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Jewish National Consciousness in Anglo-Jewry

Jewish National Consciousness in Anglo-Jewry

This is a digest of a lecture and discussion held on 16 May 1981 at the Study Circle on World Jewry

Under the auspices of the President of Israel
edited by Moshe Davis
Shazar Library, Institute of Contemporary Jewry
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Louis Jacobs

Background paper number 3 prepared for

Opening Remarks Yehuda Bauer

Jewish National Consciousness in the Anglo-Jewish Community: an Analysis
Louis Jacobs


Lloyd Gartner
Robert Wistrich
Geoffrey Wigoder
President Navon
Yermiyahu Branover
Bernard Cherrick
Haim Chamiel
Netanel Lorch
Barry Kosmin

Response Louis Jacobs
Participants in the Discussion

Yehuda Bauer Chairman
We are meeting here this evening to continue our series of reports and discussions on the subject of Jewish national awareness in the various Jewish communities. Anglo-Jewry without a doubt has been and still is one of the important branches of the Jewish people; we know that it had a great influence, and still has, on our people. When we talk about questions of national consciousness and Jewish national awareness in particular, there is no doubt that we are facing major problems which are worthy of discussion here. Dr. Louis Jacobs is one of the outstanding personalities in the British rabbinate, who has excelled in scholastic achievements. He was born and raised in England and is undoubtedly a most suitable person to lead our discussion on this subject. He is known to us from his writings which include Jewish Values which appeared in 1960, Principles of the Jewish Faiths which appeared a few years later and is devoted to a study of the Rambam. He has written on Kabbalah, Hassidism and many other Jewish subjects. The topic of his paper this evening is "Jewish National Consciousness in the Anglo- Jewish Community: an Analysis."

Louis Jacobs

Ahad Ha-Am, in his well-known attack on C,G, Montefiore, prefaces his remarks by observing that Judaism in England has been on the whole tranquil, more or less free from the urgent need shown by German Jewry in the 19th century to demonstrate its Westernisation. While there was undoubtedly a struggle for full emancipation in Anglo-Jewry, too, it came eventually without too much anguish and soul-searching. Jews in England (and in this paper we include Scotland, Wales and Ireland) were quickly accepted by the host community and came speedily to see themselves as part of that community. Antisemitism is certainly not unknown in England but it has been far less virulent and hence far less disturbing than the continental variety. The two events which happened since Ahad Ha-Am wrote his essay - the Holocaust and the emergence of the State of Israel - events which have transformed AngloJewish thinking as they have transformed all Jewish thinking, have rendered obsolete Ahad Ha-Am's generalisation. Anglo-Jewry, nowadays, agonises as much as other Jewries on its Jewish identity, especially in its relationship to the State of Israel, yet, unless this is seen to be too paradoxical, it still agonises in tranquility. There is tension in Anglo-Jewish life but it is a quiet tension. It is that of the English gentleman who does not normally get worked up over matters of theory, who prefers to muddle through rather than to promote great schemes, who rarely loses his temper and who is considered, by the 'foreigners' he professes to despise, to be a thorough hypocrite. Be that as it may, of the two components - Anglo and Jewry - the stress has sometimes been placed on the former at other times on the latter.

It has to be appreciated that Jewry's association with the English way of life goes back a long time. There were established Jewish communities in England before the Expulsion at the end of the 13th century and these were re-established after Oliver Cromwell's readmission of the Jews. It is not too exaggerated a claim that, in a sense, the returning Jews in the 17th century saw themselves as coming home,. The desire on the part of Jews to become Englishmen again was not only due. to the natural fears of an estranged minority but was also the product of an inner urge to rediscover the roots of their own being. Except in the area of religion and religious observances, conformity and adaptation to the English way was not generally seen as, in Ahad Ha-Am's terms, 'slavery in the midst of freedom', as the putting on of manacles, the most comfortable form of dress for the slave, but, on the contrary, as a discarding of the artificial shackles of differentiation. One can readily admit that there was a strong element of self-delusion in all this without it affecting the basic contention. English Jews tended to think of themselves as precisely that, Jews who were also Englishmen. The two cultures were seen as entirely compatible, especially since so much in English life had its roots in the Bible and in the Jewish ethic mediated through Christianity. There is no need to rehearse here the account of how Jews became prominent in every walk of British life or of how, for example, the institution of the Chief Rabbinate, under the Adlers, father and son, was closely modelled on the patterns of the Anglican. Church., An amusing comment on this form of cultural assimilation is provided by the episode of Morris Joseph who was prevented by Dr. Hermann Adler from taking up the position of Minister (the term used instead of 'Rabbi' is itself revealing) because Joseph refused to pray for the restoration of sacrifices. The Chief Rabbi, champion of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy, 'inhibited' Joseph from officiating, thus following both the practice of the Anglican Bishops in fighting heresy and adopting the very same methods and terminology they used in the battle. It is rumoured that Hermann Adler even wore gaiters!

