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The Forming of a Jewish Community
From the 1840's onwards there was a steady trickle of Jewish immigrants into Bradford mainly attracted by the textile industry. The Bradford textile industry was a great draw as its productions of worsted, mixed fabric and silks were very popular on the continent. In 1934, the 'Yorkshire Observer', looking back commented that some of these early incoming Jews had the 'Spice of Adventure', by which was meant that, despite not possessing a great deal of technical knowledge, they were prepared to work together, ally their powers and take risks in the hope of achieving success and status.
Even though Jews were in Bradford from the 1820s, there was exceptionally, no organised religious life in the town until the formation of a Jewish Association in Bradford as late as 1873. This all the more remarkable as the town has already has a Jewish Mayor, in Charles Semon, as early as 1864.
In 1865 there was a sufficiently large number of Jews in Bradford for the Chief Rabbi to include Bradford in his provincial tour, but only six people attended a meeting convened to talk to him! The Jewish Chronicle noted that there were over 100 children in the Jewish community but no facilities for their Jewish education.
The Bradford Jews were noted for their assimilation and lack of religious life. Bill Williams the historian, commented that, 'religious life was almost totally corroded, circumcision was rare' a view backed up by the Jewish Chronicle, of August 11th 1865, which related that the Jews of Bradford, '... do not want to pass for Jews although every child in Bradford knows them to be Jews'.
The Chief Rabbi again visited Bradford in 1870 and attempted to form a Jewish Association with very little success. The Jewish Chronicle reported in 1871 that services were held in Bradford on the High Holidays and only between 30 40 people attended. At this time the Jewish community numbered between 200 300 people; a sizeable community yet one without services or a synagogue.
Bradford Jews, were a product of the liberal philosophy and values of German society that had eroded the hold of traditional Orthodox Jewish religion and created a class of assimilated and secular Jews, or Jews who followed a Reform Jewish ritual.
Many German Jews' clearest affiliation was with the general German community and its culture. The German community up and down this country largely organised themselves around a series of German institutes (Vereinen). In Bradford there was the Schiller Institute, the Schiller-verein, where the German elite met and socialised. One oral traditional passed on by Oswald Strauss, the son of Rabbi Strauss, was that the Jewish merchants alleviated the very exceptional late hours they worked, by having long liquid lunches at the Schiller-verein on Manor Row, after which they would return to their business premises, sleep off the liquor, and return to work.
Some of the more religious of the Bradford Jews had already joined synagogues in Leeds and Manchester where they attended services on the High Holidays Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). This fact was noted in the document placed in the foundation of the Bradford Reform synagogue when it was opened. German Jews usually joined the existing synagogues of their English or European co-religionists.
In 1872 there were moves to establish a 'Reform' congregation in the West Riding of Yorkshire; there already was an Orthodox Community in Leeds. The Reform branch of Judaism had its origins in Germany. The Reform ritual included much more English in the services and some of the strict religious code of Judaism is not found in Reform theology. Three towns - Huddersfield, Leeds and Bradford - were considered as possible venues for the congregation, but Bradford was chosen.
This was an event of some interest as this synagogue for German Jews was one of only two synagogues, specifically for German Jews in the entire country. The only other German Jewish synagogue was established in Dundee.
On 1 April 1873, at a meeting in Bradford, chaired by Charles Semon, 'The Jewish Association of Bradford' was formed. The aims of the Association were the, 'up-holding and advancing the cause of Judaism and providing for the religious teaching of the Jewish children.'
The first act of the newly formed Jewish Association was to make a request to the Grand Rabbi of Stuttgart to assist the congregation in finding a Minister. Rev. Dr. Joseph Strauss aged 28 and with a Rabbinic diploma was appointed as the first Rabbi in Bradford. Rabbi Strauss was welcomed by the community at a general meeting on October 31st, 1873 and next day gave his first sermon. In his memoirs he noted that the older and wealthier Jewish families were indifferent to their religion perhaps a reason why it took so long to form a community.
Rabbi Strauss first instituted regular services on Sabbath and festivals which were held in the Masonic Chapel, Salem Street and later in the Unitarian Chapel, Town Hall Square. He then raised, through the community, a sum of £800 to purchase a separate plot in the Scholemoor Cemetery for a Jewish burial ground. Classes were also given to teach the young children about Judaism and the Hebrew language.
In 1876, Rabbi Strauss was appointed lecturer in Hebrew and Oriental languages at the Airedale Independent College, Bradford. He later went to Yorkshire College now Leeds University.
He was also an influential Zionist figure and in 1898, he appointed delegates to the Second Zionist Congress in Basle. He would often take advantage of opportunities to explain Zionism to his co-religionists, despite hostility to the movement.
The Franco Prussian war, of 1870 71, interfered with the woollen trade between Germany and France. Many German Jewish merchants then transferred their headquarters to Bradford and their impressive warehouses, largely situated in an area of Bradford that became known as 'Little Germany', placed them as close to the supply of the textiles they traded in as they could be. The population of Bradford rose to over 200,000 by the 1880's but the middle and upper class ruling elite of mill-owners, industrialists and entrepreneurs would have been comparatively small. The Jewish merchants who comprised over 100 families were able to make a great mark on the city.Next