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Here We Go Again

by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen

Anti-Judaism was always driven by two, agents, religion, and politics. And so it is today. Nowadays it stems mainly from the unholy and contradictory alliance between Islamism and the Marxist depiction of Jews as wealthy oppressors. It was the same story in England with different actors long ago.

The Jews were expelled from England by Edward the 1st in 1290 as a result for the next nearly 400 years there were no Jews allowed to live in England. During the reign of Elizabeth the1st some Jews had come to England, they came as new Christians and not as Jews. There were no recognizable Jews in England. All the English knew about Jews was from the plays of Christopher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, and William Shakespeare The Merchant of Venice. Both of which portray Jews negatively.

It was not until the Civil War which led to the execution of King Charles the 1st and the appointment of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector in 1653, that a serious effort was made to officially readmit Jews to England. Two factors played a part in this development. One of them was theological. The rise of Protestantism emphasized the Bible and an interest in Judaism. The other was to do with the financial success of the Jews expelled first from Spain and then Portugal, moving to Amsterdam and Hamburg and the Caribbean and South America, where they played an important part in transatlantic trade and the emergence both of Holland and England as new mercantile powers.

One of the most prominent Jews of Amsterdam at the time was Menashe Ben Israel the rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam. He was so popular that even Queen Henrietta Maria ( the wife of King Charles the 1st) visited his synagogue in 1642. In 1650 he wrote a book called Spes Israelis in which he argued that the Jews were condemned to be scattered across the world as a punishment for not accepting Christianity and that there would be no second coming until they were scattered everywhere. It was necessary, therefore for Jews to be readmitted to England to usher in a new Christian messianic era.

In 1653 Oliver Cromwell became the Lord protector of England after the Civil War and execution of Charles the 1st. Although a strongly committed Protestant he was not a mystical man, but a very practical one and he saw the commercial advantages of welcoming Jews to England. The son of Menashe Ben Israel submitted two petitions to Cromwell to readmit the Jews and as a result, Cromwell invited Menashe to come to England in 1655. He brought with him a pamphlet he had written The humble address of Menashe Ben Israel a Divine and Doctor of Physik on behalf of the Jewish Nation.

Oliver Cromwell took advice from two of the major legal authorities of the time Sir John Glynn and William Steele and they said there was no law forbidding Jews to return. The original expulsion was not a law but a royal decree. The matter was debated over five sessions and then opened to the public. Both the Clergy and the Merchants were strongly opposed and reacted in the most prejudiced manner, claiming the Jews would convert St Paul’s Cathedral into a synagogue, forcibly convert the English to Judaism, and steal their businesses. Oliver Cromwell spoke eloquently in favor of the proposal but seeing the strength of the opposition suspended the council with the matter unresolved.

Nevertheless, he turned a blind eye to the arrival of Jews in public, and in 1656 a small synagogue was opened in Cree Church Lane and a cemetery was acquired in Mile End, East London. A rabbi Nathan Shapiro from Jerusalem was welcomed and all cases against Jews as unwanted illegal interlopers were dropped or overturned. The settlement of Jews was tacitly condoned though continued to be opposed and constant attempts were made to incite or remove them.

When Cromwell died, those attempts were redoubled to deny the Jews settlement. But the new King Charles the 2nd who came to the throne in 1660 had dealings with Jews on the continent while in exile. Like Cromwell, he saw the value of a Jewish community and supported them. During 1663 there were four petitions to Parliament to expel the Jews. But in 1664 Parliament officially recognized Jewish residence ( not citizenship ) although there was no formal invitation to return. Antisemitism continued to fester at all levels of society and yet the Jewish community flourished and began to play an important part in English life.

Succeeding monarchs continued to support Jewish life. Queen Anne donated material towards the new synagogue of Bevis Marks. But the masses remained opposed. As I wrote a few months ago, in 1753 a Jew Bill granting Jews all civil rights passed the Lords 95-16 and then the Commons and was signed by King George. But the outcry from the mercantile and clerical communities was so full of hate and lies that the bill was repealed six months later. And it would take another hundred years ( long after the United States) before Jews we granted complete equality.

The readmission of Jews was not the noble act of tolerance that it is often made out to be. It was a practical accommodation. We now live at a time when “Kill the Jews” reverberates again. Anti-Judaism is as common and insidious as it was in those days. We managed to survive hatred and prejudice then. This, if anything, gives us some comfort that however uncomfortable we may be feeling at the moment, in the long run, we will survive.

29th February 2024


Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.


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