Posts Tagged ‘Miqveh’

Articles on Bristol’s Jewish Community

September 11, 2021

I found a couple of very interesting articles on Bristol’s Jewish community in Max Barnes’ Bristol A-Z: Fascinating Stories of Bristol through the ages, published by the Bristol Evening Post c. 1970. Bristol has had a Jewish community for centuries. There was a Jewish quarter in the city in the Middle Ages. Way back in the 90s a miqveh, a Jewish ritual bath, with the Hebrew inscription, ‘Zacklim’, ‘flowing’, was found on Jacob’s Wells’ Road. They were expelled by Edward I along with the rest of England’s Jews, but returned after Oliver Cromwell once again opened the doors to Jewish immigrants. They were certainly present in the 18th century, when one Bristolian, looking for a doctor, said that he had no objection to a Jewish doctor, provided he claimed to believe in Christianity. In the 1820s one outraged commenter complained that the city’s corporation included not just Anglicans, but also Protestant non-Conformists and even Jews! There was also a very imposing synagogue in Park Row. This had giant Hebrew characters over its entrance and seemed to be cut into the very rock of St. Michael’s Hill. I haven’t seen it recently, so I wonder whether it’s still around, or if it’s simply the case that more recent building work has covered up the Hebrew inscription.

The article ‘Jews’ in the book runs

The first Jews settled in a confined area between St John’s Gate and St. Gile’s Gate. As Jews they were banned from living inside the walled town itself.

Their sole business was money lending. Like Jews down through the ages they suffered a lot of persecution. Once their houses were pillaged and burned by a mob led by William Giffard, a man who had had many financial dealings with the Jews and in 1275 took this brutal course to destroy the records and clear his debts.

Another Jew who refused to pay heavy ransom money to King John was hauled off to Bristol castle.

The king’s torturers pulled out one of his molar teeth each day. He had lost seven teeth before he paid up.

I think it was the poor man’s daughter who persuaded him to pay the money before he lost all his teeth. I think money lending was the only trade Jews in this country could legally pursue. Giffard’s pogrom against them was, I think, part of a number of anti-Semitic attacks and riots led by members of the aristocracy. The real reason behind them was that aristocracy at the time was in debt to Jewish moneylenders, and this was their way of getting out of it.

There’s another article on the Jewish author, Israel Zangwill, who also apparently was educated in Bristol. I doubt many people have heard of him today except experts in modern Jewish literature, but from reading the article he seems to have been a powerful force in the development of modern Jewish literature. The article says

Novelist and playwright (1864-1926) went to school in Bristol.

He was the son of a Russian Jewish refugee who escaped from Russia in 1848 from a death sentence for a military offence. Zangwill was known as a richly gifted but outspoken humanist. He was a champion of unpopular causes. His novel “Children of the Ghetto” was dramatised in 1899 and played in Yiddish and English in New York.

Imperial Russia had a policy of conscripting Jews into the army. It was used as a method of forced conversion, with Jewish troopers singled out for bullying and beating. I suspect that Zangwill’s father may have not taken the abuse, hence the death sentence for some kind of military offence. More recent victims of such maltreatment in the Russian army included Seventh Day Adventists and Pentecostalist Christians under Communism. I can’t remember which one, but one of these sects was persecuted because they’re pacifists who reject military service. And the Pentecostalists were subjected to the persecution under the guise of all kinds of stupid conspiracy theories. They’re abstainers, refusing to touch tobacco and alcohol, and as a result tended to be wealthier than ordinary Russians. As a result, there was a story propagated that accused them of receiving money from the CIA through a ship that landed annually at a secret location. It’s the same kind of stupid, murderous rumour about treachery as the source of secret wealth that has been used against our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Bristol’s Jewish community seems to have had a fascinating history, and its monuments are part of the city’s rich architectural heritage.

And real persecution and conspiracy theories are wrong and dangerous, whether levelled against Jews, Christians, Muslims or anyone. They are not things to be cynically used to expel left-wing peeps and non-Zionist Jews from Labour.

Two Photos of Bristol’s King David Hotel

February 26, 2019

At the corner of one of the streets leading off Park Row to Bristol’s BRI hospital is the King David Hotel. I was heading up to the hospital this morning, and took these two photos of it. It’s a fascinating and very attractive building, as you can see. It’s in yellow and red brick, and recalls some of the other buildings in Bristol in the Venetian Gothic style of architecture. I don’t know when it was built, or even if it’s still used as a hotel. I don’t think so, because, as you can see, the main door has been sealed. I suspect that like many of the buildings around Clifton, it’s been converted to offices.

It shares its name with that other King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which was notoriously bombed by the Irgun as part of Israel’s war of independence against the British. My guess is that Bristol’s King David Hotel may have been built about the time the Jerusalem hotel was in its heyday, and was the place to stay for visitors to the Holy Land. I also think that it probably has some connection to Bristol’s Jewish community. Jews have been living in Bristol since the Middle Ages. Back in the 1990s or so archaeologists discovered the remains of a miqveh, a Jewish ritual bath, with an inscription in Hebrew, zaklim, meaning ‘flowing’ on Jacob’s Wells Road. In the 1820, when by law only members of the Anglican Church were supposed to serve in local and national government, two Jews and a number of Protestant Nonconformists were recorded sitting in Bristol’s corporation. And Park Row did have a very beautiful synagogue. It was cut into the hillside, and had huge Hebrew characters carved on its facade. This was, if I recall properly, carved to look like an ancient Hebrew temple. I’ll have to try and look this all up, but it seems to me that the Hotel may have been built by someone with connections to Jerusalem, and may have been a member of the synagogue’s congregation. Whatever the building’s history, it’s a fascinating piece of Bristol’s historic landscape, showing the city’s religious and ethnic diversity and its global connections.

 

Book on Britain’s Medieval Jewish Heritage

July 10, 2017

Bristol is one of the few cities to have a miqveh, a Jewish ritual bath, surviving from the Middle Ages. It’s a chamber cut into hillside of Jacob’s Wells Road, if I remember correctly. It was identified as a miqveh as it has an inscription in Hebrew, ‘Zaklim’, which means ‘Flowing’. Not all archaeologists and historians are convinced that it is a ritual bath, as it’s some way away from the city’s medieval Jewry, and it’s also closer than was usually permitted to a Christian church, in this case that of St. Michael’s Hill. Nevertheless, they believe that it may still have been an important source of water for Bristol’s medieval Jewish community.

Looking through the Oxbow Book Catalogue for Autumn 2015, I found a book listed, Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland, by Sharman Kadish, published by Historic England, paperback price £20.00. The blurb reads

Jewish Heritage in Britain and Ireland celebrates in full colour the undiscovered heritage of Anglo-Jewry. First published in 2006, it remains the only comprehensive guide to historic synagogues and sites in the British Isles, covering more than 300 sites, organised on a region-by-region basis. The new edition has been completely revised and features many new images including, for the first time, of sites in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

I don’t know how many of this blog’s readers are interested in medieval history, but this book appears to be a useful exploration of this part of Britain and Ireland’s medieval heritage. One that came to an end in England when Edward I expelled them from England, which set off a series of similar ethnic cleansings which saw many other countries forcibly remove their Jewish citizens, expulsions which some medieval historians have compared to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany.