Sephardic Jews in UK

synagogue-holland-park-outsideThere are no records of Jews in Britain in Roman times, compared to countries like Spain, Italy or France. The first Jews arrived after the Norman conquest in 1066. William of Normandy invited Jewish financiers from Rouen to come to England.

They prospered in England, mainly as financiers but finally faced the prejudices of some nobles in debt. It culminated in the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290. In later centuries, the only mention of the Jews was related to court doctors or musicians from Italy.

After the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497, and the establishment of the Spanish Inquisition, a group of Iberian merchants settled in Britain, ostensibly Christian, but consisting of Jewish converts.

In 1656, Rabbi Manoel Dias Soeiros (Manasé ben Israel) of Amsterdam, where a community of Marranos Jews settled, fleeing from the Inquisition, and returned to Judaism, visited England to try to persuade the English government to allow the Jews settle in England. He met Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector, who was favorably disposed to the idea, and after a Commission deliberated on the problem, it was announced that the Expulsion Decree in 1290 was a Royal Decree, and no longer had any relevance to the accretion. .

The Portuguese merchants immediately started a synagogue in a haneset bet Rabbi Menasé officiated on more than one occasion. The Jewish community was established by the Sephardim in England, and over the years attracted many more Marranos from Spain and Portugal, trying to flee from the Inquisition.

Many of the Portuguese merchants were rich and of them, several achieved prominent positions in British society. The Sephardic community prospered and built its first synagogue on the street of Bevis Marks in London in 1701, named Cahal Cadosh Shaar haShamáyim.

There were Ashkenazi refugees from Poland and Germany who received help from the Sephardim, but the Sephardim remained the dominant section of the British Jewish community for more than a hundred years, with names like Montefiore, Disraeli, Mocatta, Lindo and Da Costa. The Disraeli family begot one of the most important prime ministers in British history.

It was not until the nineteenth century that an avalanche of refugees from Poland and Eastern Europe changed the demographic composition of British Jews, and Ashkenazi families, such as the Rothschilds, became prominent. The Sephardic community continued to occupy important positions in British society, but the Ashkenazi outnumbered them in large numbers.

Around 1912, a new influx of Sephardim came this time from Turkey and Greece, mainly from Thessaloniki. Due to the decline of the Turkish Empire and the taking of control of Thessaloniki by Greece, there was a great exodus of Sephardim, many of whom went to the USA, France and England. Those who came to England formed a community separate from the Sephardic Bevis Marks, but accepted the higher authority of the latter.

With the help of Bevis Marks and the David Sassoon Foundation, the Eastern community managed to build its own synagogue in Holland Park, London, in 1928. Although both Sephardic communities can trace their origins to the Jews of Spain and Portugal, it was the Holland synagogue Park, the one that maintained its connection with the yudezmo or ladino.

There are about 10 Sephardic synagogues in Britain, mostly in London, but Bevis Marks continues to dominate Sephardic society in the British Isles.