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The Origins of Scottish Jewry

A. Levy

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Origins of Scottish Jewry By A. Levy1 I THE Jewish communities in Scotland, as they are known today, had their origin in the second and third decades of the nineteenth century. In those years Europe was in a state of social and political unrest; and during and following upon the Napoleonic wars a wave of emigration from the continent started westwards, composed of those who were seeking a more stable background than could be found on the European mainland. These refugees from political and economic uncertainties landed, most of them, on the east coast of Great Britain, and it is not surprising to find that the first Jewish community in Scotland developed in Edinburgh in the early years of last century, to be followed closely thereafter by the formation of a sister community in Glasgow. While there is no evidence of any organised Jewish community in Scotiand prior to 1816, there are records of earlier Jewish settlement in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A. M. Hyamson in his A History of the Jews in England quotes Josippon as stating that on the expulsion in 1290 many Jews care also said to have taken refuge in Scotiand' and it is natural to surmise that some of these refugees may have made their way northwards. But this route of escape could hardly have commended itself to many. Despite the 'golden age' in Scotland that preceded the wars of indepen? dence, Jews had not yet spread into that country from the south and lacked Scottish experience and connections. Following the expulsion, England no longer provided a stepping stone for immigrants by land; the disturbed Scottish scene was not such as to encourage direct immigration by sea from the continent. At any rate, there is no record of Jews in Scotland until a very much later date, namely, until the seventeenth century. Professors of Hebrew at Edinburgh : J. C. Otto The earliest individuals of Jewish origin who come to our notice in Scotland were isolated persons in the form of converted Jews. Although some were obscure or nameless, others were teachers in the college and town of Edinburgh, including, as we shall see, the first and third occupants of the Chair of Hebrew and Oriental Languages. Julius Conradus Otto first occupied the Chair of Hebrew and Oriental tongues in 1641. Paulus Scialitti Rabin was in 1665 permitted to reside in Edinburgh and practise as a teacher of oriental languages ; and in 1679 Alexander Amadeus was appointed to the Chair of Hebrew. Although Otto later returned to Judaism each of those linguists was described as a converted Jew. This cannot have been a coincidence. There are records during this period of other persons of more humble status who are described as converted Jews and such conversion appears to have been a prerequisite of recognition by authority. Scotland had, in the seventeenth century, its own Marrano Jews, few in number as they may have been. The first of these teachers is also the earliest known immigrant described as a Jew. He now figures in the Jewish Encyclopedia as the subject of a section of the article Margolioth under the name of Naphtali Margolioth of Vienna. We are told, however, that when he embraced Christianity in 1603 he assumed the name of Julius Conradus 1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 13th January, 1958. J 129</page><page sequence="2">ISO THE ORIGINS OF SCOTTISH JEWRY Otto. According to the Encyclopedia he was born in 1562, became professor of Hebrew at Altdorf and was the author of four learned works published at Nuremberg between 1604 and 1607?Usus Ebreae Linguae, Grammatica Hebraica, Gale Razayah and Lexicon Radicale. Neither in the Encyclopedia nor in the continental bibliographers from whom its information is derived is there any mention of his connection with Scotland; in fact, they give no particulars of his later life or of his death. For his Edinburgh career we depend on the burgh reco