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Celebrating 350 Years of Jewish Life in Britain

Peter Egill Brownfeld
Winter 2007

When Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell reversed Britain’s almost 400-year old ban on Jews in 1656, he lay  
the foundation for a well-integrated Jewish community that would find success in many fields and that  
would project British values of freedom and justice as it aided oppressed Jewish communities  
elsewhere. The self-confident and successful British Jew became a powerful symbol to Jews in Eastern  
Europe in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Because of its acceptance of Jews, Britain became a  
magnet for Jews from the continent and particularly Eastern Europe and Russia. Of course, Britain was  
not free of anti-Semitism, which was always present at some level, and which intensified during times  
of economic downturns or social upheaval. At times, real or perceived anti-Semitism muted British Jews  
from aiding their coreligionists abroad.  
Britain continues to enjoy a vibrant Jewish life, with the second-largest Jewish community in Europe.  
Only France has a larger community. On the occasion of the 350th anniversary, British politicians have  
lauded Jews for the contributions they have made to the nation.  
British Prime Minister Tony Blair penned an article in the Jerusalem Post’s 29 September-5 October  
2006 edition titled “My hope for the Jewish New Year.” He wrote, “It is impossible to imagine modem  
Britain without its Jewish community. But for almost four centuries, Jews were forbidden to worship in  
Britain, even in private. All that changed with Cromwell’s decision in 1656. Since then, arts, sciences,  
commerce, politics, the world of learning and thought, have all been illuminated by the names of  
distinguished Jews who have made their mark, added to the store of knowledge and helped to make the  
United Kingdom a better place.”  
Blair cited a poem written by a primary school student that was presented to him in June when he  
attended the thanksgiving service at the Bevis Marks synagogue. The poem read: “Am I Jewish or  
English? This keeps me in confusion / I’m both you see, that’s my final conclusion / Judaism is my  
religion; I make it so, clearly / I adore England, I love it so dearly.”  
On 14 June 2006, Britain’s House of Commons commemorated the anniversary with a number of  
Members of Parliament praising Jewish contributions to the nation. Dan Rogerson, a Member of  
Parliament from Cornwall, stated “The Jewish community’s resilience and determination to practice its  
faith reminds me of the Catholic tradition in which I grew up” because of its role as a minority that  
helped pave the way for other minorities. “The Jewish community has contributed famously to the  
worlds of business, science, and the arts, and, as we have heard, to sport and to the military.”  
Before Cromwell  
Jews did not arrive in Britain only in 1656, but formed a community there almost 1000 years ago.  
Jewish merchants who moved to Britain from France after the Norman Conquest formed a prosperous  
community in the late eleventh century. Jews occupied prominent positions in British society as  
merchants and moneylenders performing a useful economic function, above all as a source of revenue  
for the king. However, “when the Jews’ wealth declined dramatically in the second half of the thirteenth  
century as a result of new restrictions on moneylending and exorbitant royal imposts, they lost their  
fiscal utility,” writes Todd M. Endelman in “The Jews of Britain, 1656 to 2000.” This phenomenon,  
coupled with growing religious hostility, led to their expulsion by Edward I in 1290.  
The religious hostility slowly grew as a new phenomenon emerged in the relations between Christians  
and Jews — the levelling of false charges. There were two main libels whose effects were to increase the  
number of Jewish victims. These were the blood libel and the libel of desecrating the host. Historian  
H.H. Ben-Sasson notes that, “The explanation and logic of those who believed the accusations were that  
once the Jews had crucified Jesus, they thirsted for pure innocent blood. Since the formerly incarnate  
God was now in heaven, the Jews aspired to the blood of the most innocent of believers, i.e. the  
children, the tender Christians. As a result of this reasoning, the season of the most libels or charges of  
ritual murder was that of Passover, which was close in time to the Passion of Christ.” Desecration of the  
Host is the medieval supersititon that Jews stole the consecrated Communion wafers from churches and  
desecrated them with knives, in a re-enactment of the Crucifixion.  
Ominous Incident  
In 1144, there occurred an ominous incident in Norwich in East Anglia, then the richest and most  
populous area in England. Described in detail by V.D. Lipman in “The Jews of Medieval  
Norwich” (London, 1967), on March 20, 1114, shortly before Easter and Passover, a boy called William,  
son of a substantial farmer and apprenticed to a skinner, disappeared. He was last seen going into a  
Jew’s house. Two days later, his body was found east of the city “dressed in his jacket and shoes with  
his head shaved and punctured with countless stabs.” Our knowledge of details comes largely from  
“The Life and Miracles of St. William of Norwich,” compiled by Thomas of Monmouth, a monk of  
Norwich Priory, shortly afterwards. According to Thomas, the boy’s mother and a local priest accused  
the Norwich Jews of murder, saying the crime was a re-enactment of Christ’s passion.  
