The Portsmouth Community and its Historical Background

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Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England. March 11, 19

This series of lectures has been instituted in memory of the late Lady Magnus, one of the most gifted women who ever graced the Anglo-Jewish community. I never had the privilege to meet her, though I worked for some time in close collaboration with her brilliant son, Laurie Magnus, under whose auspices some of my earliest historical papers appeared in the columns of the Jewish Guardian. One of the last occasions on which I met him, in his bustling Fleet-street office, was in order to discuss the additional chapters which I had prepared for the revised edition of his mother's Outlines of Jewish History. It is a privilege for me to offer the paper which I am to read this evening as a tribute to their memories, and to that of the venerable figure, the late Sir Philip Magnus, by whom this lecture has been endowed

Lady Magnus was born in 1844 in Portsmouth, being the daughter of a devoted citizen and staunch fighter for Jewish rights, Emanuel Emanuel. It is not therefore out of place for me to turn your consideration this evening to the origins of the Jewish community of Portsmouth?a subject, which, though touched upon already by more than one writer, has never been yet treated with the attention which it undoubtedly deserves.

It is not easy, or wise, to speak dogmatically regarding the date when Jews first arrived in any place. That the community of Ports? mouth is, after that of London, one of the oldest in the kingdom there  is, however, little doubt. It is true that an unconfirmed legend places the establishment of the Canterbury congregation as far back as 1680.1 This may be counterbalanced by an assertion of the late Lucien Wolf (for which, however, I have been unable to find any confirmation, and which he himself appears to have abandoned subsequently) that, from the Portsmouth records, it appears '(that a congregation was in existence there before the London Ashkenazim elected Aaron Hart to their Rabbinate "?i.e. towards the end of the seventeenth century.2 But there is no need for us to be dependent upon questionable secon? dary authority in this matter. The official seal of the Portsmouth community, which belongs to the eighteenth century (of this, more will be said later), gives the date of foundation as 5507, or 1746-47. It is true that some local historians3 substitute for this the year 1742. It is conceivable that this refers to the first arrival of Jews in the city, and their first informal meetings for prayer : but the official date, based on evidence so ancient and so reliable, can hardly be controverted. That it is far wrong is indeed out of the question : for the first burial-ground was acquired only two years later, in 1749. That of Canterbury, it may be mentioned, was leased in 1760 :4 that of Plymouth in 1752.5 From these facts, one may reasonably deduce that the Portsmouth

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