The Jews of South-West England
Thesis by Rabbi Bernard Susser
The communal organizations of the Jewish communities of the South-West, 1750-1900
Lay and Religious Leadership
Until the second World War the constitutions of the four South-West Congregations, like all the historic congregations of Anglo-Jewry, [See V. D. Lipman, 'Synagogal organisation in Anglo-Jewry', The Jewish Journal of Sociology, I (1959) (afterwards quoted as Lipman, 'Synagogal Organisation'), 80-93.] were essentially oligarchic in character. In this regard they conformed to the general pattern of the closed municipal corporations of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England, with the status of privileged membership (Hezkat HaKehillah) corresponding to that of the freedom of the corporation which was available by purchase, inheritance, or apprenticeship. V. D. Lipman has pointed out even closer parallels between the London synagogal organization and the close vestries of the parishes where there was even identity of nomenclature. [Lipman, 'Synagogal Organisation', (Vp. 85.] All the Congregations made a clear distinction between full members - Baalei Batim enjoying Hezkat HaKehillah (congregational rights or vestry membership), and the renters of seats - Toshavim or seatholders. Outside these two classes, all others were regarded merely as Orchim, strangers or guests, even though they may have been resident in the town for many years. [See Laws and Regulations of the Plymouth Hebrew Congregation (1835) (afterwards quoted as PHC Regulations, 1835), p. 2. Seatholders were sometimes called orchim in Plymouth (PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 10).]
The original Baalei Batim, or vestry members as they were later called when the congregations translated their traditional terms, [PHC Regulations, 1835, p. 9. In Manchester they were called Free Members (Williams, Manchester Jewry, p. 54.)] were the wealthier members of the nascent community who were willing and able to shoulder the first expenses. Possibly they allowed the poor but exceptionally learned to join their ranks. [In 1789 it was found necessary to specify that poor vestry members had equal rights with the rich (PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 49).] The group of Baalei Batim governed the affairs of the Congregation in the form of an executive committee known as Kohol. [The term is transliterated in the Ashkenasi pronunciation, which was used by the immigrants.] Once the Plymouth Congregation's Kohol had been constituted, vestry membership was automatically granted to the sons and sons-in-law of Baalei Batim on payment of half a guinea, [PHC Min. Bk. I, regulation 14, p. 5.] whilst others if they obtained a majority of votes in their favour after being proposed and seconded in Kohol would be granted the same rights on payment of two guineas. [Ibid. regulation 13. The amounts payable for vestry membership did not vary much until the category was abolished in 1945. The London synagogues charged five or ten guineas (Lipman, 'Synagogal Organisation', p. 81).] A similar arrangement was in operation in Exeter:
The son of a vestry member having had a seat two years, paying the full amount due to the Kehillah by him to the day of his admission, and of a good moral character, may be admitted a member of Kohol, if married at twenty-one years of age and if not married at twenty-five years of age; on admission to pay half a guinea. If a person should marry the daughter of a vestry member he must be Twenty-one years of age, pay One Guinea admission and be subject to all the aforenamed conditions. A Seatholder having had a seat for three years may be proposed for a vestry member but must be twenty-one years of age if married, and if not married Twenty-five years of age, on admission to pay one Guinea, such person can only be elected at the Annual Meeting and must be proposed at a Quarterly Meeting previous. [EHC Regulations, 1833, no. 15.]
The same system operated in Penzance. In 1844, when other small provincial congregations were abandoning the oligarchic system and there were murmurings against it in London, [Lipman, 'Synagogal Organization', p. 87.] the tiny and declining Congregation there revised its regulations and still maintained the class distinctions. The Congregation forming the Penzance community was classed thus:
All other descriptions of persons are called Orchim or strangers. [Roth MSS 205, PenHC Revised Regulations, 1844, no. 7.]
The Baalei Batim formed about one-third to a half of the total Jewish community, as Table 34 illustrates.
Among what may be termed the religious privileges of the Baalei Batim were those of officiating as Hatan Torah and Bereishit; [See Glossary for these and the following Hebrew terms.] to officiate as Segan on the Sabbath preceding the wedding of one of his children, or on the Sabbath when one of his sons was Bar Mitzvah, or if his wife attended the synagogue for the first time after child birth, or if his son was circumcised that day; of being given an Aliyah on Festivals, on the Sabbath before and after the marriage of a child, the circumcision of a child or Yahrzeit, on the day of his wife's first appearance in synagogue after her confinement, the day of his son's Bar Mitzvah, or when he was obliged to Bentsch Gomel; to have the attendance of the cantor and beadle on the occasions of a circumcision or mourning; to lead congregational prayers except on Sabbath and Festivals. The privileges of the Baalei Batim extended to the very portals of the next world. They were also entitled to burial on the high ground belonging to the Congregation, free of expense for himself and wife, and right of ground free of expense for his children, parents, brothers and sisters. [PHC Regulations, 1835, p. 9, of which Roth MSS 205, PenHC Revised Regulations, 1844, nos. 31-38 are a word-for-word repetition.]
The Baalei Batim strenuously defended their privileges and preserved their status even when they left town, paying half a guinea to retain their rights. [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 9. In Exeter he could keep his Hezkat HaKehillah rights by paying an annual retainer of five shillings (EHC Regulations, 1833, no. 16).]
The Baalei Batim had not only religious privileges, they also had control of the governing body of the congregation, Kohol, as well as the power to assess contributions and control financial outlay. It is fair to add that they also carried the lion's share of the financial outlay. In 1815, for example, the average annual per capita income from the Plymouth Congregation's Baalei Batim was £10. 12s. compared to £4. 5s. from the seat holder. [PHC A/c. 1815.] The four Congregations in the South-West had a very similar hierarchy. A Parnas - the president or warden; a Gabbai Zedakah (literally, charity collector) - the treasurer; a Gabbai Beth Hayyim - an overseer of the burial ground; a committee of the Five Men or the Three Men; and Kohol, the vestry. [PHC Regulations, 1835, p. 1. The London Congregations had much the same organization on a more elaborate scale consonant with their larger numbers (Lipman, 'Synagogal Organization', pp. 81-3).] All of these were recruited only from the ranks of the Baalei Batim, who formed a social elite. [There does not appear to have been the rivalry between the 'old', established section of the community and the up and coming aspiring newcomers, leading to pressures to found new synagogues as in Manchester, London, Liverpool and Newcastle ((Williams, Manchester Jewry, pp. 135-63; D. Cesarani, 'The Transformation of Communal Authority in Anglo-Jewry, 1914 - 1940', The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry, ed. D. Cesarani, pp. 6, 115; Kokosalakis, Ethnic Identity, p. 68; G. D. Guttentag, 'The Beginnings of the Newcastle Jewish Community', TJHSE, XXV (1977), pp. 1 - 25).]
It is convenient to describe the rights and duties of the members of this hierarchy as they were found in the Plymouth Congregation, as this will serve as a model for the other Congregations as well. The most powerful individual in the Congregation was the Parnas. He had 'the general superintendence of all the affairs of the Congregation, whether relative to the state of the community in general or to the Synagogue in particular'. [PHC Regulations, 1835, p. 2.] He acted as Segan unless that office was otherwise disposed of, presented all mitzvot, sending out notices each Thursday telling which seat-holders had to attend on Sabbath for an aliyah. Marriages could not be celebrated without his permission nor burials, nor could announcements be made in the synagogue or notices displayed there without his special licence. Moreover, the Parnas could empower the Gabbai to give not more than one guinea to any one necessitous person. [Ibid. p. 3.]
The Gabbai had the management of all receipts and expenditures of the Congregation, and was responsible for distributing casual relief to poor applicants, provided he did not give any individual more than five shillings in any one month, and also matzot to the poor. The seating arrangements in the synagogue were under his care and the letting of seats under his hand. It was also his province to order and superintend repairs to the synagogue or its ancillary buildings and to purchase whatever was needed, but he was not to spend more than two pounds without the prior consent of the vestry (Etrogim [Palm, citron, myrtles, and willows required for the festival of Tabernacles.] and candles excepted). It was naturally the duty of the Treasurer to keep the books, inspect the accounts of the collector, and to render an account to the vestry in the month of Heshvan (=October, i.e. after the High Festivals). [Ibid. pp. 4, 5.]
There was, and is, a special enclosed seat, 'the box', in front of the Bimah in which the Parnas and Gabbai had to sit, [PHC Regulations, 1835, p. 2.] and Honorary Officers are still colloquially known as 'the box'.
The third member of the executive was the overseer of the burial ground. His primary duty was to make all the necessary arrangements for funerals and to see that the burial ground was kept in proper order. To this latter end in his own discretion he could expend not more than half a guinea. Monies received from funerals or laid out for cemetery expenses were kept in a separate account called the Tikkun Beth Hayyim, and he had to give an account of this fund to the vestry at the appropriate time (Heshbon Zedek). Like his two colleagues he was also concerned with welfare work. He had to arrange for donations collected at funerals [It is customary for the beadle to hold out a charity box at the cemetery, crying the verse, 'But charity delivers from death' (Proverbs 10:2) in Hebrew.] to be distributed immediately to the poor. The relief of poverty due to sickness was his special province, and he could give up to ten shillings and sixpence to any one case. Moreover, he was obliged to visit the sick and arrange a rota of every member of the Congregation, whatever his status, to attend the sick and render such help as was necessary. [PHC Regulations, 1835, pp. 5, 6.]
But however influential the Honorary Officers were, it was the vestry, Kohol, which was the ultimate source of power, both making laws and enforcing them. The vestry was composed of the Baalei Batim who had to attend all meetings, unless unwell or out of town, [EHC Regulations, 1833, no. 6.] and who were obliged to vote yea or nay on each proposition. [Ibid. no. 14.]
The Committees of Three [Ibid. no. 1.] or Five [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 17.] men had very little executive power, their function being largely advisory. [Ibid.]
It is rather strange that they did not have a committee of seven, styled in Hebrew, the shiva tuvei ha'ir (the 'seven good men' of the Talmud and the Responsa literature), but possibly such a large subcommittee would have been unwieldy in relation to the size of the Kohol.
Another office of some importance, as it could only be served by Baalei Batim of three years standing, was that of Treasurer of the Perpetual Lamp. Only Plymouth of the South-Western Congregations appears to have maintained this office, a nonexecutive one, and even there only in the eighteenth century. [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 5. Cf. the special prayer offered on Sabbaths in all synagogues for 'those who give lamps for lighting and wine for kiddush and havdalah'. Only by chance did the author discover that Mr Jack Cohen's family has defrayed the expense of wine for the Plymouth synagogue for the past century.] Election to executive office was dependent on a form of apprenticeship. The Plymouth Congregation's rules stipulated that no person could be 'elected to the office of Parnas unless he has first served or paid fine for the office of Gabbai' nor can he be elected to the office of Gabbai unless he has served or been fined for the office of overseer of the cemetery fund'. [PHC Regulations, 1835, p. 7.] Even this last and lowly office could only be served by a Baal Habayit of three years standing. [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 5. A similar rule was in force in London (Lipman, 'Synagogal Organization', p. 84) and in other provincial communities, e.g. Bristol (Rules for regulating the congregation of the Old Synagogue, Bristol (1838), p. 4.] In the eighteenth century, bachelors were not admitted to executive office though they could exercise the other rights and privileges of Baalei Batim. [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 45.]
The oligarchic type of constitution remained in force in the Falmouth, Penzance and Exeter Congregations until their disbandment in the late nineteenth century. [Lipman, 'Synagogal Organization', p. 85.] In Plymouth, too, it remained rigidly in force. Until the Second World War, the vestry members wore silk top hats at Sabbath and Festival services, [Mr Lionel Aloof recollects these being kept in a small room reserved for that purpose.] but ex-Servicemen returning after the war insisted on one type of membership with equal rights for all members. [London and some provincial Congregations were moving towards a more democratic pattern in the second half of the eighteenth century (Lipman, 'Synagogal Organization', p. 86).] This democratization did not, however, extend to women, who, even if members in their own right (such as widows or spinsters), never had a vote nor could they be elected to any executive office. From time to time since 1960, there have been attempts by some of the members of the Plymouth Congregation to secure voting rights for women, but these were vetoed by the religious leadership. Eventually, a resolution giving women the vote and the right to serve on the General Purposes Committee but not to be chairman or treasurer, was passed in 1975.
Side by side with lay leadership, the South-West Congregations had at various times differing degrees of religious leadership. Traditionally, a well-organized Jewish community needs a rabbi, a shochet, a mohel and a teacher; it is also desirable to have a cantor and a beadle.
The functions of a rabbi are essentially judicial, with an independent jurisdiction, a function in Anglo-Jewry which is nowadays generally exercised by a dayan of a Bet Din. He gives rulings on the requirements of Jewish law both for the community as well as for individual Jews. As Judaism is an all-embracing way of life, the rabbi's authority extends to the very warp and woof of a Jew's life, both religious and secular. Not only religious services, observance of the Sabbath and dietary laws and other religious precepts, but also business dealings such as contracts, loans and their repayment, credit purchase and interest agreements, as well as matters affecting personal status such as marriage and divorce, contraception and abortion, organ transplants and the like, are the legitimate province of the rabbi, who advises how these matters may be carried out consonantly with Jewish law and who settles any disputes which may arise. Theoretically, and largely in practice, in Jewish communities throughout the world at least until the seventeenth century, the rabbi was the head and leader of the congregation over which he was appointed.
