Jewish funerary architecture in Britain and Ireland since 1656

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In Hebrew, a Jewish burial ground is referred to by several names: Bet Kevarot 'house of graves', Bet Hayim 'house of life' or Bet Olam 'house of eternity.' According to halakhah (Orthodox Jewish law) it is forbidden to disturb the physical remains of the dead. Burial grounds are regarded as sacred places in perpetuity. Although no great emphasis is placed on the afterlife in Judaism, which is primarily concerned with conduct in the here and now, the concept of Tehiat HaMetim (the Resurrection of the Dead) is a basic doctrine. A Jewish burial ground is consecrated ground. In practice, therefore, Jewish burial grounds may not be disturbed through archaeolog? ical investigation or redevelopment. Britain's Jewish community which, since the Cromwellian Resettlement of 1656, has never numbered more than about 450,000 people (after the Second World War), down to 267,000 according to the 2001 Census, has a significant legacy of burial grounds scat? tered all over the country. A total of 153 surviving Jewish burial grounds opened between 1690 and 1939 were recorded by the Survey of the Jewish Built Heritage in the UK & Ireland (SJBH).1 The significance of this her? itage as funerary architecture has never before been examined in detail.2 This essay describes the architectural and landscaping features of Jewish ceme? teries in Britain and Ireland, using both typical and unusual examples within a chronological framework. Special attention is paid to the art and symbolism of the Jewish tombstone.

Georgian Jewish burial grounds

Since London was the natural focus of the seventeenth-century Resettlement and has consistently remained home to about two-thirds of Anglo-Jewry in the modern period, it is not surprising that the oldest burial grounds of Anglo-Jewry are located in the capital. Six Jewish burial grounds dating from

1 All have entries in S. Kadish, Jewish Heritage in England: An Architectural Guide (Swindon 2006).

2 S. Kadish, 'Bet Hayim: An Introduction to Jewish Funerary Art and Architecture in Britain' Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society 49 (2005) 31-58.

before 1830 are extant in London, five of them in the East End. They include the oldest Sephardi and Ashkenazi grounds in the country, dating from 1657 and 1696/73 respectively, located close to one another at Mile End and Alderney Road. When these were established, Mile End was a rural location and thus conformed to the ancient halakhic requirement that burial places be located beyond the walls of the city.

The growth of towns has led to historic burial grounds becoming hemmed in by urban development. Unlike churchyards, Jewish cemeteries are rarely located in proximity to the synagogue. (A unique example of a Jewish burial ground situated next to the synagogue, in the manner of a churchyard, is found at Rochester, Kent. However, this ground, thought to date from the 1780s, predates the Victorian Chatham Memorial Synagogue of 1865-70 and is physically separated from it by a steep bank.) By choice, cemeteries were normally isolated from the residential Jewish quarter, with its places of worship and other religious and social amenities. In Europe,

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