The Jews of South-West England
Thesis by Rabbi Bernard Susser
The acculturation and assimilation of the Jews of Devon and Cornwall
The immigrant Jew, whether he was from Central Europe in the eighteenth century or from Eastern Europe in the nineteenth century, when he first arrived in the South-West, was ethno-centric. [For a full discussion of the terms 'ethno-centric', 'acculturated' and 'assimilated', much beloved by modern sociologist students of the Jewish scene, see E. Krausz, 'Concepts and Theoretical Models for Anglo-Jewish Sociology', Jewish Life in Britain, 1962 - 1977, eds. S. L. Lipman and V. D. Lipman (New York, 1981).] That is to say, he had a favourable evaluation of his own group's system, culture and values which set him apart from the English society into which he arrived. It appears, for there is no evidence to the contrary, that in every case a process of acculturation took place. [It has been cogently argued that more subtle and sophisticated concepts than those of ethnocentrism, acculturation and assimilation must be used to describe the changes which took place in the Jewish Diaspora (Kokosalakis, Ethnic Identity, p. 10.] In other words, the immigrant began to assume in many respects the cultures and values of his host society but nevertheless retained his identity as a Jew. In some or many cases, it is not possible to quantify, [See T. M. Endelman, Radical Assimilation in English Jewish History, 1656 - 1945, (Indiana University Press, 1990) (afterwards quoted as Endelman, Radical Assimilation), p. 4.] the changes brought about by the process of acculturation led to assimilation, the disappearance of ethnic identity, so that the Jew and his or her descendants became totally absorbed and submerged into Gentile society. In this chapter an attempt will be made to describe the way in which a minority, in this case the Jews of the South-West, by a breakdown in its distinctiveness became incorporated in the course of time into the system of social relations which constituted the wider society around it. In order to do so successfully it will be necessary to study the change in cultural characteristics of the Jewish minority in response to those of the surrounding majority, in other words the processes of acculturation and assimilation. [For a discussion of the interaction of the processes of assimilation and acculturation on one another, see M. Freedman, 'Jews in the Society of Britain', A Minority in Britain (1955), pp. 227-242.]
What were the characteristics which made the immigrant Jew in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries stand out amid his 'English' contemporaries? [M. Freedman (loc. cit.) mentions the terms which a Jew uses when describing his neighbours in neutral and unemotional way, as:
'either "Christians", "Gentiles", or the somewhat ethnocentric "non-Jews". When (particularly immigrant) Jews couch their polite reference to the great majority around them in the simple word "English" they are documenting the first approach in the adjustment of an ethnic and religious group to a predominantly secular society'.]
The men were identifiable by their hirsute appearance, the married women by their covered hair; the male newcomers stood out on account of their foreign or typically Jewish style dress; immigrant Jews could be recognized by their broken English, and also by their typically Jewish names; the Jews tended to engage in a limited range of occupations; and finally, and most basic, though not always as immediately apparent as some of the other characteristics just mentioned, there were the Jews' religious observances, particularly the Sabbath, the dietary laws, and synagogue attendance. These distinguishing characteristics and how they were gradually softened, particularly by the children and grandchildren of the immigrants, until they all but disappeared, as well as the process of acculturation, will now be considered in detail.
When Jewish men first arrived in England from Germany or eastern Europe in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries they were easily identifiable by their hirsute appearance. The biblical command, 'Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard' [Leviticus, xix, 27.] was commonly interpreted in Jewish circles to mean that beards were to be left untrimmed and sidelocks were left to grow in a characteristic style.
One of the first stages on the road to assimilation was to attend to the hair. Sidelocks were abandoned; beards, when worn, were trimmed according to the taste of the day - more often than not they were shaved off entirely. The portraits of Jewish males in the South-West in the early part of the nineteenth century portray clean shaven men. Portraits of Abraham Joseph I (died 1794), [Jessop, 'Joseph Families', p. 71.] even the very learned Rabbi and Philosopher Moses Ephraim (died 1815), [Roth, Provincial Jewry, p. 92.] J. Abraham of Bath and Cheltenham in 1829, [Ibid. p. 72.] but formerly of Exeter in 1799, [Trewman's Flying Post, 17 January 1799.] Henry Ezekiel of Exeter (died 1831), [Portrait in Jewish Museum, London; photo of cameo in the author's collection, see Illustration 3.] the sons of Betsy Levy of Totnes, [Photos of portraits of three men reputed to be her sons were kindly given to the author by the late Dr Richard D. Barnett of the British Museum.] Moses Solomon (died in Plymouth, 1838), [Photo of his miniature given to the author by one of his descendants, Miss Allegra Dawe (see Illustration 4). None of his 14 children and hundreds of descendants is known to have died as a Jew.] and Jacob Solomon (left Exeter 1830), [Portrait in the Jewish Museum, London.] all picture clean shaven men dressed in the height of fashion. Indeed, were it not for the provenance of the portraits it would hardly be possible to identify the sitters as Jews. Shaving off the beard was a deliberate act, and at least one Polish Jew from Cornwall, Phillip Samuel, after removing his for fear it would arouse prejudice against him, afterwards regretted the act as a sign of religious weakness. [Solomon, Records of my Family, p. 12.]
The same applied later in the century when it again became customary for men to wear beards. Once again the Jewish males dressed fashionably and trimmed their full beards, in the style of the times. There is a delightful pen portrait of a Jew educated beyond his ability and consequently a failure in life and who had to be supported by his family. He was Elias, brother-in-law of Alexander Moses of Falmouth, born in London but settled in Falmouth. About 1824
Elias was a well instructed Englishman, and very free in speech on political subjects. I remember his dress was then ample, the coat in Louis XIV fashion, waistcoat the same, breeches buckles fastening at the knee, long wool with shoes, and heavy, large white buckles. His hair, with a long quantity the neck, tied with a large black ribbon a knot, and white necktie, very ample, folding the throat and half covering up the chin. [Ibid. p. 7.]
Another distinguishing mark was the wig covering the Jewess's hair. According to Jewish law, unmarried girls may display their hair but after marriage this is not allowed. In oriental countries married Jewesses covered their heads with a kerchief, but in eastern Europe they often wore wigs, known in Yiddish as a sheitel, a name often used pejoratively, either with or without an additional covering. [Jewish Encyclopaedia, XII, p. 519, s.v. WIG. Well into the twentieth century acculturated Jews regarded the sheitel as a 'filthy, horrible and disgusting tradition, backward and long outdated' (R. Livshin, 'The Acculturation of the Children of Immigrant Jews in Manchester, 1890 - 1930', The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry, ed. D. Cesarani, (afterwards quoted as Livshin, 'The Acculturation of the Children of Immigrant Jews') p. 89, quoting JC, 22 February and 7 March 1924).]
There is strong evidence that married Jewish women in the South-West, or at least the more wealthy who could afford to have their portraits painted, abandoned the wig and wore their natural hair. More than twenty extant portraits of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century married Jewesses in Devon and Cornwall depict them with uncovered hair. Only of Betsy Jacobs of Totnes (1759-1836) is there a portrait which shows her wearing a lace cap completely covering her hair. [Portrait in possession of the late Dr Richard D. Barnett, British Museum.] Moreover, only one reference to a Plymouth Jewess exchanging her hair for a wig on marriage has been noted, and that reference implies that to do so was exceptional. The allusion is in a postscript to a letter from Abraham Joseph II to his aunt. He was about to wed his first cousin Rosa and wrote to her mother in 1856:
I think if the fashionable ladies were to see well my dear Rosa looks in the new headress would all lose their old ones. [Jessop, 'Joseph Families', p. 133.]
Coupled with his unkempt appearance, the Jewish male newcomer was also clearly recognizable by the foreign style of his clothes. Shemoel Hirsch described the clothes he wore when he arrived at Gravesend in 1821 as a 14 year-old lad:
A pair of German boots to the knees and a large tassel to each of the tops, a pair of small clothes, black silk waistcoat, lead nankeen longcoat down to my heels any laps or opening behind, and a hat a small crown and wide brim.
Although he had no luggage with him, and at that age could hardly have been adorned with a beard, his appearance was sufficiently distinctive to attract a crowd of 'hundreds of boys' who followed him, mocking and jeering, 'as I went to Duke's Place, [City of London] where the Jews are to be found'. [Clegg, Shemoel Hirsch, p. 24.]
In 1825 Wolfe Moses, 'a young Jew of foreign extraction' was persecuted by a gang of boys who had gathered to watch the launch of a ship. An ironmonger bore testimony to the outrageous conduct of the boys to the friendless Jew. One lad threw him in the water, knocked him down and ill-treated him, so that in desperation he drew a penknife and wounded Hitchcock in the thigh. [Plymouth Weekly Journal, 9 June 1825.Wolfe was kept in prison until the lad was out of danger and until he found the money to pay Hitchcock's expenses and loss of time.]
Most Jewish men from eastern Europe wore a Kaftan, a long flowing coat once part of the national Polish costume, but from the eighteenth century restricted to Jewish use, possibly because of some natural tendency amongst some Jews, particularly hasidim to conservatism in dress. Some kept their style of dress because their livelihood was to some extent dependent on a Jewish appearance. Thus it was obviously to the advantage of the old clothes man, a predominantly Jewish occupation in the eighteenth century, to look the part. He walked the streets with a pile of hats perched upon his head and capacious garments hung from his shoulders, over which a bag was slung. Equally recognizable was the Jewish pedlar with his broad brimmed hat and pedlar's tray with its assorted bric-a-brac. [A. Ruppin, The Jews of today, p. 148 quoted in Abraham Cohen, An Anglo-Jewish scrapbook (1943), p. 254.]
Contemporary prints all portray a similar type of appearance and it should not be thought that this was merely a caricature. That the type was familiar in Devon is clear from an account by a French privateer captain who was imprisoned at Millbay prison, Plymouth, in 1807. He escaped from the prison 'disguised as an old Jew man with his bag over his shoulder'. [Francis Abell, Prisoners of war in Britain, 1756 to 1815 (1914), p. 223.] The disguise was too successful, a young lad called Corbière, dressed as a girl, also escaped with him. They went together to Plymouth Dock Theatre. Some American sailors seeing what they thought was a nice looking girl in the company of a bearded old Jew considered them, or her, fair game, a fight broke out and it was soon discovered that the girl was no girl, and the Jew no Jew! [Ibid. p. 233. Williams, Manchester Jewry, p. 9 quotes a graphic letter of 1798 which describes the abuse which a Jew might expect in a London theatre.]
As soon as the immigrant Jew's clothes needed replacing, he would be involved in the process of anglicization, because his new clothes would almost certainly be of the English pattern. The outfit acquired for a young man, the nephew of a comfortable Jewish merchant in Exeter, who arrived from Leghorn in 1732 is listed in Ottolenghe's An Answer:
[Ottolenghe, An Answer, p. 18.]
The portraits of Solomon Joseph (left Plymouth 1859), [Jessop, 'Joseph Families', p. 158.] Alderman Eleazer Emdon (1841-1900), [Ibid. p. 157.] Henry Joseph (died 1888), [Ibid. ] Solomon Solomon (born 1833), [Ibid. p. 139.] and Abraham Joseph II (died 1868), [Ibid. p. 131.] all depict benign-looking patriarchal figures dressed in the typical clothes of their period. So much so that without foreknowledge of the name of the person portrayed it would be very difficult to identify the sitter as either Gentile or Jew. A very good illustration of this difficulty is a photograph published in Devonia which was taken on the Barbican, Plymouth, about 1840. [Devonia, May 1908, VIII, p. 103.] It shows some 22 Plymouth notables including 'Mr. Cornbloom, great frequenter of the Barbican, a Jew' yet it is not possible to pick out Mr Cornbloom. By this time, however, Mr Cornbloom was already a well assimilated and non-observant Jew to the extent that the billiard hall he owned was open, at least from 1829, on the Jewish Sabbath, [Adler MSS 4160, p. 259, at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.] and the Plymouth Barbican was then 'the usual rendezvous for Plymouth men after church service on Sunday mornings'. [Devonia, May 1908, VIII, p. 103.]
Before leaving the topic of dress, it may be added that a glance at the portraits of the Jewesses living in Devon and Cornwall in the eighteenth century is enough to see that they wore the fashionable dress of their time. [It is unwise, however, to judge too much from portraits because painters used to have pictures painted in advance and paint in the face when they found a customer (R. Henriques, Marcus Samuel (1960), p. 18).] Some of the smaller pieces of textile used in the Plymouth Synagogue emanating from the early nineteenth century may well have been the little iron aprons or dresses of wealthy Jewish women, and donated by them for use in the Synagogue. [Lecture by Miss Natalie Rothstein, Assistant Keeper, Textile Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, reported in Anglo-Jewish Art and History (Jewish Historical Society of England, 1967), no. 2.]
Even after some years had passed and the immigrant was clean shaven and dressed like everyone else, his foreign origin was betrayed as soon as he began to speak. Often, he pronounced 'w' as 'v', 'b' as 'p', and 'th' as 'd', as the following lines of the old clothes man indicate:
Manasseh Lopes, according to scurrilous handbills which circulated in Plymouth in 1805, is supposed to have spoken in the same way:
One day says his wife to her dear little Mosey,
Says Moses, 'Vy sure the vomans not jealous <197] Pray haven't you had quite enough of your fellows!' 'My dear', says his wife, 'I humbly beg pardon'. Says he, 'You forget ven you valk'd in the GARDEN ...' [Plymouth City Archives, Worth, w.367, p. 37. To walk in the garden = to ply as a prostitute.]