In the Anglo-Jewish community from the re-settlement in the mid-seventeenth century until towards the end of the nineteenth century few Congregations elected a rabbi of the type just described. [See Gartner, Jewish Immigrant, pp. 190, 215. See also Williams, Manchester Jewry, p. 182. Even the appointment of Rabbi Dr Schiller-Szinessy to the Manchester community in 1851 was subject to the agreed proviso that 'he would not assume for himself any decision on rabbinical questions' (Williams, Manchester Jewry, p. 188). For an account of Manchester Jewry's struggle to appoint its own independent Rabbi in the mid-nineteenth century, see Williams, Manchester Jewry, pp. 209-20, 234-7. Orthodox, small, independent hevrot in Manchester and London began to appoint dayan-type rabbis towards the end of the nineteenth century (see B. Williams, 'East and West', The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry, ed. D. Cesarani, (Oxford, 1990), p. 17. In Liverpool, no rabbi had any special power in the running of the community; as late as the 1920's, the authority of the communal Rav, Rabbi S. J. Rabbinowitz, was not recognized by the Old Hebrew Congregation (Kokosalakis, Ethnic Identity, pp. 69, 147).] For the most part, both the London and provincial Congregations were content to utilise the rabbi of the Great Synagogue, London, who was often styled in the eighteenth century 'the High Priest', and afterwards 'the Chief Rabbi'. Several factors account for this centralization of rabbinical functions. [See Gartner, Jewish Immigrant, pp. 190, 215.] In the first place, newly emerging congregations were rarely sufficiently well financed to be able to afford the 'luxury' of a rabbi. Particularly, as between them the congregants had a fair knowledge of the requirements of Jewish law in most day to day situations. Furthermore, it is probable that Jewish immigrants to England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as well as the twentieth, were not averse to relaxing strict rabbinical supervision of their lives. Indeed, it may well be that the absence of such supervision and the general lack of social pressure to conform with Jewish religious requirements prompted some immigrants to leave their strictly ordered lives in their native town and settle in the more liberalized atmosphere of England. As one Toynbee Hall, London, resident put it,
It is a common saying amongst the foreign Jews that England is a 'freie Medinah' - a country where the restrictions of orthodoxy cease to apply... [See Gartner, Jewish Immigrant, pp. 24, 195.]
Then again, financial control and hence ultimate power was vested in the lay leadership which was loath to share its authority with a local religious authority and thus possibly lose it altogether. For all these reasons, it was far more convenient for a provincial Congregation to recognize the Chief Rabbi [The Chief Rabbi was virtually the only person in England with Congregational responsibilities who was called by the title of Rabbi.] in London as its spiritual head and to submit to him peripheral points which affected in the main only the externals of Judaism, whilst retaining local autonomy to deal with many matters as it thought fit, rather than to appoint a local rabbi. [Cf. the usurpation of rabbinical function by the Kohol of Plymouth in 1819 which decided, for example, who were the obligatory aliyot (PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 90).] It has also been argued that after 1870 the Chief Rabbi's authority was strengthened by Anglo-Jewish communities which wanted an equivalent of the Archbishop of Canterbury. [S. Sharot, Judaism: A Sociology (1976), p. 72, quoted by Kokosalakis, Ethnic Identity, p. 78.]
In recognizing the Chief Rabbi in London as their rabbinical authority and eschewing a local rabbi, the Congregations of the South-West conformed to the pattern followed by most other provincial Anglo-Jewish Congregations in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The Plymouth Congregation entered into its Book of Records written in 1807, a special page entitled (in translation):
The superscription is so couched that at first reading it might well be thought, and indeed it once was, that Rabbi Tevele Schiff and the others had actually been the local rabbis in Plymouth. [Roth, Provincial Jewry, p. 92.] This is, however, impossible, as the career of the last named is too well known to admit of the possibility that he had ever been a rabbi in Plymouth. The authority of the London Chief Rabbi was amply acknowledged by the Plymouth Congregation. Its regulations of 1779 compel every person called to the Torah to mention the name of 'the Gaon, the Head of the Beth Din of the Great Synagogue in the holy congregation of London'. [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 1.] The same rule was incorporated in the Penzance Congregation's regulations in 1844, by which time, however, it was omitted in Plymouth. [Roth MSS 205, Regulation 79.]
A special commemorative prayer was made in Plymouth on behalf of the departed Chief Rabbis of England. [This prayer is currently recited in many synagogues belonging to the United Synagogue, London.] A manuscript prayer book written specially for the Plymouth Congregation in 1805 commemorates the following:
In the 1779 regulations it was also enacted that in the event of a dispute between members of the Congregation
Similarly an authorization from the Chief Rabbi was required before any marriage was solemnized. [Ibid. p. 3.] A minute of 1802 shows just how seriously the Congregation took its responsibility in this matter:
Behold, there is a certain man here, and his name is Elimelech ben Rabbi Moses YZV, and it is in his mind to arrange a wedding for his wife's daughter, the maiden Pessela bat Nathaniel, may his lamp shine, together with the bridegroom Zelig ben Asher, and he has asked us to send on his behalf for authorization of the wedding ceremony. However, these men have no portion or inheritance in our Congregation YIA, neither do we know anything at all about the bride or groom as to who they are. Therefore we have withheld our hand from writing anything in this matter except by consent of our Teacher, may his lamp shine. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 23.]
Moreover, from an early date the Congregation would not appoint a shochet unless he was duly certified as competent by the Chief Rabbi, even if he had been so certified by well-known European rabbis. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 55.] The control was very tight. When it was discovered in 1764, during the interregnum that followed Hart Lyon's [Chief Rabbi from 1758-1764.] retirement, that Moses ben Uri Hamburger, one of the London shochetim, had given a licence to a certain Hirsch Mannheim of Plymouth, the officers of the Great Synagogue, London, insisted that his position should be regularized, until a new Chief Rabbi was elected, by the three official London shochetim. [C. Roth, 'The Chief Rabbinate in England', Essays presented to J. H. Hertz, ed. I. Epstein, E. Levine, C. Roth (1942), p. 374.] It may also be observed that when important agreements between various groups within the Congregation were made, they were entered into under the auspices of the Chief Rabbi who was the natural arbitrator when any dispute about the interpretation of the agreement arose. [PHC Min. Bk. II. p. 55.]
In the early part of the nineteenth century the Plymouth Congregation paid what amounted to an annual retainer to Solomon Hirschell, the Chief Rabbi in London. In 1808, for example, the vestry voted ten pounds to be sent to him as 'head of the Beth Din of London and the State'. [Ibid. p. 48.] Similarly,in 1811 it was decided 'to send a present to the Rav, the Gaon, our master and teacher, the sum of £15 for the past three years'. [Ibid. p. 65.] Apparently the rate was fixed at about five pounds per annum. The relationship between the Congregation and the Chief Rabbinate was formally recognized at the election of Chief Rabbi Nathan Adler in 1844, when Plymouth had two votes by virtue of making an annual contribution of ten guineas. [VJ, 16 August 1844.]
The relationship between the Exeter Congregation and the Chief Rabbis of London was never as close as that of the Plymouth Congregation. There are no indications in the surviving accounts of the Exeter Congregation of any 'presents' to him, there was no obligation to mention the name of the Chief Rabbi when called to the Torah, nor are the names of the Chief Rabbis commemorated in its necrology. [The Exeter Congregation's necrology is in the Jewish Museum, London. See Illustration 13.] In 1844, the Exeter Congregation declined to contribute to the support of the Chief Rabbi and consequently had no delegate or vote at the election of Nathan Adler in 1844. [VJ, 16 August 1844.] Its attitude on this occasion seems to have stemmed not so much from the fact that it was a small and declining community - so were the Falmouth and Penzance Congregations which each sent a delegate - but rather due to a tradition of disinterest in the London Chief Rabbi. The Exeter Congregation and its members did, however, call on the services of various Chief Rabbis particularly in matters concerning personal status such as conversions and marriages but also, especially in the 1850's and 1860's, to settle disputes amongst themselves. There is no clear cut reason why Exeter, apparently alone of the South-West Congregations, had this distinctly cool attitude to the Chief Rabbinate. Possibly, they were fortunate in having cantor/shochetim of high calibre who were able to assert themselves as de facto rabbis. Indeed it does appear as though the Exeter Congregation referred to its cantor in the first half of the nineteenth century as the rabbi, [EHC Regulations, 1833, no. 31.] and the right to pasken (give decisions based on Jewish religious law) in the synagogue, a purely rabbinical function, was exclusively reserved to him. [Ibid. p. 3.]
