Israel Zangwill's "Anglicization". The Literary Representation of Anglo-Jewish Identity, Assimilation, Anglicization, Anti-Semitism and Christianity

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2013

24 Pages, Grade: 2,7



1.) Introduction & interrogation

2.) History of the Jews in England
2.1.) 11th - 18th century
2.2.) 19th century emancipation
2.3.) Anglo-Jewry VS late-19th century immigrants

3.) Representation of Jewish Identity in non-Jewish literature

4.) Victorian Anglo-Jewish Fiction

5.) Israel Zangwill‘s Anglicization
5.1.) Short Summary of Anglicization
5.2.) Depicitions of Jewish identity and anglicization/assimiliation
5.3.) Depictions of anti-Semitism
5.4.) Depictions of christianity

6.) Conclusion

7.) Bibliography

1.) Introduction & interrogation

Israel Zangwill is undoubtedly one of the most influential Anglo-Jewish writers of the 19th century in Victorian England. His collection of short stories, Children of the Ghetto, which first appeared in 1892 in England as well as the USA, established him as the „preeminent literary voice of Anglo- Jewry“ 1 (cf. Rochelson 1998:11). He „revealed and explained an alien community to its non-Jewish neighbours and made the universe of the Jewish immigrants more intelligible to their acculturated coreligionists“ (Rochelson 1999:219). The novel became „the first Anglo-Jewish best- seller“ (Rochelson 1998:11). Zangwill therein deals with topics such as the social situation of the Jewish community in London‘s East End as well as their struggle between being modern and religious Jews at the same time. Assimilation and anglicization therefore are huge topics in his literary work. He also offers pointed insights on the tension between assimilated middle-class West End Jews and mainly poor and newly arrived Eastern European Jews at that time, an important aspect to understand the misconceptions inside the Jewish community.

The Victorian Age, the reign of Queen Victoria, brought up some of the most well-known AngloJewish writers, who certainly do differ in their style of writing, their topics and their ideologies.2 The reason why literary research nowadays practically solely deals with this period of English history in coherence with Anglo-Jewry lies in the fact that Anglo-Jews first gained their emancipation in 1858. Beforehand they were unwanted aliens by law and did not possess any civil rights. An expulsion of the Jews from England, which dated back to 1290, was still effective (cf. Katz 1994:V & Calisch 1909:41)). In 1656 Cromwell established a couple of laws which made it possible for Jews to stay in Britain but still their official status remained the one of an unwelcomed alien (cf. Kahn-Paycha 2000:16). Therefore it is crucial to explore the history of the Jewish community in England to gain a broader view on the literary achievements that have been made in the 19th century. Without taken into account the social situation and the nearly 350 years of being undesirable in this country, a literary discourse on Anglo-Jewish literature cannot be held. It is also very important to take into consideration how the Jews have been representated in English society and especially in English literature.

Consequently, this seminar paper gives an outline on the history of Jews in England until the 19th century, ending with the later Jewish immigrants that came in the sequel of the pogroms in East Europe in the late 19th century. Furthermore, there is a short outlook on the depictions of Jews in English Literature with a special attention on the most well-known representations of Jews in the works of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott, Dickens and George Eliot before a brief summary on the representation of Jewish identity in Anglo-Jewish fiction of the 19th century will be given. Consequently, Israel Zangwill‘s literary works will be analysed to a small extend and afterwards the short story Anglicization from his short story collection Ghetto Comedies will be summarized and analysed on its representation of Jewish identity, anglicization/assimilation, anti-Semitism and christianity. The aim of this seminar paper is to answer the question, if and to what extend the history of the Jews in England did influence the representation of the Jewish identity in Zangwill‘s Anglicization and if the depictions of anglicization/assimilation, anti-Semitism and christianity in the short story could be transfered onto parts of the Jewish community in 19th century England.

2.) History of the Jews in England

As it has been mentioned in the introduction, an outline on Jewish history in England has to be given in order to understand the Anglo-Jewish literature of the 19th century and its complexity. Coming from a point of view that puts previous social life and identity into correlation with the representation of those in Anglo-Jewish fiction of the 19th century, historical facts are seen as highly influential on the outcome of certain authors‘ works (cf. Scheinberg 1999:117). One of the most famous and constantly working historians of Anglo-Jewry, Todd Endelman, acutely puts stress on the fact that Anglo-Jewish history bears little resemblance to the history of Jews in other European states because certain data, which is usually used by historians to structure their account of the past, is missing in Anglo-Jewish history (Endelman 1995:624). Eventhough England was tolerant in many ways, it was also

„hostile to the notion of cultural diversity. Circles and institutions quite willing to tolerate Jews as intimate associates were not willing to endorse the perpetuation of a separate Jewish culture or to see any value in the customs or beliefs of the Jewish religion.“

(Endelman, quoted in: Hunt Beckman 1999:185)

Hence many historical factors have to be considered if an Anglo-Jewish identity shall be constructed.

