Greetings. I recently read an article on the BBC website titled ‘My life as a gay ultra-Orthodox Jew.’ It was an amazing article. If you do anything today, I would ask that you read this article. In fact, do it now. Knowledge is power, people. Here is the article:
Anyway, British Jews (collectively referred to as Anglo-Jewry) are British people of Jewish descent/ethnicity and who maintain a connection to the Jewish community-either through actively practising Judaism or through cultural/historical affiliation. The UK is home to the SECOND largest Jewish population in Europe and has the FIFTH largest Jewish community worldwide. Further, the number of identifying Jews in England and Wales has risen slightly over the past decade. This indicates a stability which starkly contrasts with the usual impression of a diaspora decline. The growth is largely due to the rapid growth of the Charedi/Haredi community. This community is a stream of an Orthodox community which is characterised by the rejection of modern secular culture. Members are often referred to as ‘Orthodox’ or ‘Ultra Orthodox’-although the term ‘ultra-Orthodox’ is considered a derogatory slur by SOME in the community. Haredim regard themselves as the most religious authentic group of Jews-of course this is contested by others.
A Brief History
- The first recorded Jewish community in Britain was brought to England in 1070 by King William the Conqueror (he believed that their commercial skills would make his newly won country, more prosperous).
- 200 years later, the Jews were no longer welcome. In the run up to the 3rd Crusade, the Jewish population of York was massacred-and King Edward I if England passed the Statutm de Judaismo (Statute of the Jewry) in 1275, restricting the community’s activities-most notably outlawing the practice of usury (charging interest). But they mostly ignored Edward and so he expelled the Jews from England. They emigrated to Poland where they were protected by law.
- Jews were NOT banned from Scotland (which until 1707, was an independent kingdom.)
- In 1656 Oliver Cromwell made it clear that the ban on Jewish settlement in England/Wales would no longer be enforced. Gradually, Jews returned to England-first, visiting for trade-then staying longer periods, bringing their families.
- Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881) of Jewish birth served in the government for THREE decades, TWICE as Prime Minister. Although, he later joined the Church of England.
- There are approximately 400 Synagogues in Great Britain-74% of the Jews in GB are associated with one of these Synagogues
- 60% of school-age Jewish children attend Jewish schools (Jewish day schools and Yeshivas are found throughout the country).
- Jewish cultural studies and Hebrew language instruction is commonly offered at synagogues in the form of supplementary Hebrew/Sunday schools.
- The majority of Jewish schools in Britain are funded by the government.
- Jews in the UK tend to lean towards the Conservative Party-according to a poll published by the Jeweish Chronicle in 2015. Of British Jews polled, 69% would vote for the Conservative Party, while 22% would vote for the Labour Party. There was little Jewish support for the UKIP or Liberal Democrats Party-with each polling around 2%.
The 2001 Census showed that 30.5% of economically active Jews were self-employed (compared to 14.2% for the general population. Also, Jews aged 16-24 were more likely to be economically inactive than their counterparts in the general population: 89.2% of these were students.
During the second half of the 20th century, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, the racial hatred of Jews became UNACCEPTABLE in British society. The Jewish community was largely unaffected by the occasional outbursts of anti-Semitism which came form the far right groups-whose energies were focused on hostility to the more visible black and ethnic minority communities. However, since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been an increase in the scope/severity of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the country. The dominant sources of anti-Semitism in the UK are the far right and fundamentalist aspects of Muslim minority communities.
So yeah, that is it in a nutshell. Please note this is only a blog post and not a thesis-there are some massive generalisations here.
That being said, I often see the same Orthodox Jewish woman in the moenings, on the Tube/Underground-we must have the same time schedule. But of course, we have vastly different lives. She dresses conservatively, wears a wig and is flanked by 5 small children (all under the age of 7). She wears no makeup (and not even a hint of lip gloss) and she seems strong and fragile at the same time. Then there is me…I usually wear black (like her), I wear lashings of black mascara and my hair is normally in a messy bun. My brogues are usually untied and it is not uncommon for my Oxford shirt to be half in and half out of my trousers. I wear lots of noisy bangles too. I am not flanked by 5 children but instead, I am normally looking for mints at the bottom of my handbag. Sometimes, I smile at her, but she never meets my gaze. But, given half the chance-I bet we could be friends.