Against this background it is easy to see why Dr. Adler once referred to Zionism as an egregious blunder and why the establishment figures in Anglo-Jewry' sought to oppose the Balfour Declaration. But that is only one side of the story. In his famous letter to The Times, Chief Rabbi J.H. Hertz rightly declared that he was speaking for the masses of English Jews and they were solidly behind the idea of a Jewish Homeland. Herzl found many eager supporters in Anglo-Jewry. Weizmann's influence was very pervasive. Zangwill was an eloquent spokesman, iin English, for the Zionist dream, and Herbert Samuel, distinguished English statesman, played an important role in the Balfour Declaration; he became the first British High Commissioner for Palestine. With the mass immigration from Russia in the 1880s the character of Anglo-Jewry itself changed. When their descendants became articulate and took their place in English society, the Jewish aspect of their communal life became dominant and set the pattern for the future. Even before the emergence of the State of Israel, the lay leadership of the community was drawn more from the Anglo-Jews than from the Anglo-Jews, the "Grand Dukes", as they were called, yielding to the democratically elected and more representative figures. In the late thirties the Zionist "caucus" captured the Anglo-Jewish "Parliament" of the Board of Deputies. Once the State of Israel came into being no such "capture" would have been necessary. "We are all Zionists now" became a truism for Anglo-Jewry. British Jews have good reason to be proud of their work for Israel and their efforts on its behalf. The spectre of dual loyalties did not haunt them or strike dread in their hearts, even when the British Government was less than enthusiastic in encouraging Jewish immigration to Palestine, to say nothing of the part they continue to play politically, financially, and by aliyah, in assisting the hope that is Israel.

It can be said, therefore, without fear of contradiction that a powerful "national consciousness" does exist in the Anglo-Jewish community but this is rarely expressed in other than religious form. There has never been in AngloJewry anything approaching the kind of secular Jewish nationalism found, for example, in certain circles in the U.S.A. I have referred to Ahad Ha-Am. This Zionist thinker lived for a time in London, where he was the representative of the renowned tea firm Wissotzky with an office in Mincing Lane. In a letter, Ahad Ha-Am once made the typical remark that he was puzzled by the constant debate and discussion around the question of Reform versus Orthodoxy in Anglo-Jewry since even the Orthodox had perpetrated the most radical reform of all by erecting synagogues without an adjacent Bet Ha-Midrash. He was right in pointing to a degree of indifference to Jewish learning in AngloJewry but he failed to appreciate that the centrality of the synagogue as a place of prayer and worship was due to the Anglo-Jewish understanding of Jewish peoplehood in religious terms. Whether observant or not too observant, whether Reform of Orthodox, the British Jew saw himself as part of a religious community and tended to see the fulfilment of the Zionist vision as part of his religious outlook so that, for instance, to assist the State of Israel was largely for him a religious obligation.

Several factors combined to give a religious direction to Anglo-Jewish life and to the understanding of Jewish peoplehood in religious terms. For one thing a Jewish secularism never caught on in Anglo-Jewry because there was no need for the British Jew to cast off his religion in order to win acceptance by the wider community. Quite the opposite was the case. The host community, nourished on the Bible, its language, based on the Authorised Version, replete with allusions to the Holy Land, the chosen people of God, Jerusalem as the Holy City, the prophetic utterances in which the God of Israel demands justice, righteousness and compassion, saw the Jews as a religious community deserving of respect for upholding the ancient traditions. To be sure there were Jews who opted out of the Jewish community. But those many who remained had no reason for jettisoning the religious content of their Jewishness. In addition, England is the land of tradition, where the judges still dress as they did in the distant past, the Beefeaters in the Tower of London appear as they did in Tudor times, the Queen is the Defender of the Faith, there is regular religious broadcasting on radio and television, the Chief Rabbi and the head of the Reform movement can be invited to dinner at Buckingham Palace, the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge have their beautiful chapels, where religious controversy vies with political for interest and keen participation, and whose literary giants considered religion to be a worthy foe even when they took arms against it. And there is a strong mystical tinge in English life, seen in Herbert, Blake, Jonathan Swift, the metaphysical poets, Von Hogel and Dean Inge and many others in modern times. When Rudolf Otto, the author of Das Heilige, spoke at King's College, London, on mysticism, he prefaced his remarks by noting that to speak on this subject in England is like bringing coals to Newcastle. A.J. Heschel in his essay: "Did the Rambam Believe that he had attained to Prophecy?" noted that many of the pre-Expulsion Jews were mystics, three hundred of whom in the twelfth century decided to go to live in the Holy Land in the belief that the footsteps of the Messiah could be heard. Menasseh ben Israel is said to have convinced Cromwell to readmit the Jews because Scripture implies that the Messiah cannot come until the Jews live in England.

It is in no way surprising, therefore, that Anglo-Jewish life centres around the synagogue. Exact figures are not available but it can safely be said that the majority of Jews in Great Britain have membership in synagogues of one kind or another, when they marry do so in synagogue and are buried in a Jewish cemetery with a religious service. The majority of British Jews keep kosher- at home, at least, and it is rare for a public, Jewish banquet not to be kosher. To be able to read the Siddur in the original is hardly the highest aim of Jewish education and it must be said that the standards of Jewish education in Anglo-Jewry are deplorable, but the very fact of the centrality of the Siddur' in the Hebrew classes is itself indicative of the religious thrust. One of the reasons why Israeli teachers find it hard to be fully acceptable in these classes is because the teaching and speaking of Hebrew as a modern language, consciously or unconsciously, is seen to lessen in some way the impact of Hebrew as Lashon Ha-Kodesh. Standards of religious observance vary of course. A not untypical Anglo-Jewish stance is that of the lady who declared that all Jews to the right of her family in religious observance were meshugga from while those to the left were goyim.

I have spoken until now as if the Anglo-Jew were an identifiable person and as if the Anglo-Jewish community were homogeneous. Both are, in fact, abstractions. The Anglo-Jewish community has been enriched by successive immigrations. The earliest immigrants were the Sephardim, few in numbers today but still preserving their own traditions as the oldest inhabitants. Their chief synagogue in Bevis Marks still stands, a tribute to the tenacity of purpose and ability to adjust of Spanish Jews from Amsterdam who worshipped in a building the architects of which were disciples of the very English Christopher Wren. The Sephardim were soon followed by the Ashkenazim, Dutch, and German and Polish Jews. At the end of the 19th century the Russian and Lithuanian Jews came to settle and take their place in the community, not without conflict let it be said but with eventual adaptation. If I may introduce a personal note, my grandfather came to England from Lithuania over a hundred years ago and settled for a time in the cathedral city of Canterbury where there was a synagogue of like-minded Jews. Nor should the regional differences be overlooked. The Jews of my native town, Manchester, are Lancastrians to a man, as are the Jews of Leeds Yorkshire men. There are still small communities in the Welsh valleys who speak English (mid Yiddish) with a Welsh accent and there are Jewish Scotsmen who, while not exactly fond of wearing the kilt, do admire "Rabbi" Burns. To witness Litvaks in Ireland who have kissed the Blarney Stone is to have a living example of how adaptation by Jews is possible without any surrender of the things that really matter Jewishly.

