Sport or Shul? Physical recreation, Anglo-Jewry and the Jewish Sabbath, ca. 1890-1939

By:
Articles Image

Historians of British immigration have often noted that religious belief and observance is a "fundamental" component of migrant or minority ethnicity.1 This is seen to be especially true for the Jewish community who, hailing from many different regions and countries, often viewed religious organizations and customs as a provider of some form of collective identity. While it is incorrect to talk of one, unified Jewish community, attachment to religion is clearly a fundamental aspect of what identified Jews as Jews and what histor- ically defined Jewish ethnicity in the eyes of wider society.

By extension, if a weakening of attachment to religion occurs within a migrant/minority community, there is often believed to be an accompanying effect on that group's ethnic identity. In the case of Anglo-Jewry, from the arrival of Russian Jewish immigrants from the late nineteenth century onwards, there is much evidence to suggest a marked decline in religious observance. For instance, Bernard Homa has noted that while the façade of organized religion may have remained strong in the period from 1880 to 1940, there are many indications that adherence and concern for faith among the Jewish community steadily declined.3 In 1903 a study of levels of religiosity in London concluded that only a quarter of the capital's immigrant Jewish population regularly attended synagogue.4 Rosalyn Livshin noted that trends of decreasing obser- vance continued throughout the interwar years. One commentator claimed in 1964 that "a basic fact of religious life in Anglo-Jewry is that the great bulk of the community has only the slightest concern with Judaism" and that as much as 70 per cent were "largely indifferent" to religion.5

1 Panikos Panayi, Immigration , Ethnicity and Racism in Britain: 1815-1Q45 (Manchester, 1994), 90.

2 Panikos Panayi, An Immigration History of Britain: Multicultural Racism since 1800 (London,2010),145.

3 Bernard Homa, Orthodoxy in Anglo-Jewry : 1 880-1 940 (London, 1969).

4 ToddEndelman, The Jews of Britain: 1656-2000 ( London, 2002), 147.

5 Rosalyn Livshin, "Acculturation of Immigrant Jewish Children", in The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry , ed. David Cesarani (Oxford, 1990), 90-93; Norman Cohen, "Trends in Anglo- Jewish Religious Life", in Jewish Life in Modern Britain , eds. Julius Gould and Shaul Esh (London, 1964), 41.

The years since the end of the Second World War have witnessed a resur- gence of Ultra-Orthodoxy within Britain and steady synagogue membership levels (especially among the growing suburban Jewish population). However, the "decline of religious observance" more generally - characterized by decreasing synagogue attendance and growing numbers of British Jews claiming to be "secular" - has been a "prominent feature of the post-war decades".6 The post- 1945 period has seen a "gradual decline in religious adherence" among the Jewish community as a whole, a trend reflected in other minority groups and the British population.7

This "irreligion" was especially evident among the British-born children of the immigrant population from the 1890s through to 1939. Although not fully assimilated or accepted into the mainstream society, many young immi- grant or second-generation Jews felt a greater affinity to the majority culture than to the

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today

£7

24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More

£40

Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More

£20

Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More

£80

Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More
0

Your Cart