsa to throw light on the problems of 19th-century migration? Who is now prepared to question the use of computer analysis to examine the census data or migration registers in analysing the social background of late-19th-century Jewish populations? I spoke earlier of the work of our former and lamented president, Vivian Lipman. In many ways his career not only, and obviously, spans much of this time, but it also shows the ways in which he participated in changing the nature of Jewish historiography. So far from being afraid of medieval history, he was ready to comment on a hitherto unknown Latin charter or Starr, and indeed was fully capable of doing so. Yet he had made his early career outside history, not even taking a History degree. If one looks at his range of works - a history of medieval Norwich Jewry, a study of Anglo-Jewish social services, and further writings that took such history to the present; comparative analyses of Jewish suburbia - all these, together with his understanding of Jewish social history and an ability to analyse patterns for future research, then one can see how he epitom? ized, in an exemplary way, what is expected of Anglo-Jewish historians. In a conference in 1962 he laid down suggestions for future research - the need for 222</page><page sequence="9">The historiography of Anglo-Jewry, 1892-1992 study of the provinces; the need to analyse working-class institutions and general organizations within the community; the need to find answers within Anglo-Jewry to its contemporary problems; the need above all to establish relationships between Anglo-Jewish history and general British history as well as with the broad stream of Jewish history in general - all these crucial points were signposted. Should we be looking at census returns? Vivian said so in 1962, long before most had begun that work. Should we be taking steps to safeguard our vital archival and record materials? Look at that 1962 conference and see this pointed to as incisively as one could wish. And when you read the last work he published, his analysis of modern-British Jewry since 1858, you will see there a mixture of balanced judge? ments based on a lifetime's knowledge and understanding. It is no work of polemic, and he prefers not to air arguments and differences of opinion unneces? sarily within the community, which make no difference to the story he wishes to tell. In 1977 I said that this Society had shown itself aware of the need to foster the skills necessary to master the sorts of materials that throw light on recent history. In the years since then we have tried to do so. There has been an enorm? ous increase in writing Anglo-Jewish history. If many more of the university trained historians who are writing are still unfortunately lacking in university positions, that (as I have said earlier) is only in part the fault of the community - certainly not of this Society. There has been also an enormous upsurge of interest in Jewish history at a local and provincial level. Here in London, in Edmonton, is one outstandingly successful local-history society, and there are other such groups in Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Birmingham who have produced local histories and have made themselves responsible for the preserva? tion of local archives. Without such enthusiasm the world of Anglo-Jewish histori? ography would have little future. We, as historians and as members of this Society, have an over-riding duty to encourage the research and writing of the history of Anglo-Jewry. The methods of research and writing, the approaches we make to the past will change. Just as universities train new undergraduates, so the Society will see new historians appearing. They will have new techniques, above all they will ask new questions. That is absolutely right and proper. And it is equally right and proper that the newcomers should examine the attitudes and assumptions of the past. But what each generation of historians has the right to expect of its successors is that their own work be properly considered. There is no way of knowing what will be said at the equivalent meeting of this Society in 2092; we can only hope that there will be such a meeting. We must hope that our own writings will be respected a century hence, and that above all they will be regarded as relevant to the issues then regarded as significant. This paper has been intended in part as a tribute to a dear friend and colleague. I hope that he would have agreed with much of what has been said. He probably 223</page><page sequence="10">Aubrey Newman would have disagreed with our verdict on his achievement. But in any discussion of the historiography of Anglo-Jewry over the past hundred years there can be no doubt of the exemplary value of the work of Vivian Lipman. 224</page></plain_text>