The newer immigrants, those who came during the Hitler period and those who came after the Second World War were in a different category. These largely resolved to retain their own Jewish mode of life and are to be admired for it. But the vibrant Jewish life of their own, different in many ways from that known in the community before their coming, no longer allows us to speak of a single community but more of a geographical area containing a number of diverse Jewish communities. Intensely Jewish and in the main very well-informed, these later arrivals have created their own institutions which flourish and have attracted to them young people born and educated in England. There were yeshivot in London, Manchester, Leeds and Gateshead in the pre-Hitler period but nothing like the scale on which the yeshivot have now proliferated. Gateshead Yeshiva is now one of the largest and best esteemed in the world and there is a rich kehiilah life in this North Eastern provincial town. The alumni of Gateshead and the other yeshivot see themselves as belonging to what is called "the Yeshiva world" in which is perpetuated Torah learning in the Lithuanian style of acute legal analysis of Talmudic concepts wedded to the moralistic teachings of the Musar movement. Stamford Hill in London is the main home of the various Hassidic groups, each owing allegiance to its own Rebbe. Sotmar, Vishnitz, Bobov, Belz and Sassov have their representatives and Lubavitch has succeeded in winning over large numbers if not as actual Lubavitcher Hassidim at least as strong sympathisers.

Partly as a result of this and partly as indicative of general trends in the Jewish world there has been a marked swing to the right in the whole of Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy, to which section the majority of Anglo-Jews belong. This does not necessarily mean that the average English Jew has become more personally observant, though the Baaley Teshuvah movement is not unknown, but that the Anglo-Jewish institutions are more officially conscious of the demands of strict Orthodoxy. To take the illustration of the United Synagogue, the largest Orthodox synagogue body in the world, flourishing in Greater London; this hitherto somewhat tepid religious body no longer permits mixed choirs, allowed by Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler, and its Ministers are no longer called "Reverends" but "Rabbis", many of whom studied in the Yeshivot; they no longer sport clerical collars, will never be seen bareheaded, and are rather more inclined to quote the Hafetz -Hayyim, the Hatam Sofer, R. Israel Salanter and the Hazon Ish, than Shakespeare, Tennyson and Dickens. The demand for a rabbi to have a university degree has virtually been abandoned and the Halakhah is increasingly being applied in all its strictness, at least on the communal level. The demands made by the London Bet Din, for example, on applicants for conversion are so severe that it is rare for an applicant to be accepted in less than five years from the original application. Illustrative of this trend is the appointment of Rabbi I. Weiss, the outstanding authority who was formerly Av Bet Din of Manchester, on his retirement, as the head of the Bet Din of the Edah Haredit in Jerusalem. In former times it would have been as unthinkable for the Edah Haredit to accept as its spiritual guide a rabbi who had served in England as it would have been for the English community to have appointed such a man in the first place. A perusal of The Jewish Chronicle, the Organ of Anglo-Jewry as it is called, demonstrates how highly strict Orthodoxy is regarded, much space being given weekly to the activities of the right-wing, not to say fundamentalist, Orthodox. It is now a commonplace to see students at universities wearing yarmulkas and it is not unusual for them to have their tzitzit showing outside their garments. A degree of heresy-hunting is also to be observed. The term Orthodoxy is no longer understood but pressed literally so as to read out of the community of believers those who question in any way the most rigid formulations of Jewish belief. The writing of "God" as "G-d" would have been considered to be priggish and grossly self-righteous in Anglo-Jewry but this is no longer the case.

What are the effects of this swing to the right on the topic we are considering, Jewish national consciousness? Surprisingly little is the reply. With the exception of the few Satmarer Hassidim, who have no voice in AngloJewish affairs, the members of the newer groups as well as the older established Jews, are solidly behind the State of Israel. If anything, religious Zionism in England has been strengthened to a degree that it is sometimes given expression in a more militant form than would have pleased the older Zionists in the community. At all events, the new trends have fortified the religious understanding of Jewish people to which we have already called attention as the specific viewpoint of Anglo-Jewry.

What of the Reform and Liberal movements? (Apart from my congregation and its daughter congregation there are no Conservative synagogues in England, Orthodoxy previously serving the same middle of the road aims but, as we have seen, no longer so). As in the U.S.A. there were very few Zionists in the Reform movement and Claude Montefiore, the founder of the Liberal movement, was completely antagonistic to Zionism. But all that has changed to the extent that some of the leading Zionists in the community belong to the Reform or Liberal congregations and Reform and Liberal rabbis participate to the fullest cooperation with their Orthodox colleagues, though so far fraternisation does not permit joint synagogue services of the Orthodox and the others in celebration of Yom Ha-Atzmaut. But the very fact that such services are seen as essential is a further indication of how impossible and undesirable it seems to Anglo-Jewry to divorce Jewish national consciousness from religion.

