< Back

The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993

Raymond Kalman

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993* R. P. KALMAN The year 1993, that marks the centenary of the establishment of this Society, is also the bicentenary of the passage of 'An Act for the encouragement and Relief of Friendly Societies' on 21 June 1793. Some have claimed that such societies are functional descendants of the medieval guilds, as are their collateral organiza? tions the trade unions.1 There are those who would go even further back, for some societies, reminiscent of the Freemasons, claim descent from biblical times. The Loyal Ancient Order of Oddfellows was said to have its origins in the reign of the Emperor Nero. The Antediluvians laid claim to even greater antiquity, while there were Foresters who counted Adam as the 'First Forester'.2 Margaret Fuller comments: 'working men's associations, incorporating the characteristics of both friendly societies and trade unions to varying extents, arose at a time when the ... craft gilds had lost their hold on industry. ... During the 16th and 17th centuries there were many combinations of journeymen outside the gilds [which] could not . .. conduct and control industry as the craft gilds had done, and the hierarchy of masters, journeymen and apprentices was therefore not appropriate to them, but they could and did adopt other smaller administrative details.'3 It seems most likely that the friendly societies in the form with which we are familiar derive directly from village 'box clubs' of the seventeenth century, volun? tary associations with membership fees which formed a fund from which members could draw when sickness prevented them from working. They met at regular intervals for purely social reasons and this, combined with mutual health 'insur? ance', distinguished them from other organizations, and appears to have been the most significant influence on the movement which developed from them. The box clubs elected some of their number at intervals to act as club officers, and it was they who held the keys to the locked box in which the subscriptions were held, an arrangement that was a common feature of later friendly societies. Regu? lar meetings were held in public houses. Annual 'feasts' took place, before which the members would process with colours in their hats, bearing garlands, preceded by stave bearers and a band. As all this involved expense in addition to regular subscriptions, it is obvious that membership of these clubs was simply not possible for the unemployed or the poorest.4 This fundamental requirement for society * Paper presented to the Society on 14 October 1993. i4i</page><page sequence="2">R. P. Kaiman membership is too frequently overlooked. Sir Frederick Morton Eden, one of the first to appreciate the importance of the movement, had stated in 1801 that it could be viable only for those who could afford to pay the necessary subscriptions: '[the object of the] Friendly Societies ... is to enable the industrious classes, by means of surplus, or part of the surplus, of their earnings, to provide themselves a maintenance during sickness, infirmity and old age'.5 The societies did not seek to regulate working conditions or wages as they were not trade unions. They were neither political organizations nor were they revolutionary. On the contrary, they and their members sought stability and prosperity. It is difficult to be precise regarding the number of clubs or societies which existed prior to the Act of 1793. Registration of rules under the Act was voluntary. The fact that it offered certain legal advantages to those which did register caused many to do so in increasing numbers. Some registered rules indicate that members of the Jewish community, even if few, were unwelcome. Rule 7 of the Agreeable United Fair, a women's society established in December 1784 which met at 'The Helmet' near Fetter Lane, stated 'that every person, before she is admitted a Member must truly declare .. . that she is not a Jewess, or any but a native of Great Britain and that she professes the Protestant Religion .. .'.6 The Fair Pro? spect Society, established in Blackfriars in July 1794, whose rules were 'allowed in April 1832' when it too met in another public house in Fetter Lane, restricted its membership to 'Protestants, well affected to the King and the British Constitu? tion, in perfect health ... [earning] at least 15s per week'.7 These extracts give an insight into what were standard rules in most societies of the period. Some societies had up to four levels of membership, with distinct admission fees, sub? scriptions and benefits pro rata, thus catering for a wide variety of members and an equally wide ability to pay. One feature of the societies which disturbed moralists was the fact that most held their meetings in public houses, while demanding regular contributions to cover the cost of the drinks consumed. But there is little doubt that regulation was required for practical, rather than moral reasons. Procedures were lax, the management provided by locally elected honorary officers was amateur and inad? equate. Investment of large funds was not widely understood and gave opportunit? ies for fraud and theft. Actuarial calculation of the risk involved in any life-and sickness insurance was still in its infancy. The sheer size and scope of the friendly societies began to provide the raw data from which, together with that provided by the developing insurance companies, accurate actuarial tables began to be developed as we know them today. The advantages which legislation gave to the societies enabled Government to gather detailed information about individual bodies, the names and addresses of their members, the extent of their funds and to retain some control over these. It also gave authority, not always with justifica? tion, to limit the extent of benefits and annuities which the societies could offer. Financial prudence was an undoubted factor, but this control did no harm to the 142</page><page sequence="3">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 emerging insurance companies. The number of registered societies continued to grow, and no less than some '26,000 enrolled or certified since the year 1793 ... until December 1855'.8 The Registrar's Report for 1857 commented that 'very recently a number of societies have formed themselves into what the members of them call an "Order", or Secret Society, to which only the initiated are admissible. These appear in the first instance to have been imitations of Freemasonry .. .'