Initially, local church authorities were hostile to the story. But two years later a monk who favored the  
cult which grew up around this charge was appointed Bishop of Norwich and his formal election in the  
priory was made the occasion of anti-Jewish demonstrations. That same year, Eleazir, a local Jewish  
money-lender was murdered by the servants of one Sir Simon de Nover, who owed him money. Slowly,  
the legend expanded. Theobold of Cambridge, a convert from Judaism, said the murder of William  
came about because a congress of Jews in Spain picked by lot, every year, the town where the ritual  
murder must take place and that in 1144 Norwich was chosen. Accusations of ritual murder now tended  
to be made whenever a child was killed in suspicious circumstances near a settlement of Jews — at  
Gloucester in 1168, Bury St. Edmunds in 1181 and Bristol in 1183. In 1255 the Jews of Lincoln were  
accused of having crucified a Christian boy after having taken him down from the cross, of having  
removed his intestines, apparently for purposes of witchcraft.  
“Canterbury Tales”  
The image can be found in “The Canterbury Tales,” written by the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who  
was born in 1340, fifty years after the expulsion of the Jews from England. Chaucer completed the work  
in about 1387, almost a century after the Jews had been expelled. The “Prioress’ Tale” tells of an  
innocent child, the son of a widow, who was walking through the street of the Jews singing songs in  
praise of Mary, mother of Jesus. The Jews seized and murdered him. The crime was miraculously  
revealed, and the whole community of Jews was put to death.  
The preaching of a new Crusade always heightened anti-Semitic sentiment. The Third Crusade,  
launched 1189-90, in which England figured largely because Richard the Lionheart led it, whipped. up  
mob fury, already aroused by the ritual murder charges. A deputation of wealthy Jews attending  
Richard’s coronation in 1189 was attacked by the crowd, followed by an assault on London’s Jewish  
community. With the approach of Easter the next year, anti-Jewish violence broke out, the most serious  
being at York, where the Jewish community was massacred, despite taking refuge in the castle. One  
chronicler, Ralph de Diceto in “Imagines Historiarum” (quoted in Lipman) reports of events in Norwich:  
“Many of those who were hastening to go to Jerusalem determined first to rise against the Jews ... So on  
6 February all the Jews who were found in their own houses in Norwich were slaughtered ...”  
It became steadily more difficult for Jews to earn a living. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen  
Langton, tried to organize a boycott of Jewish business. The Jews were in economic decline throughout  
the 13th century. Aaron of York, who told the chronicler Matthew Paris he had paid the King over  
30,000 marks, died impoverished in 1268.  
Decline Accelerated  
Under Edward I, the decline accelerated. The Jews’ role as lenders to the great had been taken over by  
the Knights Templar of Jerusalem and their European commanders. The Jews were pushed into small-  
scale lending, coin-changing and pawnbroking. In 1275, Edward passed an anti-Jewish statute making  
usury illegal. This was later linked to blasphemy, a more serious offense. In 1278, groups of Jews were  
arrested around the country. Many were taken to the Tower of London. One chronicler says 300 were  
hanged. Their property went to the Crown. In 1290, alleging widespread evasion of the law against  
usury, the Jews were expelled from England and the King took all of their assets.  
At the time of the expulsion the community numbered 2000, already a significant decline from the  
4000 to 5000 Jews who lived in Britain in the middle of the century. Jews had found Britain  
uncomfortable because of arbitrary arrests, exorbitant taxes and pressure to convert. The majority of  
the exiles settled in France where they quickly assimilated with the Jewish community there.  
The Jewish newspaper The Forward reported that although Jews were formally barred from England  
from 1290 until Oliver Cromwell removed the ban in 1656, many continued to live there, even in  
prominent positions. In October 6, 2006, Raphael Mostel outlined the new research in an article titled  
“Jews in the Court” in The Forward. This research “has revealed that not only were there Jews in Britain;  
they were right under the royal noses. ... And we’re not talking just a few, but, rather, it seems, the  
majority of the court musicians of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I were of Jewish heritage.”  