Further evidence of the way in which an immigrant spoke, this time a Moroccan Jew, is to be found in the rather charming account of his cross-country peddling activities recounted by a Turkish rhubarb seller to Mayhew about 1820:
There was not a great deal which the immigrant Jew could do about his foreign accent, but the home born Jew undoubtedly spoke in the same way as the Gentile members of his social class. Even a not so well-educated Jew, but born in England, seems to have spoken a normal English as the following letter with its phonetic spelling indicates:
The following letter of application by Abraham Franco to become a member of the Plymouth Congregation in 1829 with its phonetic spelling adds weight to the argument that even semi-literate but English-born Jews spoke the normal English of their class:
Of course, even a well-spoken Jew might adapt his speech to suit his needs. Samuel Coleridge met his match when he remonstrated with a Jew for crying 'Ogh Clo':
Further examples of some weird phonetic spellings could be multiplied from the Minutes of the Exeter Congregation which were kept in English over the period 1823 to 1869, though, it may be noted, 'th' is never represented by 'd' in these minutes.
The adult immigrant generally wrote, and presumably generally spoke, Yiddish, his mother tongue, when communicating with his fellow Jews. Sooner or later the vast majority must have picked up a smattering of English words, at least sufficient to converse with customers on prices, names of articles, and to use the everyday nouns and verbs of kitchen English. Nonetheless, the immigrants felt more at ease using Yiddish, particularly when transacting synagogal affairs.
It was probably a feeling that it was somehow more 'proper' to use Yiddish which prompted Moses Mordecai of Exeter to write his will in Yiddish in 1808, [P.C.C. Loveday, 298.] and Moses Jacob of Redruth to sign his will with his Hebrew name in 1807. [County Record Office, Truro; the will was proved 8 June 1807.] Samuel Hart, born in Plymouth in 1755, penned a letter from London in Hebrew (and not the perhaps more natural Yiddish) to the Plymouth Congregation's officers in 1824. [Original in author's collection. He was asking for memorial prayers to be recited for his late wife.] Perhaps he used Hebrew because he wanted to impress his readers both with his knowledge of Hebrew as well as his beautiful calligraphy, as he was trying to earn a living as a Hebrew teacher at this period. [His son's portrait of him exhibited in 1826 describes him as 'Professor of the Hebrew language' (see infra, p. 313).] The minutes of the Plymouth Congregation continued to be written in Yiddish until 1834, by which time more than half of the adult males of the Congregation had been born in England, and if the minutes were written in Yiddish then it may be supposed that the proceedings were to some extent conducted in that language, or were intelligible to most of those who attended the meeting. [PHC Min. Bk. II.]
Nonetheless, by the turn of the first quarter of the nineteenth century there was a strong movement towards anglicizing the conduct of Congregational affairs in Exeter and Plymouth, and probably in Falmouth and Penzance. This was accomplished by dropping Yiddish and using English instead for the rules, minutes, and other official documents. The preamble to the Exeter Congregation's Regulations in 1823, succinctly makes the point:
Obviously, Yiddish had ceased to be the daily language of most vestry members of the Exeter Congregation by 1823, even though this cannot be shown for certain until 1838, when the spare pages after the regulations were utilized as a 'Waste' ['Waste book in bookkeeping, book in which rough preliminary entries are made' (Concise Oxford Dictionary (Oxford, 1949), s.v. WASTE).] Minute Book. The record was made during the course of the Congregational meetings, and was made in English, indicating that the proceedings probably took place in English. [The earliest surviving cash book of the Liverpool Congregation dated 1806 is in Hebrew, after that date all other records are in English (Kokosalakis, Ethnic Identity, p.59.)]
It does not occasion any surprise to find the Exeter Jews anxious to translate their regulations into English in 1823, as the more important members of the Congregation including the three chosen to do the translation were all Exeter born. The three translators were Henry Ezekiel, Eleazar Lazarus and Simon Levy, born in 1773, 1789 and 1791 respectively. [EHC tomb. 31; 1841 Census; Book of Maps of all lands and tenements belonging to the Chamber of Exon. Map 5, no. 10 (in Exeter City Archives).] Henry Ezekiel's familiarity with English and capacity to express himself may be gauged from the following dedicatory preface to a Hebrew Almanack which he intended to publish in 1817:
By 1838, it would appear that some, if not most, of the members of the Exeter Congregation were unable easily to read Yiddish or Hebrew. Writing to the Chief Rabbi in 1838, M. L. Green and A. Alexander added a postscript:
It will particularly oblige our Congregation for your answer to be sent us in English. [EHC Min. Bk. I, p. 57.]
Anglicization of the Plymouth Jews' speech took place about the same time as in Exeter. It is noteworthy that Aaron Nathan wrote in English to the officers of the Congregation to ask for help in 1827. [See supra, p. 324.] Similarly, an H. Ralph writes in 1824 in English asking for the use of the Congregation's house, and in good English at that:
She was presumably applying not only to live in the house but also to act as caretaker and mikveh attendant. She was unsuccessful, the situation and house going to Solomon Emden and his wife (PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 183). For letters written in English by the beadle and a poor Jew to the Liverpool Congregation in 1836, see Kokosalakis, Ethnic Identity, p. 61. The beadle's letter may have been written for him by a well-educated person.]
Even earlier, the accounts and minutes of the Meshivat Nefesh Society founded in 1795 were beautifully written up in impeccable English. Only one example of this need be given. Opposite the name of Angel Emanuel is a note:
By 1835, the Plymouth Congregation's rules and minutes were written in English and even announcements in the Synagogue had to be made in English. [PHC Regulations, 1835, no. 96. In the Sephardi Synagogue in Lauderdale Road, London, announcements are still made in Spanish, and the Sephardim left Spain in 1492!] Moreover, the minute book in which the Congregation's proceedings were recorded in Yiddish abruptly breaks off in 1834, and a new book, which cannot now be traced, was begun which almost certainly was kept in English.
Even in the most conservative area of Jewish life, that associated with death, English in the form of tombstone inscriptions that are now extant first appeared in Plymouth in 1833, [On the tombstone of Phillip Moses (Jacob ben Uri Shraga ben Moses), died 7 February 1833 (PHC tomb. B.25).] being invariably used after the 1850's. The earliest surviving English inscription in the Falmouth Jewish cemetery is dated 1831, [Sarah, wife of Moses Jacob of Redruth (FHC tomb. 28).] in Penzance is 1841, [Aaron Selig, died 18 July 1841 (PenHC tomb. 11) and Solomon Levy, 'a native of Exeter', died 20 August 1841, aged 56 (PenHC tomb. 32).] and in Exeter is as early as 1810 and invariably on all stones thereafter. [Nancy, wife of Moses Lazarus (EHC tomb. 52).]
Even when a Jew had anglicized his appearance and dress, and spoke impeccable English, he could still often be identified by his name. Names such as Aarons, Abrahams, Benjamin, Cohen, Ezekiel, Hyman, Isaacs, Israel, Jacob, Joseph, Lazarus, Levy, Marcus, Mordecai, Moses, Myer, Nathan, Samuel, Solomon, Woolf, used either as forenames or surnames indicated to the man in the street that the bearer was Jewish. Similarly, names ending in -owsky or -ovitch, and other foreign sounding names were frequently identified as being 'Jewish'. Often a Jew would anglicize his name so that he would not be the victim of discrimination, imagined or real, or merely as an attempt to integrate and merge into the wider society around him. The anglicization of names was effected in the South-West of England in a variety of ways:
Forenames were anglicized even more quickly than surnames. Israel Silverstone, who came to Exeter from Poland about 1830, called his first children by traditional Jewish names - Bella, Sara, Rebecca, Isaac - but after ten years of residence in England come Clara, Maurice, John, Selina and Fanny. The children of Jackson Marks who were born in Poland were called Myer and Leah, those born in Plymouth were called Mathilda, Henry and Julia. The East European immigrants were under some pressure to anglicize their names. One little girl at Manchester Jews' School was told by her Jewish headmistress, 'You can't go through life with a name like Taube.' So against her parents' wishes she changed it to Tilly. [R. Livshin, 'The Acculturation of the Children of Immigrant Jews', p. 82.] Eleven year-old Mordecai Kushelevitch quickly changed his nick-name, which in Pikeln, Lithuania, was Mara, to Mark, and his surname to Woolfson, his uncle's surname, when he arrived in Devonport in 1934. This was done, he later recalled, because Mark Woolfson was easier to pronounce than Mordecai Kushelevitch, less 'foreign' and, for personal reasons, made it easier to identify him with his Devonport family.
The following short list of Hebrew names illustrates the way in which the changes took place in Devon and Cornwall, as well as generally in England [the list still need further formatting]:
In Jewish religious documents, such as the wedding contract or bill of divorce, as well as when called to the Torah, a Jew is named by his own Hebrew name and then described as ben, (= son of), or a woman by bat (= daughter of), and then follows the father's Hebrew name. The very use of English names instead of the Jewish one in the context of synagogal life is itself a very strong indication of the process of acculturation. Until 1810, whenever a man's name is mentioned in the minutes of the Plymouth Congregation he is invariably referred to as X ben Y. In 1810, an 'M. Johnson' is mentioned. In 1812, two more men, 'Abraham Levy' and 'Lion Levy' are referred to, in 1816, of nine men present at a meeting the names of five are given in their Hebrew form and four in their English form and the following year only three are in the Hebrew form and five in the English. [PHC Min. Bk. II, pp. 54, 80, 133, 141.]
The most basic, though not always the most immediately noticeable, factor differentiating the Jew from his fellow citizens was his religion. The day to day observances of Judaism necessarily restrict free social intercourse between Jew and Gentile, so that even in a State where there is freedom of action, office holding and the like for all, regardless of religious affiliation, the fully observant Jew cannot but help live in his own 'ghetto'. The Jewish laws relating to permitted foods, observance of the Sabbath, Synagogal attendance and marriage, oblige observant Jews to live within walking distance of the synagogue, and to eschew certain occupations and leisure activities.
Considering these observances, perhaps the factor which most limits social intercourse is adherence to the dietary laws. According to a strict interpretation of these, a Jew cannot easily eat at the house of a non-Jew. It is therefore not surprising to find that Jewish salesmen travelling in Devon in the eighteenth century made special provision for themselves. Some inns kept special utensils in a locked cupboard which Jewish pedlars used. The Jews used to write their Jewish names in Hebrew with chalk across the face of the saucepans when they had finished with them, so that those who came afterwards would know by whom the pan had last been used. [Solomons, Records of my Family, p. 6.] Mention has already been made of the Moroccan Jew, a Turkish rhubarb seller, who told Mayhew that about 1820 he stayed at a lodging house in Taunton which catered particularly for Jews. [Mayhew, London Labour, I, 452. See supra, p. 324.] Gentile customers of Jewish talley-men have wonderingly told the author that when their suppliers brought their wares they would accept an offer of a cup of tea, but always without milk and in a glass!
A growing laxity in the observance of the dietary laws on the part of many members of the South-West Congregations is discernible as the nineteenth century progressed. In 1821, it was still most unusual for a Plymouth Jew to eat treifah food, and one who was wrongly accused of so doing reacted most strenuously. [PHC A/c. 1821, p. 17.] In the following four decades standards dropped drastically, both in the communal butcher shops in Plymouth and Exeter and in the homes of members. In 1860, for example, Nathaniel Hart's servant bought treifah fat at the Plymouth kosher butcher, but Revd Stadthagen informed the President who declared Hart's household treifah. Hart confessed that he took a treifah loin, but offered the rather lame excuse that it was on medical advice. Dr Adler was appraised of this incident and wrote to Stadthagen, taking him to task for allowing treifah meat to go out from the shop at all: 'how do you conduct the butcher shop?' [Chief Rabbinate Archives, 7 March 1860.] At no period does there seem to have been a Jewish kosher butcher shop in Plymouth. In the 1930's, two Gentile butchers kept kosher departments, obtaining the meat from London. By 1960 there was only one shop, and that only opened its kosher department (in a garage) on a Thursday morning, the minister acting as a shomer and porging the meat. It closed in 1964, and those who wanted kosher meat had it delivered by rail or parcel post.
Another feature of the Jewish religion which tended to set its adherents apart was Sabbath observance. [The Jewish Sabbath is kept from just before sunset on Friday until just after sunset on Saturday.] Two aspects of this were evident to the general public, that Jews did not trade on Saturday and that they did not tend their fires on this day.
Until the early nineteenth century most workers were paid late on Saturday, so that the main shopping period of the week was after 7 p.m. on a Saturday night. It was therefore no great hardship for Jews to keep their shops closed from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, and indeed this was the norm for them. [Mayhew, London Labour, I, 53.] John Solomon, advertising bespoke and ready made clothes in Exeter in 1844, declares, 'No business transacted Friday evening until Saturday evening'. [Ex. Flying Post, 8 August 1844.] Local tradition in Redruth more than a century after his passing relates that Emanuel Cohen, jeweller, could be seen waiting for sunset on Friday and Saturday evening to close and open his shop. [H. Miles Brown, Cornish Clocks and Clockmakers (Dawlish, 1961) (afterwards quoted as Brown, Cornish Clocks), p. 70.] Aaron Levy of Plymouth, watchmaker and jeweller to the Queen, advertises as late as 1853 that he is closed on the Jewish Sabbath. Some shops were open on Sundays, though this was stopped from time to time, [Devonshire Freeholder, 5 November 1825. A Plymouth woman kept her beer shop open on Sundays during Divine Service and 11 men were found drinking there, also fruit shops were open. The mayor initiated prosecutions.] and Jewish shopkeepers no doubt made up for some of their loss of trade by trading on the Christian Sabbath. If they were open on both Saturday and Sunday they stood the risk of prosecution, as happened to Abraham Jackson of Shields, who was fined five shillings and had to spend four hours in the stocks for observing neither Sabbath. [JC, 26 August 1853. When a Manchester Jew claimed in 1850 that his business depended on his Sunday trade, the magistrate declared: 'If you choose to shut up on Saturday, in obedience to your own religion, you must close on Sunday for ours' (Williams, Manchester Jewry, p. 203).] From 1855, there were a number of attempts to introduce Parliamentary legislation to control Sunday trading, and the London Committee of Deputies of the British Jews [Better known as The Board of Deputies.] sought and largely secured exemption for Jews who kept their shops closed on Saturday. [C. H. L. Emanuel, A century and a half of Jewish History, pp. 68, 76, 85, 87 et passim.] In Plymouth, pressure was brought to bear on Jews who traded on Sunday. The Western Morning News reported that 'on account of the annoyance caused by Israelitish shopkeepers and others persisting in keeping their places open on Sundays ... Mr. Edwards, the able superintendent of police ... induced them to close their shops'. [JC, 22 February 1861. 3 Jews and 10 non-Jews were involved.]