2.1.) 11th - 18th century

The first notable record of an existence of a Jewish community in England can be found with the Jewish expulsion by King Edward I in 1290. This expulsion was inflamed by an incident that happened in Lincoln in 1255 when the English boy Hugh drowned in a cesspool of a Jewish estate.

The English public was in believe that the boy was murdered by the Jews for one of their religious rituals (cf. Calisch 1909:39f). Beforehand, the first Jewish community can be traced back to 1066. Back then and in the next 200 and some years before the expulsion, the Jews already had to suffer many prosecutions by English law and citizens due to their religion and imputed religious habits (cf. Katz 1994:V & Calisch 1909:36). The expulsion from King Edward I in 1290 said that „no unconverted Jew could legally enter England“ but research shows that many of the Jews who stayed in England converted to protestantism and practiced Judaism in private (cf. Stokes 1921:55). A vital change in the stance of the British regime on the re-admission of the Jews came with Oliver Cromwell‘s presentation of a petition to the Council of State in 1655.3 Eventhough this petition was rejected, the Jews were allowed to settle in Britain „by private sufferance of his Highness“ (cf. Stokes 1921:69f). Katz speaks of „Cromwell‘s decision in 1656 to turn a blind eye to Jewish residence and immigration, having failed to obtain a clear decision at the Whitechapel Conference, (...)“ (Katz 1994:240f). Also the Jews were allowed to open a burial-place which preserved into the Bevis Marks Synagogue (cf. Stokes 1921:72). With the return of Charles II., the Jews got even more options and rights in England since they vitally sponsored him while he was in his dutch exile. They still were on sufferance of the King and did not yet have any civil rights for settlement, property and citizenship in England.

In 1723 an important act was passed, allowing the Jews to give evidence by oath without having to use the words „on the faith of a Christian“ (cf. Stokes 1921:78). In 1740 another important act was passed - the so-called Naturalization Act - which allowed Jews to become naturalized in any of Britain‘s American colonies. In 1753 the Jew Bill was passed by the government but was repealed in 1754 since its opposition constantly grew after its passing. This bill would have given the Jews a right for a constant residency in Britain (cf. Katz 1994:241 & Stokes 1921:78). In the following years the Jews became well-acknowledged in London by building further synagogues and „Bevis Marks, the Great Synagogue, the Hambro, and the New Synagogue, all in a triangle of Jewry near Aldgate, formed the centre of Anglo-Jewry in the second half of the eighteenth century, (...)“ (Katz 1994:283). Therefore Todd Endelman mentions that „London has been a major center of urban Jewish life since the late eighteenth century. At the time of the French Revolution, more Jews lived in London than in any other European city except Amsterdam“ (Endelman 1995:626).

2.2.) The Jewish Emancipation in the 19th century

The American and French Revolution in the late 18th century served as a stimulation for further Jewish emancipation attempts (cf. Calisch 1909:117). The Jews themselves in no way wanted to end the reign of the crown in England and therefore did hold several sermons to show off their loyalty to the crown. They also volunteered in the war against Napoleon in 1803 and were consequently allowed for the military service (cf. Katz 1994:285f). In 1809 one of the most memorable visits between Anglo-Jews and the British took place when the Royal Dukes of Cambridge, Sussex and Cumberland attended a sermon at the Great Synagogue which was a very huge public topic at that time (cf. Katz 1994:288). The synagogues and their religious leaders constantly played a huge part in the emancipation of the Jews in England during the 19th century. From the previously mentioned revolutions in America and France a lot of reformistic ideas swept over to the Anglo-Jewish community and so it became only natural to discuss a change in the sermon, the use of English as well as using music in the service. Another huge topic was the abolition of the separation of women in the synagogues (cf. Stokes 1921:88). In 1836 a petition was filled by reformers but was promptly refused. Finally, in 1842 the West London Synagogue of British Jews was established, which was in bitter opposition to the orthodox section (cf. Stokes 1921:89). This synagogue, which was set up in the West End of London by wealthy Sephardim and Ashkenazim Jews, aimed „to combat indifference and stem defection by introducing decorum and English-language sermons“ and was located nearer to the wealthy West End Jews than the synagogues in the city (cf. Endelman 2011:73). It became a significant symbol for anglicization.