Roger Prior, a Shakespearian scholar, who conducted much of the research, wrote “The evidence  
suggests that at least until 1600, and probably beyond, all these musical families thought of  
themselves as Jewish, but they varied in their determination and desire to hold on to that identity.”  
These musicians were identified as “Italian” rather than Jews. Prior explains why Jews were welcomed to  
England in this role: “It was doubtless realized at an early stage that Jews would make more reliable  
servants precisely because they owed loyalty neither to the Pope nor to Luther.” Jews were attracted to  
these positions despite having to hide their religion because they offered wealth and an opportunity to  
work as musicians.  
Small numbers of Jews also continued to live in or visit Britain working in other professions, primarily as  
physicians and merchants. One notable example is that of Elias Sabot, a Jewish doctor from Bologna  
who traveled to Britain after being summoned to treat Henry IV.  
The Return of Jews to Britain  
Cromwell had pragmatic reasons for the readmission of Jews to Britain, including their utility in  
mercantile and military affairs. He probably saw it as an opportunity to attract some Jewish capital and  
ingenuity away from Britain’s chief rival, Holland. He also had already been receiving political  
intelligence from recently-converted Jews in Britain, including a man named Carvajal, a major army  
contractor. As word spread that Britain’s stance toward Jews may have been softening, the famous  
Sephardic rabbi, Menasseh ben Israel, began to actively push for Jewish readmission. Raised and  
educated in Amsterdam, Menasseh was born into a family of “New Christians,” Jews who had publicly  
converted to Roman Catholicism during the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal, but privately maintained  
their Jewish faith.  
Menasseh traveled to London with a pamphlet titled “The Humble Addresses” in which he argued for  
Jewish readmission to England. Menasseh defended the role of the Jews, refuting slanders against them  
and emphasizing their commercial and political utility. He presented this document to the English  
government’s Council of State, and afterward a majority favored resettlement, with some restrictions.  
Still, there were some opponents, most prominently merchants who feared competition and the clergy  
for traditional anti-Jewish arguments.  
The resettlement of the Jews in England really began in Amsterdam. Here various messianic hopes and  
tidings along with the religious convictions of the more radical Protestant and Puritan sects in England  
helped bring about the resettlement. Economic considerations carried considerable weight. Attention  
was drawn by those who supported Jewish resettlement to the success of Amsterdam and The  
Netherlands in general after the reception of the Marranos and Jews there, after their expulsion from  
Spain in 1942. Many in England envied the economic success of The Netherlands and these facts served  
to demonstrate that the return of the Jews would promote English trade and commerce.  
Menasseh ben Israel informed his English readers, “Hence it may be seen that God hath not left us; for  
if one persecutes us another receives us civilly and courteously, and if this prince treats us ill, another  
treats us well; if one banisheth us out of his country another invites us with a thousand privileges; as  
divers princes of Italy have done, the most eminent King of Denmark and the mighty Duke of Savey in  
Nissa. And doe we not see that those Republiques doe flourish and much increase in trade who admit  
the Israelites?” (“The Hope of Israel,” London, 1652, Sec. 33, in L. Wolf ed., “Menasseh Ben Israel’s  
Mission To Oliver Cromwell,” London, 1901).  
Not Only Economic Factors  
Economic considerations were not the only factor. Many theological ideas and religious emotions  
combined to produce favorable public opinion. Among the radical Puritan sects of Cromwell’s time,  
there were some who regarded the Civil War and the distress of England as punishment for the  
expulsion of the Jews and these proposed that Jews be allowed to return to alleviate consequences.  
Menasseh Ben Israel and some of his Christian sympathizers in England expressed the view that the  
remains of the Ten Tribes of Israel were to be found in the New World. According to this eschatology,  
the coming of the Messiah was delayed by the fact that Jews were not to be found at the “end of the  
earth,” as the Norman name of England, Angleterre, was interpreted by them.  
In addition, there was an increasing trend toward toleration in some radical circles. In 1644, the New  
England religious leader Roger Williams, who would go on to establish the colony of Rhode Island on  
pioneering principles of religious freedom, had published a work in opposition to religious persecution  
and in favor of tolerance, in which he expressly demanded that the Jews be permitted to display their  
capacity for good citizenship by granting them equal rights even though they rejected Christianity. In  
even more extreme groups such as the Puritan sect known as the “Fifth Monarchymen” it was suggested  
that the Jews should even be helped to redeem the Land of Israel.  