The Plymouth Congregation, on the other hand, appears to have had only one rabbi, qua rabbi, throughout its history. [Rabbi Moses Ephraim (Lipman, 'Aliens List', 28) who was in Plymouth from 1780-1815 was a tutor in a private family, the Josephs, but had no rabbinical position.] He was Rabbi Phineas ben Samuel who was appointed for one year on 22 June 1800 as 'Preacher and to give ritual decisions at £45 per annum plus lamp for lighting and coal for fire'. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 16.] There must have been some conflict of authority, perhaps between him and Chief Rabbi Hirschell, because in 1801 his unfettered right to celebrate weddings was restricted so that he could only perform them at the discretion of Kohol. [Ibid. p. 21.] Phineas's appointment was renewed for a further year on 14 June 1801 but his name then drops from the Congregational records in Plymouth. [Besides his Midrash Phineas (which has a useful subscribers' list) Phineas also wrote Sefer Kinoteha DePhineas (Berlin, 1788) which has an introduction with some autobiographical details.] Apart from Phineas ben Samuel there was no other appointment of a rabbi as such in Plymouth, [The Revd Dr M. Berlin, minister in Plymouth from 1896-1906, had a Rabbinical Diploma, but as was common at that time, did not style himself Rabbi (information from his son, Mr B. Berlin). He was a considerable scholar, the Revd S. Singer pays tribute to him in 1891 for valuable assistance which he gave in preparing the first edition of the Authorised Daily Prayer Book.] nor was the engagement of one contemplated, there being no rules at any time governing the appointment or conduct of a rabbi. Nor was there at any time in any of the South-West Congregations a seat for the rabbi, another indication that such an appointment was never considered on a permanent basis.
Although all male Jews aged thirteen years and over may lead congregational prayers, in practice most Congregations engage a professional singer, called a cantor, who conducts the main services, often with a (male) choir. [The prohibition of any musical accompaniment makes the cantor (and choir) almost a necessity when there are several hundred worshippers present.] A top flight cantor, internationally known in Jewish communities, has always been able to command a high salary and is called upon to conduct services on Sabbaths, Festivals, and special occasions, and he would have few if any other duties. But most Congregations generally engaged men with a pleasant voice who were able to perform other functions as well, particularly that of shochet, or beadle. Indeed, in the Plymouth Congregation, the duties of cantor and beadle were regarded as reciprocal, if either was absent the other had to perform his duties. [PHC Regulations, 1835, no.99.]
About 1823, when the Plymouth Congregation was in a poor state, both financially as well as numerically, officials were no longer appointed primarily on their cantorial prowess, but rather as shochetim [See below for the functions of the shochet.] in the first instance, who could also act as a Baal Tefillah, i.e. one with a pleasant voice who was able to lead the prayers and read the scriptures, but not a professional singer. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 178.]
At most periods in the South-West, each Congregation had only one cantor. Plymouth, however, from 1796 until 1816 had a second cantor known as the chazan sheni. The second cantor's duties were, in the main, the same as the first's. [Cf. PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 115.] The appointment of a chazan sheni was probably due to the advancing age of the first cantor, Jacob Judah ben Benjamin, who was appointed cantor about 1770 and remained in office until his death as a near centenarian in 1829. [He was Levi Benjamin, one of the teachers of Leoni, the master of Braham (Annual Register, 29 March 1829). He had the most powerful voice in the kingdom (Gent. Mag. 1829, p. 380).]
The cantor, unlike a rabbi in the performance of his rabbinical duties, was subject to the control of the Parnas or Gabbai. This was spelt out in the Exeter Congregation's regulations of 1833:
he shall at all times and all places in his official duties be under the direction of the Gabbai or person acting as such, excepting at funerals when he must conform to the orders of the Gabbai of the Cemetery Fund. [EHC Regulations, 1833, no. 45.]
The cantor had to be present at all synagogal services whether he led them or not, and dressed in his proper attire. [PHC Regulations, 1835, no. 84.] This attire was specified in 1794 in Plymouth as consisting of 'kregil and mantle'. [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 60. The Kregil was the white bibs such as are worn nowadays by barristers and clergymen.] The Exeter Congregation in 1823 similarly insisted on a proper uniform:
the cantor must not be in synagogue in time of service without his Mantell, Biff and Hat, subject to a fine of 2/6d for each offence. [EHC Regulations, 1823, no. 22. Biff is probably a Yiddish form of 'bib', cf. the previous note.]
This preoccupation with a uniform, which was later to be called 'canonicals', the very term redolent of the church, has remained a feature of Anglo-Jewish synagogal officials until the present day. When Mr H. Aloof answered an advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle in 1924 inviting applications for 'a shammas, Reader and Collector' in Plymouth the one requirement beyond carrying out his duties was that he had to wear his 'uniform' - silk top hat and clerical gown - at all Sabbath and Festival services. [Letter from Mr Aloof's son, Lionel, 19 January 1989.] Until World War II, almost every single Jewish minister in Britain wore the Christian clergyman's badge of office, the 'dog-collar'. This went out of fashion after the war, though the author was asked whether or not he would wear one in Plymouth when he applied for the position as late as 1961. The lay insistence that rabbis and ministers should wear canonicals' has become a point of issue in many British synagogues. [The use of surplice or gown by the minister when he preached in church had been a matter of bitter controversy in Elizabethan and Stuart times, and there were still rumblings in the nineteenth century (J] Thurmer, 'The Nineteenth Century: The Church of England', Unity and Variety (Exeter, 1991), pp. 121-2.]
The cantor was expected to conduct the entire service, though on Sabbaths and Festivals, when the service generally lasts two and a half or three hours, the beadle helped out by saying the first part of the prayers, until shochen ad. [PHC Regulations, 1835, no. 84.] The three South-West Congregations whose rules have survived [No written records of the Falmouth Congregation appear to have survived.] all insisted that it was the cantor's 'positive duty to attend in the synagogue on the day prior to every Sabbath and Festival for the purpose of rehearsing the portion allotted for the occasion, and to be careful in noticing and correcting any error that may have occurred in the Manuscript of the Scripture, which might altogether desecrate the Scroll of the Law or require correction'. [PHC Regulations, 1835, no. 84; PenHC Regulations, 1844, no. 64; EHC Regulations 1833, no. 45.]
The cantor in the South-West Congregations was also expected to act as a bookkeeper and collector of monies, [PHC Regulations, 1835, nos. 91, 93.] as well as a secretary to keep minutes and the registers of births, marriages and deaths. [Ibid. nos. 91, 92.]
It appears that of the four South-West Congregations only Plymouth was ever able even to contemplate engaging a top flight, internationally famous cantor. In 1815, Yedidiah Naftali Hirtz ben Moses of (?)Lichtentam came to Plymouth for an audition over Passover and for five Sabbaths, at a period when the Congregation was at its most prosperous. His wages were to be £100 per annum, but evidently this was not sufficient for him, or perhaps the number of worshippers was not great enough to satisfy his artistic ego, because he declined the appointment, the Congregation observing 'and the worshippers had much pleasure from his singing, therefore the cantor and choristers shall have £10 from the charity box'. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 107.] After this failure to secure a top flight cantor the Congregation went back to its pedestrian cantors who could and did combine their artistic talents with the more prosaic ones of ensuring a supply of kosher meat or teaching children.