.9 The introduction of these 'Orders' or groupings of societies, their restriction on membership to 'initi? ates', and the adoption of quasi-Masonic ritual were all significant. The groupings marked the competition for members and the realization that management of increasingly large funds could be best provided by economies of scale. The reason for imitating Freemasonry may be that it was considered socially advantageous and that 'secret' matters were felt to encourage comradeship. The smaller individual societies were, in fact, declining and the larger Orders expanding in the period from 1835 t0 J874, as a House of Lords' Select Committee reported.10 By 1872 there were 34 Orders with a total membership of 1,282,27s.11 In 1874 yet another Act was passed. Rules no longer had to be submitted to the local quarter sessions, contributions and benefits could be determined by the societies and not by local justices, central administration was enforced, and the words 'or for any other purpose which is not illegal' were added to the list of permitted aims. This would lead, in time, to some societies changing into formal insurance companies. In 1864 the barrister who certified society rules was given the title and status of Registrar of Friendly Societies. The 1855 Act had removed the prohibition against Orders registering and thus not being recognized or protected under the law. The principal reason for their previous exclusion had been the quasi-Masonic initiation ceremonies, secret pass? words and signs, which had defined them as 'secret societies' banned under the Corresponding Societies and Seditious Meetings Acts. The Act of 1875 '[extended] permitted aims. . . . Registered Societies were to submit to an annual audit of their accounts . . . they were to forward annual returns of receipts and expenditure; quinquennial returns of sickness and mortality were to be made as were quinquennial valuations of assets and liabilities. Failure to comply became a punishable offence .. ,'.12 This Act 'established the system of relationship between friendly societies and the state which remained substantially unchanged until the introduction of the national health scheme in 1911'.13 It is difficult, if not imposs? ible, to see how the notion of any scheme involving a 'partnership' between the State and the insured citizen, with contributions from the latter, could have been introduced with so little difficulty had the basis not been as extensive and familiar as it was through the friendly societies. Whatever the origins, the movement expanded as skilled industrial workers and petits bourgeois did what they could to protect themselves against accident and illness. The societies 'also arose out of a desire to ensure the worker and his 143</page><page sequence="4">R. P. Kaiman family a decent burial ... and to soften the effects of unemployment by paying compensation for loss of work. So it was a miniature social security system, entirely private and voluntary, founded on a sense of solidarity and a desire to escape the ignominious Poor Law by preserving personal independence. In the Friendly Societies one helped and was helped by one's friends.'14 Most of the earliest societies founded by and for immigrants were established in London; as far as Jewish societies are concerned it is not surprising that the first, the Rodphea Sholom (Pursuers of Peace), was established in 1797 in the City. In view of a comment, made in a different context, to the effect that 'in their social organization the Jews assimilated so far with their Christian neighbours as to imitate them without joining them',15 it is necessary to comment on the problems facing anyone interested in specifically Jewish friendly societies. The first is how to identify those which are indeed Jewish. The second is how to ascertain that any particular body is a friendly society and not a benefit, benevolent or other charitable organization. There is the further complication of the branches, or lodges, of non-Jewish Orders whose membership was mainly, or totally, Jewish. To deal with the last difficulty first, the only reasonably reliable way to identify these is by referring to the Jewish Year Books published annually since 1896, or by finding references in the contemporary communal press. While many Jewish societies had reasonably obvious Jewish titles, this is not always the case, and one can make errors if one relies only on names that sound Jewish or biblical. The fact that the word 'Society' is used as a common translation of Chevrah, and actually refers to a small synagogue, or synagogue-based charity, in periodicals or year books, adds to the complication. The confusion which can arise in distinguishing between friendly societies and these other organizations is best illustrated by reference to the Jewish Year Book for 1900-1 and 1902-3. The former lists synagogue-based (and Gemillat Chessed) organizations under 'Metro? politan Charities', while 'Benefit' and 'Friendly Societies' are each listed separ? ately. In the latter, however, 'Benefit and Friendly Societies' are shown together. In addition, several of the societies listed in the 1900-1 Year Book under 'Benefit Societies' are actually friendly societies. Not all true friendly societies actually registered their rules in the early years and relatively few rules have survived. It is only by examining the rules that one can be certain that any particular society was indeed Jewish, since such societies were exclusively Jewish, and, indeed, marriage to a non-Jewish spouse was usually a cause for immediate expulsion. Most, if not all, Jewish societies included benefits such as 'Confined Mourning' or Shivah benefit, the cost of attendance by a rabbi, and similar benefits in connec? tion with traditional religious practice and custom. Why did members of the Jewish community establish specifically Jewish friendly societies, and why were they so popular? The question is particularly relevant as so little attention has been given to the subject. (A possible exception, of political rather than specifically Jewish interest, has been shown in some recent publica 144</page><page sequence="5">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 tions regarding the unique Workers' Circle Friendly Society, of which more later.) There is an ancient Jewish obligation to assist the poor, widows, orphans and the elderly. It is also certain that experience forced individual Jews and communities to learn to rely upon themselves; any state support was minimal and not easily available to Jews, even if they wanted to take advantage of it. There is also the ancient tradition of the synagogue serving as the major focus of communal life. Membership fees, no matter how small, often supplemented by donations from wealthier members, offered many basic benefits in time of need. Similarly, assist? ance during religious festivals, as well as the means to celebrate them, such as matzos at Passover, was regularly provided. The very form and structure of the friendly societies lent themselves to enthusiastic adoption by those Jews who wished to insure themselves. The legal and financial advantages of registered societies had additional appeal. As already noted, the early societies commonly included in their rules the requirement for members to be 'of the Protestant religion', and there were instances of the specific exclusion of Jews as members. It must be remembered that, unlike any other type of insurance organization, where the only involvement was the payment of premiums, the friendly societies included regular social activity. They provided unique opportunities for members to meet within a close circle of friends, much as the earlier village box clubs, and such opportunities were infrequent other than at synagogue services. Society meetings, however, were usually held at public houses. While the aims and meeting places of the societies were secular, those estab? lished in the early, pre-1881 period, still acknowledged the centrality of the syn? agogue and entrusted their funds to some of the principal synagogues of the day. Among the archives of the United Synagogue, in the Greater London Record Office, is the Deposit Book of 'The Society called Sons of Israel' dating from 1840.16 Its flyleaf certifies 'that the said Society has deposited into the hands of the Treasurer of the Great Synagogue from time to time certain sums the whole now amounting to Two hundred and twenty pounds . . .'