There were many conservative groups opposed to the readmission of Jews. These opponents ultimately  
had some influence on the debate, writes Endelman, “Having encountered greater opposition than he  
initially expected, Cromwell avoided making any public statement about readmission or taking any  
official action in the months following the conference. Indeed, neither he nor the monarchs who  
followed him ever voided the expulsion order of 1290 or issued a formal invitation to Jews to return. In  
this sense, Menasseh’s mission was a failure. Yet Jewish resettlement went ahead, but in an unexpected  
and indirect way that in the end provoked less hostility.”  
Advantageous for Jews  
The fact that opposition prevented public promulgation of the decision proved to be advantageous for  
the Jews. Initially, Cromwell wanted to readmit them subject to various restrictions, but as the official  
resolution never became law, Jews who were already in England continued to live there after the  
Restoration of the Monarchy without being restricted by public legislation.  
On December 4, 1655, a conference was held in Whitehall attended by 25 lawyers, including the Chief  
Justice, Sr. John Glynne, and the Chief Baron of the Exchequer, William Steele. They announced that  
there was no law which prevented Jews coming to England. Edward’s 1290 expulsion was an act of royal  
prerogative which affected only the individuals concerned. Thus, the matter was solved pragmatically  
without a specific treaty. Some 20 Marrano families, Sephardic Jews who had been practicing their faith  
secretly, openly confessed their Judaism in March 1656, declaring themselves refugees from the  
Spanish Inquisition.  
English Jews became full citizens, subject to no more disabilities than those inherent in their own  
unwillingness, like Catholics and non-conformists, to belong to the Church of England, or, in their  
particular case, to swear Christian oaths.  
Rights Are Established  
Over the next generation, various judicial rulings established the right of Jews to plead and give  
evidence in the courts. Like other non-Anglicans, they were barred from many offices and from  
parliament. But there were no legal restraints on their economic activities. In 1732 a judgment gave  
Jews, in effect, legal protection against generic libels which might endanger life. It seems that almost by  
accident, England became the first place in Europe in which a modern Jewish community began to  
When Menasseh arrived in London there were about 20 families of New Christians already living there.  
However, he had little contact with this group and did not represent them in meetings with Cromwell.  
The New Christians were content to continue living as they had been and were not eager for Britain to  
become the home of many Jewish refugees.  
When England went to war with Spain in 1655, many New Christians abandoned the pretense that they  
were Spanish Catholics and instead declared themselves to be Jewish refugees to avoid the possible  
confiscation of their property. As a result, an avowedly Jewish community emerged. In December 1656,  
the Jewish community rented a house to use as a synagogue and the following year acquired land for a  
cemetery. Still, there was no influx of Jewish refugees and thus the Jewish presence in Britain did not  
stir significant protests. However, because of the opposition from merchants and clergymen, Cromwell  
avoided setting out a specific charter governing Jewish rights and limitations. As a result, when Jews  
pursued equal political rights later on, they did not have to overturn an established code.  
The New Community  
The new Jewish community in Britain grew rather slowly, with initial arrivals coming from Holland,  
Dutch and English colonies in the Caribbean, as well as Portuguese and Spanish Jews who had been  
forced to convert during the Inquisition. By the end of the 17th century, the community still only  
numbered in the hundreds. Jews worked in lucrative career fields, including as brokers, jewelers, and  
merchants, but there was also a group of chronically impoverished Jews. This group was large enough  
that one-third of the synagogue’s funds were devoted to poor relief.  
At a time when Jews faced social and legal exclusion in much of Europe, their lot in Britain was  
comparatively very good. Endelman writes, “There is no question that the Jews’ position in England at  
the end of the seventeenth century was superior to that of Jews in other European states — in large part  
... because the state ignored their presence most of the time and left their legal status ill-defined. Yet it  
would be incorrect to infer from this that the Jews of England no longer encountered the old vulgar  
prejudices or were accepted as members of the English nation, differing only from their Christian  
neighbors by virtue of their religion. The Sephardim of England, like Jews everywhere in early modem  
Europe, continued to be seen as a distinct national group, with their own peculiar cultural habits,  
mental outlook, religious customs, historical memories, and future hopes for national redemption.”  