As the hours of labour grew shorter, workers were paid earlier in the day, and it became increasingly difficult for Jewish shopkeepers, whose customers were, in the main, weekly wage earners, to earn a living from a Sunday to Friday week. In 1853, Revd Hoffnung had been accused of condoning Sabbath desecrators who gave him handsome presents. [EHC Min. Bk. I, 16 January 1853.] In 1854, the Exeter Congregation, already hard pushed to find a quorum of ten adult male Jews for Sabbath services, wrote to the Chief Rabbi asking if a man who traded on the Sabbath remained eligible to be counted to the quorum. [EHC Min. Bk. I, 20 February 1854. For similar problems in the wider community see Responsa of Hatan Sofer (1912), no. 28, written in 1873, and Hatam Sofer to Orach Hayyim, 15.] In 1856, Dr Adler wrote to Revd Mendlessohn at Exeter that 'in my name you should check public desecration of the Sabbath'. [Chief Rabbinate Archives, 5, letter 3460.]
The Plymouth Congregation had written to the Chief Rabbi as early as 1839 about Nahum Cornbloom who kept a billiard hall open on Saturday. Rabbi Adler in that case recommended the Congregation to enforce its sanctions against him if he persisted, particularly as he was acting contrary to the 'law of the land'. [Adler, MSS 4160, p. 259, at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. For the doctrine of 'the law of the land' see Baba Kamma, 113a.] Naturally, if the men were in their shops on a Saturday morning, they could not simultaneously be in the synagogue for the main service of the week. By 1851, attendance at the morning service on the census Sabbath in the Plymouth synagogue was sparse, only 45 men, women, and children out of a total of 205 souls. [P.R.O. H.O. 129/11/286-7.] There were probably not more than 18 or 20 men who regularly attended the main service of the week. On the same Sabbath, the Exeter synagogue is supposed to have had 55 worshippers, whilst in the Falmouth and Penzance synagogues there were 10 and 16 worshippers respectively. [P.R.O. H.O. 129/11/282.]
The difficulties of keeping the Sabbath whilst engaged in retail trade undoubtedly prompted a number of men to become salesmen or enter the wholesale trade where they could arrange their times to suit their religious conscience.
Another aspect of Jewish Sabbath observance which was widely noticed was the law which forbade a Jew to light a fire on the Sabbath day. A Jewish family would often employ a Gentile to tend its fires and put on, or turn off, lights. So common was this practice that there was a popular nineteenth century term for such a person - a Jews' Poker. [Partridge, Dictionary of Slang, s.v. JEW.] Jacob Fredman of Plymouth needed to have his fire attended to and called in a passer by, who, with some amusement, helped him. It was the then Commander-in-Chief at Mount Wise. [Letter to the present writer from Mrs H. Conick, 29 September 1962.]
Of course, there were Jewish religious observances kept by the Jews of the South-West which were not obvious to their Gentile neighbours but which nonetheless served to keep the Jews in an invisible ghetto. There were, for example, the laws relating to intimate marital relations culminating in the monthly use by the married woman of the mikveh (ritual bath). Few Gentiles could have been aware of the existence of the institution, but it nevertheless played its part in preserving the identity of Jewish marital life and tied the observant Jewish family to the vicinity of the synagogue.
At some time during the early part of the nineteenth century most Jewish women throughout England gradually stopped going to the mikveh. In 1838, the Exeter Congregation attempted to prevent its women from using any bath other than its own ritualarium by imposing a fine of one guinea on those who bathed elsewhere. [EHC Min. Bk. 1838, p. 51. No manufactured bath or pool, other than a properly constructed mikveh can meet the requirements of Jewish law regarding the monthly immersion of the Jewish woman.] By the time Adler took over the reins as Chief Rabbi, barely half of the English Congregations who replied to his questionnaire in 1845 had a mikveh at all, the others declaring that their members could use the sea, Montpelier baths, and public or private baths. [Chief Rabbinate Archives, MSS 104.] The Exeter Congregation's reply on the point is worth quoting in full as it well illustrates the attitude of mind of a community, representative of most of Anglo-Jewry, which had abandoned a religious precept but which lacked the courage to say so outright to the Chief Rabbi:
Q Is there a Mikveh? A One was formed on the same building as the Shool at a cost of not less than £80, but from the necessity of being built on the second floor and the apparatus to heat the water being above that again and the difficulty of obtaining a supply of water and the injury it produced to the premises we were reluctantly impelled to abandon its use within the last eighteen months and consequently the Public Baths are now resorted to where there is a bath constructed which on investigation is found to be within two inches of the prescribed rule for size as being Kosher. But we regret to add that on account of a trifling extra expense it is not generally used. [Chief Rabbinate Archives, MSS 104, p. 37.]
A similar situation obtained in Plymouth when the Congregation's mikveh supervisor died. Adler wrote to the President asking for a female to be appointed without delay, 'especially now when every excuse is made not to use it'. [Chief Rabbinate Archives, 7, letter dated 17 May 1860. Cf. E. Krausz, Leeds Jewry (Cambridge, 1964) p. 110.]
When a Jew marries out of his faith, a procedure known in the Jewish community as 'intermarriage', it becomes evident that he cannot be leading a fully observant Jewish life. In the first place such a marriage is forbidden by Jewish law. Then, children born of a non-Jewess are regarded as Gentiles. Furthermore, the extensive home ceremonials of Sabbaths and Festivals could hardly be celebrated by a non-Jewish spouse. It is not possible to estimate the number of marriages between Jews and Gentiles, i.e. common law marriages, or marriages celebrated in church or registry office in the South-West in the period under study. Such marriages were sufficiently common in the eighteenth century in the Plymouth Congregation to provoke a rule against them in 1779. [PHC Min. Bk. I, Regulation 17.] In the latter half of the nineteenth century such marriages may have accounted for up to a third of all marriages in which Jews were involved. The extent of intermarriage by a leading Jewish family in Cornwall is typified by the children of Lemon Hart. He had one son, David, who married a Cornish girl, and four daughters, two of whom married Gentiles. [Genealogical notes prepared by Mr Geoffrey White (in the Cecil Roth Collection). Almost any Jewish family tree of the nineteenth century in England such as those quoted in Jessop, 'Joseph Families' gives similar results.] In most cases, Jews and Jewesses who married non-Jews became lost to the Jewish community and few traces are to be found. [The author met a number of non-Jews in Devon in the mid-1960's who claimed to have had a Jewish grandparent. One non-Jewish woman seeing candles alight on a Friday evening in the home of Mrs Rose Owen of Plymouth, remarked that at the beginning of the twentieth century her own mother also used to light candles on a Friday night not knowing why, but because 'it was traditional in our family'. For a similar incident concerning a Marrano, see C. Roth, Gleanings (New York, 1967), p. 139, n. 81.] Some cases of intermarriage noted in the South-West of England can be quoted to exemplify them all. Manasseh Masseh Lopes married Charlotte only child of John Yeates of Monmouth at Horton near Windsor on 19 October 1795. [Annual Register, 26 March 1831.] According to W. G. Hoskins, Lopes formally abandoned his Judaism only in 1802, [W. G. Hoskins, 'sheaf of Modern Documents', Devonshire Studies, ed. W. G. Hoskins and H. P. R. Finberg (1952) p. 413.] and a church marriage involving a Jew and a Christian was technically possible, as it has never been clearly ruled that a church marriage is illegal even if both parties are unbaptized; a fortiori a mixed marriage would be legal. [Information supplied by the then Lazenby Chaplain, University of Exeter, the Revd J. A. Thurmer, in a letter dated 18 May 1973.] Another Jew, Simon Hyman, married Mary Cawrse (or Corse) in St. Andrews Church, Plymouth, on 7 January 1813: [Trewman's Flying Post, 14 January 1813.]
at 16 she was such an exquisite girl and so persecuted by men of fortune, that her friends hurried her into marriage with a man old enough to be her father, because he was rich; he was ruined and died. [The diary of B. R. Haydon, ed. W. B. Pope, II, 94. See also supra, pp. 299, 307.
Even though a man who lived with a non-Jewish mistress was debarred from certain synagogal rites, he did not necessarily lose all contact with his family and the Jewish community. Abraham Daniel, noted miniature painter of Bath and Plymouth, [TJHSE, XVIII (1953), 105ff. Cf. supra, p. 305.] bequeathed £50 to Elizabeth Codbury 'with whom I lived', £50 to his natural son Edward Elliot Thomas Daniel, £100 to his other natural son William Daniel, and then, surprisingly perhaps, £20 to the charity of the Jewish synagogue at Plymouth, and the remainder to his sisters, Rachel, wife of Solomon Nathan of Plymouth, and Rebecca, wife of Isaac Alman of Bristol. [P.C.C. Pitt 919, probate 30 June 1806. His two brothers each left four 'natural and lawful' children, but presumably these were legitimate.] Abraham Franco, in spite of being married to a Gentile wife, strongly desired to be accepted as a member of the Plymouth Congregation together with his wife. [His letter of application is quoted verbatim, supra, p. 325.] We have seen that Samuel Ralph was married more than once in church, and yet had Jewish burial. [Jessop, 'Joseph Families', p. 126, though he was buried on the 'high ground' (PHC tomb. A.133).] Isaac Gompertz, the minor poet, married Florence Wattier in Church in 1818 and baptized all his children at birth; yet he was buried in the Jewish cemetery at Exeter. Moses Ximenes, a frequent visitor to Baruch Emanuel Lousada at Peak House, Sidmouth, was baptized in 1802. Yet he remained on good terms with the Sephardi authorities. The Lousada's did not abandon their ancestral faith, the fact that they remained friendly with Ximenes and other apostates is a pointer, perhaps, to their own commitment to Judaism. [Endelman, Radical Assimilation, p. 18.] Nonetheless, the children of such men were entirely lost to the Jewish community, and they themselves contributed but little to its spiritual and economic welfare.
There were a number of converts to Judaism in the South-West. Paradoxically, they provide still further evidence of a weakening of Jewish religious bonds, rather than betokening a virile, vital community attracting converts because of its strength. Most of the converts were women who wanted to marry a Jew. The conversion of women to Judaism is physically easier than for men, as males are required to be circumcised. There was, for example, one 'Miriam daughter of Abraham our father' [The traditional patronymic of a convert to Judaism.] in Exeter in 1832. [EHC tomb. 41.] She was the wife of Jonah Solomon [He died in 1829 and lies in the next grave, EHC tomb. 40.] and mother of Baruch Jonas and of whom the wardens of the Exeter Congregation wrote to Chief Rabbi Hirschell in 1838 that her immersion for the purpose of conversion had taken place in Exeter under their supervision about 1810. [EHC Min. Bk. I, p. 38. Cf. Hyamson, Sephardim, p. 358, the first convert converted by the Sephardi authorities in England was in 1877. It had been traditionally believed that a condition of the Jews' readmittance to England was the refusal of proselytes in England itself. The Ashkenasim soon broke the convention, though probably only when it was inconvenient for the party to go abroad (Cf. Hyamson, Sephardim, p. 390, n. 6).] According to Jewish law, as Baruch had been born before his mother's conversion, he was not a Jew, and his conversion took place on 7 October 1811. [MSS Minutes of London Beth Din, 1805-35, p. 10b (in the Cecil Roth collection).] In 1813, the family of another Exeter Jew were converted to Judaism:
The mistress of Menahem Mendel ben Ze'ev Wolf of Exeter immersed on Tuesday 21 Ellul 5574 [= 6 September 1814] and her name is Rebecca and her daughter, about four years old, immersed on the same day and her name is Rachel, and another aged two years and her name is Leah. [A List of Converts to Judaism in the City of London, 1809-1816, ed. Barnett A. Elzas (New York, 1911).]
The earliest convert to Judaism noted in Plymouth was one Abraham the Proselyte whose son Isaac was born on Thursday, 10 February 1785 and circumcised a week later. [Joseph Joseph's Circum. Reg. no. 2.] In 1823, two orchim i.e. either travellers or residents in Plymouth without seats in the Synagogue, were called to the Torah. One was Ze'ev son of Abraham our father and the other is referred to as 'd<167]'. [PHC A/c. 1821, p. 39.] The 'ditto', however, refers more probably to him being an orach than a proselyte. The children of Abraham Franco and his Gentile mistress who were orphaned by the cholera epidemic of 1832 were converted by the London Beth Din on Tuesday, 6 November 1832. [MSS Minutes of London Beth Din, 1805-35, p. 63a (in the Cecil Roth collection).] Then there was a woman who was converted before her child was born. She was Leah, wife of Judah Pinner, whose son Joseph was born on 20 January 1866. [PHC Book of Records, p. 21a. In 1874, a Mrs Pinner received 10/-d. from the Hand-in-Hand Society.] A contemporary of hers was a Martha who was sent to Holland to be immersed and accepted as a proselyte in 1872. [PHC Book of Records, p. 53.] On her return to Plymouth she married one Zvi ben Isaac on Sunday, 9 Adar I 5632 (= 18 February 1872) but there is no record of the marriage in the Plymouth Congregation's Marriage Registers; so presumably this was purely a religious ceremony, a civil one having preceded it. The first marriage with civil effect conducted under the auspices of the Plymouth Congregation between a Jew and a convert was that of Jacob Nathan Brock who married Eva Lavinia Kinsey Atkins in 1890. [PHC Marriage Register, no. 99.]