Another synagogal office was that of the beadle, called in Hebrew the shammash, though more generally pronounced shammas, the jack of all trades and maid of all work. Whereas the rabbi and, to a lesser extent, the cantor occupy an office of leadership which tends to distance them from the ordinary congregant, the beadle is close to the ordinary worshipper both physically as well as metaphorically. Besides doubling up for the cantor he had to open and close the synagogue and superintend its cleaning. [PHC Regulations, 1835, nos. 100, 101.] Nowadays, the shammas sets out the prayer books and chumashim (copies of the Pentateuch) for each service. He shows the untutored the place, and helps mourners who have not previously attended weekday services to put on their phylacteries and to recite the kaddish at its appropriate times. He ensures that the Torah scrolls are rolled to the right place in readiness for the next service, and that the right boards are slotted into the wall display notice-board announcing the portion of the week, or special liturgical insertions. He prepares a white curtain in front of the Ark and white mantles to cover the Scrolls in readiness for the High Holydays and, in Plymouth, for all the days on which Yizkor is recited. To the shammas was entrusted the task of maintaining decorum during the services. This was the acid-test of his authority. Often, he would cultivate a steely glance which was sufficient to quell a city magnate in his seat. In Plymouth he had to make announcements in the synagogue, [PHC Regulations, 1835, no. 96.] and in every Congregation he was the general factotum of the community, carrying messages, taking round the lulav and etrog to those unable to come to the synagogue so that they could say the blessing over them at the festival of Tabernacles, announcing births, inviting people to religious festivities, and generally making himself, if he was at all an able person, an almost indispensable part of the community. When he was efficient services ran smoothly, he would inform the wardens which worshippers were due to be called to the Torah and made sure that they were called to a passage consonant with their dignity, potential disputes were settled by a tactful word before they flared up, and the community flourished. The beadle has always been the lynch pin of a congregation. [The author pays a filial debt in giving this description of a beadle's activities - his father was the much beloved beadle of the Golders Green Synagogue, London, for more than thirty years.]
The beadle, like the cantor, was expected to have other skills. He was invariably the second shochet, a mohel, and/or a teacher. In 1802, in Plymouth, for example, the beadle Joseph ben Judah was also a shochet and was recognized as sufficiently learned to conduct marriage services; his wages were £40 per annum. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 24.] In 1816, Hayyim Issacher's basic wage as the beadle to the Plymouth Congregation was £50 per annum.
There was one other official essential for the convenience of the community - the shochet. Jewish law requires that food animals for Jewish consumption be killed by a trained man using a traditional technique known as shechitah, which avoids unnecessary pain to the animal. This man, whose training usually takes two or three years, [Less in the case of a shochet who slaughters only fowls.] is called a shochet. The carcase then has to be examined for signs of disease, the man doing this job being called a bodek. The two jobs are invariably combined, and the man is then called a shochet ubodek. [Abbreviated in Hebrew as þ .These initial letters, when placed after a practitioner's Hebrew name, have given rise to the surname Shoob.] If a community had no shochet, kosher meat had to be brought in from a neighbouring community, an expensive and highly inconvenient expedient at any time.
äIt has already been mentioned [Supra, pp. 201, 202.] that the shochetim in England at least from the early nineteenth century were licensed, after an examination, by the Chief Rabbi in London. Each shochet receiving a licence from Chief Rabbi Hirschell was obliged to give an undertaking, besides the usual obligations of the Jewish religion, not to shave with a razor and not to drink the wine of Gentiles. [Duschinsky, Rabbinate, p. 264. Presumably these particular prohibitions, the one Biblical, the other Rabbinic, were widely disregarded at that time.]
To ensure that the shochet had not forgotten the laws relating to the slaughter of animals and the examination of the carcase, and also that he had not lost his skill in setting the knife to exquisite sharpness, he had to report to the Chief Rabbi from time to time for re-examination. For this purpose the Plymouth Congregation sent Hayyim Issacher to London on Sunday, 27 February 1814, to be examined by Rabbi Solomon Hirschell. The Congregation allowed Hayyim eight pounds for the expense, which was perhaps calculated on a generous scale. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 95. The following Saturday night was Purim, and he was no doubt expected to be back on Friday. Apparently the return journey could be done in a week.] In 1837, B. A. Simmons went to London from Penzance to be examined at the request of Rabbi Hirschell 'and is to be allowed six pounds for expenses going up there and coming home'. [Penzance Minutes, Roth MSS 271, p. 82.]
The shochet in Penzance had to kill twice a week in winter and thrice a week in summer. [Roth MSS 205, no.69.] In Plymouth, with its larger community, he was busier, and besides killing for the butchers he had to attend the homes of those who required poultry to be slaughtered. [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 60.] Besides the inspection of the carcase, the shochet had also to 'porge' the meat, [PenHC Min. Bk. 1843, p. 6.] i.e. to remove certain veins, fat and sinews forbidden by Jewish law, [See Genesis, xxxii, 33.] and to ensure that it was watered within three days of slaughter. [PHC Min. Bk. i, p. 60. For the obligation to water meat within three days of slaughtering (unless soaked in the meantime) see S. Ganzfried, Code of Jewish Law (New York, 1927), XXXVI, 27.]
Rabbi Hirschell licensed not only professional shochetim, but also private individuals who were going to remote parts where there was no supply of kosher meat, [Cf. supra, p. 92, n. 3.] and possibly also individuals who preferred to slaughter for themselves as they wanted to abide by various stringencies which the regular shochet did not observe. In the case of individuals the authorization only extended to the slaughter of poultry. This would explain an otherwise strange reference in the Plymouth Congregation's rules of 1835 to 'persons duly authorized by the Chief Rabbi to kill poultry for themselves only' who were permitted to slaughter even without the express permission of the officers of the Congregation, and even when the Congregation had its own shochet. [PHC Regulations, 1835, no.141.]
A man's income is an important factor in his life and his family's happiness, often affecting his attitude to his work and the length of his service. How well off were the Jewish officials in the four Congregations in the South-West? Until about 1830, wages were not ungenerous, and taking into account perquisites and income from secondary activities, officials seem to have lived comfortably, and if length of service is any guide, to have enjoyed their work. From about 1840 until the end of the century their basic wages remained much the same, with even a tendency to some decrease. [For comparative figures in 1782 in the Anglican church see J. Barry, The Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries', Unity and Variety (Exeter, 1991), p. 101.]
The best paid official was the cantor. In the Plymouth Congregation, Jacob Judah ben Benjamin, for example, was receiving fifty guineas per annum in 1807 [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 41.] which was increased to six guineas per Jewish month in 1814. [Ibid. p. 96. It works out to about £78 per annum.] The second cantor, Lima ben Ze'ev, started at £25 per annum in 1796, which was increased to about £40 in 1800, and £50 in 1816. [PHC Min. Bk. II, pp. 8, 20, 133.] In 1815, a Nahman ben Isaac was appointed as first cantor, though without the title, as Jacob Judah ben Benjamin was still alive, at £60 per annum. [Ibid. p. 121.] He was able to augment his salary with a further £20 per annum by acting as shochet for the Dock Congregation. [Ibid.]
