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Virtual Jewish World: Manchester, UK

Manchester is a city in northern England. Its Jewish community, the second largest in Britain, dates from about 1780.

The first synagogue being founded by two brothers, Lemon and Jacob Nathan, formerly of Liverpool. A cemetery was acquired in 1794 and the first local charity was the Manchester Jewish Philanthropic Society (1804) which provided winter relief for poor resident Jews. After a temporary schism in the congregation in 1840, a more serious split followed during the rabbinate of S. Schiller-Szinessy and led to the establishment of a Reform synagogue in 1856. Two years later, the original community moved to its new synagogue (“the Great”) on Cheetham Hill, which remained in use in the 1970s.

The early settlers and community leaders came mainly from Liverpool and included a tailor, a pen cutter, and an optician. Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s first residence in England was in Manchester, from where he exported cotton goods from 1798 to 1805.

The second half of the 19th century brought to the city substantial merchants from Central Europe, some political refugees from the 1848 liberal risings in Europe, Romanian Jews fleeing from the 1869 persecutions, and in the 1870s young men escaping service in the Russian army.

In 1871, small groups arrived from North Africa and the Levant, areas connected with the Manchester cotton industry, forming the nucleus of the flourishing 20th-century Sephardi congregations of south Manchester. The most significant influx, however, resulted from the great Russo-Polish immigration of 1881–1914. The Jews of Manchester spread northward, settling in the adjacent city of Salford and in the suburban districts of Prestwich and Whitefield. In the 20th century, the south Manchester Jews spread into the suburban areas of Cheshire.

Some of the earlier immigrants became waterproof-garment manufacturers, an industry developed by Jews which flourished until it was superseded by the technologically superior “rainproof,” in the manufacture of which Jews were not prominent. The Russo-Polish immigrants followed the usual immigrant trades of tailoring and cap making. There were also large numbers of jewelry travelers, hawkers, and street-traders. Communal institutions proliferated. The first Jewish school was founded in 1842, and by 1904, 2,300 pupils were being educated in Jewish schools. A Board of Guardians on the London pattern was founded in 1867. Many small ḥevrot were opened by immigrants. A weekly journal, the Jewish Telegraph, is published there.

In the 20th century, Manchester had its own beit din and sheḥitah board and a Jewish hospital. The representative body, the Council of Manchester and Salford Jews, had 68 synagogues and organizations affiliated to it. At its peak around 1910, Manchester's Jewish population was estimated at 35,000. It probably remained at just under this figure until about the 1970s, when the community began to shrink.

As Manchester was the home of Chaim Weizmann from 1904 to 1916, the city became the training ground of some of the outstanding British Zionists, personalities prominent also in British life: Lord Simon Marks, Harry Sacher, Leon Simon, Rebecca and Israel Sieff. In civic life, too, Jews played an increasingly important role. Nathan and Sarah Laski were followed by a large number of Jewish lord mayors of both Manchester and Salford. Several Jews were Labor members of parliament for Manchester constituencies, especially after 1945, including Leslie and Harold Lever and Frank Allaun. The novelist Louis Golding lived in Manchester and set several of his novels in the city. Even in the very recent past Manchester produced a number of communal leaders with a power base separate from London Jewry, such as Sir Sidney Hamburger.

In the mid-1990s, the Jewish population numbered approximately 27,000. According to the 2001 British census, the first to include an optional religious question, Manchester’s Jewish population totaled 21,733. It still contained more communal institutions than any British city apart from London. The community was headed by a Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region. There were about 32 synagogues, all but three of which were Orthodox. The Orthodox community maintained a local Council of Synagogues, a Beth Din, and a range of institutions. Remarkably, Manchester also had no fewer than 16 Jewish day schools, ranging from strictly Orthodox to Liberal. There was also a well-presented Manchester Jewish Museum on Cheetham Hill Road. The history of the community has been fairly well chronicled by historians such as Bill Williams.


C. Roth, Rise of Provincial Jewry (1950), 83–84; JYB; V.D. Lipman, Social History of the Jews in England, 18501950 (1954), index; L.P. Gartner, The Jewish Immigrant in England, 18701894 (1960), index; Ch. Weizmann, Trial and Error (1949), index. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Williams, The Making of Manchester Jewry, 17401875 (1976); idem., Manchester Jewry: A Pictorial History (1988). M. Dobkin, Tales of Manchester Jewry and Manchester Jewry in the Thirties (1986); M. Levine, Cheetham to Cordova: A Manchester Man of the Thirties (1984); R. Liedtke, Jewish Welfare in Hamburg and Manchester, c. 18501914 (1998); Z.Y. Wise, A Brief History of the Jewish Community in Prestwich, Whitefield and Bury (2003).

[Vivian David Lipman / William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]

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