. A ledger from the New Synagogue for 1816-18 is thus described in the catalogue: 'Many entries relate to deposits by various Jewish bodies in the metropolis, charitable and pious, such as the Loyal and Independent Lodge of Goodfellows, the United Brothers of Rodfea Sholom, Meshibat Nefeth . . .'.17 This ledger contains no less than twenty five accounts relating to funds deposited by friendly societies and other charitable and benevolent organizations, including the 'Hevrat Ahavat Achim Benifit [sic] Society', the 'Hevrat Benifit [sic] M'Shivat Nefesh' and 'The Loyal Knights of the Cushion'. Much of the detail, notes and comments in these accounts, as in the rest of the ledger, are in Yiddish. Mention has been made of the Rodphea Sholom, the subject of a paper delivered to this Society on 21 January 1929 entitled 'Notes upon the first Jewish Friendly Society in England'. The author, B. A. Fersht, stated that this had its origins in a traditional synagogue-based charitable institution and that provisions 145</page><page sequence="6">R. P. Kaiman were made in the rules for the appointment of a rabbi. The rules provided for the rabbi to 'expound on every Sabbath day the certain portion of the Law or the Prophets, etc., by way of a lecture' (for which he received ?3 per year). '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 ... for which he shall be allowed Five Shillings each time out of the Box. .. . Ten Members are to be drawn as they stand in the book alphabetically to attend the said Lecture. ... 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 dispute) shall be sold to the highest bidder. ...' 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.' In contrast, indicating that this pious society condoned rather odd behaviour, a later amendment to the Rules allowed 'nourishment' as a benefit which included 'Oysters, if prescribed by the Doctor'. Members on the sick fund could not leave home without a walking voucher (it was a common rule of the societies that sick benefit claimants had to obtain permission to leave their sick bed), but 'the member could secure a walking voucher to go to an ale-house'.18 The importance of these early friendly societies can be seen from the many inscriptions bearing their names on tombstones. The Western Synagogue cemetery at Brompton Road, West London, includes 'that of Abraham Collis - aged 83 - a member of the Hebrath Ahavath Zedek ve Shalom (Society of Lovers of Righteousness and Peace) ...'. There are also frequent references on the tombstones to another friendly society, called Hebrath Derech Yesharim (the Society of the Way of the Righteous). It should be recalled that most of the early friendly societies were associated with one particular congregation. Barnett also notes that another tomb? stone, 'in the form of a pillar, is that of Isaac Levy (1844 - aged 45 - trustee of the Loyal United Brethren Society'.19 In fact, many societies insisted in their rules that where they had contributed to the cost of the tombstone and the ceremony when it was laid, the name of the society involved had to be shown on the tombstone in both Hebrew and English. The rule can be found in much later, post-1881 societies, for example in the Dr Herzl &amp; Sons of Jerusalem Friendly Benefit Society, established on 9 January 1905 with Registered Office at 71 Chris? tian Street, Commercial Road, London E. Rule 27 states that 'Every deceased shall be entitled to a tombstone to be erected at the head of his grave at the expiration of 30 days (weather permitting) from the day of his death ... and towards the cost of the tombstone the Society shall grant ?1. 10. o. In all cases the name of the Society must be shown in Hebrew and English in front of the said tombstone or the Society shall not pay the allowance for such tombstone.'20 One can still see many examples of societies' names at the Hambro Synagogue 146</page><page sequence="7">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 cemetery in Lauriston Road, Hackney, mainly dating from the 1860s, some only in Hebrew. Inscriptions, usually both in Hebrew and English, may be found also in the Federation of Synagogues cemetery in Edmonton and the United Synagogue cemeteries in Plashet and East Ham. Tombstones in the three last named record more than twenty different societies between them, dating from 1816 to 1928. The status conferred by being a founder or honorary officer of a society is shown by the recording of full details of the office held. The association between a society and a particular congregation was maintained by post-1881 immigrants even more directly by their being the actual founders of several synagogues. 'The names of other synagogues reflected the particular purpose of those who had established them: the Sons of the Covenant Friendly Society (Hope Street); the Holy Calling Benefit Society (16 New Court, Fashion Street).'21 Another synagogue which belonged to the Federation of Synagogues was at 19 Princes (now Princelet) Street, one of the original founding congrega? tions of that organization. 'The synagogue is said to have been founded here in 1862 on migration from Fashion Street. It first appears in the Post Office Direct? ory in 1871, as the United Friends (a friendly society) Synagogue.'22 Contrary to some authorities, one can read of societies and branches of orders being established outside Stepney and Mile End, as well as in the provinces, from the turn of the century. Their records show the addresses of founders, trustees and honorary officers, many with distinctively Eastern Euro? pean names, in the increasingly fashionable districts of North and Northeast London. Soho, Holborn and the Central-West-London districts, together with Bayswater, Maida Vale and other Northwest districts are also mentioned with increasing frequency. There were many reasons other than purely financial ones for the extraordinary growth of Jewish societies. Having discovered the friendly societies from their predecessors, the newer settlers were soon aware not only that these organizations were helpful as providers of the insurance they required, but that they could exclude non-Jewish members, as was only too welcome to those who instinctively feared and distrusted non-Jews. In spite of being secular the societies could also satisfy purely religious require? ments. They had initiation ceremonies, regalia, ritual, secret passwords, honor? ary officers with impressive titles, and one could even join a