During the 17th century, the Jewish community in Britain lived almost exclusively in London and was  
made up of Sephardim. In the 18th century, thousands of Ashkenazi Jews from Holland, Poland, and the  
German states made their way to Britain. Ashkenazi Jews founded their own institutions and quickly  
outnumbered the Sephardim, although the Sephardim continued to dominate in terms of wealth and  
influence. By the end of the eighteenth century, London boasted one of the largest urban Jewish  
communities in Europe, and Jews had begun to breathe life into Jewish communities in a dozen  
provincial towns. It was in 1748 that the grandfather of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881),  
who was Sephardic, emigrated to Britain from Cento, near Ferrara in Italy. In the Britain of the 19th  
century, Disraeli was to play a leading role as Queen Victoria’s favorite of the eleven prime ministers  
who served her, the one who put the jewel — India — in her crown.  
Avenue to Success  
Many Jews saw commerce as their avenue to success, and Jews became identified with certain trades,  
including the sale of oranges, lemons, glasses, costume jewelry, lead pencils, and other items. Just as  
in America, Jews often started their commercial enterprises as itinerant peddlers going from town to  
town. Above all other trade, Jews were most closely identified with the sale of old clothes.  
Jews were also well-represented in some trades, most commonly as makers of pencils, pens, and quills.  
Endelman writes, “While German guilds excluded Jews from membership and thus prevented the growth  
of an artisanal class within Central European Jewry, the skills represented here either fell outside the  
pale of guild supervision or were linked to the purchase and repair of secondhand goods, a Jewish  
specialty everywhere in pre-Revolutionary Europe. This group of artisans, along with shopkeepers and  
other merchants, became the backbone of Anglo-Jewish institutional life. They constituted the majority  
of regular synagogue worshippers and members of hevrot (societies) devoted to traditional learning  
and practice. They were also the founders of Jewish friendly societies, which, aside from providing the  
usual death and sickness benefits, offered a range of religious services.”  
At the end of the 18th Century, about 20 British towns had small Jewish communities. The largest of  
these was in Portsmouth, which by 1800 had about 50 Jewish families. Jews generally did not venture  
outside of the south and east of the country. For example a city as large as Manchester had no Jewish  
settlement to speak of as late as the end of the 18th Century. Despite the relatively small dispersal of  
Jews, they were still well-known figures outside of London due to their travel as itinerant peddlers.  
Adopting English Habits  
As time went by, Jews in both the upper and lower classes increasingly began adopting English habits.  
Endelman writes, “Economic success brought in its wake familiarity with upper-class living standards  
and social habits and kindled an interest in emulating them. Jews who had made their fortunes in the  
City began to adopt the habits, values, tastes, and outlook of the upper class. They copied their mode  
of dress, personal adornment, and home decoration, adopted their manners, pursued their recreations.  
They attended the theater and the opera, gossiped and played cards in coffee houses, collected  
paintings and had their portraits painted, hosted lavish parties and entertainments, patronized  
musicians and singers, took the waters at fashionable spas, ... acquired homes and even extensive  
estates in the countryside. The purchase of country homes and the subsequent pursuit of rural  
pleasures, such as hunting and racing, are potent symbols of this process of acculturation. In the first  
quarter of the [18th] century wealthy Sephardim with their primary residence in London started to  
purchase or rent homes in nearby villages or the surrounding countryside to which they could retreat  
on weekends or in the summer.”  
Jewish poor in Britain also adopted the habits of their Christian counterparts, creating distinctive  
characteristics of popular Anglo-Jewish culture. Endelman writes, “They embraced, not the standards  
of upper-class gentility, but rather the rough and tumble ways of their impoverished gentile neighbors,  
with whom they lived in close proximity, frequently sharing the same buildings and rooming houses.  
They abandoned the traditional Jewish garb of Central and Eastern Europe, eventually acquiring a  
reputation for flashy attire. They were often quarrelsome, undisciplined, riotous, violent, and hostile to  
authority. They routinely employed physical force to settle scores, defend themselves, and protest  
verbal slights. The most striking example of their acculturation was the passion they developed for  
prizefighting, both as spectators and participants. From the 1760s through the 1820s, several dozen  
Jews achieved fame in the boxing ring, including the greatest fighter of the period Daniel Mendoza  
(1763-1836), whom early historians of the sport credited with introducing a more ‘scientific’ form of  
boxing, one emphasizing finesse and agility over brute strength. When Jewish boxers fought, friends  
and coreligionists flocked to the ring, and matches became rallying points for ethnic assertiveness, as  
well as opportunities for heavy wagering. When Mendoza fought, for example, he was always billed  
‘Mendoza the Jew.’”  
