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Board of Deputies of British Jews

The Board of Deputies of British Jews is the representative organization of British Jewry. The institution dates from 1760, when the Sephardi committee of deputados presented a "loyal address" to George III and were reproached by the Ashkenazi community for acting independently. Both communities then agreed to consult together on matters of mutual interest. Thereafter meetings were intermittent until in 1835 a constitution was adopted. At this time the Board's representative status was recognized by the government. In 1838, Sir Moses *Montefiore became president and, apart from a brief interval, held office until 1874. He opposed representation for the Reform community, which was only achieved in 1886, a year after his death. Membership was based on synagogues, London and provincial, and it was not until the present century that representatives of other communal organizations were added.

In the 19th century, the Board was active in the struggle for political emancipation; in protecting persecuted Jewish communities overseas, to which end the good offices of the British government were enlisted; in ensuring that Jews were absolved from the effects of economic legislation designed to prevent Sunday work; in safeguarding Jewish interests with regard to marriage, divorce, and religious practice generally. It also appointed synagogal marriage secretaries which legalized weddings and, after 1881, was active in projects to integrate the Russo-Polish immigrants.

In 1878, the Board and the Anglo-Jewish Association formed a Conjoint Foreign Committee, which operated successfully until discredited by its anti-Zionist line in 1917, when it disbanded. Reconstituted in 1918 as the Joint Foreign Committee, it continued until the Board was "captured" by a well-organized Zionist caucus and Selig *Brodetsky became president in 1943. With this coup the domination by the Anglo-Jewish "aristocracy" came to an end.

The Board has been prominent for many decades in protecting and defending the rights of the Jews of the United Kingdom; in monitoring and countering antisemitism; in assisting Jews in all parts of the world; and in promoting Israel's right to live in peace and security with her neighbors. The Board's role as the representative voice of the Jewish community in the United Kingdom is acknowledged by government and the media. The Board is guided on religious matters by its ecclesiastical authorities (namely the chief rabbi and the communal rabbi of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews Congregation) and is obliged by its constitution to consult with the religious leaders of other groupings which do not recognize these ecclesiastical authorities.

The Board today consists of about 350 members representing synagogue and other communal organizations in the United Kingdom. The Deputies are elected by the individual constituencies every three years, and they in turn elect from among themselves a president, three vice presidents, and a treasurer who may hold office for two terms.

The Board works through elected committees – Law, Parliamentary and General Purposes; Israel; Foreign Affairs; Education, Youth and Information; Defense and Group Relations; Public Relations; and Finance – which meet regularly and submit reports for discussion at the monthly plenary meetings of the Deputies. Administrative matters are attended to by the chief executive and a professional staff of about 30.

For many years its offices were at Woburn House in Upper Woburn Place, London, but its offices are currently located nearby in Bloomsbury Square. While the Board of Deputies has been criticized on a variety of grounds, it is still almost always regarded by official bodies and the media as representing the official Jewish viewpoint on public issues.


Board of Deputies Annual Report; C.H.L. Emanuel, A Century and a Half of Jewish History (1910); V.D. Lipman (ed.), Three Centuries of Anglo-Jewish History (1961), index S.V. Deputies; L. Stein, Balfour Declaration (1961), index; Brotman, in: J. Gould and S. Esh (eds.), Jewish Life in Modern Britain (1964); AJYB, 58 (1957), index; Lehmann, Nova Bibl, index; Roth, England, 222f., 251–5. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: G.Alderman, Modern British Jewry (1992), index; A. Newman, The Board of Deputies of British Jews 1760–1985: A Brief Survey (1987).

[Vivian David Lipman]

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