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Encyclopedia Judaica: Cambridge

CAMBRIDGE, English university city. Cambridge harbored a fairly important Jewish community in medieval times though the report that it dates from 1073 is unfounded. The original synagogue, already apparently disused, was assigned to the Franciscans in 1244. Nearly 50 householders figure in the Cambridge Jewry lists during the period from 1224 to 1240. In 1266 during the Barons' Wars, a band of "Disinherited Knights" carried off the *archa and held some of the community's wealthier members to ransom. In 1275 Edward I empowered his mother, Eleanor of Provence, to banish all Jews from her dower-towns, including Cambridge. The community was ultimately sent to Huntingdon. Magister Benjamin, whose house on the site of the present Guildhall was granted to the town by the king in 1224 as a jail, was an early Cambridge Jewish notable. He is to be identified with R. Benjamin of Kantabria (קנטבריא; *Benjamin of Cambridge). In the 16th century, the university records list two converted Jewish teachers: John Immanuel *Tremellius of Ferrara (1510–1580), "King's Reader of Hebrew" in 1549, and Philip Ferdinand, originally from Poland, who published Haec sunt verba Dei (Cambridge, 1597). After the Resettlement the names of a number of Jewish teachers are known. These include: Isaac *Abendana ; Isaac Lyons, a silversmith, who gave Hebrew lessons to members of the university (1732–1770); Joseph *Crool (c. 1812–1837); and Herman Bernard (formerly Hurwitz; 1837–1857). S. *Schiller-Szinessy taught talmudic literature (1869–1890) and S. *Schechter acted in a similar capacity (1891–1901). He was succeeded by Israel *Abrahams and the latter in 1931 by H.M.J. *Loewe . Hebrew manuscripts collected by the Dutch Orientalist Thomas Erpennius (1584–1624) were donated to the university library in 1632, and in 1647–48 the collection of Hebrew books of the Italian rabbi Isaac Faragi was bought by parliamentary vote. The Hebrew manuscripts in the university library are estimated at more than 3,000, including the unique collection of the Taylor-Schechter Cairo *Genizah fragments. It attracts Jewish scholars from all over the world, and many significant works of Jewish scholarship are based on its material. Trinity College has the Aldis Wright Collection of Hebraica and there are a number of Genizah fragments in Westminster College. Until 1856 religious tests prevented Jews from obtaining degrees, though not from studying at the university. There have since been many Jewish teachers and fellows and a high number of Jewish undergraduates. Toward the middle of the 18th century, a short-lived Jewish community existed. It was reestablished in 1847 and again in 1888. In 1908, when Selig *Brodetsky , a young Jewish immigrant from London's East End, was bracketed senior wrangler (the highest-ranking student in the university's mathematics examinations, a very prestigious result), a sensation was created in the Jewish East End. A significant number of Jews have been elected to the Cambridge Apostles, the semi-secret discussion society, among them Leonard *Woolf , Victor Rothschild, and Eric *Hobsbawm , while five Jews served as presidents of the Cambridge Union Debating Society between 1850 (before practicing Jews could not yet graduate from Cambridge) and 1952. In 1968 the number of residents was small and the congregation was supported almost entirely by students. As of the mid-1990s the Jewish community consisted of approximately 500 permanent residents and a similar number of students. By the early 21st century there were believed to be about 850 Jews in Cambridge, of whom about 500 were students. An Orthodox and Reform synagogue existed. William Frankel and Harvey Miller, eds., Gown and Tallith (1989) contains many essays on Jews at Cambridge University.

Israeli Ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub hosted a speech at Cambridge University on October 20 2014 that stirred up much controversy in the area.  Multiple groups protested the event including Cambridge University's Palestinian Society, who referred to the fact that Taub was even invited to campus as "deeply insensitive" and offensive.  A metal grate fence was constructed in the hours leading up to the event around the building to keep Taub seperate from the protestors.  Attendees to the talk were required to leave all of their belongings in a seperate coat room, and they were also not allowed to bring in any cell phones, laptops, or similar devices.  The event was described Cambridge's student newspaper as a total media blackout.  During the speech, a group of approximately 60 protestors staged a peaceful but loud protest outside that could be heard clearly throughout the building. 

Sources:H.P. Stokes, Studies in Anglo-Jewish History (1913), 103–240; Rigg-Jenkinson, Exchequer, index; Abrahams, in: JHSET, 8 (1915–17), 63–77, 98–121; idem, in: JHSEM, 1 (1925); J. Jacobs, Jews of Angevin England (1950), 4, 222, 374–5; C. Roth, Rise of Provincial Jewry (1950), 42–46; idem, England, index; R.C. Dobson, "The Jews of Medieval Cambridge," in: TJHSE, 32 (1990–92), 1–24; R. Deacon, The Cambridge Apostles (1985); M. Jolles, A Directory of Distinguished British Jews, 1830–1930 (2002), 141–45. Under 'CANTERBURY': M. Jolles, Samuel Isaac, Saul Isaac and Nathaniel Isaacs (1998); Middle East Monitor

[Cecil Roth (2nd ed.)]

Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.