Much the same picture of assimilation and intermarriage applied to the second generation of the East European Jewish immigrants to Plymouth who began to intermarry with Gentiles after the 1914-18 war. The trend continued until the Second World War when it was estimated that about a third of the Plymouth Jewish community took Gentile spouses. Once again, even where the spouses became Jewish - which was by no means always the case - the trend denoted a weakening of Jewish religious and social attachment. Sometimes the offspring of such marriages remained loyal members of the Jewish community. All too often the children opted out of the Jewish faith, occasionally with feelings of antipathy to it on account of some real or imagined slight received by them or their parents. The high degree of intermarriage was directly responsible for the attenuation of the Jewish community in Plymouth after the Second World War. Many of those who left the town then, did so to give their children a wider Jewish social life in the hope that they would marry Jews.
With most of the Anglo-Jewish community bent on anglicizing itself in the early part of the nineteenth century, it was no wonder that some Jews went all the way along the road and became Christians. Some of the eighteenth-century converts to Christianity have already been mentioned. [E.g. Joseph Ottolenghe, Manasseh Lopes.] Among others, there was an Isaac Polak of Penryn, 'a Jewish Priest', who on 15 February 1760 married Mary Stoughton, a widow, of the same town. [St. Glewias Parish Registers. Possibly this is the source of the 'most curious accusation' that Isaac Bing, known as Levy Isaacs, Secretary of the Great Synagogue, London, married a Gentile in Ireland (see Roth, Great Synagogue, p. 193).]
In the early part of the nineteenth century there was every encouragement for Jews to become Christians, for that was the period when the London Society for promoting Christianity among the Jews was becoming increasingly active, opening schools for Jewish children and distributing tracts amongst the adults. The London Society's increased success was directly due to an improvement in its financial standing and social status in the years immediately following 1811.
The story of this change in fortune, which had far reaching effects on Anglo-Jewry, prompting the Jewish Day School movement as a counter measure, [S. S. Levin, 'The changing pattern of Jewish Education', A Century of Jewish Life (1970), p. 58.] had its roots in Devon. It started in 1795, when a Miss Jane Parminter bought some land two miles from Exmouth and built a house there resembling the Church of San Viale at Ravenna in a strange circular design which she named <199] la Ronde. [The following account is based on A. M. W. Stirling, The Ways of Yesterday (1930).] The house stood in many acres of parkland and nearby were some fine oak trees said to be 400 years old. She also built a chapel and manse, with a miniature almshouse and equally miniature school. The manse was to be occupied by a married but childless ordained minister and the almshouse by four industrious women of good character with some independent means who would continue to spin or crochet to help support themselves,
but in the case of a Jewess who should have previously embraced Christianity becoming a candidate she should be preferred to all others.
The school was for six girls of poor and indigent parents and again
the children of Jewish parents should in all cases be preferred.
Miss Parminter's interest in Jews was occasioned by Zionist feelings, with the proviso that the eventual re-settlement of Jews in Palestine would be preceded by their conversion to Christianity.
Jane Parminter died in 1811, and shortly after her death a Mr Lewis Way (who had inherited what was then an enormous fortune of £300,000 under circumstances which a writer of fiction would hardly have dared to invent) was riding with a friend along the road which leads from Exeter to Exmouth. Way was suddenly struck by the sight of <199] la Ronde and asked about the strange dwelling. His friend gave him full particulars adding that Miss Parminter had recently died and her will contained an interesting codicil. With reference to the group of oaks, so he said, she had decreed:
These oaks shall remain standing, and the hand of man shall not be raised against them until the Jews are converted to Christianity and are restored to the Land of Promise.
The recital of this curious injunction, which was in strict accordance with the Parminter's known interest in Jews, had a profound effect on Lewis Way. Impressionable, impulsive and deeply religious, Way was obsessed with the novel tale. It seemed to him that the finger of Providence had pointed out to him a cause to which he could devote his life and fortune which had come to him, so to say, from Heaven itself - he would dedicate his life to the conversion of the Jews. The oaks of <199] la Ronde at Exmouth were directly responsible for a flood of pamphlets, sermons, charitable bequests, and verse:
List to the voice of the aged trees, Pass them not heedless by; I hear in the sound of the moaning breeze The earnest and heartfelt cry Of her who willed that these trees should stand Till the Jews should return to their Fatherland.
Way went to the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews, which was then struggling with an overdraft of £14,000, and promised £10,000 and his further aid. With Lewis Way's money giving it status the Society employed missionaries, printed tracts, arranged for schooling for Jewish children, provided jobs and subsidies, and accepted donations from churches up and down the land. In the ten year period ended 1825 these donations averaged £32,000 per annum, and they produced some results. The Society made converts, perhaps a dozen or two dozen a year for some years, until there were very few Jews left in England prepared to convert to Christianity, and the Society was obliged to go overseas to find converts. There was, however, a certain irony in the fabrication of such an edifice on the foundation of the romance of the Oaks of <199] la Ronde - the report of the codicil was ben trovato.
Quantitatively, the crop of converts in the nineteenth century from the Jews of Devon and Cornwall was very slight indeed, qualitatively it was not much better. It included Michael Solomon Alexander, whose conversion as the discussion below will show, was to have a profound, if incidental, effect on the Roman Catholic revival in England in the latter part of the nineteenth century. [See report in VJ, 7 January 1842, and infra, p. 350.] Alexander's conversion was almost certainly based upon religious considerations, but wealthy Sephardim like Lopes and Ximenes did not forsake their faith on doctrinal grounds. To be sure, their loyalties to Judaism and its observances were but tenuous before their conversion. Social ambition motivated them, and they largely attained their desires. [Endelman, Radical Assimilation, p. 27.] Family squabbling seems to have prompted Joseph Ottolenghe's conversion in Exeter in 1734. [See supra, pp. 30, 226; Additional Note 2.] Apart from the few converts in the eighteenth century already mentioned, the other known Jewish converts to Christianity in the South-West mostly converted in the period 1820-1830, the heyday of the English Missionary societies in England. It has been suggested that the missionary societies were responsible, in part, at least, 'for blunting religious prejudice by deploring persecution [of the Jews] and promoting (in admittedly insidious charities) their temporal and spiritual welfare'. [Williams, Manchester Jewry, p. 27.]
The most important Jewish convert to Christianity in Devon was undoubtedly that of Michael Solomon Alexander. He was born in Schoenlanke, [Or Schönlanke.] Germany, in 1799. From 1815 until 1819 he taught in a German cheder. Informed that he could have a situation in England if he learnt shechitah, he studied the subject and became proficient. In 1820 he came to London but was disappointed in his hopes and instead went as a private tutor to a Jewish family in the country, perhaps in Nottingham. It was apparently whilst within this man's home that his interest in Christianity was aroused. He eventually became the shochet and second cantor to the Plymouth Congregation, an office which his Christian friends enthusiastically described as an 'Inspector of Meat which is an honourable office and bestowed only on Priests of unblemished reputation', [Plymouth Journal, 23 June 1825.] but which his erstwhile Jewish friends were quick to point out was a very minor office indeed - the truth, as so often, lying somewhere between the extremes. [Trewman's Flying Post, 8 December 1825.] In Plymouth, Alexander took in pupils teaching them Hebrew and German.
One of his pupils was Revd B. Golding of Stonehouse who in discussions awoke Alexander's latent interest in Christianity, with the result that after some hesitation and correspondence with the Chief Rabbi, Alexander was suspended from his duties. The announcement of his intending baptism caused intense public interest, and more than a thousand people came to witness the event at St Andrew's Church, Plymouth, on 22 June 1825. [Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal, 23 June 1825.] The Revd John Hatchard, vicar of St Andrews, published the sermon he preached on the occasion, and Alexander added an appendix in the nature of an Apologia pro vita mea. [John Hatchard, The Predictions and Promises of God respecting Israel (Plymouth, 1825), pp. 37-40.] On 9 November 1825, Mrs Alexander [Her maiden name was Deborah Levy, and she was the daughter of a Plymouth Jew.] followed her husband's example, but this time the baptism was at Allhallows Church, Exeter, perhaps to spare additional embarrassment to her family in Plymouth. [Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal, 17 November 1825. A convert's embarrassed family might well leave town. Barnet and Jane Lyons settled in Plymouth after their daughter, Esther, was enticed from her family in Cardiff and converted to Christianity in 1868. The parents sued her abductors, a Baptist minister and his wife, and the case became a cause célèbre (JC, 1868 and 1869, passim); R. Woolfe, 'The abduction of Esther Lyons', Cajex, , ii (1952), 14-23, quoted in MJHSE, XI (1979), pp.67, 71n.] Alexander did not lose any time in getting to work. He converted an Exeter Jew who was baptized at Bristol in 1825, and probably had a hand in the conversion of another Exeter Jew who was baptized on Christmas Day, 1825. [The Jewish Expositor (1826), XI (1826), p. 78.]
Alexander was promised an appointment as missionary to Poland, [The Cambrian, 25 June 1825. The Revd M. H. Malits kindly provided this reference.] but he eventually became a home missionary of the Society for the Propagation of Christianity amongst the Jews and Professor of Hebrew at Kings College, London. [Gent. Mag. 27 April 1847, p. 675.] When a United Protestant Bishopric was established in Jerusalem by the Church of England and the German Lutheran Church, Alexander was chosen for the position. The appointment was wryly noted in the Jewish press:
The Bishop of Jerusalem is to get £1,200 per annum, better pay than his 20 shillings a week as a slaughterer of animals to the Congregation at Nottingham or Plymouth. [VJ, 7 January 1842.]
The establishment of the Bishopric in co-operation with the Lutheran Church was one of the prime factors which led John Henry Newman to embrace Roman Catholicism, as he, with many others of the High Church party, did not recognize Lutheran orders. [J. H. Newman, Apologia pro Vita Sua, (1964), pp. 146-152.]
In Exeter, in 1820, a converted Jew called Hyman Isaacs published a tract attempting to persuade his coreligionists to join him in his new faith. His rather superficial theology published as A solemn and affectionate address to the Jews clearly demonstrating ... that Jesus...is the only true Messiah [Roth, Magna-Bibliotheca, p. 292. Other editions were published in 1835 and 1840.] could hardly have converted the more sophisticated Jewish families of Exeter. There is some reason to believe that Hyman Isaacs later renounced his new faith and changed his name to Hyman Levy, because an Exeter Jew, in 1825, called Hyman Levy Davis Isaac changed his name at about that time on account of its similarity to 'Hyman Levy the Penitent'. [EHC A/c. 1822-1825, at the entry of Hyman Levy Davis Isaac.] Unless there was a coincidental similarity of names, it would appear that Hyman Levy was the former Hyman Isaacs. The penitence may have been short lived, because in 1832, when his sons Colin, aged 20, a hatter, and George Christian, aged 18, a shoemaker, escorted a drunk blacksmith from Totnes out of Exeter and stole his watch, he was referred to as 'Isaac the converted Jew and Christian Missionary'. [Trewman's Flying Post, 23 May 1832.]
Such criminal 'sprigs of Judaizing Christians' were all too common and posed a considerable problem to the missionary societies. A spokesman for the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews attempting to allay subscribers' anxieties that all the Jews 'who have professed Christianity have turned out to be hypocrites' admitted, 'we would not deny that deceit is an awful feature in the Jewish character' and could only explain it by blaming Christians for their ill-treatment of the Jews through the centuries. [C. S. Hawtrey, A summary account of the origin, proceedings, and success of the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews (1826), p. 25.] Lewis Way himself was imposed on by 16 young Jews in his home at Stansted who professed conversion, and were duly shaved and baptized, when a rumour reached them that Way was bankrupt. The next day all the converts decamped, stripping the house of all they could lay their hands on, including their host's silver spoons. Macaulay commemorated the event:
Each, says the Proverb, has his taste. 'Tis true Marsh loves a controversy, Coates a play, Bennet a felon, Lewis Way a Jew, The Jew the silver spoons of Lewis Way. [A. M. W. Stirling, The Ways of Yesterday, p. 137.]
Other Jewish converts to Christianity in the South-West, who did not come from the twilight world of the criminal class include:
(a) Solomon Gompertz (1806-1883), brother of Isaac Gompertz the poet, was baptized in 1823 at Otterden, Devon. He later attended Peterhouse College, Cambridge, and became a clergyman. [Endelman, Radical Assimilation, p. 49.]
(b) the four children of Jacob and Elizabeth Levy who were all baptized in St. Mary's Church, Truro, on 22 February 1822. [St. Mary's, Truro, Baptism Register, p. 654.]
(c) the five children of Abraham Simmons, a hawker, and his wife, née Jane Barker, who were baptized in St. Andrew's Church, Plymouth, on 23 March 1825. [St. Andrew's, Plymouth, Parish Baptism Register, 1825.] According to a contemporary newspaper report Abraham Simmons himself was 'shortly to be baptized'. [Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal, 24 March 1825.] Jane Barker herself was probably not a Jewess, so her children would not have been Jewish in the eyes of Jewish law.
(d) Harriet, 'the nineteen year old daughter of the late Moses Hyman, the Jewish Priest at Falmouth who was publicly baptized at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Falmouth' in 1830. [The Cambrian, 20 November 1830. The Revd M. H. Malits kindly provided this reference.]
