Book Review by Rabbi Raymond Apple, formerly Chief Rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney ENGLAND'S ETHNIC CLEANSING OF THE JEWS, by Leonie Star (Sid Harta Publishers, 2013) This is a wonderful book. Though it is a sober work of history it reads like a novel. Beginning with the opening chapter about William the Conqueror, it is so absorbing that one simply has to keep reading in order to find out what happened next. Leonie Star is not just a good writer: she is a remarkable scholar. It is not that her story traverses hitherto untravelled roads: she herself admits that she has made ample use of other people?s research, and quite often she sums up the current state of knowledge by indicating the many still undecided issues that remain to be addressed. What makes her work special is suggested by something Heinrich Graetz said, that Jewish history is the most exacting of all histories, because it involves a knowledge of most other areas of history and of most languages whether living or dead. Though Leonie may not be a great linguist (she relies on other people?s translations), she is a broad-based historian with extra talents that enliven and inform every page. She knows legal history and economics, utilises Jewish references and has a feel for social history. She not only narrates; she ventures into areas as disparate as medieval architecture; public health and sanitation; what people wore, ate and thought; military strategy; language and literature; palace politics, church controversies, and the place of women in society. We see how Church and Crown related to one another, and how record systems and legal institutions often arose out of dealings with the Jews. One of the stereotypes which Leonie corrects is that the only occupation open to Jews was money-lending (though even there she raises questions such as why the Jews were despised for money-lending but Christians were not). Trading ? not just market stalls - was a Jewish activity which benefited the general population. Despite their exclusion from the guilds, Jews engaged in occupations that required skilled craftsmanship such as gold, jewellery and textiles, and the practice of medicine and the law. Cecil Roth, who wrote voluminously about Jewish life in the Middle Ages as well as other periods, said that he wished he could to construct a complete profile of how medieval people lived, and whilst Leonie Star does not seek to rival or outdo Roth she has assembled a mine of information about daily life in those days. The theme of her book is how the status of the medieval English Jews as an ambivalent group owned by the king impacted on the Jews themselves and influenced European English history. The Jews began by being economically useful and then became redundant. They were milked, fined, taxed, squeezed, and then in 1290 abandoned and expelled without compassion or conscience. The story has been told before, but Leonie lends it special lucidity. The Jews were thrown out two centuries after William the Conqueror welcomed them. In the time between their expulsion and the next welcome under Cromwell, England retained a minor Jewish presence, but that is another story. There were ups and downs in the medieval era of Anglo-Jewry, many downs but occasional ups. The Normans appreciated their Jews. Jews found refuge in England from the Crusades: overall the numbers of Jews killed in the Crusades were probably less than claimed by Christian writers. Even in a hostile environment the inner life of English Judaism had a richness and quality. Jews left many traces in the legal history of England. Behind the scenes there were episodes of relaxed social interchange between Jews and Christians. But there was a backdrop of Church-sponsored anti-Jewish loathing with superstitious demonization and outrageous accusations (such as the ritual murder allegation which surfaced in England and not on the Continent) and tragic attacks in York and elsewhere. The Jews were ready-made sacrificial victims, and when indebtedness to Jews grew, so did the wish to destroy them. The eventual expulsion was probably inexorable, but it was made possible because of England?s centralization of power What happened to medieval Anglo-Jewry is dubbed by Leonie Star ?ethnic cleansing?. This is a modern term. Using it as a title for this book is anachronistic and not entirely accurate, but as author?s shorthand for an ideological campaign against a whole people it already suggests the much worse experience in our own time. It is ironic that when the eventual Holocaust came, England had a new mindset and was far from complicit.
William Duke of Normandy conquers England in 1066. Jews follow him, arriving as traders. They have financial expertise and money-lending capabilities that are much needed in the medieval economy. Read more about “England's Ethnic Cleansing of the Jews”