I know it is unfashionable to say so and I am particularly hesitant for obvious reasons to say it here, but I believe that there are close affinities between the Jewish and the British character. Both have a strong sense of justice and of fair play, despite the hot denials which understandingly may come from some members of this body in the light of the sorry experiences Israel has suffered and to some extent is still suffering from a number of British politicians. There has perhaps been a love-hate relationship between the two communities but it is hard to deny that love as well as hate has been part of that relationship. If there was an Ernest Bevin there was also a Balfour and a Churchill and further back a George Eliot and a Disraeli. Both characters are blessed with a sense of humor, directed especially against themselves, an ability to take life seriously without becoming too self-righteous or fanatical. Both characters have to some extent been fashioned by the same, basic heritage, the Hebrew Bible and the ethical passion of the prophets. Both are staunchly patriotic but saved from chauvinism by belief in a universal God who created all men in His image. Whether or not you agree with this assessment, the average English Jew does feel it to be a reality so that while on the political scene there may be dual loyalties, psychologically his Britishness and his Jewishness exist easily side by side not as suspicious partisans but as true friends and neighbours. Your average English Jew may still believe that he is in galut but he believes that if the Jew has to be in Galut there is no nicer place to be and nowhere, apart from in Israel, where he can feel more at home than in the British Isles, a little country without much power today but still a green and pleasant land of tolerance, culture and sophistication in which a Jew can breathe easily in freedom and where he can practise his Judaism without let or hindrance. More to the point for our analysis, he can experience his Jewish national consciousness without in any way feeling a traitor to the land in which he was born or where he was welcomed with open arms.

I doubt whether many Anglo-Jews would actually use a term like "national consciousness" when speaking of their awareness of how closely their destiny is bound up with that of Jews in other parts of the world and of their special relationship to the State of Israel.. British pragmatism would, I think, inhibit the use of abstract formulations. As the man said to David Hume when the latter asked him how he was getting on with his philosophical studies, "Cheerfulness keeps breaking in." But this does not mean that the mood expressed by "national consciousness" is absent. For all its faults, and they are many, and for all the lack of homogeneity, the Anglo-Jewish community is fully conscious of its Jewishness, is not parochial, and is deeply committed to the well-being of Israel. This mood is one of tolerance and affection. It is serious and uncompromising. It can be critical of other Jewish communities and of Israel as it is critical of itself. But when the cards are down there is not the slightest doubt where its sympathies will lie. Anglo-Jews are Jews first and Britishers second, though the suggestion that there is a basic conflict between the two loyalties will be hotly denied. And, we repeat, the religious aspect of Jewish peoplehood is always to the fore. The mood is one of positive appreciation of the Jewish people as the bearers of the Jewish faith not one due to the fear of the reality of antisemitism. The AngloJewish community is comparatively tiny and far less significant in the Jewish world than it was in the age of Queen Victoria. But it is still a Jewishly caring: community and can perhaps still make a contribution to the ideals of Jewish peoplehood far out of proportion to the smallness of its numbers. Anglo-Jewry is still responsive to the poet's cry, though interpreting it in a more literal fashion than he himself intended:

"England! awake! awake! awake!
Jerusalem thy sister calls!
Why wilt thou sleep the sleep of death, And close her from thy ancient walls?

Lloyd Gartner

I agree with Dr. Jacobs that Anglo-Jewry always identified itself as a religious body. Things came to such a pass, that the response written by Rabbi Naftali Adler to antisemites was the contention that the Jewish community in England is purely religious. This is characteristic of all the Jewish communities which achieved emancipation. All these communities in Europe defined themselves as purely religious bodies, but at the same time all the heretics were considered full Jews in every respect. The Anglo-Jewish community is"characterized by its Orthodox tone. No doubt the formative period of Orthodox practise, as Rabbi Jacobs personally experienced it, came in the19th century, when the Orthodox Anglo-Jewish community officially came into existence, strong religious observance prevailed, especially among the commercial and middle classes. The contemporary English community was very Christian and extremely pious. Thus it was accepted that the Jews should act in the same manner.

This pattern began to wane in the 20th century, and England today is much more secular. Therefore I believe it is possible to discern some beginnings of secular Judaism, Yiddishism or perhaps cultural humanism. It seems to me that Anglo-Jewry did not actually follow the path of the Anglican Church, if only because the Church had two archbishops - not one and thirty bishops and not only one. The Anglican Church was much more independent than what might be called the English "Jewish Church" of the 19th century.

A few words on British nationalism. Here I would not include the minorities in Scotland, Wales and the special problem of Ireland. English nationalism was always the nationalism of a people that did not require any theory to support its claims. It already had its own country; the people had sovereignty over the land and were organized within its boundaries. There was no need as in other countries to create a national theory. Because tolerance and civility characterized English nationalism, it was more prepared to recognize the existence of national movements within its borders. Even the Jews in England did not feel uneasy when some sought to give expression to their Jewish nationalism. English nationalism, however, was not so exclusive. Moreover, the empiric approach, which had some anti-tolerant tendencies, advocated the need to disseminate the British ideal among many peoples throughout the world. From the days of Palmerston, Britain had an interest in the fate of Eretg Yisrael. Hence it was possible for the Jews in Britain to take an interest in the fate of that country. But what about Jewish nationalism which is not aimed at Eretz Yisrael? Jewish nationalism on British soil, hardly existed in England. Jewish nationalism was not considered to be secular nationalism, as pointed out by Rabbi Jacobs. The Jews in England were nationalist with a special national affinity to a homeland elsewhere, perhaps even within the British Empire.

Robert Wistrich

I agree with most of the remarks of Professor Gartner about British nationalism, which was probably peculiarly favorable to the reception of British Jews in the modern era. There is however a general tendency to assume that certain traditions of English life which have been hospitable to Jewry are somehow an eternal factor which has been taken out of historical context in a tradition of civility, of tolerance, of understanding for minorities.