In this last case, the girl's mother and friends remonstrated with her so sternly, that Harriet ran to the Mayor for protection. When he summoned the mother to appear before him, Mrs Hyman with other members of the Falmouth Congregation agreed to take the girl back if she stopped going to Church, but without such an undertaking, Mrs Hyman would not let the girl come home as she had other children at home whose spiritual welfare could have been threatened. Harriet was to have been married within a few weeks of the dispute, but the match was broken off on account of her interest in Christianity. This interest was consummated on Sunday, 7 November 1830 when she entered the Church. [West Briton and Cornwall Advertiser, 12 November 1830.]
Generally speaking the Jewish community, both in London and the Provinces, avoided direct confrontation with the Christian public on the subject of conversion. The reluctance of Anglo-Jewry to have anything to do with 'mad' Lord George Gordon who became a Jew is well known. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 226.] In the latter part of the nineteenth century, English Gentiles wishing to convert to Judaism were sent to Holland to be initiated there, rather than in England. [PHC Book of Records, p. 53.] From Plymouth, for example, a certain Zvi ben Isaac sent his Gentile wife-to-be to Holland in 1872 to be converted there so that he could marry her. [There is ample evidence of conversions being effected in London under Solomon Hirschell until 1835, see supra, p. 343.] The last thing that a Jewish community such as that of Plymouth wanted to do was to engage in a public disputation on the respective merits of Christianity and Judaism. Once, however, about 1835, a debate was virtually forced upon the Jews of Plymouth by a Joseph Wolff. This colorful personality started life as a Polish Jew, became a Roman Catholic, then a Protestant, and finished as the rector of a Somerset parish married to Lady Georgiana Walpole. Before he became a rector, he was employed as a missionary. Let a Plymouth Jew, Lewis Hyman, tell the story of Wolff's attempt to force a religious debate:
[About 1835] gentlemen of the genus of Wolff were as plentiful as blackberries, and generally visited the provincial towns on Passover or Festivals, with their saddlebags stuffed with tracts, patted by parsons, and fondled by dowagers ... Then Joseph Wolff, a star of the first magnitude visited Plymouth. He placarded the walls defying the Jews to mortal combat on the evidences of Christianity. Our community, ever timid, [Underlined in the original. A century later, the Anglo-Jewish community's attitude has hardly changed. Congregations and communities display a marked reluctance to collect demographic material or conduct in depth surveys, 'for what would the "fascists" do with the results?' (B. A. Kosmin, 'The case for the local perspective in the study of contemporary British Jewry', Jewish Life in Britain, 1962 - 1977 (New York, 1981), pp. 83-94. The politics of Anglo-Jewry are still considered to be a taboo subject (G. Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics (Oxford, 1983), p. vii). A 1990 series of British Telecom advertisements portraying the actress, Maureen Lipman as a 'typical' Jewish housewife leaves many Jews with a distinct feeling of unease.] declined until strongly urged, a meeting was held on a Sunday in Passover. A number of Jews and Christians were present, among others Dr. Cookworthy, a celebrated physician, Chairman; Rev. Hatchward, Vicar of St Andrews; Mr. Newton, one of the founders of the Sect of Plymouth Brethren, etc. After a number of arguments on both sides, Abraham Joseph, one of the disputants, produced the Asiatic Journal of 1833 [in which Wolff had written a long account of various visions in one of which The Devil, Mohammed, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Apostles with Jesus, and St. Paul all appeared to him and gave him a crown]. Wolff was dumbfounded. Asked by the Chairman if the statement was correct, he did not deny it. Dr. Cookworthy, after hearing the account read by Abraham Joseph immediately vacated the Chair, saying, 'Gentlemen, I am done &emdash; the meeting is dissolved'. This unlucky contretemps frustrated Wolff's grand battle at Plymouth, also at Exeter where he had announced to lecture. After this he visited more genial climes. [JC, 27 July 1860.]
It is noteworthy that Abraham Joseph relied on an attack on the personality of Wolff rather than discuss the relative merits of Christianity and Judaism. On the other hand, there were a number of literary polemics against the activities of the 'conversionists' in the early part of the nineteenth century, [Roth, Magna-Bibliotheca, pp. 256-268.] but these were generally addressed to the Jews themselves.
One such work emanated from Exeter in 1808 from the pen of Lazarus Cohen [See supra, p. 297.] entitled:
Torat Emet: Sacred Truths addressed to the Children of Israel residing in the British Empire, containing strictures on the book entitled The New Sanhedrin tending to show that Jews can gain nothing by altering their present belief.
In his book he warns his fellow Jews of the work of the conversionists and particularly against a statement put out by the Sanhedrin founded by Napoleon that intermarriage was permitted. [L. Cohen, Sacred Truths (Exeter, 1808), p. ii.] A similar work by Hart Symonds, issued from London in 1823 and entitled The Arguments of Faith, was originally euphemistically addressed to Sophists and Epicureans. After two years residence in Penzance, the author was emboldened to address his work to the London Society for promoting Christianity amongst the Jews and attempted to refute their arguments. [The first edition may be found at the Mocatta Library, the second at Jews' College, London.] The title of a polemic work by Selig Newman, a Jew who spent some years in Plymouth, speaks for itself:
The Challenge Accepted:Ç A dialogue between a Jew and a Christian. The former answering a challenge thrown out by the latter respecting the accomplishment of the prophecies predictive of the advent of Jesus. [Published in New York, 1850.]
Other polemical works were patronized by the Jews of the South-West. S. I. Cohen's Elements of Faith, [London, 1815. See C. Roth, 'Educational Abuses and Reforms in Hanoverian England', Essays and Portraits in Anglo-Jewish History (Philadelphia, 1962), p. 228.] for example, had eight subscribers in Falmouth alone compared to nine in the rest of the provinces out of 267 in all. M. Sailman's The Mystery Unfolded, [London, 1817. Roth, Magna-Bibliotheca, p. 265.] a sweeping exposure of the means employed by the London Society for promoting Christianity amongst the Jews to obtain converts, had nine Jewish subscribers - and five non-Jewish ones including an archdeacon! - in the South-West out of 337 subscribers in the rest of England and overseas.
Some Jewish parents in Plymouth, as elsewhere, sought to discourage their children from leaving their faith by a provision in their will disinheriting any who did so. [Endelman, Radical Assimilation, p. 52, quotes a number of examples. These provisos were generally struck down by the courts in the twentieth century (Re Moss's Trusts  1All ER 207); but see Re Tuck  1All ER 545, where the condition against intermarriage was upheld because the bride's status was subject to clarification by the chief rabbi.] Samuel Hyman, a Plymouth pawnbroker who died in 1839, left an instruction in his will that children of his who married out of the faith should be disinherited. [Ibid.] As early as 1818 Emanuel Levy of Exeter envisaged the possibility that a beneficiary of his will might 'renounce or cease to believe in the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish faith ... or marry a person not professing that faith', and declared that such a person should forfeit any benefit under the will. [Devon Record Office, Wills L/492.] At the end of the nineteenth century, when less observant Jewish merchants began to keep their shops open on Sabbaths and Festivals, one staunchly orthodox member of the Plymouth Congregation made his sons promise that, after his death, they would keep the shop closed on the second days of Festivals. These second days, being Rabbinic in origin, are not kept in Israel; they were abolished by Reform Judaism, and in laxly observant circles even when Jewish merchants closed their businesses on the first Festival day they operated them on the second. The sons gave their word and the founder of the business died content. Not in his wildest dreams did he imagine that the sons would open the shop on Sabbaths and the first days of Festivals, and as he had only extracted a promise to close on the second days, they opened up on all the other days, including the Day of Atonement, with a good conscience! [Verbal tradition in the family recounted to the author.]
What then were the causes of the progressive assimilation of the Jews in the South-West of England, and for that matter in the rest of England, in the nineteenth century? Probably, they were very similar to those which brought about a weakening of the ethnic and religious identities of other immigrant minorities, such as the Poles and Germans in America, or the Huguenots and Irish in England. There were, doubtless, a number of factors each of which contributed its share: the social pressure of any majority upon a minority to make it conform - particularly in the case of children educated in State schools; a weakening of parental authority in the lives of children better educated and more able to take advantage of new opportunities for economic and social progress; a hope that by adjusting himself, chameleon like, to his contemporary society, he would go unrecognized, and hence be less subjected to the possibility of indignity, or be the victim of social discrimination in educational, job or business opportunities; a desire to enjoy civil rights legally denied to him as a Jew; and perhaps at the root of it all, an uneasy feeling, often hardly admitted to the conscious self, that his culture and way of life was inferior to the culture and mores of the wider society around him.
This last point is to some considerable extent dependent on education. A person who is well educated in his own language, discipline, history and general culture is more likely to be proud of it and loath to abandon it. Apparently, in the early part of the nineteenth century when there was a far-reaching and good teaching of Judaism, which includes a knowledge of Hebrew - the language of the Jews' prayers, the Bible and post-Biblical literature and history, as well as laws and customs with their rationale - firmly committed Jews, in the main, were produced. When standards of Jewish education dropped, there was a fall in the standards of Jewish commitment. But this to some extent begs the question. Did the drop in Jewish educational standards lead to a decline in Jewish commitment, or did an assimilation-bent community allow its educational system to deteriorate? There can be no clear-cut answer to this question for the nineteenth century any more than there is for a similar dilemma in the late twentieth. All that can here be attempted is to describe the educational system in the South-West of England for imparting Judaism to children, and its ultimate breakdown.
In the late eighteenth century, as well as in the nineteenth, all the Congregations of the South-West made arrangements for their children to be taught. The Plymouth Congregation appointed Moses Isaac [He was born in Mezeritz in 1728 and landed at Harwich in 1748. He was beadle to the Plymouth Congregation in 1778 (PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 47). He did not come to Plymouth between 1798 and 1803 (contra Lipman, 'Aliens List', no. 33).] in 1781 to be the communal teacher at a salary of £42 per annum. The charity fund paid £10 of this sum and the rest was paid by the vestry members. A term's notice was necessary before withdrawing a child. [PHC Min. Bk. I, p. 28.] At a meeting in 1797, it was decided that 12 parents had to contribute annually £13. 19s. for 23 children, probably all boys, and every seatholder paid twopence weekly to make up the deficit in the teacher's wages. [Ibid. p. 10.] In 1806, Simeon ben Nathan was appointed as teacher at £50 per annum on condition that cheder (school for Jewish studies) was held each day 9.00 a.m. to 12 noon and 1.00 p.m. to 4.00 p.m., Sabbaths and Festivals excepted. [Ibid. p. 39.] He remained some years because in 1811 the Congregation allocated him £15 per annum for teaching poor children (and two guineas for each extra poor child). He had to learn [In the Yiddish idiom the teacher learns with his pupil.] with these poor children either from 10.00 a.m. to 1.00 p.m., or from 2.00 p.m. to 5.00 p.m. [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 68.] It thus seems that the children of the poor only got half of the hours of instruction that the rich children received.
The children's theoretical studies were given practical application, somewhat on Mr Squeer's principle, when it was decided in 1811 that seats should be provided on the west wall of the Plymouth Synagogue for the children, and that their teacher had to remain with them during the times of prayer. [Ibid. p. 65. The west wall is at the back of the synagogue.]
The Exeter Congregation also had its cheder, and the communal factotum had to teach in it. Again, the wealthier parents paid for their children's tuition, but there were recurrent difficulties over the children of the poor. A note in the Minute Book of the Exeter Congregation in 1851 tells its own story:
In the light of the resolution which was finally carried it is not surprising to find that the Exeter Congregation became disenchanted with Revd Hoffnung's efforts and soon after advertised for a young man able to teach. [Ibid. at 19 December 1852.] The Congregation got a new man, Revd Albu, but hardly profited by the change. This is apparent from the minutes of the Congregation in 1853 that contain proposals
In its early days, at least until the dawn of the nineteenth century, there is some reason to assume that this educational system functioned well. Samuel Hart was educated in Plymouth in the decade 1760-1770, his Hebrew letter written when he was seventy years old is the work of a scholar. [See supra, p. 326.] Abraham Joseph II, privately tutored in Plymouth from about 1804 to 1815, [Moses Ephraim was his tutor.] in later life displayed an intimate acquaintance with the Hebrew language and Jewish philosophy and lore, as well as possessing a fine Jewish library. [See his obituary in JC, 29 May 1868.] There seems to have been a Hebrew-speaking circle which met in Plymouth in 1844 every Friday night [Cf. the Penzance Hebrew Society for the Promotion of Religious Knowledge which also met on Friday nights (Roth MSS 276).] to converse in Hebrew and study Hebrew texts. This is apparent from a letter [Original in possession of Mr Edgar Samuels, London.] written in a consciously 'modern Hebrew' style and sent from London by one Abraham ben David to Henry Solomons at Plymouth. [Chaim Rabin has pointed out that there was a group of Hebraists in London in the early 1840's who constituted a Hebrew-speaking circle (Chaim Rabin, Ivrit Meduberet Lifnei 125 Shanah (Jerusalem, 1964).]
As the nineteenth century progressed the hours of cheder were seriously curtailed in Plymouth, for whereas in 1806 children went to cheder for six hours a day, [PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 39.] by 1822 it had been cut down to two hours a day from 9.00 a.m. to 11.00 a.m., Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Furthermore, the special teacher had been dispensed with, and instead the shochet 'to hold school in the Community's house to teach children Hebrew in so far as they are able to learn'. [Ibid. p. 171.] It sounds, and it probably was, a poor and haphazard Jewish education which the children received.
This impression is confirmed by the state of educational affairs which Chief Rabbi Adler found when he began his ministry in England. 'I purpose', he declared in his installation sermon in 1845, 'to superintend your establishments for education', [Quoted in Quinn, 'Jewish Schooling', p. 382.] and he did. Without delay he sent out a questionnaire to every community in England and the replies indicate that, with the exception of Birmingham, there was no properly organized Jewish education outside of London and not much inside it, either. [Chief Rabbinate Archives, MSS 104.]