society with one's friends and relatives to form a type of landsmannschafi. It is little wonder that many of the newer arrivals might have felt that they were achieving a sort of social status and taking the first steps towards becoming part of their new country, while staying safely within the company of fellow-Jews. If one was provident and had a little money to spare, it was possible to progress from being a 'greener' to becoming a member of a legally recognized British organization. While those in the higher social scale might aspire to Freemasonry, the majority could achieve something similar, but far homelier, by joining a friendly society. In time they might have greater status by becoming a founder 147</page><page sequence="8">R. P. Kaiman member of a new society, or a new lodge of one of the Jewish Orders, and a committee member, leading to honorary office. This would allow them to receive an impressive title, to be cognizant with 'secret' passwords and ritual, and to wear regalia. They could then be photographed in their finery and thus be recorded for family posterity. Mention has been made of some societies resembling landsmannschaflen. To give just a few examples from the many at the turn of the century, there was the Radom Society (established in Soho), the Brethren of Biala, of Bresk, of Cour land, of Vilna, the Hebrew Austrian Benefit, the Kutner Hebrew Benefit, the Lodz Sick Benefit, the Lubliner Hebrew Tontine, and the Lublin Hebrew Tontine (the former met at the 'Black Bull' in Old Montague Street, the latter at the 'Royal Oak' in Plumber's Row), the Ozorkow Benefit, the Plotzker Divisional Benefit and the United Brethren of Turik Friendly Benefit.23 There is, however, little evidence that membership was restricted to those who originated in these particu? lar towns, nor did they have the aims, objectives, or ethos of the landsmannschaflen of New York in the same period.24 As has been mentioned, the Jewish Year Book is a useful source for finding Jewish societies and observing their growth, even allowing for errors and omis? sions. The first edition in 1896 lists only 3 possible societies, although several in existence at that time have been omitted.25 The 1900-1 edition lists no fewer than 98 societies of various types, of which 6 were Orders, with some 49 branches between them throughout the country.26 Five are 'Courts' or branches of the non-Jewish Ancient Order of Foresters and 8 are branch lodges of the quaintly named Hebrew Order of Druids. The 1927-8 edition gives fewer details, listing only 48 societies and Orders. However, it does mention the Association of Jewish Friendly Societies, to which 34 individual societies and 3 Orders were affiliated. The Association is shown as 'representing the interests of more than 50,000 members of Jewish friendly societies. Even allowing for some multiple member? ship and possible statistical exaggeration, this is an impressive figure remembering that the total Jewish population of this country at that time was some 300,ooo.'27 Enthusiasm for expansion often overtook sound practice and many small societ? ies merged, joined one of the Orders, or struggled for a time and closed. For instance, two small societies, both established in Stepney at the beginning of the century and both probably Zionist, to judge by their names - the Independent Dr Herzl Friendly Benefit Society and the Sons of Jerusalem Friendly Benefit Society - merged in February 1905. Two years later, in February 1907, The Mantle Makers' Sick Benefit Society, also established in Stepney and with only forty-six members, transferred to the two which had merged. Later the same year, in December 1907, the Herzl Nordau Zionist Friendly Benefit Society, with eighteen members, transferred to the three previously merged societies. On 31 August 1913 the four merged societies held an Annual General Meeting at which it 'requested the Registrar to cancel its Registration' and advertised the Request, 148</page><page sequence="9">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 dated 23 January 1914, 'that it is a branch of the Grand Order of Israel Friendly Society'.28 These four tiny London societies were more fortunate than some, in that one assumes that the Order enabled them to continue, even if only as a lodge or branch. Others took the same course in order to preserve their existence. The Ancient Order of Zion Friendly Society, an Order in its own right, originally registered in December 1907, requested the Registrar to cancel its registration in March 1913, on the grounds 'that the two Lodges constituting the above Order have become branches of the Independent Order of Beni Brith'.29 The Order Beni (sic) Brith Avroham - Sons of the Covenant of Abraham - Friendly Society, either an Order or a simple society, was based in East London and registered in October 1902. It was dissolved in August 1908, at which date it had fourteen members. Its assets and liabilities filed on dissolution are shown as 'Nil'.30 One further example will be sufficient: the Ancient Order of Mount Sinai Society. Registered in February 1898 off Aldgate, all three founding Trustees were tailors. The first, Morris Cohen, lived in New Road, E.; the second, Harris Lewis, lived in Theobalds Road, Bloomsbury; and the last, Jacob Rosenberg, lived in Great Prescot Street, Whitechapel. Mr Rosenberg was incidentally illiterate, for he 'made his mark' on the founding document. This Order had 6 Lodges with 364 members in 1901 and 4 Lodges with 298 members in 1904. It was dissolved in September 1905. Its final statement shows assets of less than ?60 and liabilities of ?3. 1 os 6d.31 An examination of those Rule Books which have survived, whether of Jewish societies or Orders, usually refer to ritual in some way, even if details are rarely given. The most frequent reference is contained in the statement that members would not be entitled to claim benefits unless of the 'Second' or 'Third Degree'. Ritual is also implied by references to secret passwords and to those officials responsible for their transmission to members. The quite extraordinarily elaborate titles of the officials and their duties gives one a better understanding of how they saw themselves in terms of social achievement and how important ritual was to preserve their self-imposed 'exclusiveness'. One can find many examples, but two only will be given here, from the Rule Books of The Order of Beni Brith Avroham and The Ancient Order of Mount Sinai. The constitution of the first provided for no fewer than 16 officials, ranging from the Grand Noble Commander and 4 lesser Grand Nobles, 3 Grand Trustees, and 2 each of the Degree of Grand Auditors, Deacons, Guardians and Deputy Deacons. While there are no specific references in this Order's rules to degrees of membership, passwords or ritual, the existence of Deacons and Guardians is evidence that all of these offices are directly concerned with lodge ritual. The Rule Book of the second provided for 11 officials. At their head was the Grand President of the Order, with a Grand Vice President, Treasurer and Secretary to assist. There were, in addition, 3 Trustees, 2 Marshals, a Recording Secretary