Jews in Britain were immigrants who had already broken the rigid structure back home by choosing to  
emigrate. When they arrived in Britain, they were not restricted by mandatory communally bodies or  
synagogue attendance. The Jewish community did not close them in, and the British community did not  
lock them out, giving them extensive opportunities for interaction on all rungs of the social ladder.  
The Jew Bill  
English-born Jews were citizens, a status that Jews in many other parts of Europe did not enjoy.  
However, they still faced legal disabilities owing to the fact that they were not members of the Church  
of England. Along with Catholics, Protestant Dissenters, and others who were not members of the  
Church of England, Jews were unable to serve in Parliament, vote in parliamentary elections, hold  
municipal office, and suffered from several other restrictions. These limits notwithstanding, Jews still  
enjoyed the ability to engage in any trades they might want to pursue and were not burdened by special  
Jewish merchants, however, continued to be restricted from certain avenues of commerce because they  
were not members of the Church of England. In 1753, they made an effort to change this through the  
proposal of the “Jew Bill,” which would eliminate this requirement for foreign born Jews. The merchants’  
potential competitors launched a noisy effort to block the bill, in what led to the most expansive debate  
on the status of Jews in Britain. The debate including anti-Semitic slander, and the tone became quite  
heated. Ultimately, the backers of the bill became concerned about the ensuing furor and withdrew  
their support. Jewish status did not change until the next century, although Jews continued to enjoy a  
status superior in many ways to that of their continental counterparts.  
Jewish Emancipation  
The remaining Jewish disabilities began to increasingly chafe well-integrated Jews in the 19th century.  
Second- and third-generation British Jews were dismayed by the remaining restrictions because their  
very existence suggested that Jews were inferior. As more Jews reached the middle class, these  
disabilities became increasingly intolerable.  
Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, a leader of the emancipation effort, told Sir Robert Peel in 1845 that the Jews  
“desired to be placed on an equality in civil privileges with other persons dissenting from the  
established church not so much on account of the hardship of being excluded from particular stations  
of trust or honor, as on account of the far greater hardship of having a degrading stigma fastened upon  
us by the laws of our country.”  
The first Jewish emancipation bill was introduced in Parliament in 1830. After initial defeats, the House  
of Commons passed the bill in 1833, but despite repeated attempts, it was continually defeated in the  
House of Lords. Opposition primarily came from religious Tories. The repeated elections of Jews who  
were unable to be seated as well as the bestowal of titles on Goldsmid, Anthony de Rothschild, and  
Moses Montefiore, made the Tories’ position look anachronistic and intransigent. By 1858, the  
Conservative Party relented.  
Board of Deputies  
The election of Jews to parliament, the bestowal of knighthoods and baronetcies, as well as the  
tremendous financial success Jews found in Britain, sent a powerful message to the rest of the world  
about what Jews could accomplish in a society with few legal barriers, Jews from elsewhere began to  
look with pride and hope to self-confident English Jewry, most publicly toward the Board of Deputies of  
English Jews, which represented the Jewish community in its relations with the state.  
Sir Moses Montefiore  
With few breaks, from 1835 to 1874, Sir Moses Montefiore served as President of the Board, which  
became involved in overseas diplomacy, advocating for repressed Jews abroad. In 1840 at the time of  
the Damascus blood libel, Montefiore traveled to the Middle East to push for the release of Jews  
imprisoned in Damascus on the charges of having murdered a priest and his servant to obtain their  
blood for ritual purposes. This latest resurfacing of the medieval “Blood Libel” became an international  
diplomatic incident, protested by many European governments as well as the United States.  
The mission was successful, and the Jews were released. Montefiore and the Board subsequently led  
other missions to aid persecuted Jews in Russia, Romania, and Morocco. Although few of these  
missions were successful, Montefiore was flooded with requests for assistance. Endelman writes,  
“Perhaps what he symbolized — Western Jewish confidence, wealth, and access to power mobilized in  
the defense of persecuted Jews — was more important than what he in fact accomplished.”  
Confidence in English Society  
The activism of British Jews in this regard illustrates their confidence in English society: they did not  
fear that their positions would be endangered by advocating for the interests of their less fortunate co-  
religionists. They did not fear that they would be accused of being less English.  
As the 19th century came to an end, an increased immigration from Eastern Europe would permanently  
transform the character of the community. The 20th century would bring new challenges, with the rise  
of Hitler, World War II, the creation of Israel, the growth of non-Orthodox forms of Judaism, and the  
increasing opportunities — and pitfalls — of the modern world.  
(A subsequent article will deal with the story of Jewish life in Britain in the modern period.)

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