Although there are replies from the Exeter, Falmouth and Plymouth Congregations, the more detailed reply of the Bristol Congregation to the question 'What Schools?' throws light on a situation which was probably typical of all the communities of the West and South-West of England. It replied,
None. The more affluent children are sent to Hebrew Boarding Schools and others are taught by the Shammas and chazan, as far as relates to Hebrew. And as to other Branches of Education, by English Schools or Teachers in the locality.
The Exeter Congregation in its reply stated that the cheder met in the vestry room on Sundays and Tuesdays from 4.00 p.m. to 7.00 p.m. Even this attenuated instruction was only attended by ten boys and one girl out of 20 boys and 13 girls in the Congregation. The Falmouth Congregation merely reported that Mr Rintel taught Hebrew and German, whilst the Penzance Congregation did not reply at all. The Plymouth Congregation informed the Chief Rabbi that Mr Woolf taught Hebrew reading and translation to a varying number of pupils and 'regret the defective state of education and pulpit instruction'.
For the next twenty-five years Adler attempted to remedy a situation which, left unattended, could only lead to the breakdown of Jewish life in all but the largest communities. His solution, like that of Solomon Hirschell twenty years earlier, was to set up Jewish day schools in each community, where secular and sacred subjects would both be taught. He repeatedly wrote to provincial Congregations urging them to establish day schools and offering financial help as well as advice on syllabus and text books. [For example, Chief Rabbinate Archives, 11, letters 7811, 7796; 12, pp. 501, 503; 13, p. 181.] Without Jewish day schools the situation became desperate. In Exeter, by 1862, most of the Jewish children had virtually no knowledge of their religion. Myers Solomon of Exeter wrote to the Jewish Chronicle in 1862 that he travelled the country five days out of even to seek a livelihood but on the Sabbath he called the children together. He asked a boy, nearly 13 years old (the magic age of bar mitzvah!) what his belief was as a Jew. The boy replied that he believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost! [JC, 17 January 1862.]
Dr Adler's efforts to establish Jewish day schools bore fruit in Plymouth, for he induced Jacob Nathan, wealthy bachelor and ready supporter of all his charitable appeals, to make himself responsible for founding such a school in Plymouth. In the last eighteen months before his death in May 1867, Nathan busied himself collecting monies for this project. By his will, he left £3,000 for this purpose; [See Transactions of Plymouth Institute, vol. 6, p. 82.] and a school, the Jacob Nathan School, was opened in 1869.In 1874, there were 24 pupils, 11 boys and 13 girls, who were taught Hebrew and Jewish subjects by the minister of the Congregation, Revd Rosenbaum, and secular studies by a Mr Williams, assisted by a Miss Mitchell. [A. Myers, Jewish Directory for 1874 (1874).]
The school, as a day school, did not last very long, and it probably closed down in the early 1890's. No records of the school appear to have survived, there are no registers, no record of the governors, nor any minute of its daily activities. In the absence of such records it is, of course, difficult to ascertain how effective was the education or what part the school played in ameliorating the effects of assimilation. One significant pointer, perhaps, to its influence is that at least two of its former pupils, J. B. Goodman (who, in his later years, acted as a lay-reader for the Congregation on the High Festivals) and B. H. Emdon, both played a beneficial and prominent part in the affairs of the Plymouth Congregation in the mid-twentieth century.
The name of the school, however, was kept alive, to ensure that its trust income was not lost. Accordingly, the new Religion Classes which the Congregation started were still called the Jacob Nathan School, a fruitful source of later confusion.
By chance, a few pages of minutes of the school committee covering the period October 1895 until March 1898 have survived. [Photocopies were made by the late B. H. Emdon.] The topics revealed by the minutes are strangely reminiscent of those dealt with over the previous two centuries!
The Vestry be recommended that the management of the school be vested in the hands of the school committee. Every child (of 5 and under 13) [Again the magic age of bar mitzvah beyond which formal Jewish education ceased.] requiring private lessons from Dr Berliner [Revd Dr M. Berlin, minister of the Congregation, 1896 - 1906.] shall pay a weekly school fee of 6d.
Non Members children requiring lessons from Dr Berliner must have sanction from the school committee.
A school should be held at Devonport, and a clause to that effect be inserted in Rev Dr Berliner's agreement. Mr Titleboam proposed that the Shabas [= Sabbath] school be open to all Jewish children.
In 1896, the school hours in Plymouth were: Sunday 10.30 - 12.30; Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday 5.00 - 7.00; Saturday 2.00 - 3.00. Whilst at 63 George Street, Devonport they were: Sunday 2.30 - 4.00; and Thursday 5.15 - 7.00.
There were 24 pupils in the Plymouth cheder and 8 at Devonport, making 32 children in all receiving Congregational Jewish education, including some 10 girls. The number dropped rapidly. By December 1897 the number of pupils had fallen to 18 in Plymouth (and 6 of these joined in 1897), arranged in four classes, and 5 in Devonport. Complaints of late coming, absenteeism, late arrival on the part of Dr Berlin, and poor teaching are frequent. The committee was so dissatisfied that it proposed to examine the children monthly, on a scheme of studies set up by Dr Berlin, E. Plaskowsky and E. Orgel. The number of children attending continued to fall, and in 1906 there were only 15. [Jewish Year Book, 1906.]
By the 1930's, the hours of tuition had somewhat lengthened, though whether tuition had improved it is difficult to say. Mr Lionel Aloof remembers cheder then being each weekday night from 5pm until 8 pm, and on Sundays from 10am to 1 pm. The teachers were good but the discipline was poor, as some of 'the scions of the top hat members were very chutzpadick (= cheeky) towards the teachers'! [Letter to the author 19 January 1989.] Coincidental with the assimilatory movement there was also a distinct process of acculturation amongst the Jews in the South-West during the nineteenth century. The basis of this process was a good secular education, but there is an almost complete silence on where this was acquired in the first half of the nineteenth century. Apparently, the only Jew who refers to his secular education in the South-West in this period is Solomon Alexander Hart. He relates that in 1813
at the age of seven I was sent to school at Exeter. There I remained a short time. With regard to this school I may say that the aphorism 'Spare the rod and spoil the child' was not neglected in my case. I returned to Plymouth in 1814. Being an Israelite, I was debarred from entering Dr. Bidlake's Grammar School which was restricted to Churchmen. Consequently I was placed with the Rev. Israel Worsley, a Unitarian Minister. With him I remained for the best part of five years. He was a most excellent man, but took greater interest in the composition of his sermons than in the classes of his schoolroom.
I dare say, however, that my own shortcomings were more due to my own want of attention than to his. The lessons in French were always given on Saturday when I was absent. I detested arithmetic. My sums were done for me by a boy named Martin, a son of a brewer in Plymouth.
I liked Ovid on account of the picturesqueness of the stories. One of my Master's sons avenged himself because I would not enter his class. He afterwards compared notes good-humouredly, and I certainly did not express gratitude for the frequent infliction of the cane. [Hart, Reminiscences, p. 7.]
It is not clear why Hart was sent to Exeter for a year. Perhaps it was occasioned by a domestic matter such as sickness or the death of his mother. [His father married (a) Leila, sister of Jacob Jacobs, and (b) Hannah, widow of Jacob Jacobs, daughter of Hyam Barnett of Gloucester.] Presumably Jewish boys (and perhaps girls, too) started to go to nondenominational schools at about this time. In the latter part of the nineteenth century when school attendance became compulsory, the process of acculturation was no doubt accelerated when the children played the games of childhood and made friends with their non-Jewish school fellows. [See R. Livshin, 'The Acculturation of the Children of Immigrant Jews in Manchester, 1890 - 1930', The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry, ed. D] Cesarani (Oxford, 1990), pp. 79 - 94.]
The career of Solomon Hart represents a link in the process of social acceptance by English society of the middle-class Jew. 'He takes his place with the first Jewish baronet, first Jewish barrister, first Jewish M.P., first Jewish Master of the Rolls, and first Jewish Senior Wrangler' was the view taken of him after his death. [JC, 24 June 1881.] 'He modified the popular prejudice that Jews are concerned only with money.' [JC, 17 June 1881.] It was not only that as a Jew he had become an R.A. and even Librarian of the Royal Academy, but also because throughout his career he had chosen Jewish subjects, and dignified ones, to present to the English public.
There were many others in the South-West who trod a similar path to Hart's, even if they were not quite so famous. In a previous chapter on the leading artistic and other talented Jews in the South-West the names of many others have been mentioned whose lives and careers exemplified the acculturation and eventual assimilation of the Jewish communities in Devon and Cornwall.
There is some evidence to indicate the educational levels attained by Jews in the South-West in the nineteenth century. The signatures in the marriage registers of the South-West seem to suggest that the Jews of Devon and Cornwall were more literate than their Gentile neighbours and their coreligionists in London. In the general population of England in 1837, 33 per cent of grooms and 49 per cent of brides signed the marriage register with a cross. [Quoted in Quinn, 'Jewish Schooling', p. 249.] The figures for Cornwall in 1840 were very similar - 33 per cent of the grooms and 54 per cent of the brides. [Cyrus Redding, Illustrated Itinerary of the County of Cornwall (1842), p. 245.] In the Bevis Marks Synagogue, London, the percentage of illiterate grooms in the period 1837-1843 was 6.5, though for the previous 20 years it had been 12 or 13 per cent. [Quinn, 'Jewish Schooling', p. 249.] In the first one hundred marriages recorded in the Plymouth Congregation's Marriage Register from 1837 until 1891, one groom and two brides signed with a mark (a circle and not a cross, on theological grounds) and three grooms signed with their Hebrew signature. The sample is comparatively small, but is taken over a long period. One of the illiterate brides, Rachel Bowman, came from Hull. She 'formed a clandestine union' with a Sam Alexander of Plymouth and was married to him in 1851. [Chief Rabbinate Archives, 2, letter dated 8 September 1851.] Sam and Rachel were both born in Poland. [P.R.O. H.O. 107/1879/287/2C/p. 688.] The other bride married the illiterate groom in 1854, [PHC Marriage Register, 32.] they do not figure elsewhere in the Congregational records. The grooms who appended Hebrew signatures were Abraham Burstein (Bernstein) in 1851, [Ibid. 26.] who was presumably a recent immigrant, as he does not appear in the 1851 census; Israel Rousman (who signs Isser ben Leib) and who married Rachel Freedman in 1870; [Ibid. 56. These were members of the Roseman and Fredman families which dominated the affairs of the Plymouth Congregation for nearly a century after 1870. See supra, p. 123.] and a Marks Levy of London who also married in 1870. [Ibid. 57.] There were no signatures by a mark in the marriage registers of any of the other Congregations in the South-West, but again the numbers of marriages recorded in them are too small to draw any conclusions in this regard. It should also be borne in mind that the Jews of the South-West in the nineteenth century formed part of the urban population which was generally better educated than the rural.
Another way of acculturation was to take up the responsibilities, if not the legal obligations, of citizenship. In 1798, there was a call for 'loyal citizens to train themselves to arms' in order to repulse any invasion. Jews in Exeter and Plymouth were admitted to and enrolled in the Volunteer Companies. Jacob Levi of Portsmouth wrote to the Governor at Portsmouth asking to be enrolled as a Volunteer, adding that Jews had been enrolled as such 'at Bristol, Dover, Plymouth, Exeter, Liverpool, Gosport and many other places'. [P.R.O. H.O. 50/43.] The Governor sent Levi's letter to Pitt who passed it on to Henry Dundas on 1 June 1798. [Ibid.] The Governor wrote: 'I proposed to them the formation of a company entirely of their own sect ... but that they declined'. [Ibid.] The Jews were anxious to do their duty as citizens and not as Jews. A few weeks later a Falmouth Jew made some sort of proposal, perhaps to pay for a Volunteer Company of Jews, to the Earl of Mount Edgecumbe who passed it on to Henry Dundas with a covering letter:
I received some days ago the enclosed letter from Mr. Symons, Falmouth. I am not acquainted with him nor does his offer come with any recommendation but as his proposal is a very handsome one ... I submit it to you. [Ibid. 22 June 1798.]
Unfortunately, Symons' letter was sent on to the Admiralty and no trace of it can now be found. There is no record in the official sources of Jews, other than Lemon Hart, serving as officers in the Fencibles, Militia, or Volunteers in either Devon or Cornwall in the period of 1797 to 1804, so those who were admitted must have been in the ranks. [P.R.O. H.O. 50/66, 64: 20 13/530, 536, 553, 554, 349.] Additional evidence regarding the part some Jews played in the defence forces of Cornwall at this period is to be found in some notes prepared by Geoffrey H. White, a former editor of The Complete Peerage, and a descendant of Lemon Hart of Cornwall. [He sent a copy of his notes to Prof. Cecil Roth on 3 March 1955.] Of Lemon Hart he wrote:
When a French invasion was threatened ... Hart raised a company of volunteers in Cornwall. These were styled the Ludgvan Volunteers, and Mr. Hart was appointed their captain by --. [A blank was left in the original notes for the name to be filled in.] He also received a letter of thanks from ?Duke of Portland. I saw the letter more than 50 years ago but have forgotten details.
The Ludgvan Pioneers were raised late in 1798, with Captain Lemon Hart in command for a short while. Pioneers were small corps designed to assist in such work as blocking roads, building defences and constructing batteries. He left the Pioneers for a short while when it became the Ludgvan and Marazion Volunteers and became a first lieutenant in the Mounts Bay Fuzileers, a two company corps raised in March 1797. In 1800 Hart returned to the Ludgvan and Marazion Volunteers. [C. Thomas, 'Cornish Volunteers in the Eighteenth Century', Devon and Cornwall Notes and Queries, XXVIII (1959), 11-12. Mr Godfrey Simmons drew my attention to this article.] The Exeter Militia List of 1803 has been published. [W.G. Hoskins, The Exeter Militia List, 1803 (1972).] There were 7,320 males in Exeter of all ages according to the 1801 census and the names of 3102 males aged between 17 and 55 years appear in the Militia List. Of these possibly 17 were Jews. Some of the constables or officers who were required by the Amended Act for the Defence and the Security of the Realm, 1803, to return the lists added additional biographical information. Two of the Jews were listed as opticians, there were two silversmiths, three travellers, one pedlar (Israel Stone, if he was Jewish), and a reader in the synagogue. No occupation was listed for five of the men but they were described as 'Jew'. The reader, Moses Levy, was discharged, a Samuel Polock (if he and two other men called Polock were Jews) was already in the Volunteers, three men were 'infirm', and six 'were willing to serve'.