and an Inside Guardian. The Rules of this Order refers to 'grip [i.e. secret handshake], password, or sign' and to 149</page><page sequence="10">R. P. Kaiman penalties should any 'brother make [these] known to any person not duly and regularly a member of the Order'. There are also references to the 'Three Degrees'. While I have never seen any openly published examples of Jewish friendly society grips, passwords or ritual, examples do exist, of which I have copies, relating to the largest Order in this country, The Independent Order of Oddfel? lows, Manchester Unity. Three small booklets contain the 11 grips and handsigns, with references to 4 degrees, White, Blue, Scarlet and Gold; the 'Duties of Lodge Officers', which actually sets out lodge ritual; and the Order's 'Ritual', 'For the Use of Lodge Members', which sets out the whole of the ritual and ends with details of the 'Initiation Ceremony'. From enquiries it appears that all are direcdy based on Freemasonry. As Masonic 'secret ritual' is by definition closely guarded, only a Mason can be certain just how close the resemblances are. There is no such secrecy concerning Masonic regalia, and friendly-society regalia, Jewish or otherwise, has clearly been copied from Freemasonry. (See examples of these items in Plates 1-3.) Examples of officers' or committee members' decorative collars, with their distinctive badges of office, appear on the market from time to time, and many examples of lodge group photographs show the various types of regalia. Far rarer and less frequently seen are the quasi-Masonic Jewish friendly society 'aprons and gauntlets'. A Jewish society apron was on display in Leicester's Jewish Community Centre, while I have in my collection a pair of gauntlets from the Grand Order of the Sons of Jacob. The growing importance of friendly societies in communal life was formally acknowledged by the English Zionist Federation in 1916. In January of that year it convened a Conference at Toynbee Hall, East London, at which 'over eighty delegates, comprising ten Rabbis, Presidents of the Synagogues and Trade Unions and Friendly Societies were present.'32 As already noted, some Jewish societies had openly declared their Zionist support earlier and demonstrated it in their society names. Throughout January and February 1916 tht Jewish Chronicle reported the constant efforts of the Federation to persuade the Jewish friendly society movement to join it formally, thus emphasizing the central role which the former played in the community. Eventually, as reported on 10 March 1916, 'It was decided to write to the Federation in the following terms:- The Council of the United Jewish Friendly Societies, while expressing sympathy with Zionist aims, do not see that they can link themselves with an organisation existing solely to promote the specific objects of Zionism. The views of the Council .. . are contained in the following resolution which was passed at the Jewish Friendly Societies' conference on 15 August last .... All individual societies comprising the Council of the United Jewish Friendly Societies are open to membership of Zionists, who, by that means could propagate their ideas and objects in the Jewish Friendly Society Movement.'33 Some may see the Council's decision as another example of the unwillingness of the Anglo-Jewish 'establishment' to lead the community. But the leadership of 150</page><page sequence="11">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 Plate 1 President's Collar, Order of Achei Brith and Shield of Abraham Friendly Society, Princess of Wales (Ladies') Lodge No. 25, worn by Sister R. Finestein, 1933-4. (Author's collection.) the Jewish friendly societies by that time included many fairly recently arrived immigrants and Whitechapel was more evident than Bayswater. The Council's reply was entirely in accordance with the long non-political traditions of the friendly-society movement generally. Other than the publicity value which formal support would have given to the Federation, its practical value would have been doubtful. In any event, the decision left the door open to any individual society member to 'propagate their ideas and objects', but whether within or outside a society is unclear. 151</page><page sequence="12">R. P. Kaiman "'" ^ ^^^^^^^^^^ tSBmutttnttEKEEKEBB ,. . .^?^r^-z'M^iik^s^^_ Plate 2 Grand President's Collar, United Jewish Friendly Society, worn by Brother L. Starr, 1960-1. (Author's collection.) 152</page><page sequence="13">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 ^^^^^^^^ ^?^^f7^ Plate 3 Grand Lodge Member's and Trustee's Collar, United Jewish Friendly Society, worn by Brother L. Starr, i960. (Author's collection.) 153</page><page sequence="14">R. P. Kaiman The importance of the movement was acknowledged by the Board of Deputies, whose membership was restricted to those elected or nominated to represent synagogal congregations. After the First World War representation was extended to include institutional membership, and among the first in this category were Jewish friendly societies. By 1922 the Association of Jewish Friendly Societies, together with no fewer than six Orders, had deputies at the Board. Years earlier, on 22 November 1874, no less a personage than the Chief Rabbi, The Very Revd Dr Nathan Marcus Adler, opened a meeting at the Jews' Infant School. His son, Marcus Adler, delivered a lecture extolling the virtues and importance of the Chevras and friendly societies. It should be remembered that this meeting took place some years before the great Eastern European immigration that so greatly increased the country's Jewish population. Adler's estimates are noteworthy: There are some 2,500 members of the Hebras and minor synagogues; 2,200 members of the simple friendly societies, of which 1,000 belong to the female societies; 700 to the Jewish Courts of the Order of Foresters; 800 (say 300 heads of families) belong to the medical aid societies; 500 to the trade societies; 500 to the Friendly Societies not exclusively Jewish such as the Royal Liver Society, and the non-Jewish Courts of the Odd Fellows and foresters; to which I add, say, 700 Jews resident in other parts of the United Kingdom. These then make a grand total of 8,400. Deducting, say, 3,400 for those who might be members of more than one class of society we have a total of 5,000 Jewish working men making provision for the exigencies of life. We may thus infer that some 15,000 to 20,000 individual Jewish souls are interested in this country in friendly societies. This is without taking into consideration of the very large number who belong to the Motso associations, the savings banks and other provident institutions. With respect to the building societies, whilst I do not think that there are any exclusively composed of Jews, there must be at least a score of them, a large proportion of whose members are Jews.34 Marcus Adler was a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, Fellow and Vice President of the Institute of Actuaries, a Founder of the London Mathematical Society and Actuary to the Alliance Assurance Company. His grasp of the signi? ficance and importance of Jewish