The basic wage of a shochet approximated to that of the cantor. In 1805, the shochet/beadle received £36 per annum for his services in Plymouth and a further £10 for his work at Dock, whilst a year later he got a composite salary of £50 per annum. [Ibid. pp. 34, 37.] At this time his colleague the cantor was getting £52. 10s. per annum. But the shochet was probably financially better off as he also received a fee from the housewife each time he slaughtered a bird. In 1822, for example, these payments were 4d. for a goose or turkey, and 3d. for a pair of fowls, ducks, or pigeons. [Ibid. p. 171. As the fee was 3d. for a pair of fowls, did Jewish housewives then generally use two chickens at a time?] Unfortunately, these fees being a private arrangement between householder and shochet, there is no record of just how much they amounted to. It may be surmised that they approximated to a further £25 per annum. The shochetim traditionally also received certain parts of the animal for their own use, [A. Shoshan, Man and Animal (Jerusalem, 1963), p. 124.] or had an allowance of free meat in lieu thereof. [Such was the tradition until kosher meat ceased to be sold in Plymouth under the aegis of the Congregation about 1964. According to the Exeter Meat Tax Book, 1828, the Revd Moses Levy received 12 lbs. of meat each week. The unvarying amount indicates a perquisite of a regular allocation.]
As the century wore on the Congregations of the South-West expected the cantor to double up as the shochet, but the wages, if anything, declined. In 1844, the cantor/shochet in Exeter got 19/6d. per week, [EHC Min. Bk. 1838-1845.] whilst his counterpart in Penzance received only 14/6d. per week. [PenHC Min. Bk. 1843-1863.] There are no figures available for the wages of the Plymouth Congregation's officials in the latter part of the nineteenth century, until 1865 when it advertised the vacant post of shochet at 23/-d. a week. [JC, 10 February 1865.] In 1884, the Revd A. Spier, general factotum to the Jewish community in Plymouth, was paid 40/-d. a week. [PHC Annual Balance Sheet, 1884.] It was little enough, but at the same period, the Penzance cantor/shochet had to manage on just half that amount. [PenHC Min. Bk. 1863-1892.]
Apart from the basic wage, the communal officials in the South-West Congregations, as elsewhere, had various opportunities to augment their income in one way or another. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, for example, legacies were sometimes left to the officials, usually to recite memorial prayers where the legator did not have male issue to say them. Examples of such bequests include one by E. A. Ezekiel who left three guineas in 1806 to Moses Levy 'teacher of the Synagogue, Exeter, for which he shall read the usual Lectures to my memory and to say Kaddish for me during eleven months'; [Will of E. A. Ezekiel, Admin. January 1807, in Archdeaconry Court of Exeter. The original was destroyed but a transcript by Michael Adler was given to Cecil Roth and a copy is now in the possession of the author. Ezekiel had no children to say kaddish for him.] and another by Jacob Jacob who left
£5 to Mr Ephrim to say a certain portion of the holy scriptures, Torah, as a prayer for me on every Saturday, also £5 to my brother-in-law Rabbi Simon for saying a prayer called Kaddish for me in the Synagogue every day. [P.C.C. Crickitt, 415, 1811. Rachael Benjamin, died 1817, left £1 to Moses Solomon to say prayers for twelve months, and £1 to 'Mr Isacher to learn for 1 month' (Devon Record Office, Wills, B652). See also infra, p. 231 for further details.]
Salaried officials could also expect to earn a few extra shillings each year by entering births, marriages and deaths in a register. Hayyim Issacher's contract of reappointment in 1822 specified:
The beadle shall keep a register book of all the children both male and female ... also a memorial of all weddings, may they be for good luck, and also a memorial of may we live and not die ... The beadle to have one shilling for each ... name inscribed. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 171.]
Until the early nineteenth century, officials in the South-West synagogues frequently engaged in trade to a lesser or greater extent, and there does not seem to have been any opposition on the part of the South-West Congregations to this. [Even the Chief Rabbi in London at this period had secondary sources of income (Duschinsky, Rabbinate, pp. 238, 243).] In the Plymouth Congregation, Levi Benjamin, cantor for more than 60 years until his death in 1829, was an umbrella maker, [Plymouth Library Archives, Worth, 285. He occupied a house in Basket Street, Plymouth from before 1797 to 1800.] Hayyim Issacher, beadle, was a slop-dealer, [He signed a lease for conduit water for a house in Butler Street, Plymouth, in 1815, and is described as a slop-seller.] Falk Valentine, shochet, acted as an agent for a London money changer, travelling through Devon and Cornwall buying up gold for paper money with fatal consequences to himself. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 78. He was engaged by the Plymouth Congregation as a shochet on 18 August 1811 (PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 63), and was murdered at Fowey in November 1811 whilst buying up golden guineas for paper money (Royal Cornwall Gazette, 30 November 1811, 28 March 1812, 3 April 1812).] In the Penzance Congregation, the general factotum, B. A. Simmons, had a lucrative sideline in selling crockery as well as bones, the latter presumably in connection with his shechitah activities. [Holograph letter to him from Abraham Joseph II in the possession of Godfrey Simmons of Penzance. He was minister in Penzance from 1812 until 1854.]
In the latter part of the nineteenth century when the members of the Congregation in the South-West began to demand that their officials should behave in a 'professional' way, [When the Penzance Congregation's official was absent from duty, for example, the committee wrote to him that 'such conduct ... was not becoming a Reverend' (Roth MSS, 204).] trading by officials was frowned upon if not forbidden. In 1840, the Exeter Congregation noted that
Mr Green having opened a shop in opposition to the wishes of the members - unless he give it up in three months, that he have notice to quit the situation ... Mr Green's answer is: I have no intention of giving up my shop. [EHC Min. Bk. 1838, p. 72. He was the Revd Michael L. Green, relation of Revd A. L. Green. In the 1841 Census he is described as a clothier and in July 1841 he married Rosetta, eldest daughter of M. Davis of Exeter (Trew. Flying Post, 1 July 1841).]
None of the South-West Congregations, however, seems to have objected to its officials teaching on a freelance basis, though the Exeter Congregation in 1851 did attempt to regulate the fees paid by parents. [EHC Minute Book II, meeting held 21 December 1851.] There has long been a Jewish tradition for parents who could afford it, and many who could not, to provide 'private' lessons for their children. The Plymouth Congregation itself in 1812 arranged with Simeon ben Nathan, its teacher, who had been appointed in 1806 at £42 per annum, [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 39.] that he would have £15 per annum for teaching poor children plus a further two guineas per annum for each additional child. At the same time he must have received at least two and probably three guineas per annum for each child of parents who could afford to pay. [Ibid. p. 68.] Even the shochet when he was able to do so, augmented his income by giving lessons, in one instance to Christian clergymen. Such a one was Michael Solomon Alexander who gave private lessons in Hebrew and German in 1824 to the Revd B. Golding of Stonehouse, [John Hatchard, The Predictions and Promises of God respecting Israel (Plymouth, 1825), Appendix by M. S. Alexander.] with far reaching consequences which will be discussed in Chapter 10. At a later period in Exeter, Revd M. Mendelssohn, 'teacher of Hebrew and German', had three pupils boarding with him and advertised in 1863 that he had room for another nine. [JC, 7 August 1863. Similarly, the reader of the Norwich Congregation, who was paid £1 a week in 1864, advertised, 'Hebrew, Chaldaic, German lessons ... Testimonials from English and Continental Universities (Norwich Argus, 8 October 1864).]