Only an assimilated Jew could serve of his own free will in the Navy. Such a one was Samuel Nathan of Teignmouth, son of a centenarian Polish Jew who died in Exeter. Samuel served in the Teignmouth lifeboat crew when young, and subsequently under Lord Raglan and was in the battles of Balaclava, Inkerman, and Sebastopol. He was twice decorated for bravery, once by the English and once by the Turks. [JC, 29 September 1899. His lineal descendants currently trade in Teignmouth.]
Some Jews served in the Navy in an involuntary capacity. The Press gangs of the early nineteenth century did not differentiate between Christian and Jew, [On one day in April 1793 every man on the streets of Plymouth was impressed (Sherbourne Mercury and Western Flying Post, 29 April 1793).] indeed Jewish pedlars and especially tailors were at extra risk, being often bandy legged on account of their trade they were taken for sailors. [J. R. Hutchinson, The Press Gang, p. 244.] The name of Ordinary Seaman John Levy who was flogged round the fleet at Sheerness for desertion in 1802 suggests that he might have been a Jew, whilst the name of Ordinary Seaman Jacob Cohen of the 44-gun frigate HMS Sibylle, who received on 17 June 1809 from Emanuel Hart of Plymouth £2. 19s. 6d., being his share of prize money in the capture of the Espiegle, is even more suggestive. [Green, 'Royal Navy', p. 108.] It is said that B.A. Simmons, the shochet at Penzance, was impressed and fought at Trafalgar, losing a finger in the battle. [Catalogue Anglo-Jewish Art Exhibition, 1956, item 330. Cf. also item 440.]
Jewish Plymothians played their parts in both the First and Second World Wars. Two Rolls of Honour hang in the Plymouth synagogue, testifying to the pride of the Congregation in the civic service of its members. The names on the Rolls are virtually a roll-call of the membership of the Plymouth congregation.
Women included in the 1939 Roll are Pte. L. Angel and Sgt. I. Silver in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, Sgt. Barbara Cohen and Aircraftwoman L. D. Lee in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force, and Driver Sylvia Goldberg in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.
The Rolls of Honour do not tell the full story. There is an army barracks at Crownhill, outside Plymouth. Here was stationed during and after the First World War, elements of the 38th, 39th and 40th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. Throughout that war, leading Zionist militants such as Trumpeldor and Jabotinsky had campaigned to be allowed to establish a Jewish regiment which would fight alongside the Allies. At first, the British authorities were less than lukewarm about the idea, but they were unable to resist the pressure. This came from the public and press who saw young able-bodied Jewish civilians who, because they were Russian-born, or had been born in a part of Poland which regularly changed hands between the Russians, Germans and Poles, were disqualified from service in the British Army. On 23 August 1917, the London Gazette officially announced the formation of a Jewish regiment, the 38th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. It was later joined by the 39th Battalion, which was made up largely of American Jewish volunteers, and after that by the 40th Battalion which was formed from Palestinian Jewish volunteers. The regiment served in the Middle East where it fought against the Turks with distinction, and is known as the Jewish Legion. David Ben-Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel, served in it. In a letter to his wife at the end of July 1918 he writes,
The camp we are staying in is not far from the beautiful port of Plymouth ... called Egg Buckland ... I was intoxicated by the charming scene ... green mountains and valleys covered with silk, fertile fields .... The Sabbath is observed here, and on that day we are let off all training, apart from marching to the synagogue together with all the officers, headed by the colonel.(1)1 D. Ben-Gurion, Letters to Paula (1971), p.31.]
A Jewish family called Kauffman had been resident in Plymouth since 1851. Henry Kauffman, who may well have belonged to this family, joined the 38th Battalion. On 30 December 1917 he married Annie Goodman in the Plymouth synagogue. [PHC Marriage Register, II, 8.] Another wartime romance was that between a Jewish soldier, Harry Israel Woolf of the South African Infantry, stationed at the Raglan Barracks in Stonehouse, who married Isabella, daughter of Joseph Cohen of Plymouth. [PHC Marriage Register, II, 6.] A less happy ending came to a young Westminster lad whose remains are marked by a tombstone in the Congregation's Gifford Place cemetery:
The Hebrew inscription refers to him simply as 'of the Jewish Army'. [PHC tomb. O, 22. The Judeans later became the Haganah, which in turn became the Israel Defence Force, the Israeli army. Alf Lithman of London recalled in 1990 that his brother John enlisted by falsifying his age and that he died as the result of some accident.] Another war grave of a Jew serving in the Judeans was that of eighteen year-old Myer Nyman of Swansea who adopted the military name of Michael Burns and who died on 2 February 1919. [PHC tomb. O.23.] Yet another war grave was that of Stoker 1st class Harry Phillips of HMS Vivid who died on 2 April 1918 aged 29. [PHC tomb. O.17.]
Ranks were omitted on the World War I tablet, but included on that of World War II. In the Second World War there were 14 officers, the highest ranking being Colonel Telfer, a professional soldier. Major G. Robins received the MBE for work which he did beyond the call of duty, and Sgt. R.B. Emdon died as a result of injuries received at Dunkirk. Only those who were actually members of the Plymouth Congregation at the time the tablets were written are commemorated. Thus the names of 23 year-old Sgt Morris Solomon of the Royal Australian Air Force, buried in Gifford Place, [PHC tomb. D.23.] and a WAAF, Isabella Mary Vassie, of Wolsely Road, Devonport, who died aged 20 on 11 October 1942 and was buried at the non-Jewish cemetery at Weston Mill were not recorded. [Her gravestone has the Hebrew equivalent of GRHDS, this is the only indication that she was of Jewish origin. See The Plymouth Hebrew Congregation's Digest, December 1986, p. 14.] The names of Mark Woolfson of Devonport, who moved with his family from Devonport to Bournemouth on his demobilization, or David L. Maxwell, a Canadian volunteer pilot or Maurice Overs, a petty-officer in the Marines, who became members after the tablet was written, were therefore omitted, even though they had done their military service in Plymouth. [Both D. L. Maxwell and M. Overs later became Honorary Officers of the Congregation.] The last two also provided Second World War local romances, David Maxwell marrying Gussie Holcenberg and Maurice Overs marrying Ruth Bloom. [Ruth Bloom is descended from the Ullman's, a Jewish family with its roots in eighteenth-century Devon.] Perhaps because he had already left Plymouth, the name of Morry Smith was also not included. He had a barber shop cum fruiterer's in Union Street, Plymouth. He joined the army and became middleweight boxing champion of the B.E.F. [Letter to the author from his nephew, Jack Smith, Haifa, 6 March 1989.]
It was not only in a military capacity that the Jews of the South-West and the rest of Anglo-Jewry desired to do their civic duty, but they also played a full part in civil life. Geoffrey Alderman has discussed the Jewish dimension in British political life. [G. A. Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics (Oxford, 1983)(afterwards quoted as Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics).] For the first hundred years after the re-settlement, Jews in England were content to keep a low profile. In 1753 Jewish merchants prevailed upon the Whig government to give its blessing to the Jewish Naturalization Act. This Act enabled foreign-born Jewish merchants to become naturalized, thereby saving themselves costly 'alien duties' on their imports, without being obliged to receive the Sacrament and take the Protestant Oaths of Allegiance. There was a wave of country-wide agitation against the Act.
'Jew' and 'Whig' became synonymous terms in the political rhetoric of 1753-4. [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, p. 6.] The Exeter City Council passed a resolution soundly condemning the Act. The eighteenth century, alas, was still an age of religious bigotry and the Act was repealed. From about 1830, the Jews of England began to take an active interest in politics at local and national level. A number of Jews who had abandoned their faith helped to pave the way for their still-committed brethren. Sir Menasseh Masseh Lopes was returned as M.P. for Romney in 1802, becoming Sheriff of Devon in 1810; in 1814 his nephew, Ralph Franco, became M.P. for Westbury; in 1818 Ralph Bernal was elected at Lincoln; and in 1819 David Ricardo, the political economist, became M.P. for Portarlington. [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, p. 12. For Lopes, see above, pp. 227, 238; for a full account of his political career and chicanery, see W. G. Hoskins, 'sheaf of modern documents', Devonshire Studies, eds. W. G. Hoskins and H. P. R. Finberg (1952).]
At this period it seems that insofar as Jews displayed any bias it was towards the Conservative interest, but by the middle of the nineteenth century the Jewish vote inclined to the Liberals. [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, pp. 10-17 discusses the reasons for the swings of the Jewish vote.] At Plymouth in 1857, for example, 'one of the Liberal candidates, James White, was quick to point out, that as a citizen of London, he had always given his vote to Rothschild and his support to the removal of Jewish disabilities'. To make assurance doubly sure he announced that he had given ten pounds 'for distribution among the poor Hebrews'! [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, p. 26.] With one exception, William Woolf, the Jewish voters of Plymouth voted for White and his running mate. [Plymouth and Devonport Journal, 2 April 1857, quoted by Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics.] Enfranchisement had been in the air since the 1820's; the emancipation of Catholics took place in April 1829. The Reform Bill was passed in 1832: the only substantial body of male English citizens left without Parliamentary vote and excluded from Parliament was the Jews. For them, too, relief was in sight. In 1835, an Act which incidentally relieved voters from the necessity of taking any oaths threw the franchise open de jure as well as de facto to professing Jews. [Roth, Jews in England, p. 255. The earliest known instance of a Jew de facto serving elected public office in England occurred in Brighton in 1822 (TJHSE, XII (1928), p. 46).] To secure the franchise and the right to municipal office probably meant more to the wider Jewish community than the right to sit in Parliament, a right granted only in 1858. True, the right to sit in Parliament affected all English Jews, but in practice only a handful of the wealthiest, aristocratic families could hope for a seat, whereas municipal office was open, especially in the provinces, to the middle-class Jew, related to many of and known to all his coreligionist townsmen.
Just how great was the change in the attitude of the English middle-class between 1825 and 1845 is exemplified by the election of Solomon Ezekiel [For his biography and intellectual achievements, see supra, 301.] to the Penzance Board of Highways in 1845. The Voice of Jacob in its report sums up the change:
On 25 March (1845) a burgess eulogized the Jewish character for sobriety, loyalty and general good conduct. He proposed Mr. Solomon Ezekiel who was elected unanimously. There has been a great change of late, for 20 years ago such a proceeding would almost have produced a riot. [VJ, 9 May 1845.]
In Plymouth, or rather Devonport, the climate had changed somewhat earlier, for Phineas Levy [He and his wife Kitty were born in Portsea, Hants., in 1784 and 1788, respectively. He arrived in Plymouth before 1810 (Meshivat Nefesh A/c.), became a vestry member of the Congregation in 1812 (PHC Min. Bk. II, p. 73). In 1822, he was a pawnbroker at 62, North Corner Street, and a wholesale slopseller at 48, Queen Street, Plymouth Dock (Tapp's Plymouth Directory, 1822). In 1850 he had a Fancy Depot at 15 Catherine Street, Devonport (P.R.O. H.O. 107/1881/289/1/p. 46).] was one of the 75 Commissioners elected following a writ of mandamus in 1829. [Brindley's Plymouth Directory, 1830, p. 119.] After 1830, election of Jews to municipal office became almost commonplace in the Provinces. A Jew was elected as a councillor in Southampton in 1838 and at Portsmouth in 1841; in 1839 as a founder member of the Corporation of Birmingham. Sir David Salomons served as Sheriff of Kent in 1839, whilst E. Lousada was Sheriff of Devon in 1842-3. [G. Alderman, London Jewry and London Politics, 1889 -1986, (1989), p. 3.] Some seven years later in 1836 Charles Marks [Born in Portsmouth in 1801 and settled in Plymouth about 1821.] was elected an Assessor of Plymouth. [VJ, 13 March 1846.] After these two came a succession of Jews taking part in civic affairs, the office of Guardian of the Poor for Plymouth was filled by William Woolf, as well as Josiah and Joseph Solomons in the 1850's, Eliezer Emdon was a Poor Law Commissioner in the 1860's, whilst Israel Roseman acted in that capacity in Stonehouse in the 1870's. [See supra, p. 292.] In 1862, Woolf became the first Jew to serve on the Plymouth Town Council and continued to do so at least until 1879. [JC, 7 November 1862; Plymouth Town Council Minutes.] Concurrently with Woolf a father and son played their part in civic life. The father began his rather late in life when he had already completed his biblical span of three score years and ten. He was Abraham Emdon [He was born in Plymouth in 1799 (the son of Eliezer Emden I who was born in Amsterdam 1764, was in London 1786-1794, Portsmouth 1794-1798, Plymouth 1798 to his death in 1844) (Lipman, 'Aliens List', no. 14), and died in May 1872.] who was elected to the Town Council in Devonport in 1869 and became a member of the General Purposes Committee for Morice Ward in 1870. [Devonport Council Minutes, D3/AB5. PHC tomb. B.112.] He died in 1872, and his seat was taken by his son, Eliezer who was elected unopposed. [Devonport Council Minutes, D3/AB6.] Eliezer's service as a Poor Law Commissioner in the 1860's has been mentioned and he continued in public office for the next 40 years. In 1896, he was elected an Alderman for Ford Ward and in 1897 for Keyham. He was proposed as Mayor but declined the honour on account of his wife's poor state of health. [JC, 2 March 1900.] Other local politicians include Aaron E. Lyons [Born Plymouth 1851, a pawnbroker at 36, Edgecumbe Street at the time of his marriage in September 1875 to Eliza, daughter of Markes Levy.] who was elected to the Stonehouse Board of Health in 1881, becoming chairman of the Urban District Council in 1890, leaving in that year for London to study for the bar, [JC, 7 November 1890.] and Myer Fredman, who was elected to Clowance Ward in 1893, becoming Mayor of Devonport in 1911, serving on the Devonport Council for 34 years until his death in 1927.
