The Jewish friendly societies of London, 1793-1993

The year 1993, that marks the centenary of the establishment of this Society, is also the bicentenary of the passage of ‘An Act for the encouragement and Relief of Friendly Societies’ on 21 June 1793. Some have claimed that such societies are functional descendants of the medieval guilds, as are their collateral organiza- tions the trade unions.1 There are those who would go even further back, for some societies, reminiscent of the Freemasons, claim descent from biblical times. The Loyal Ancient Order of Oddfellows was said to have its origins in the reign of the Emperor Nero. The Antediluvians laid claim to even greater antiquity, while there were Foresters who counted Adam as the ‘First Forester’.2 Margaret Fuller comments: ‘Working men’s associations, incorporating the characteristics of both friendly societies and trade unions to varying extents, arose at a time when the . . . craft gilds had lost their hold

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