Undoubtedly, the officials of the South-West Congregations received gifts in cash or kind, from time to time, as, for example, when they officiated at a wedding, circumcision, [Revd Elias Pearlson kept a record of his income as a mohel in Hull. In 1883, he did 31 circumcisions which brought him in £8. 1s. 6d; in 1884 25 and received £7. 9s.; 31 in 1886 brought him £4. 16s.; and from 77 in the eighteen months ended December 1888 he made £9. 4s.; (original MSS in possession of E. Pearlson, Sunderland).] funeral, tombstone consecration, or sold hametz at Passover. [A Jew may not possess hametz, leaven, on Passover. If he has leavened food, say a bottle of whisky, which he does not wish to throw or give away, then he sells it to a non-Jew with the option of buying it back after Passover. Such sales are usually made through a rabbi, and a small payment is made to him for his trouble.] But no evidence has survived to show the extent of such gifts. Until the twentieth century it was customary in many communities for those called to the Reading of the Law to announce a donation to the cantor and beadle, and to the rabbi where there was one, in addition to donations made to the synagogal or other communal charitable funds. Surviving records do not suggest whether or not this system was ever in operation in the South-West Congregations.
Accommodation was provided by the Plymouth Congregation for its beadle in the house owned by it and which was adjacent to the synagogue. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 15.] Other officials in the South-West almost certainly had to provide their own accommodation.
It is not possible to assess the importance of these secondary sources of income in relation to the basic salary. Twentieth-century practices suggest an order of 10-15 per cent. There is some evidence that in the mid-nineteenth century some of the well established officials in Plymouth and Exeter lived on a rather better scale than their basic salaries would imply. Myer Stadthagen with four children at home in 1841 kept two living-in servants, [Census, 1841.] perhaps indicating an income of some £500 per annum on Marion Lochhead's scale referred to before. Revd Hoffnung and Revd Mendelssohn in Exeter each had one servant in 1851 and 1861 respectively, as did B. A. Simmons in Penzance in 1851, possibly suggesting an income of £150-£300 per annum. [Census, 1851, 1861.] Stadthagen left a not inconsiderable sum after his death in 1862. His estate was valued at under £1,500, and was comprised of a house and about £1,000 in cash and shares. [P.C.C. 1862/414.] It must be observed that it was unlikely that Stadthagen saved all this out of his salary. He had married Arabella, daughter of Judith Moses and Isaac Joseph. Isaac was a comfortable merchant, and Judith was the granddaughter of Moses Jacob who was well settled in Redruth by 1767, and great-granddaughter of the founder of the Falmouth Congregation around 1750, [Jessop, 'Joseph Families', p. 141, Family Trees W.5, W.6.] and she might well have had some inheritance of her own.
The basic incomes of the Jewish officials in the South-West, however, compare poorly to those of their Christian counterparts in both the Established as well as the Nonconformist Church. According to Trollope, Mr Quiverful and his brood of 14 were poverty stricken on £300 per annum, and at that salary Mr Arabin would not contemplate the responsibilities of a family. A curate's average wage in 1837 was £81, and in 1897 £145, whilst in the early days of their existence, when pluralism was being restrained, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners made up livings with 500-1000 inhabitants to £100. In 1893, when pluralism was rare, the average annual wage for incumbents was £246. [Letter to the author from the Revd J. A. Thurmer, then Lazenby Chaplain, University of Exeter, 24 January 1973.]
Amongst the Nonconformists, the Presbyterians, the richest of the dissenters in Exeter, in 1818, paid their minister £200 per annum and in 1847, £343. [Mr Allan Brockett of the University of Exeter, kindly gave this and the following information on the salaries of dissenting ministers in Exeter, in a letter to the author, 13 January 1973.] The Baptists had two churches in Exeter after 1817. In the South Street church, where membership fluctuated from about 60 to 200, the minister's salary rose from £80 in 1834, to £120 in 1846, and £200 in 1865. At the other Baptist church in Bartholomew Street, where membership fluctuated between 100 and 250, the salary gradually fell from £142 in 1830, to £120 in the period 1840-1860, to £100 in 1864 and down to £80 in 1870. In Topsham, the Congregationalist minister, though he never had more than 50 members, received £70 in 1872, £100 in 1892 and £120 in 1911.
In the light of the salaries paid to Christian clergymen, those paid to the Jewish religious officials in the South-West look decidedly anaemic. Indeed, the Jewish clergy in the four Congregations in Devon and Cornwall would hardly have been much worse off financially had they been agricultural labourers, who, for most of the century after 1796, received between 10/6d. and 18/-d. per week. [In the vicinity of Exeter between 1837 and 1844 the average farm labourer's wage was only 7s. 6d. a week, though with substantial perquisites (Devonshire Studies, W. G. Hoskins and H. P. R. Finberg (1935), p.428).] From Table 35 it will be seen that for the most part, from 1796 until 1885, the cantor/shochet in the Congregations of the South-West received just a few shillings a week more than an agricultural labourer and about half or two-thirds of a skilled London artisan's weekly wage.
It should be borne in mind, however, that the figures shown in Table 35 do not include other forms of monetary (and non-monetary) payment received by the Jewish officials, as also by agricultural labourers, for example. This does mean that such comparisons as these need to be considered with some caution.
In the nineteenth century, Jewish religious functionaries could expect higher wages in larger Congregations elsewhere, both in England and overseas. [Revd Raphael of Birmingham received £180 per annum in 1845 just for acting as headmaster of the Jewish School there, and this was besides his stipend as Minister of the Congregation. Of the other teachers at that school, two received £80 per annum and one £60 (Chief Rabbinate Archives, MSS 104, p.5). The Hazan (reader/minister) of the Bevis Marks Congregation, London, was paid £250 per annum in 1860 (Hyamson, Sephardim, p.364).] The desire on the part of some of the Jewish clergy to better themselves probably accounts in part for their comparatively short tenures of office, whilst the other attractions of larger Congregations no doubt also played a part. It is perhaps not surprising that after B. A. Simmons retired in 1854 after 43 years of service [He had lucrative sidelines and wealthy sons, and had sufficient income to remain in Penzance even when he was not employed by the Congregation.] there was a succession of 'ministers' in the Penzance Congregation with its low emoluments, and also in the Exeter Congregation after Moses Horwitz Levy died in office in 1837 after 44 years of service. [Gent. Mag. 1837, p.99.] Tables 36, 37 and 38 show the length of service of the known religious officials in the Plymouth, Exeter and Penzance Congregations in the period under study as a whole.
From Tables 36 - 38 it is clear that after the early prosperous years of the Exeter and Penzance Congregations, when the incumbents served in office for 44 and 43 years respectively, most of their successors remained for comparatively short periods.