society membership, not least in relation to the number of families which it represented, is unrivalled by later historians. If one assumes that the Jewish population of London in the 1870s was approximately some 45-46,ooo,35 and accepts Adler's estimate of'a total of 5,000 working men making provision for the exigencies of life', the significance of the societies is even greater. If some were indeed members of more than one society (as was also claimed twenty-five years later) obviously a relatively high proportion of London's Jewish workers could afford the regular contributions required. Adler's reference to 'the Motso associations' is interesting. With the popular development of the friendly-society movement generally at the end of the 19th century, their aims and objectives also developed and expanded. Many were very far from those originally conceived, and some were equally distant from those with which we may associate the movement today. As it was within the power of 154</page><page sequence="15">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 the Registrar to allow 'Special Authorities', or new objectives, his Report for 1890-1 lists thirteen of them, all granted between May 1876 and April 1890 and often regularizing changes which had already occurred. They include: To create funds ... to be lent out to or invested for, the members of a society, or for their benefit. Assisting members out of employment. [No mention here of sickness.] Protecting and defending members of any lawful trade or calling against frivolous, vexatious or mali? cious persecution and in the cases of robbery, and other crimes, affording them legal or other assistance for the detection and prosecution of the offenders. Promoting agriculture and horticulture. The playing of quoits. The promotion of literature, science and the fine arts. The encouragement and promotion of the riding of bicycles. Enabling persons of the Jewish religion to provide for the due celebration of the Passover and for expenses incurred at Passover.36 Official recognition of the special needs of the members of Jewish societies is also reflected in the inclusion of the fact that societies were permitted to make payment during the period of confined mourning, as mentioned in the 1896 Act. Adler's lecture in November 1874, and his estimates and comments, should be compared with the articles which appeared in the Jewish Chronicle on 29 December 1899, the report on an interview with the Registrar himself in the issue of 11 October 1901, and a series of articles which followed, the first in the same issue of 11 October and then in the issues of 18 October and 8 November. These appear to be the last serious attempt to ascertain the size of Jewish membership in the movement and its significance in the community. The first article referred to the Chevras and friendly societies, grouping them together as Adler had in 1874, and estimated that there were 'at least 150 friendly societies, with a mem? bership of at least 25,000 and total funds of some Forty thousand Pound ...', adding that during 1899 'Chevras had been established in Kensington, Notting Hill, Manor Park and East Ham'. The article noted that 'more than half belong to two, three and even more friendly benefit societies'.37 The interview with the Registrar contained nothing but praise for Jewish involvement in the movement and for Jewish thrift, and he was reported as commenting that 'it would be interesting to know what are the numbers of the Jewish members of friendly societies. Some would place the figure at 10,000 and more ...'. While he was satisfied with the Jewish societies and Jewish involvement generally, and commented that most of them were financially satisfactory, the Jewish Chronicle had some reservations. Its correspondent stated that 'it is likely ... that some members of Jewish friendly societies may not altogether share this optimistic view. I believe that there are gentlemen who regard the financial situation of even the bulk of these bodies as being exceedingly unfa? vourable, just as there are some who would hold strongly that the banding together of foreign Jews from the same town into a friendly society tends to withdraw them from the influence of English Associations, to confirm their foreign prejudices 155</page><page sequence="16">R. P. Kaiman or peculiarities and to retard Anglicisation.'38 These observations are important, because they represent contemporary attitudes which, even if prejudiced, confirm a number of matters. The first is that the more recent 'foreign' immigrants had become closely identified with the expanding Jewish societies within twenty years of their mass arrival. The second is that far from the societies being vehicles for assimilation, the creation of their own small societies, together with those 'from the same town', were actually seen as tending to preserve their own special iden? tity. One is struck, yet again, by the fact that a significant number of fairly recently arrived immigrants were capable of undertaking the financial responsibility involved in society membership. This appears to contradict the widely held view that the immigrants arrived and remained poverty-stricken. The two articles that appeared in the Jewish Chronicle of 18 October and 8 November 1901, entitled 'Communal Activity Expressed in Figures' and 'Jewish Friendly Societies - Statistics of Membership and Funds',39 were recently used to justify the following comments: 'The Jewish friendly societies did indeed experience a breathtaking renaissance in the 1880s and 1890s. By 1901 there were no less than 176 such societies in London alone, with over 26,000 members (mostly male) on their books .. . But friendly societies catered for those in regular work and could never act as weapons of industrial bargaining.'40 As friendly societ? ies were not trade unions this criticism is inappropriate. The author fails to relate the size of the membership to London's Jewish population in 1901 (between 140,000 and i50,ooo).41 Some 15,000 families, or nearly half of that population, had potential social insurance, hardly an insignificant percentage. The same art? icles indicated that some 3600 could afford to belong to two or more societies, revealing the financial status of at least part of the capital's Jewish population. An article which appeared in the Amateur Historian in 1957, by Eric Hobsbawm, stated that 'Friendly Societies are a particularly suitable field for the amateur historian . . . they face the student with few great technical problems . . . few towns or villages are without some Friendly Societies . . . they have been surprisingly and quite unnecessarily neglected by professional historians, so that the amateur has a very reasonable chance of taking part in pioneering work of research.'42 One can only comment that the little which has been done by professional historians shows even less understanding of the subject. It is certainly the case that there was considerable interest from the mid-17th to the end of the 19th centuries.More than forty books on the subject, published between 1800 and 1904, are listed in the British Library catalogues, not to