The Correspondence of the Mahamad of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation of London during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

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THE extent to which the Mahamad2 (Wardens) of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue of London have made public their records shows a remarkable spirit of liberality and enterprise which might well serve as an encouragement and example to others. Already in the last century James Picciotto3 was granted access to their records, and for the Bicentenary of Bevis Marks Synagogue in 1902, the late Dr. Gaster, a former occupant of my present presidential office, and Haham of the congregation, was the first to use their records to make a general survey, the History of the Ancient Synagogue of Bevis Marks (1901), which?whatever its defects?was no less remarkable for being the first of its kind than for being written in the incredibly short space of six months. It may be also noted that, as has recently come to light, Dr. Gaster prepared a number of detailed appendices for a second volume which, though they got as far as proof, were never published. Since then, we have had my father's translation of the first Minute Book,4 his history of the Congregation,5 and the Abstracts of Ketuhoth or Marriage Contracts from 1687 to 1837;6 Treasures of a London Temple1 (a description of the silver and other ritual appurtenances) and finally the late Mr. Hyamson's admirable history, The Sephardim of England, published in 1951 for the 250th anniversary of the opening of the Synagogue. After these distinguished pre? decessors of mine have skimmed off the cream of Anglo-Sephardi history (and I have made no mention of the labours of Lucien Wolf, and of others, in fields outside the Synagogue's own records), it may well seem that there is little left for us to garner. And it is probably now true that little but subsidiary work (though there could be plenty of it) remains to be done in the archives of the Synagogue?with the possible exception of the one field upon which I have chosen here to speak. Yet even here what I have to say is largely marginal comments to the great works of my predecessors.

The correspondence of the Mahamad has been little read and less studied. It is particularly useful in throwing additional light on well-known domestic matters, but most of all because it reflects the whole pattern and picture of the foreign relations of the London Synagogue. This is a subject which has hitherto not been particularly

1 Presidential address delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 4th November, 1958.

2 In this article, the traditional spellings used by the Spanish and Portuguese Jews for certain titles are used, instead of more philologically accurate transliterations, e.g. Haham (for Hahham) Mahamad (for Ma'amad) Saliah (for Shaliahh) &c

3 Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History, London, 1875. Second edition: Edited with notes by Israel Finestein: 1956 (Soncino Press).

4 El Libro de Los Acuerdos, O.U.P., 1931.

5 Bevis Marks Records, Part I, O.U.P., 1940.

e Bevis Marks Records, Part II, O.U.P., 1945.

7 By A. G. Grimwade and others, ed. R. D. Barnett, London, 1951.

studied,1 obviously because it could be said

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