I am not at all confident that this has been a permanent feature of the British tradition and, partly for that reason am not so optimistic about the present and the future of Anglo-Jewry. In the first place, I think there is a very strong racist tradition in British life, which was also expressed in the Imperial era. Paradoxically, it may be that the English Jews did not confront the aggressive antisemitism in continental Europe because the British could project racist feelings and aggressions on groups, nations and peoples they dominated in the outside world.

The overall British record with regard to minorities is by no means as encouraging as many people assume. The present unfortunately confirms only too clearly to new Commonwealth immigration today that the British reaction is no different from that of any other national group. The intensity of xenophobia and the tensions between white and black today is also such that I doubt even the most alarming scenarios will be eliminated by the end of the century.

Today the Jewish community may constitute a special case in that context, 'but for various reasons the British did not relate to the Jewish 'minority in the same way they have to the West Indians or Asians, for example.

With regard to the Jews, I would agree that there are philo-Semitic traditions in British life which counterbalanced, to some degree, other tendencies. Victorian Britain, at the height of its imperial power and prestige, could indeed adopt a more generous attitude and did, in fact, do so, partly because they regarded the Jews as an exotic group, whose very difference attracted the English at that time. Thus Anglicized Jewry could fulfil a certain role in British society.

But with the advent of mass immigration at the end of the century, the picture already began to change, as did the Jewish disillusionment with the party system. British institutions are not what they once were. Hence, I would not necessarily assume that their solidity can stand up to the stresses and tensions which exist in British society today.
All this will ultimately decide the fate of Anglo-Jewry. However impressive the institutions of the Anglo-Jewish community and however solidly rooted they appear to be in their society, if the surrounding society ultimately cracks to the point where political institutions are undermined, and authorities are unable to deal with the tensions and problems that exist, AngloJewry will be facing a very difficult and possibly tense future.

Geoffrey Wigoder

When talking about the national consciousness of the Jews, it is relevant to talk about the nature of British society.

British society, as has been pointed out, has a great tradition of tolerance. It has always attracted Jews. Nevertheless, it has remained exclusive, and has not absorbed masses who came from Russia and Eastern Europe who had to suffer a very unpleasant and difficult period. In the 1930's the kind of developments that occurred in Europe did not occur in Britain. There was a massive depression, a serious threat to the British political system. If that system had collapsed, which it could have done, conceivably we might very well be talking in an entirely different way.

The authorities did take a firm line, which was probably decisive, by introducing the Public Order Act. The fact that the economic depression did not reach the same proportions as in Germany, together with the underlying self-confidence of the British, enabled their institutions to hold firm.

I would like to conclude with a brief analysis of the situation today. There are 2 1/2 million unemployed in Great Britain as well as a great deal of racial tension. Since World War II, the Empire has been lost and Britain has not found a role for itself. Many groups came from elsewhere. The fact that the Jews remained outside of British society affected their ability to maintain a corporate identity in England. They acculturated gladly, but did not assimilate easily, because, for the most part, British society did not readily accept them.

Since 1945 changes have taken place. The British world today is much less monolithic since there has been an influx of immigration from various countries resulting in a growth of pluralism comparable in some ways to the situation in the United States at the beginning of the century. The Jews are finding it easier to be accepted into certain strata of British society. This is especially noticeable at the academic, intellectual levels where the main tensions today are with the coloreds, and Jews have the advantage of being white.

On the other hand, one must remember that compared to America, Anglo-Jewry is a much less academized and intellectual society. In America, for example, it is estimated that 85 percent of all Jews go to university while in England less than 50 percent receive a university education. There are 60,000 Jewish academics in America, which is more than 1 percent of the total; in England .I am reliably informed that there are 1,500 to 2,000 Jewish academics, which is less than 0.5 percent.

English-Jewish society still has a lower middle class, and even a certain blue collar faction. Therefore a much greater element of the Jewish population in England is much more "folksy" than the American counterparts. This has affected the nature of their Jewish identification.

Rabbi Jacobs has spoken, for example, of the impact of religion. A quarter of a million Jews in England are indeed synagogue affiliated, but I would not consider them to be religious Jews. As Rabbi Jacobs said the affiliation is a very nominal one. An Orthodox synagogue in London, however, would not be called Orthodox here. Anglo-Jewish Orthodoxy can cover a multitude of sins. The Anglo-Jews who call themselves Orthodox very often drive to work on Saturday. They do not eat kosher meat all the time, and go to synagogue perhaps once or twice a year. Rabbi Jacobs has mentioned the growth of the ultra-Orthodox movement but this growth is no more than a marginal phenomenon.

The Jewish identification of the Anglo-Jew has various connotations which must be taken into consideration. The word yahadut in English has three different meanings. It can be understood as Judaism, or as identification with Clal Yisrael, or it can mean Yiddishkeit. The identification of a large part of English Jewry is a Yiddishkeit ethnic association with the Jewish people and is a social identity to a very large extent.

In some provincial sections of Britain Jews live within a Jewish community framework around which social life revolves entirely. Their identification with Israel comes naturally out of their Jewish ethnic tradition. It is a gut feeling as part of the Yiddishkit and as part of their ethnic identification. As far as Israel is concerned, it must be taken into account that Anglo-Jews have no great tradition of aliyah; nor have they felt an urgent need to leave England. There has been general emigration from England since 1945 for economic reasons, but Anglo-Jewry has not felt the push.

Nevertheless, the fact that 33,000 English Jews (almost 10 percent of the population) have come to live in this country is significant. I see this as the result of a gut ethnic identification with Jewish national feeling.

President Navon

Are there ideological discussions going on within Anglo-Jewry as we find in other places, such as for example in the U.S.A., discussions on questions such as dual loyalty, or Babylon and Jerusalem? What about Jewish education, and the problem of assimilation? What are the expressions of nationalism and is there an ongoing debate on this question within Anglo-Jewry?

