Ethnicity, Law, and Human Rights: The English Experience

By Sebastian Poulter | Go to book overview
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4
Jews: The Controversy Over Religious
Methods of Slaughter

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

It seems probable that there were a few Jews in Britain in Roman times, 1 but the earliest establishment of Jewish communities here occurred in the wake of the Norman Conquest. 2 French Jews crossed the Channel to operate as financiers and moneylenders in England and they played an important role not only as bankers to the Crown but also in expanding and developing an unsophisticated economy. 3 As usurers, they attracted considerable popular hostility and regularly needed royal protection. On the other hand, a succession of Angevin kings gravely exploited them until the time eventually arrived when they were no longer of much economic value to the Crown, 4 whereupon they were banished from the realm by a decree from Edward I in 1290, an act which amounted to a clear abuse of the royal prerogative. 5 During this medieval period of settlement the Jews had been granted a large measure of autonomy in the legal regulation of their internal affairs, being entitled to rely upon the application of Talmudic law in their own courts in matters such as marriage, succession, and contracts. 6 However, their total numbers were small, never exceeding 5,000. 7

The middle of the seventeenth century witnessed the re-settlement of Jews in England, following representations to Oliver Cromwell seeking their re-admission. Although Cromwell gave no formal permission for them to re-enter the country, in the light of formidable English opposition, he personally favoured their return (for both political and economic reasons) and he intimated informally that if they behaved inconspicuously no official action would be taken against them. 8 No fundamental

____________________
1
See Applebaum, S., 'Were there Jews in Roman Britain?' (1951-2) XVII Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England 189.
2
See generally, Roth, C., A History of the Jews in England (Oxford, 1941), 1-131.
3
See Freedman, M. (ed.), A Minority in Britain (London, 1955), 7-8.
4
In 1275 the statute de Iudaismo had imposed a ban on usury by Jews, which greatly reduced their resources.
5
See Dummett, A. and Nicol, A., Subjects, Citizens, Aliens and Others (London, 1990), 31-2.
6
Roth, 10, 116-7.
7
Brook, S., The Club: The Jews of Modern Britain (London, 1989), 15.
8
Roth, 154-66; Freedman, 10-11.

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