mention many earlier essays and sermons. All relate to the friendly societies of this country, although many are by Contin? ental authors. It is noteworthy that nothing of any significance was published after Baernreither's seminal English Associations of Workingmen in 1889, unul Gosden's The Friendly Societies in England, 1815-1875 in 1961. Research shows that Georg Halpern's Die J?dische Arbeiter in London, published in 1902, is the only work which deals with the subject of Jewish friendly societies in any depth, and pre 156</page><page sequence="17">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 dates their greatest development. It is sufficient to note here that the societies were correctly associated with the 'industrious classes' and, less justifiably, with the post-1881 immigrants. Apart from other groupings which developed into trade unions, some societies were overtly political. Non-Jewish societies, principally in Liverpool and Glasgow, restricted membership to Protestant supporters of the Orange Order. Similarly, some Jewish societies were linked with or affiliated to the Jewish National Move? ment and associated with the English Zionist Federation. The most noteworthy was the Order of Ancient Maccabeans, established in Manchester in 1892. Forty seven years later the continuing strength of that attachment was reflected in the fact that the Honorary Grand Commander was Israel Sieff and the Grand Com? mander Professor Selig Brodetsky. At that date the Order had thirty-one branches, or Beacons, only two of which were in London.43 A small society in Merthyr did not bother to conceal its involvement, and as early as 1901 its name was the Merthyr Jewish Friendly and Zionist Society.44 Another, founded at Ham? mersmith Synagogue in 1901, formally changed its name from the Hammersmith and West Kensington Zionist Mutual Aid Society by adding the word 'and' between 'Zionist' and 'Mutual' after so many non-Zionists had joined that it was deemed necessary to indicate that it had two distinct sections.45 The only Jewish society which was clearly identified with non-Jewish party politics was The Workers' Circle, established in London in 1908. It was not officially registered as a recognized society until 1915, having redrafted and resub mitted its rules several times to the Registrar. It was 'the result of the amalgama? tion of two tiny organizations in East London with similar names, ideals and membership .... They were two small groups of young socialist-minded Jewish immigrants from Tzarist Russia who were motivated to combine for the purposes of self-education, literary work and self-help in times of sickness and unemploy? ment. They looked to find likely followers among those progressive working-class Jews who did not fit in with the existing Jewish Friendly Societies, with their religious and petit-bourgeois bias.' That verbatim quotation, from the Jubilee Brochure of the Circle in 1969, is an interesting comment on the many thousands of working people who comprised the membership of the Jewish societies. It is contrary to much of what has been written and said about their allegedly socialist views. This society has probably received more attention from Anglo-Jewish his? torians in recent times than any other. It is not difficult to see the reasons. What is more interesting than its socialism is the absence of the customary requirement in Jewish societies that members be identifiably Jewish. Other conditions took precedence: 'Trade Unionism has always been part of the life of Circle members. All applicants for membership were asked if they were Trade Union members. All through the existence of the Circle, leadership and assistance, both financial and propaganda, were given when on strike or in other difficulties.'46 It was what the brochure euphemistically called 'self education' and 'literary work' which 157</page><page sequence="18">R. P. Kaiman caused the delay between its application to register in 1911 and the Registrar's acceptance in 1915. 'Educational Aims' had to be omitted from the rules since this was justifiably construed as referring to political education and propaganda. The delay in applying between 1908 and 1911 may be due to the habitual ambival? ence of the Circle towards the 'establishment'. Alternatively, it may have been thought beneficial to register with the advent of the first National Insurance Act in 1911. In 1912 a short-lived Division (Branch) was formed in East London by a group of young Russian Communists. The Diamond Jubilee Brochure, from which all of these details and following quotations come, is a recital of the most important events of the sixty years from 1908. It reads more like the history and development of a left-wing Socialist Party in some Third World country than that of a friendly society, Jewish or otherwise. However, it must be said that the intellectual honesty is undoubted and the aims and objectives unambiguous, without apology or con? cealment. In 1917, for example, it is recorded that 'this was a year of special significance for the Circle's members who had different ideas about the events surrounding the Revolution in Russia'. In 1922, 'Branch 3 started a school for young people (mainly members' children) where Yiddish was taught against a Socialist and secular background.'47 The school was short-lived, but its emphasis on Yiddish is noteworthy. One of the very few references in its rules to anything specifically Jewish is in Rule 10.1, which stated that the General Secretary 'must have a thorough knowledge of the English and Jewish [sic] languages'.48 In addition to those already mentioned, the Circle was justifiably proud of its cultural activities and social amenities, which probably attracted more members than did its politics. Concerts, amateur dramatics, operatic, choral and orchestral sections were well attended and supported. All of these, together with excellent canteen facilities, made the Circle a popular centre. This may account for the size of the member? ship, which reached 2964 at its peak in 1938, when its opposition to the activities of the British Union of Fascists in East London certainly attracted members. Even the Circle could not avoid one constant Jewish concern, that of burial. In 1927 it 'arranged for those of its members who wished, affiliation for Burial purposes with the West End Chesed V'Emeth Burial Society'.49 This actually provided one of the cheapest methods of ensuring Jewish burial, since one could in this way avoid the expense of synagogue membership. The period from 1933 to 1938 was one of intense Circle activity, as a direct result of the rise in British and Continental Fascism and Nazism. The Circle assisted with Aid for Spain and some of its members fought with the International Brigade in the Spanish Civil War, 'being linked too in its special support for the Naftali-Botwin Battalion, composed of Jews from Poland and other countries'. It overcame its opposition to membership of the Jewish establishment in 1937, when it affiliated to the World Jewish Congress. No mention, however, is made in the brochure that in 1944 the Circle also joined the Board of Deputies. 