Yermiyahu Branover

I am under the impression that while Anglo-Jews are Zionist in outlook they continue to live under the strong influence of British supremacy. This is expressed in strange ways through faith in England and England's supremacy. But when there is any clash for example, on the political plane, or even with the government of England, British Jews tend to feel that England is right in the long run.

Bernard Cherrick

Dr. Wistrich suggested that chance and fortuitous circumstances may have accounted for the fact that antisemitism did not take the same turn in England as it did in the rest of Europe in the thirties. I would say, however, that it is due entirely to the British character. I think more positive elements in the British character prevented, and will continue to prevent, any of the violent outbreak of antisemitism that we've seen elsewhere.

Dr. Wigoder's differentiation between Judaism, Jewishness and Yiddishkeit in Anglo-Jewry is interesting, but I cannot accept it. Anglo-Jewry has its roots in Judaism, and they see Judaism from a religious perspective.

Rabbi Jacobs did not do sufficient justice to the strong roots of Zionism and Zionist consciousness and Zionist activity in Anglo-Jewry. I think he dwelt too much on. Adler and too little on Hertz. After all, Hertz was Chief Rabbi for 35 years, till 1948. He got his crediting around 1917 by a reply which, in fact, was an attack on the Balfour Declaration. But Hertz went on for over 30 years fighting the establishment, which was small in number, but had a powerful influence and stronghold, up until the"revolution" of the Board of Deputies. I, as a member of the Board, was naturally in-volved in taking it over from the Anglo-Jewish establishment, which, however, had no relationship to the mass of Jewry at the time. However, I think that Hertz should be given full credit so far as Zionism is concerned. Again, I was one of his rabbis and we had occasion to fight together against the establishment leaders at the time, namely, the Waley Cohen group. Because of their riches and because implementation of change is characteristically slow in England, they carried on the leadership of the community long after they had lost all touch with the thinking of the community which was Zionist.

To return for a moment to the period of Dr. Hermann Adler, Dr. Jacobs correctly mentioned that Adler dominated Anglo-Jewry and had a negative attitude toward Zionism. It must not be forgotten, however, that at that time Herzl decided to come to England. Adler based his negative attitude, on the other hand, upon projection of how the non-Jewish population in Britain would react. His first real contact with Zionist sentiment was in mass meetings convened by Herzl in East London; Zionist sentiment was very strong, despite the attitude of the Anglo-Jewish establishment.

Let us remember also Herbert Bentwich who, at that time, brought the first real Zionist pilgrimage from any West European country to Palestine.

Reference to Zangwill was made en passant. Let us not forget that before he became involved with territorialism, he introduced Herzl to the non-Jewish world-in Britain and the world of Anglo-Jewry.

All this, dating back to the turn of the century, shows the deep roots of Zionist nationalism within the Anglo-Jewish community and is an area which has not been dealt with sufficiently. The fact that in the late pre-war and immediate post-war periods Anglo-Jewry stood up to the great Challenge of dual nationalism is certainly a noteworthy example. To the best of my knowledge, the single community that passed the test and emerged with flying colors was Anglo-Jewry from 1945 to 1947, when Britain was at war with the Jewish community in Palestine; Anglo-Jewry did not hesitate to organize a protest march in London - straight to. 10 Downing Street. This was only one typical incident in a series of protests against the British treatment of the Jews. At the time nearly 100,000 British soldiers were stationed in this country. The British people, who may not have felt strongly about the issue, were certainly concerned about the lives of their own people. Anglo-Jewry did not hesitate to express their view concerning dual-nationalism or dual-loyalty and their Zionist sentiments came out very strongly.

It has been suggested that the American Jewish community is more intellectual than the Jewish community in England because a larger number of Jewish youth in America are educated in universities. It must be noted, however, that the American educational system almost automatically incorporates a very large part of the population into the lower levels of university education. Many Americans, including Jews, learn in colleges rather than universities.

When the Jewish intellectual contribution in the 20th century is summed up, products of the Anglo-Jewish community such as the Hertz bible and the Soncino translation of the Talmud will remain long after the thousands of books produced by American Jewry during the same period have disappeared.

President Navon

I recently read the results of a poll which stated that 46% of the par-. ticipants said that if they had the opportunity they would prefer to leave England. Could you please comment on this.

Haim Chamiel

In the field of Jewish education great efforts have recently been made in England, particularly by the Chief Rabbi's office. This began when the incumbent chief rabbi took office. Other institutions such as the World Zionist Organization are also involved. As a result there has been a proportionately large increase in Jewish education in England. The number of pupils in Jewish day schools has increased from a few hundred 40 years ago to 15,000 today, predominantly at the elementary school level. While the upward trend continues, the content of Jewish day school education remains less intensive than in other countries. Apart from a few Yeshivot and one or two cases in which the WZO was involved, British Jewry has not succeeded in developing the _Yeshiva high school or Yeshiva type of Jewish day school which exists in America. The Chief Rabbi has expressed his concern but what is the Jewish community in England doing about the problem? Has it considered the need to increase the Jewish content in its educational system and to expand it? The main problem relates to the Hebrew language. My impression is that in England, more than in any other community, Hebrew is being neglected. With very few exceptions, pupils in Jewish schools do not acquire a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language. I could list many reasons why this happens, but the problem should be dealt with in depth. Why is this community, which has been described as religious or connected with the synagogue, alienated when it comes to Hebrew?

