ORTHODOX JUDAISM IN EARLY VICTORIAN LONDON 1840-1858
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This thesis deals with the observance and philosophy of Orthodox Judaism in London during the years between 1840 and 1858. The issue addressed is whether religious developments in London during this time were parallel to events in other parts of the Western Jewish world. Previous historians writing on the Anglo-Jewish community have tried to depict its religious life as having been basically affected by the same trends which were dominant in contemporary Jewish life on the Continent. The picture which emerges from this thesis is, however, quite different.;This study involved the use of much primary source material. These sources included the records of the Office of the Chief Rabbi going back to this period, as well as the minutes of the various London synagogues contained in the archives of both the United Synagogue and Spanish and Portuguese Congregation. In addition, contemporary journals and magazines were extensively used. Many books dating back to this period were also consulted. Of course later historical works, whether general or specialized, were also utilized.;The conclusion reached by this study is that the religious life of the early Victorian London Jewish community was fundamentally different from that of the other Western communities of the time. London Jews remained overwhelmingly faithful to Orthodoxy while their contemporaries in other countries were rejecting that creed in every increasing numbers. Loyality to Orthodoxy in London was, however, not as simple as it might appear. In reality, the great majority of the community had abandoned the ritual observances and philosophy of life generally associated with that faith. They continued to regard themselves as Orthodox although they had personally abandoned Orthodoxy in very clear, self-evident ways. It should be noted that while the bulk of the community conformed to this general pattern, there was a small minority in London, mostly made up of immigrants, who remained extremely faithful to the dictates and ideas of traditional Orthodox Judaism.;The remarkable fact that the overwhelming majority of London Jewry retained at least a nominal loyalty to Orthodoxy can only be explained in terms of their surrounding English society. The Jews of England were the most well integrated and acculturated of all European communities at this time. Their absorption of such important British cultural values as respect for tradition and the institutions of the past and a dislike for sudden revolutions led to an intensified degree of loyality to Orthodox Judaism rather than to contemporary Reform. The emphasis which British thought placed on the authority of the Bible led these Jews to redefine their nominally Orthodox faith in a unique, neo-Karaite fashion, which rejected rabbinical tradition and provided an ideological justification for many of the community's departures from Orthodox practice. The fact that English Jews were so well accepted by Gentile society acted as a further influence causing the community to remain loyal to Orthodoxy. They simply did not feel the pressure, which was so strong in contemporary France and Germany, to renounce their traditional faith, with its nationalistic and particularistic elements, in order to be fully accepted by the non-Jewish world. In effect, the advanced degree of assimilation and Anglicization which characterized most London Jews caused them to act differently than their contemporaries in other communities and to remain faithful, in a unique but distinct way, to their Orthodox religious faith and traditions.
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