In one pamphlet, the Sephardim of Bevis Marks express their relief in a special prayer that Queen Victoria had survived an assassination attempt at Constitution Hill in June 1840.
Another is a declaration of fealty to the crown by the Portsmouth Jewish community when King George III visited the town in June 1773.
Elsewhere, there are documents arguing against the “Jew Bill” of 1753, which proposed the naturalisation of British Jews without their having to take a decidedly Christian oath.
The history of the Jews in Britain is a tale of belonging, rejection and much in between – and University College London’s newly catalogued, 4000-strong collection of Jewish pamphlets provides the full, kaleidoscopic picture of the struggle for Jewish emancipation.
It is a treasure trove for anyone interested in Jewish history – in particular the history of the Jewish community in this country since Cromwell’s English republic permitted the Jews to return in 1656.
The collection effectively maps the progress of religious tolerance within the British political elite. One hundred years after the debate over the 1753 “Jew Bill”, pamphlets appeared recording Lionel de Rothschild’s successful battle to take his seat in the House of Lords without being forced to parrot the phrase, “upon the true faith of a Christian”.
The congregants of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue at Bevis Marks often gathered to give thanks that peace had returned to Britain – such as when the war for American independence ended in 1783. One document shows a prayer composed in July 1814 by their Chief Rabbi, Raphael Mendola, to celebrate the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It was, however, a short-lived appreciation. Not long afterwards, Napoleon escaped from Elba to meet his final defeat at Waterloo a year later.
There are also numerous 19th century tracts from Christian writers urging the return of the Jews to the Land of Israel – as a means of facilitating the Second Coming.
There is even an 1852 pamphlet by Yehuda Alkalai, one of the founders of religious Zionism. It is “an address to the Jewish nation…on the propriety of organising an association to promote the regaining of their fatherland.”
These pamphlets are from the Mocatta and De Sola collections, which originally formed part of the Mocatta Library. They were left to the Jewish Historical Society of England in 1906, following the death of the philanthropist and bibliophile Frederic David Mocatta.
During the inter-war years, the UCL librarians added to Mocatta’s collection and created one of the most comprehensive Jewish Studies libraries in this country. Hitler put a stop to its development when UCL was bombed in 1940.
Fortunately the rarest books, pamphlets and manuscripts had been moved to Wales for safekeeping. This formed the nucleus for expanding the library after the war.
This collection, which can be accessed via the UCL Explore search tool, will prove to be a boon for genealogists as well. A small exhibition of the pamphlets is on display in the main UCL library.
The UCL librarians are undoubtedly the guardians of the past – the opposite of the dysfunctional destroyers of Palmyra. They have created an important collection both for the community and for generations to come.
Jewish Chronicle 28 August 2015