Netanel Lorch

When discussing the history of Anglo-Jewry, it should be mentioned that among the forerunners of Zionism were a large number of non-Jewish Englishmen. The first was Byron who, in 1820, wrote poems about the eagle with a nest in the Holy Land and the Jews with nothing but a grave. This type of Zionism was not accepted by the Jews, partly because they feared, and rightly so, that these Englishmen not only had a mystic approach, but also wished to be rid of the Jews. Support of Zionism by non-Jewish Englishmen, has always contained a certain element of antisemitism. "We want the Jews to have a state of their own. Then we won't have too many Jews in England."

As regards assimilation, part of Anglo-Jewry seems to be making the same tragic mistake made by German Jewry. While they see themselves as perfect Englishmen, they are actually considered foreigners by that society. Assimilation is one way, especially since it is genuine among Anglo-Jewry. But the English Jew does not always see the barrier he comes up against. As Dr. Wigoder pointed out, the social activities of Anglo-Jews, apart from perhaps among the highest social class, are carried out among Jews. When they play golf, they do not play "Jewish golf", but rather golf with Jews. Although there is no Jewish aspect in card games, they play cards with Jews, not out of choice, but mainly because they are not accepted by others.

The religious national consciousness of the Jews also has some aspect of assimilation. British society is organized on a religious national basis. Scotland is not just a people; reference has been made lately to the Scottish nation. While autonomy is mentioned the Church of Scotland still exists. A few weeks ago I attended a luncheon at the Board of Deputies marking the 220th anniversary of its establishment. In his speech, George Thomas, Speaker of the House of Commons said "I believe the Archbishop of Canterbury has addressed you, and the Catholic Archbishop as well. I want to thank you for giving a chance to the Methodists."

There is a certain convenience in the fact that Jews can be accepted within the British diversity as a people with its own religion as well as a "church" of its own. This institutional accord enables the Jews to integrate somehow into the general framework.
I, too, am concerned about the future. I am not sure how much one can learn about the future from the past. American Jews were once under the illusion that the blacks were the first line of defence. Some of the Jews in England today similarly believe that as long as Brixton continues to exist, and sectors of the population such as West Indians, Pakistanis and Indians, remain, the Jews will be on the second front. Today there are certain signs of antisemitism among non-whites. That is not to say that a Holocaust could come about in England tomorrow. Still, I have an uneasy feeling about the future, if the economic situation does not improve, and unemployment increases.


Britain is a very complex country. Because it is one of the earliest nation-states, both 17th century nationalism and 19th century liberalism exist side by side. Jews relate differently to each of these aspects.

For instance, no mention has been made of the Labour movement, which is in England less Marxist-Socialist and much more Methodist than in other European countries. The very fact that the hymn of the Labour movement in England is not the Red Flag-or the Internationale, but Jerusalem, significantly affects the movement's general attitude towards Jews.

One of the issues raised concerns the lack of intellectual rigor among many establishment people in Anglo-Jewry. I sensed this a few years ago when I was asked to write a memorandum to the Secretary of State. Health and Social Security, concerning the Jewish position on an ethnic question in the British census of that year. There was a move then to change the system and, for the first time, to view British society as an ethnic group which would entail categorization of ethnicity. I then had an interesting debate with the leaders of the Jewish community on whether the Jews are a religious or an ethnic group. Some people insisted we must be an ethnic group because an ethnos has to have a homeland. Others said we are actually a religious group.

As the debate continued I got some idea of the intellectual commitment towards Israel and Zionism from a personal perspective, It was in a British context, not an emotional one of carrying a flag around Trafalgar Square or coming to Israel, but looking at it in real terms as it related to them. I got the impression that a religious form of Zionism may get one to the fifth step of Machpelah, but not much further. The document which some of them would have sent in would have been more useful to the Foreign Office than the Registrar General in terms of significance of being Jewish.

I gained further insight into British Jewry recently, after carrying out a survey of Jewish attitudes towards Jewish identity and Israel. The result was rather ironic; The only significant difference between generations was the tendency of younger people to be more openly and strongly Zionist than the older generation.

The Jewish community in Britain is British rather than English, Scottish or Welsh. It is more centralized, more London-oriented, and this considerably affects its general approach. Also significant is the fact that the AngloJewish community is more cosmopolitan than the rest of British society.

World War II, which was a very positive experience for many people in Britain, is another factor which may have made the Jewish community more English than it had been before. It must be remembered that, unlike other Jewish communities, hundreds of thousands of British Jews moved to the countryside, where they were billeted together with non-Jews. They found themselves in places where Jews had never been seen before. There were no pogroms in Britain despite the war and the German propaganda broadcast every night on the radio. That generation sees itself as very British.

We have been talking about a community in Britain that has undergone tremendous change. Ironically, however, Anglo-Jewry has exhibited steadfastness in a most crucial area. Britain has changed from a mystical, religious society to a secular one. In fact, since the war it has become one of the most secular societies in Europe. The majority of people in Britain today marry in registry offices rather than in churches. British Jews, on the other hand, have not been so affected by this development. This is one case exemplifying a historical tendency of the Jews to remain behind the rest of society in certain circumstances.


Louis Jacobs

I am grateful to Mr. Cherrick for mentioning Dr. Hertz. It certainly wasn't my intention to play down the significance of contributions of Dr. Hertz and others to Zionism. I attempted to provide a kind of analysis of the tensions that existed.

Dr. Hertz is obviously representative of the other side '1 would agree with Mr. Cherric and I am grateful to him for mentioning that the "other side" existed.

I did not stress the fairly obvious fact that understanding the tensions necessitates awareness of the background. In this sense, the community was and is a complicated society. Tensions were there and the tensions continue to exist.

The Angle-Jewish community is a very small community, insignificant in size when compared to the American Jewish community, and different in every respect. I am constantly astonished at the ignorance of the non-Jews in the British Isles. A professor at St. Andrews University, for example, was under the impression that there, were 10 million Jews in England, and honestly thought Sir Isaac Wolfson was the Chief Rabbi.

