The first large groups of Jews came to England from France in 1066 at the invitation of William the Conqueror. He felt that Jews, with their crafts and financial skills, would boost the English economy. Because it was considered wrong for Christians to engage in money lending, the role fell to the sons of Israel. In the years that followed, ruthless kings taxed Jews unmercifully, forcing them to raise the interest they charged on loans. This led to resentment on the part of borrowers.
In outbreaks of anti-Semitism Jews were accused of blood rituals and massacred. Their lending records were conveniently destroyed during these outbreaks. In 1217, they were forced to wear yellow badges. By 1290, they had been taxed so heavily that they were no longer of use to Edward I, who could, in any case, now do business with the Knights Templars. Edward expelled the Jews from England.
For 365 years, it was illegal for an Israelite to live in England. A few Marranos (Portuguese converts to Christianity) reentered the country in the early 1600s. The Marranos flourished and sought to change the restrictive law.
When Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel approached Oliver Cromwell with a seven-point plan in November 1655, the Protector determined to ask for readmission of the Jews. He recognized their benefit to English commerce and intelligence- gathering.
Cromwell asked his Council to decide the issue. The Council established a committee. The committee invited a number of ministers, merchants and justices to help them with its decision. Between December 4 and 18th, this Conference met in Whitehall. Cromwell attended each session and expressed himself in favor of readmitting the Jews.
Most of the members of the committee, including the clergy, resisted Cromwell. However, two judges gave it as their opinion that the law did not forbid Jews to settle in England.
By this day, December 14, 1655, it was evident the committee would never come to a decision. On the 18th, Cromwell dismissed it, letting its members know that he intended to admit the Jews unofficially if necessary. All the committee managed to do was to draw up a paper recommending that if Jews were readmitted to England, they be prevented from defaming Christianity or working on the Lord's day. They should not hold office, employ Christian servants or seek to convert Christians to Judaism. None of this became law.
After that, the Semites came to England in increasing numbers. Their population has reached as many as a quarter of a million. For the most part, Britain's Jews have been well-treated since 1656.
According to scripture (Zachariah), whoever touches the Jews, touches the apple of God's eye. Does this also mean that those who help the Jews prosper? Jews have benefited Britain. Many served in Parliament and one, Benjamin Disraeli, became a notable Prime Minister. More to the point, British Jews helped fulfill Bible prophecy. English Jews, such as Moses Montefiore, were strong supporters of the Zionist movement which resettled Jews in Israel, and Chaim Weizmann, the first president of the state of Israel, was British.
- Allen, John. One Hundred Great Lives. New York: Journal of Living, 1944.
- "Cromwell, Oliver." Dictionary of National Biography. Edited by Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee. London: Oxford University Press, 1921 - 1996.
- Drinkwater, John. Oliver Cromwell. New York: George H. Doran, 1927.
- Hill, Christopher. God's Englishman; Oliver Cromwell and the English revolution. Harper and Row, 1970.
- Russell, Bertrand. Wisdom of the West. New York: Fawcett, 1964; p. 252.
- Smellie, Alexander. Men of the Covenant. Revell, 1903. Source of the image.
Last updated May, 2007.