Anglo-Jewry in the 18th Century: A Presidential Address

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When I delivered my Presidential address for the year 1977-8,1 took the opportunity of reminding the Society of some of the difficulties facing the Jewish historian, some of the techniques which he needs to acquire, and some of the problems - both professional and personal - which he has to face in order to make sense of the issues that he has to understand and put over to his audience. And that, of course, is itself one of the crucial issues which face all historians: it is not enough that he should be able to see and understand; he must be able to communicate his own vision and interpretation to an audience, to teach as well as to learn. For if he has studied a certain period he has to be able to show others what he finds there of significance, even if what he shows may not always and necessarily be based entirely on his own research work. In order to try and put precept into practice, this second address looks at the problems of marry? ing some of those techniques to the detailed study of a particular period of history, and of the Anglo-Jew? ish community within that period.

Only some twenty years ago, the 18th century, in so far as Anglo-Jewish history was concerned, could be described as a period that had not been particularly closely studied,1 and that remains no less true today. At the same time it is also true that a number of important individual studies have still not been completely integrated into the spectrum of overall knowledge of that century, to the loss of all historians, and Anglo-Jewish ones not the least among them.

The 18th century as a whole presents basic problems to historians, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. A major one is the size of the population. There are no absolute figures for these years, and although we can make guesses, they must remain unprovable. The best estimates for the overall total would suggest that in 1715 there were some 5^ millions in England and Wales; that the population remained more or less static for thirty years; that it reached 6 million by about 1760; and that it underwent some sort of population explosion and rose in 1790 to nearly 9 million.2 These can only be guesses, since the first census return was in 1801 - and even that one was based on misleading assumptions. Students of demography are invaria? bly asked to account for these figures and the answer has to be that there is no single answer possible. In some parts of the country populations expanded more and at different times from others; in some places they expanded as a result of internal migration from another part while others actually fell; in some places there was a fall in the death rate and in others a rise in the birth rate, or a fall in infant mortality rate. Any of these individual factors has its own cumulative effect, and social scientists have

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