Dr. Altmann of Brandeis, who was the communal rabbi of Manchester for a time, told me that he was once invited to the home of Travers Herford, the great Unitarian scholar. Altmann accepted the invitation on the condition that the meal would be more or less kosher. Herford's response was "If you keep the dietary laws, you must be a Pharisee."

Herford lived less than 10 miles away from the Manchester community, which has always been considered a vibrant Jewish community. He had written about Judaism all of his life, yet was unaware of the actual composition of the community of some 30,000 souls which was so close to him.

Furthermore we have adopted, to some extent, what .I consider to be a particularly English virtue, namely, the capacity for understatement. We don't talk about the great contribution of Anglo-Jewry to Jewish learning which was mentioned by Mr.Cherrick. We have also adopted the mores of the surrounding culture, pretending to be pragmatic. My response to the President's question "Do we discuss such issues as assimilation and dual loyalties," is definitely in the affirmative.

Last year, for example, in a speech at a Jewish gathering Lord Goodman, a very distinguished figure in British life, asserted that a conflict between loyalty to Israel and loyalty to Great Britain exists. Goodman said that if he had to make the ultimate decision he would be absolutely on the side of Israel.

Mr. Cherrick is correct in saying that many people are like that. To refer to another question of the President, however, a discussion of Bavlei and Yerushalayim would not normally be encountered in the Anglo-Jewish community because it is too abstract and intellectual and may be considered a priggish flaunting of scholarship. Hence the real contributions to Jewish learning may ultimately be overlooked.

In addition to the Soncino Talmud, for example, which remains alive, would recommend reading the old Jewish Quarterly Review. The old series, published in England, contains theological and scholarly discussions of the very highest calibre written in impeccable English.
I would even advise reading the debate between Herbert Lowy and Claude Montefiore contained in a recently republished work, A Rabbinic Anthology, which introduces ideas, which to my mind, have never been, put forward anywhere else. Some of the most daring theological speculation and discussions take place, in fact, in England and are echoed within the Jewish community.

Professor Gartner mentioned the fact that the 19th century was characterized by a strong Christian influence. At the same time there were writers and thinkers - such as Spencer, John Stuart Mill, Macaulay and Clough - who rebelled against the Christian dogma while searching for a Christian ethic. I find it very interesting that Ahad Haam seems to have been influenced by these people in his perceptions of Judaism.

Ahad Ha'am continually refers to them in his essays and seems to have read their works before he went to England and learned about them directly. As I see it, he was looking for a Jewish ethic without the Jewish religious dogma.

There was tension in religious life in Britain. People sought eternal verities which they attempted to interpret in terms of their own experience. Great battles ensued between science and religion which also affected British life and thought. Those controversies were averted in the Anglo-Jewish community only because Jews had a tendency towards understatement. Yet, when they did come to the surface it poured out.

There is, however, another side to the story. The late Isidore Epstein, editor of the Soncino Talmud, was once rabbi of a small Jewish community in Middlesborough, a town in the north of England. One day, the synagogue's board decided to censure him because their president had seen his light burning after midnight. This had annoyed the president, because the rabbi's electricity was being paid for by the synagogue. Yet one person argued that the Rabbi needed to burn the midnight electricity in order to study, to which the president responded, "Studying? I though you'd appointed a fully qualified man!" Such incidents characterize the tensions which can be created within the Jewish community.

I don't agree with those speakers who forecast the doom of Anglo-Jewry and who point to the perilous situation. Of course, no society is immune from disaster. The collapse of British society would be the greatest disaster in the world, though it is possible. Indeed, if it happens, the Jews in Great Britain, together with its other citizens , would be in a sorry way.

I maintain that there is a British tradition of fair play, justice and mysticism. ,Of course there is also increasing secularisation, but we are not the most secular of peoples. The society remains traditional, and there is still a good deal of theological thinking and probing for religious truth within the community. I also completely disagree with Dr. Wigoder that Yiddishkeit in a secular sense characterizes the Anglo-Jewish community; it is totally in a religious sense. In-fact, if the word- Yiddishkeit is known nowadays in Anglo-Jewry, it is only because of the recent influx of Jews.

The fact that Jews in the East End who belong to Orthodox synagogues work on Shabbat does not mean they are not religious, but indicates that their Orthodoxy was problematic, as is the case with practically everyone I know. As religious people they had centered their lives completely around the synagogue, but I do not believe an apology has to be made for those who don't. The synagogue is still significant.

At this point let me introduce a personal note. I was once the minister of a very Anglicized congregation, the New West End Synagogue. Members included lords, knights, peers of the realm and other distinguished people in general English life. Dr. Abraham Cohen, who should also be mentioned in connection with Zionism, was the president of the Board of Deputies. He was a distinguished Anglo-Jewish scholar and wrote a number of important works. The first Rosh Hashanah I took the pulpit, he told me, "Don't forget to begin by saying, My Lords, ladies and gentlemen..."

This is a community of assimilated Jews. But the religious fervor, shall we say, on Yom Kippur, bears out to me, from my experience, that the thrust certainly is that of religion in Anglo-Jewry and not a kind of gut reaction or folkway.

In sum: while tensions and problems exist they may serve a constructive purpose. I won't go so far as to say that it is advantageous to have been born and raised in the Anglo-Jewish community, but I'm certainly not ashamed of it.


Professor of Physics, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beersheva

School of Education, Bar Ilan University

Vice President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Department of Modern History, Tel Aviv University

Research Unit, Board of Deputies of British Jews, London, England

Secretary of the Knesset

Director of the Oral History Division and the Avraham Rad. Film Archives of the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University College, London, England
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