Since the citizenship of Jews still somehow was not cleared by parliament there have been numerous acts to emacipate the Jews amongst the British.

„The right of foreign-born Jews to become naturalized was conferred (incidentally) by Act of Parliament in 1825. By the end of the 1840s there were no legal restraints upon the right of Jews to worship freely, to own land, and to seek the protection of the courts of law for themselves and their property; (...)“ (Alderman 1995:130)

The Anglo-Jewish emancipation rose rapidly with allowance to vote in British parliament elections in 1835 eventhough historicans found out that certain individuals did vote even before being allowed to by just not taking the Christian oath which was widely overseen by their fellow British parliament members at that time (cf. Alderman 1995:128). Regarding the right to occupy a political office the first step was made in 1845 when an act was passed that allowed people of Jewish religion to be elected into municipal offices. Then it took another 13 years until 1858, when the oath that was required by the members of parliament, was altered in a way that Jews could take it and Baron Lionel de Rothschild became the first Jew in the parliament. Benjamin D‘Israeli already took his place in parliament in 1837 but he was baptists at the age of 12 so he was no practizing Jew (cf. Scheinberg 1999:120). Consequently, in 1871, all religious tests for matriculation and graduation at Oxford and Cambridge were abolished, opening the possibility for Jews, Nonconformists and Roman Catholics to attend the universities (cf. Endelman 2011:79). Though even at that time, as in the centuries before, a certain anti-Semitism can be traced back, the British did not show off an irrational fear of the Jews. Reasons for that can be found in the fact that Britain was a merchant country and therefore could identify with the Jewish traders which were quite numerous at that time. Other reasons can be found in the felt superiority by the British towards the other nations as well as the conservatism of the Jews at that time, who were mainly guided by the words of their respective Rabbi (cf. Kahn-Paycha 2000:17).

To sum up Jewish emancipation, most historians hold the stance that

„emancipation was understood by both the Jewish elite and the British political nation as a contractual agreement: in exchange for civil equality, English Jews agreed to give up their minority group characteristics and conform to the standards of the majority. If they did not do so, then they had only themselves to blame for hostile demands for their exclusion from society.“ (Endelman 1991:100)

2.3.) Anglo-Jewry VS late-19th century immigrants

„Pogroms in Russia and the expulsion of the Poles from Prussia led to a rapid increase in the number of Jews in London and concern about the absorptive capacities of the East End where the bulk of them settled.“ (Englander 1989:551)

From 1881 until 1914 about 150,000 Jews from Eastern Europe settled on the British Isle. While the Jewish population of London measured around 35,000 before the arrival of Eastern European Jews, in 1900 approximately 135,000 Jews lived there. Of those, 120,000 lived in the East End of London4 (cf. Alderman 1995:141). The new arrivals from Eastern Europe were poor, working class Jews and therefore stood in opposition to the Anglo-Jews who have been born and raised in England and were mainly assimilated. Therefore the Jewish community painted a different picture of itself since the apparent dominance could now be found in the working class Jew from Eastern Europe which became problematic for the Anglo-Jews since the public started to develop certain anti-semitic attitudes towards the Jews (cf. Alderman 1995:142).


1 Anglo-Jewry signifies the fusion of English- and Jewishness

2 An overview on the writings and writers of this period is given in the Journal Victorian Literature and Culture Vol. 27

(1) from 1999 since it serves as a special issue on Anglo-Jewish Literature from the Victorian Age.

3 There are a lot of detailed information about the time from 1290 until 1648 to be found in different publications e.g. David S. Katz The Jews in the History of England or Henry Paine Stokes A short history of the Jews in England. Since the historical part before the 19th century shall be short I will leave them out of this seminar paper.

4 The East End of London does not refer to the Eastern part of London. It describes the area east of the medieval walled City of London and the part in the north of the River Thames. The River Lea is considered as another boundary.

Excerpt out of 24 pages


Israel Zangwill's "Anglicization". The Literary Representation of Anglo-Jewish Identity, Assimilation, Anglicization, Anti-Semitism and Christianity
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (Institut für England- und Amerikastudien)
Victorian Anglo-Jewish Fiction
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ISBN (Book)
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Victorian Age, Anglo-Jewish, Fiction, Anglo-Jewish Fiction, Zangwill, assimilation, anglicization, anti-semitism, christianity, Israel Zangwill
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Marc Liebe (Author), 2013, Israel Zangwill's "Anglicization". The Literary Representation of Anglo-Jewish Identity, Assimilation, Anglicization, Anti-Semitism and Christianity, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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