Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


AUSTRALIA, island continent, within the British Commonwealth. At least six Jewish convicts who arrived at Botany Bay, New South Wales, in 1788 were later among the first settlers, including John Harris who, when freed, became the first policeman in Australia. The first minyan and burial society date from 1817, and the 1828 census records about 100 Jews in New South Wales and 50 in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania). In the 1830s Jews arrived in increasing numbers, mainly from England, and by 1841 Jews had also settled in Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia, bringing the total in the continent to 1,183 (0.57% of the whole population). The number of Jews in Australia reached 59,343 by 1961. (For updated information, see below.) Australian censuses trace the increase in the Jewish population, showing the rise and fall in each state and the percentage of Jews in the total population. (See Table: Australian Jewish Population and Table: Australasia Age Distributions.)

There were several waves of immigration – in the 1850s due to the prosperity following the discovery of gold; from 1891 to 1911 an influx of Eastern European Jews fleeing from pogroms; in the 1930s German refugees; and in the post-World War II period the displaced *persons who survived the Holocaust in Europe.

Nineteenth Century

In 1828 Philip Joseph Cohen was authorized by England's chief rabbi to perform marriages. R. Aaron Levy (Levi), a member of the London bet din, paid a visit in 1830 to arrange a divorce. The first synagogue in *Sydney was constructed in 1844. Organized communities were established in Hobart (1845), Launceston (1846), *Melbourne (1841), and *Adelaide (1848). Several small communities which came into being during the gold rushes had all but disappeared in the 1960s: Forbes, Goulburn, Maitland, Tamworth, Bendigo, Geelong, Kalgoorlie, Toowoomba, and Launceston (see Map: Australian Jewry). Economic conditions made the country towns most attractive to the new Jewish settlers who came with little money, but fear of assimilation induced many to move to larger urban centers as soon as their material situation permitted. In the 1860s almost one-quarter of all Jews lived in country towns (14%) and rural areas (10%), whereas the 1961 census showed that 96.4% lived in the six large cities, 2.7% in small towns, and 0.9% in rural areas. Jacob *Saphir of Jerusalem, who visited Australia in 1862, gives an interesting account of Jewish conditions in his Even Sappir.

Australian Jewry in this early period was numerically small and scattered and consequently in danger of assimilation. Ministers and teachers were scarce, and religious observance was lax. The shortage of Jewish women (in 1881 there were only 78 women to every 100 men) led to a high rate of intermarriage. Many, however, still maintained their Jewish observances, often traveling hundreds of miles to take part in religious services or to have a child circumcised. Nor did they fail in charitable and social endeavor, and several Australian Jewish philanthropic institutions have a history of well over a century. Until free and compulsory state education was introduced in the last quarter of the 19th century, the Jewish communities maintained their own Hebrew day schools. The early Jewish settlers made a considerable impact on the colony's development, in the civic, and in some instances agricultural, spheres. Religious life was based on the English-Jewish tradition, which remained dominant, and the authority of the British chief rabbinate was respected. Civil rights and the right of Jews to vote and sit in Parliament were never subject to restrictions. The government acceded to Jewish requests for land for cemeteries, synagogues, schools, and ministers' residences, and limited subsidies were granted at different periods for Jewish religious establishments.

The synagogue was the focal point of communal life. Jews were generally highly respected; Judaism was recognized as a "denomination"; and the rabbinical office enjoyed a prestige seldom found in other lands. It is characteristic that throughout Australian Jewish history many Jews who were prominent in public life, at times occupying some of the highest positions in the land, were also active in the congregation. These include Sir Saul *Samuel, minister of the crown in New South Wales and president of the Sydney Great Synagogue; Sir Benjamin Benjamin (1836–1905), lord mayor of Melbourne and president

Distribution of Australian Jewry, giving date when the communities were organized. Distribution of Australian Jewry, giving date when the communities were organized.

of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation; Sir Julian Emanuel Salamons (1835–1909), solicitor general in New South Wales; Sir Daniel *Levy, speaker of the House of Representatives and editor of The Australian Hebrew; Vabian Louis *Solomon, premier of South Australia and leader of the community there; George Judah Cohen, a leader in commerce and president of the Great Synagogue from 1878; and Sir Archie Michaelis (1889–1975), speaker of the Victorian parliament and president of the St. Kilda Synagogue. Other Jews who achieved prominence were Barnett Levy, founder of the first theater in Australia, and the composer Isaac *Nathan, described as the "father of Australian music." The historian Joseph *Jacobs and the philosopher Samuel *Alexander were also Australians. The close integration of the Jews in Australian life is exemplified in the careers of Sir Isaac Alfred *Isaacs, the first Australian-born governor-general, and General Sir John *Monash, who commanded the Australian forces in France in World War I.


H.L. Rubinstein and W.D. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia: A Thematic History (2 vols., 1991); S. Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora (20012); H.L. Rubinstein, Chosen: The Jews in Australia (1987); M. Turnbull (ed.), Safer Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia (1999); S. Liberman and L. Gallon (eds.), Bibliography of Australian Jewry (1991); S. Rutland, Pages of History: A Century of Australian Jewish Press (1995); W.D. Rubinstein (ed.), Jews in the Sixth Continent (1986); P.Y. Medding (ed.), From Assimilation to Group Survival (1968); C.A. Price, Jewish Settlers in Australia (1968); B. Hyams, History of the Australian Zionist Movement (1998); H.L. Rubinstein, The Jews in Victoria, 1935–1985 (1986); D. Mossenson, Hebrew, Israelite, Jew: A History of the Jews in Western Australia (1990); H. Munz, The Jews in South Australia, 1836–1936 (1936); M. Gordon, The Jews of Van Diemen's Land (1965); A. Aaron, The Sephardi Jews of Australia and New Zealand (1979); J.S. Levi and G.F.J. Bergman, Australian Genesis: Jewish Convicts and Settlers, 1788–1860 (20022;); I. Getzler, Neither Toleration Nor Favour: The Australian Chapter of Emancipation (1970); P.R. Bartrop, Australia and the Holocaust, 1933–1945 (1995); J. Foster (ed.), Community of Fate: Memoirs of German Jews in Melbourne (1986); J.E. Berman, Holocaust Remembrance in Australian Jewish Communities, 1945–2000 (2001); A. Andgel, Fifty Years of Caring: A History of the Australian Jewish Welfare Society, 1936–1986 (1988); R. Benjamin, A Serious Influx of Jews: A History of Jewish Welfare in Victoria (1998); R. Gouttman, Bondi in the Sinai: Australia, the mfo, and the Politics of Participation (1996); G.F. Levey and P. Mendes (eds.), Jews and Australian Politics (2004); Y. Aron and J. Arndt, The Enduring Remnant: The First 150 Years of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation (1992); I. Porush, House of Israel: A Study of Sydney Jewry from its Foundations … and a History of the Great Synagogue of Sydney (1997); J.S. Levy, Rabbi Jacob Danglow: "The Uncrowned Monarch of Australian Jews" (1995); D.J. Elazar, Jewish Communities in Frontier Societies: Argentina, Australia, South Africa (1983). The Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal appears twice annually and should be consulted by anyone interested in the history of Australian Jewry.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.