This tradition of public service in Plymouth was continued in the twentieth century: Lionel Jacobs who had a furniture shop in the Octagon was a Conservative Councillor for Millbay Ward in 1903 and for Valletort Ward in 1920; Eleazar Orgel stood for the Council in 1905 and lost by some 30 votes; Harry or Hyman Nelson, jeweller of Union Street, was nominated to the Board of Guardians in 1906; S. Robins was elected to the Council in 1936; Mrs Hester Robins was a Liberal Councillor for St Aubyn's Ward in 1929 and chaired the Public Health Committee. She was awarded the O.B.E. in 1934 for her public service. At her death in 1936, her life and work were marked by a memorial service in the Plymouth synagogue; both Ernest Brock and his wife L. A., but better known as Cissie Brock were active councillors for many years. A memorial service for Mrs Brock was widely attended; A. Fredman was elected to the Board of Guardians; I. Fredman was a councillor for St John's Ward, Devonport; Dr M. E. Gordon was a Conservative councillor for Nelson Ward in 1949; and Arthur Goldberg, [See Illustration 18.] after a lifetime of public service was elected Lord Mayor of Plymouth in 1961. It is apposite to mention here that Isidore Joseph, [See Illustration 19.] who as a young man left Plymouth for Torquay in order not to open a business in competition with his family and who later returned to Plymouth, was elected Mayor of Torquay.
In the light of the foregoing it may well be said that the Jewish community in Plymouth built up a splendid tradition of public service throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
Curiously, there does not appear to have been any such tradition of civic service on the part of Jews in Exeter. There appears to have been only Alexander Alexander who was a Guardian of the Poor, and who acted as vice-President of the Exeter and Chairman of the St. Pauls Ward Liberal Association, and he did not aspire to any office by public election. [The Exeter Evening Post, 1 March 1887; Trewman's Flying Post, 23 February 1887.] It may be that as a Cathedral city Exeter was more resistant than Plymouth to accept Jews in a representative capacity.
In the latter part of the nineteenth century professing Jews began to stand for Parliamentary constituencies in the West Country as well as in Devon and Cornwall. Frederick Goldsmid, son of Isaac Lyon Goldsmid who had long campaigned for Jewish emancipation, was elected as a Liberal MP for Honiton in 1865, served only one year before his death, and was succeeded by his son Julian who eventually became Deputy Speaker of the House. [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, p. 31.] A London Jew, Israel Abrahams, tried to gain a seat in Devizes in 1863. The Western Morning News, which adopted a consistently anti-Semitic stance, [Letter from A. Alexander to JC, 9 March 1860. Overt anti-Semitism in England never seems to have played any part in the development or decline of the Congregations of the South-West.] opposed Abrahams, primarily because he was a Jew. [JC, 20 February 1863.] Abrahams lost, though not necessarily because of his religion. When a Jew, one Myer Jacobs became Mayor of Taunton in 1877, the local vicar wrote to him suggesting that if he were not a Christian he ought to resign. [JC, 13 July 1877.] By the turn of the century, the citizens of Plymouth, however, were prepared to vote for a candidate on his own merits and for the political views he represented. The religious faith of Sir S. F. Mendl, of London, whose grain ships Nina and Rosina Mendle called regularly at Plymouth, did not prejudice his chances when he contested Plymouth in the Liberal interest unsuccessfully in 1895, won it in 1898, and lost it again in 1900. [Jewish Year Book, 1901, p. 321. His name is variously spelled as Mendel, Mendl and Mendle. He campaigned for a swimming pool in Plymouth, 'an urgent need'. The pool was built in 1965!] When Mendl stood in 1898, Marcus Adler, Actuary of the Alliance Assurance Company and a staunch Conservative, wrote to Myer Fredman, the most prominent Jew in Plymouth, saying that he had been asked by leading members of the London community to enlist the support of Plymouth Jews for Mr Guest, the Conservative candidate. Marcus Adler's father had been Chief Rabbi and his brother Herman was then the Chief Rabbi. So his appeal was interpreted as a 'quasi-pastoral letter' and caused a local sensation. Not only did it seem that the Chief Rabbi was favouring the Conservatives but it also seemed that the Adler's preferred a Gentile to a Jew. Herman Adler wrote to the Times protesting that he had always kept aloof from party politics - which was not true - and telegraphed the Plymouth Liberals that 'My brother wrote without my authority'. As this was a purely secular matter Marcus needed no permission. 'In any case, Herman was exceedingly careful not to repudiate the letter, and Marcus never issued a disclaimer or a withdrawal.' [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, p. 43.] Sir Julias Vogel, later to be Prime Minister of New Zealand, unsuccessfully fought the seat at Penryn and Falmouth in the 1880's, spending some £5,000 in the campaign. [L. M. Goldman, The History of the Jews in New Zealand, (Wellington, 1858), p. 176.] In the general election of 1900 some Jewish Conservative candidates were viciously abused by the local Liberal press. The Cornish Echo, for example, attacked Nathaniel L. Cohen, a candidate for Penryn and Falmouth, as 'a stock exchange operator and a Jew'. He lost the election by twenty votes. [Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, p. 69.] Arthur Strauss, the son of a Mayence Jew who had Cornish mining interests, was elected M.P. for Camborne in 1895, though he lost his seat in the general election of 1900. [Jewish Year Book, 1901.] Generally speaking, the Jews of the South-West voted for Liberal candidates and Jews stood in the Liberal cause. This was understandable as the Liberal party was seen, rightly or wrongly, as the party which supported Jewish aspirations for enfranchisement, and had sponsored the first six Jewish M.P.'s. [For a corrective of this view, see Alderman, The Jewish Community in British Politics, pp. 16-30.] For example, Mr Morrison, Liberal M.P., in 1861 thanked the Jews of Plymouth, who, except for two, had voted for him en masse. He made the point explicitly, 'none have worked harder than our brethren of the Jewish persuasion (loud cheers) who, with the Roman Catholics, have voted for me and have shown their appreciation of what has been done in favour of them to promote the cause of religious freedom'. [Quoted from Daily Western Mercury in JC, 15 November 1861.] There were, however, three nineteenth-century councilors in Plymouth, William Woolf, Lionel Jacobs, and Eliezer Emdon, who represented the Conservative cause.
In these ways, then, the Jews of the South-West in the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, gradually lost their distinctiveness in dress and speech, broadened their education, widened their range of economic pursuits, extended their role in civic affairs and modified their religious practices until they were hardly, if at all, distinguishable from their fellow citizens in whose midst they lived. Through conversion in the early part of the nineteenth century, through acculturation and eventual assimilation, usually after intermarriage, through emigration to avoid this fate for themselves or their children and to seek better economic opportunities, the Congregations of the South-West dwindled away until they died out in Cornwall and barely survive in Devon. [M. A. Shepherd, 'Cheltenham Jews in the nineteenth century', Jewish Journal of Sociology, 21 (1979), 125-133, explains the decline of the Cheltenham Congregation by saying that it was too small and too badly led by its religious and lay leaders to attract new immigrants of good quality. This probably explains the Exeter Congregation's failure to attract sufficient East European Jewish immigrants in the 1880's and an abortive attempt in 1965 to encourage Jewish families to settle in Plymouth. Shepherd admits 'the paradox of a languishing community in the midst of prospering late Victorian Cheltenham may never be satisfactorily explained'.]
The foregoing pages have discussed the rise and subsequent decline of the Jewish communities in Devon and Cornwall, as well as various aspects of the social, religious and economic life of their individual members. By and large, it cannot be said that the Jews made any outstanding contribution to the life of the South-West in any single sector, with the possible exception of the artistic in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. They did not introduce new industries as the Huguenots did elsewhere, nor new methods in old ones like the Jews of London in the furniture, catering and tailoring trades. But in view of their comparatively small numbers this is hardly surprising. Nevertheless, in their lives and vocations, in their religion and its practices, they added to the life of the two counties, particularly in the two leading cities of Devon.
Visible traces of the rich eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Jewish presence in the South-West are now few. Apart from the beautiful synagogue at Plymouth and the one at Exeter which are still in use, and the disused ones in Falmouth and Penzance, and the cemeteries of the four Congregations, the Jews of the modern period have left behind them little more than the medieval Jewry of Exeter. Some place names with tragic connotations such as Jew's Woods in Plymstock, [H. Whitfeld, Plymouth and Devonport in Peace and War, p. 280.] and Jew's Lane at Herland Cross in Cornwall; [H. R. Coulthard, The Story of an Ancient Parish, Breage with Germol (Penzance, 1913), p. 151.] street names such as Jews' Court [In the parish of St. George and St. John, in the municipal ward of Petrock near to or off Smythen St. (P.R.O. H.O. RG9/1399). It is not mentioned in the 1838 valuation of Exeter, it appears in the 1871 House Inspection Register but is not marked by name on the 1876 Ordnance Survey 25 inch map (information from Mrs Rowe, Exeter Librarian, 20 December 1967).] and Synagogue Place in Exeter; [P.R.O. H.O. RG9/1398.] a Hebrew Brook at Kenegie, Lifton, [C. Redding, Illustrated Itinerary of the County of Cornwall, p. 165. A well called Gulfwell or the Hebrew Brook at the seat of the Harris family was once attended, according to Borlase, by a Sybil whose death in his time was recent. The well was considered oracular and was consulted for the purpose of recovering lost cattle or stolen goods.] and a Jews' House at Polperro; [It is situated at the seaward end of Lansallos Street, Polperro.] a few expressions in folk speech, Jews' fish, [The halibut, hippoglossus vulgaris, called Jews' fish because it was favoured in their diet (F. W. P. Jago, Glossary of the Cornish Dialect (Truro, 1882), p. 195.] a Jew beetle, [Black field beetle which exudes reddish froth. Children hold it in their hand and say, 'Jew! Jew! Spit blood' (M. A. Courtney, Cornish feasts and folklore), p. 61.] it's cold enough to shave a Jew, [This saying is still current according to the caretaker of the Royal Institution of Cornwall (information from H. C. Douch, 28 July 1964). Wright, The English Dialect Dictionary, s.v. JEW, understands the phrase to mean, 'meaner than a Jew', shave = miser, niggardly. It is more likely, alas, that the phrase refers to the cruel joke of setting fire to the beards of Jewish pedlars. 'It was the fiendish custom to set fire to the beards of condemned [Marranos] before the pyre was lighted, so as to increase their sufferings. This they called, "Shaving the New Christians"' (C. Roth, A History of the Marranos (New York, 1932), p. 135.] Makom Lamed; [Roth, Provincial Jewry, p. 91.] a Jewish section in the Plymouth City Library; [The Holcenberg Collection, Plymouth City Library. See Illustration 19.] and some charitable bequests that seem to have been swallowed up in the anonymity of the Welfare State [Primarily the bequests of Jacob Nathan, see supra, p. 292.] are the main reminders of once flourishing Jewish communities.
As the Falmouth and Penzance Congregations have disintegrated and died, and the Exeter Congregation just maintains its synagogue and cemetery, so too the Plymouth Congregation, in the course of the latter part of the twentieth century has slowly declined. Regular weekday services were abandoned after the Second World War. By the end of the 1970's, the Congregation had reduced its officials from a minister, chazan and shammas to a part-time minister, and when he left in 1981, he was not replaced. Instead, the Congregation relies on visiting officiants using its accommodation as a holiday flat. At the time of writing it is often difficult to obtain a minyan on Friday nights and Sabbath mornings, as well as on the second days of Festivals. If the decline continues, then perhaps its beautiful synagogue, too, will be opened once a year for services only at the High Festivals. Still, prediction is exceedingly difficult in social and economic life. Perhaps, there may yet be an influx of Jews into the South-West. The University of Exeter has a number of Jewish academics and students, and these could be a valuable aid to a renewed Congregational life. Torquay and other suitable towns might well thrive as retirement centers of the South-West. Along with others, Jews may retire there in greater numbers, or settle there in order to take advantage of new economic opportunities.
In their heyday, at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, there were between 700 and 1,000 Jews in Devon and Cornwall representing some 4 per cent of all Anglo-Jewry; in 1989 there were barely 150 Jews in the two counties and the percentage had dropped to negligible proportions. The sun seems to have settled on the organized Jewries in Cornwall, their future in Devon is very uncertain.
Many of the descendants of the Jewish settlers in the South-West, like many of the Flemings, Huguenots, Irish, Scots and other nineteenth and twentieth century European immigrants to England, have been absorbed into the wider reaches of English society and have lost most, if not all, of their national and religious characteristics. Others are to be found scattered over the world and still firmly attached to their faith and people. Gumpert Michael Emdin journeyed from Emden and encamped in Amsterdam. And he journeyed from Amsterdam and he encamped in Plymouth. And his descendants journeyed from Plymouth and encamped in South Africa. And their descendants journeyed from South Africa and encamped in Canada. And in the ninth generation a young man [Brett Lance Herman of Toronto.] journeyed from Canada and came home to study the Torah in Jerusalem. These pages have told the story of Jewish settlers who made their home in Devon and Cornwall and found such a warm welcome there - and this book is their tribute.
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 - 2023 JCR-UK. All Rights Reserved