Apart from the small sizes of the Jewish communities in the South-West, the main reason for the comparatively low rates of pay for the Jewish officials was probably that the supply of officials nearly always outstripped the demand. Throughout the nineteenth century until the end of the First World War there was an apparently inexhaustible supply of recent immigrants from Eastern Europe, who were willing to take any form of employment provided it offered a wage, however meagre, [This seems to be the point of a letter Chief Rabbi Adler wrote to the Exeter Congregation in 1859: 'It will be difficult to find an Englishman with all the qualities you require. Let me know the salary' (Chief Rabbinate Archives, V, 1 April 1859).] to use it as a stepping-stone to obtain a better job elsewhere. Thus, the temporary resurrection of the Exeter Congregation from 1895 until 1917 may be attributed not only to the presence in Exeter of East European Jews in somewhat larger numbers but also to the willingness of young Jewish men, particularly bachelors, from Poland and Russia, to become shochetim, cantors, and teachers, at bare subsistence wages.
Owing to the relatively poor emoluments and short service of most of the nineteenth-century officials in the South-West Congregations, it may well be that there was little true religious leadership. Leadership of a high order could perhaps hardly be expected from a cantor who was merely expected to lead prayers, nor from a shochet who was expected to kill efficiently sufficient animals for the Jewish community's needs, and it has already been shown that few rabbis or ministers were appointed in the Congregations of the South-West. Nonetheless, some sort of spiritual lead was expected from these officials, however ill-equipped they were to give it. Myer Stadthagen in Plymouth, for example, who was originally appointed as shochet and porger in 1828, eventually became the cantor and then quasi-minister. In the latter capacity, he was responsible for sick and prison visitation, as well as preaching on special occasions. English was not his mother tongue and preaching must have been difficult for him. There is no indication, indeed, that he preached at all until he had been with the Congregation for many years. So much so that sermons were often delivered, when they were given, by members of the Congregation. In 1842, for instance, a Sabbath discourse delivered by Mr Levy, Junior, was sent to the Voice of Jacob which regretted 'that a young man of such good parts should not possess the opportunity of qualifying himself for the important office to which he aspires'. [VJ, 25 November 1842. Levy does not seem to have taken up the Anglo-Jewish ministry.] In a situation where congregants were often as learned, and sometimes more so, than the officials, and, moreover, where the officials were lowly paid, it is not surprising to find that some officials were sometimes treated as mere paid employees, with all that that implied in the nineteenth century.
The difficulties were understood by Lemon Hart, former warden of Penzance, when on behalf of the Penzance Congregation he engaged B. A. Simmons in London as a shochet for Penzance in 1811. Hart sent two letters with the youthful aspirant to office: one, a recommendation from 'The High Priest Solomon Hirschell', and the other was a hope that the community
would behave to him properly, for you may rest assured those articles are very scarce in this Market. [Letter in the possession of Mr Godfrey Simmons, Penzance, quoted by C. Roth, 'Penzance', JC Supplement, June 1933, p. ii.]
Hart's pious hopes were not to be fulfilled. The earliest extant minutes of the Penzance Congregation tell of charges against Simmons and counter-charges by him, followed by threats of dismissal, fines, and reports to the Chief Rabbi in London. [PenHC Min. Bk. 1839, pp. 86, 91; PenHC Min. Bk. 1843-1861, p. 28.]
There is evidence to indicate that a similar state of affairs prevailed from time to time in Exeter and Plymouth in the nineteenth century. [See Roth MSS 204, 31 July 1864 and 9 April 1865.] Frequently the pages of the Exeter Congregation's surviving minutes deal with the 'misdemeanors' of its officials, and the Chief Rabbi subsequently called in both by the Congregation and the official. One example of the more serious disputes may be given as an illustration. In 1851, the Chief Rabbi was writing to Revd Hoffnung saying that he would support Hoffnung's candidature elsewhere, and whilst still in Exeter he should try to act as moderately as possible. [Chief Rabbinate Archives, vol. II, letter 7129.] A day or so later Chief Rabbi Adler wrote to him,
There is no record of Hoffnung's reply, but Adler was soon writing to Alexander that he deprecated the Exeter Congregation's treatment of Hoffnung:
At the same time he wrote to Hoffnung:
One would have thought that the Congregation would be glad to see such an incumbent leave. The Exeter Congregation, however, delayed paying Hoffnung's salary so that he could not travel elsewhere to apply for another position. [Chief Rabbinate Archives, vol. II, letter 7579.]
The Falmouth Congregation in 1860 also delayed payment of the shochet's salary. He invoked Dr Adler's aid and on 18 April 1860 the Chief Rabbi wrote to the President of the Falmouth Congregation:
Revd Stadthagen in Plymouth also had his share of troubles. In spite of having given the Plymouth Congregation a quarter of a century's service, various members made his life so miserable that he tendered his resignation in 1856. [Ibid. vol. IV, letter 127. He died in office 21 April 1862 aged 58 (PHC tom. B76). Perhaps he was already suffering from ill-health and consequently was less able to restrain himself.] Once more Dr Adler championed the cause of his subordinate. He wrote to the wardens:
The trouble seems to have flared up in January in 1855 when Stadthagen sued Aaron Levy for libel, though the case was dropped on Adler's intervention. [Ibid. vol. III, letter 8944.]
Unfortunately, similar disputes between Congregations and their officials were by no means infrequent in the Anglo-Jewish community as a whole, as a perusal of the Jewish Chronicle or published records of other provincial Congregations indicates. [For examples at Sheffield, see JC, 30 December 1859 and 14 September 1860; for Sunderland, see A. Levy, History of the Sunderland Jewish Community (1956), p. 150; for London, see A. B. Levy, The 200-year-old New Synagogue (1960), pp. 19, 20; Gartner, Jewish Immigrant, pp. 190, 206.]
On the other hand, Congregations did show appreciation for long service by paying pensions [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 8. The widow of Moses, the Plymouth Congregation's beadle, was allowed 'all the days of her life whilst she lives in our community two shillings every week, also she is to live rent free ...' (PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 15).] and erecting tombstones for former officials. [EHC Min. Bk. 1838 and 1861.] Moreover, long silences in the minutes probably indicate that officials were satisfactorily serving their Congregations, and undoubtedly there were many officials in the South-West Congregations who gained the love and respect of most, if not all, of their members. [Hardly a word of complaint against Myer Mendelssohn was registered in the Exeter Congregation Minute Books, 1854-1867. As there were bitter remarks against some of his predecessors and successors, 'Mendelssohn must have been a bit of a saint' (Frank R. Bradlow, 'Sidney Mendelssohn, a short biography', Quarterly Bulletin of the South African Library, 22, 4, June 1968, p. 106.]
Theoretically, a Congregation could dismiss any official, as the terms of the usual contract, at least in the eighteenth century, enabled the official to leave or the Congregation to dismiss him provided in either case three months notice was given. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 177.] In practice, few Congregations ever dismissed an official, unless he was guilty of gross dereliction of duty. The factors which fettered the legal right of the Congregation to dismiss an official were the influence of the Chief Rabbi who was usually able to make peace; the difficulties and expense of obtaining a better replacement; and, deep down, a respect for the office of the official, influenced for the good, perhaps, by the contemporary attitudes of his flock to the Christian clergyman.
Contact JCR-UK Webmaster:
This website is
owned by JewishGen and the Jewish Genealogical Society of Great Britain. All
material found herein is owned by or licensed to us. You may view, download, and
print material from this site only for your own personal use. You may not post
material from this site on another website without our consent. You may not
transmit or distribute material from this website to others. You may not use
this website or information found at this site for any commercial purpose.
Copyright © 2002 - 2019 JCR-UK. All Rights Reserved