Israel Finestein, historian of Anglo-Jewry

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Israel Finestein, QC, MA, Shmuel to his friends, carried on two successful important careers: one as a barrister and a judge and the other as a historian. Busy, as his legal career demanded, he yet found the time to publish an impressive series of studies in Anglo-Jewish history. They appeared in the Jewish Chronicle, in various festschriften and conference papers, and mainly in the Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (now Jewish Historical Studies), and were conveniently gathered by Shmuel during his later years, between 1993 and 2008, in four volumes under the imprint of Vallentine Mitchell: Jewish Society in Victorian England(1993), Anglo-Jewry in Changing Times: Studies in Diversity 1840?igi4 (1999), Scenes and Personalities in Anglo-Jewry 1800-2000 (2002) and Studies and Profiles in Anglo-Jewish History: From Picciotto to Bermant (2008). (Titles when cited here are abbreviated.) I begin this evaluation of Israel Finestein as a histo? rian by bringing to notice an essay that does not appear in his collected works. It concerns the prophet Malachi and with rare sensitivity treats his condem? nation of religious pretence and hypocrisy. I do not know what led Shmuel to undertake his apparently unique effort in the exacting sphere of biblical studies, except perhaps the urging of an active conscience. He otherwise restricted his writing to Anglo-Jewish history, and within that field did not touch the medieval era or the early generations following the Resettlement. He focussed on the Victorian and Edwardian period until about 1914, in which he had no peer. All his studies are written in the clearest English, often with touches of humour and irony, and most of them contain learned, schol? arly notes that sometimes reached unusual length. He was fully aware of Anglo-Jewish history's place within English history, and his writings impres? sively synthesize these elements. One specimen, cited below, treats the admission of Jews to Oxford and Cambridge Universities, where the uni? versities' broader scene is presented in some detail. Shmuel also wrote about Anglo-Jewry of his own time, practically all of whose significant figures he knew and about some of whom he composed thoughtful, well informed obit? uaries. He did not speak or write ill of persons. It may be noted that he expressed the deepest admiration for Lord Denning, the great and some? times controversial Master of the Rolls, and particular personal respect for Dayan Yehezkel Abramsky, many of whose long-remembered Sabbath Talmud lectures (shiurim) he attended. It also deserves to be put on record that Shmuel, the son of an immigrant merchant of Hull, knew Yiddish well and used it readily. Hull was the only local Jewish community part of whose history he wrote (Scenes and Personalities, 112-64).

Shmuel's efforts as a historian began on fairly conventional lines, with an account of the career of Sir George Jessel, who had been elevated by Gladstone when Prime Minister to become Master of the Rolls, from 1872 until his death in 1883 (Jewish Society, 257-304). Finestein, as a lawyer who had been a student of

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