158</page><page sequence="19">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 The Circle has always been a source of puzzlement for the way in which it joined or avoided the dreaded 'establishment'. In 1933 the Central British Fund was estab? lished as part of Anglo-Jewry's assistance to its co-religionists facing increasing per? secution in Germany. Regular meetings were held to collect funds and also to make the community aware of the problems. Lists were published with the names of sub? scribers and their contributions, and the Jewish friendly societies were active and enthusiastic supporters. The Workers' Circle is not on any list. The only possible explanation is that it could not bring itself to be involved or support any organization which was founded, led or promoted by members of the 'establishment'. However, as the brochure notes in 1939, 'the members accepted a voluntary levy to support 19 orphaned Jewish child victims of Nazism brought to London by the Jewish authorities'. A mysterious note states that in the 1950s 'the Circle was dealt a severe blow by the Registrar who ordered the Society to disaffiliate from all political and similar organisations and to discontinue certain activities'.50 Nothing more is men? tioned and the Circle went into steep decline after 1969, disposed of its premises and eventually closed in 1985. There is little doubt that the Circle was unique among Jewish societies and merits comment. However, much of the attention which it has received has given it an unjustified significance compared to the many less colourful or self-publicizing societies which were in fact of greater importance to their mem? bers and the community. Many feared that the passage of Lloyd George's National Insurance Act in 1911 would mean the end of the friendly-society movement. This did not happen; the authorities indeed utilized the services of the societies as recognized 'collecting societies' under the Act, endorsing the part which they had played in assisting the practical implementation of a plan itself influenced by memoranda originally written by a young civil servant named William Beveridge. He not only played an active part in framing the 1911 Act, but continued with his work, which culmin? ated in the Beveridge plan of 1943. Five years later in 1948, a Labour government, certainly influenced by Beveridge, passed the Act which effectively brought the work of the friendly societies to an end. Some lingered, some changed into ordin? ary insurance companies. Many continued, including several Jewish ones, all sus? tained by that very special element, the 'friendly' or social content which had always made them so different from all other self-help organizations. They became local social organizations, the insurance element no longer of any real importance. The Jewish societies organized fund-raising social events for local and Zionist charities and many continued well into the 1970s. Then they slowly began to disappear, until now only one society and one Jewish order remains, the Grand Order of Israel and Shield of David. Established in 1889, it claimed 14,000 members by 1914 and today still has six Lodges with 1200 members. The value of the contribution made by the movement was acknowledged at the Labour Party Conference in June 1918, when Resolution XXII 'declared for the nationalisation of the whole of assurance and further proposed that the State 159</page><page sequence="20">R. P. Kaiman should develop the insurance business in conjunction with the Friendly Societies and should organise in conjunction with them a "safe and remunerative invest? ment in popular savings" \51 But the principal concern of this paper is with the Jewish societies, and one can do no better than end with an excerpt from the article in the Jewish Chronicle of n October 1901: The Jewish mutual benefit societies, whose doings are not regarded as an integral part of communal activity, and which are viewed with utmost indifference by the non-members of one or other order, form together with great force, in posse, existing in the Anglo-Jewish community. They are at present a scattered force instead of being united.... It is, however, not the purpose of this article to read the societies a lecture, but rather to indicate ... the latent force in these bodies whose prime object is mutual benefit, the provision for the worker in time of sickness, during a Shiva, payment of funeral expenses, tombstone, an allowance in a total sum to the family of a deceased member, or to the member at the death of the member's wife.52 NOTES 1 T. M. Baernreither, English Associations of Workingmen (1889) 158-60. 2 Quarterly Review CXVI (1864) 321-2, in P. H. J. H. Gosden, Self-Help, Voluntary Associations in igth-century Britain (1973), and in R. P. Kaiman, MA Dissertation (London University 1990) 8-9. 3 M. Fuller, West Country Friendly Societies (1964) 3 4 Peter Mathias, The First Industrial Nation (1969) 213. 5 Sir F. Morton Eden, Observations on Friendly Societies (1801) 1. 6 PRO FS1/406A. 7 PRO FS1/406A. 8 Parliamentary Papers, XXIX (1857), 377. 9 Ibid. 379. 10 Royal Commission Report, Parliamentary Papers, xxiii (1874) pt 1. 11 Gosden (see n. 2) 39. 12 Parliamentary Papers, LXIX (1876) 1-141. 13 P. H. J. Gosden, The Friendly Societies in England 1815-1875 (1961) 211. 14 F. Bedarida, A Social History of England, 1851-1875 (1979) 67-8. 15 Ursula R. Henriques (ed.), The Jews of South Wales (1993) 39. 16 US Archives, GLRO, ACC/2712/I/B/270. 17 US Archives, GLRO, Acc/2712/III/B 16. Ledger VI. 18 B. A. Fersht, JHSE Misc. II (1935) 91-4. 19 A. Barnett, The Western Synagogue Through Two Centuries, 1761-1981 (1961) 67-8. 20 PRO FS15/465. 21 G. Alderman, The Federation of Synagogues, 1887-1987(19%-]) 12. 22 Survey of London, Spitalfields &amp; Mile End New Town, xxvii (1957) 188-9. 23 The Jewish Year Book (1902-3) 116-26. 24 H. Kliger, Jewish Home Town Associations &amp; Family Circles in New York (Indiana University 1992) 27-70. 25 The Jewish Year Book (1896) 49-51. 26 The Jewish Year Book (1901) 116-26. 2 7 The Jewish Year Book (192 7-8) 108-10. 28 PRO FS15/465. 29 PRO FS10/3. 30 PRO FS5/29. 31 PRO FS5/20. 32 Jewish Chronicle, 7 Jan. 1916, pp. 16-17. 33 Jewish Chronicle, 10 March 1916, p. 26. 34 Jewish Chronicle, 27 Nov. 1874, pp. 563-4. 35 V. D. Lipman, Social History of the Jews in England, 1850-1950 (1954) 76-7 36 Parliamentary Papers, LXXIX (1890-1) 194-5 37 Jewish Chronicle, 29 Dec. 1899. 38 Jewish Chronicle, 11 Oct. 1901. 39 Jewish Chronicle, 18 Oct. 1901; 8 Nov. 1901, p. 19. 40 G. Alderman, Modern British Jewry (1992) 180. 41 Lipman (see n. 35) 97-9. 42 E. Hobsbawm, The Amateur Historian III: 3 (Spring 1957) 95-9. 43 Jewish Year Book (1939) 80. 44 Jewish Chronicle, 8 Nov. 1901, p. 28. 45 Ibid. i6o</page><page sequence="21">The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993 46 The Workers' Circle, 1909-1969, Diamond Jubilee Brochure (1969). 47 Ibid. L. Prager, Yiddish Culture in Britain (Frankfurt 1990) 127. 48 Rules of the Workers' Circle (reprinted 1953) 14. 49 See n. 46. 50 Ibid. 51 G. D. H. Cole, A History of the Labour Party from 1914 (1988) 70. 52 Jewish Chronicle, 8 Nov. 1901, p. 19. i6i</page></plain_text>