"Jew Bill" Controversy, England
"JEW BILL" CONTROVERSY, ENGLAND
"JEW BILL" CONTROVERSY, ENGLAND , term used to refer to the agitation which arose in England in 1753 after the passage of the Jewish Naturalisation Act. Foreignborn persons desiring naturalization as British subjects had, as part of the process, to receive the sacrament at Anglican Holy Communion. Jews wishing to be naturalized, mainly wealthy Sephardi merchants in London, could be exempted from this requirement, although in so doing they would be granted only what was termed "endenization" rather than full citizenship, which carried with it fewer rights. In 1753 the Whig government, which was close to the Jewish commercial community, passed a bill through Parliament allowing Jews to be naturalized without participating in an Anglican service. It had no other effect on the status of British Jews and had no effect on any other group. This Act easily passed through both Houses of Parliament in May 1753. Immediately, however, great antisemitic agitation blew up which forced the government to repeal the Act in December 1753. Propaganda appeared accusing the Jews of ritual murder, of planning to turn St. Paul's Cathedral into a synagogue, and of wanting to force all British males to be circumcised, together with large numbers of broadsides and ballads aimed at the Jews. Although no violence against Jews or Jewish property occurred, several prominent Jews were hissed by crowds when they appeared in public.
The "Jew Bill" agitation had no real precedent and, significantly, no continuation, and no subsequent antisemitic agitation of any kind can be seen in Britain for many decades. It has been linked by historians with popular demagoguery by the Tory opposition just before a general election, as well as with economic fears by poorly paid Anglican clergymen, but remains a genuine puzzle to those historians who have examined it. It seems clear, however, that traditional Christian antisemitic stereotypes had little lasting resonance in Britain by the mid-18th century.
Katz, England, 240–53; T.W. Perry, Public Opinion, Propaganda and Politics in Eighteenth-Century England: A Study of the Jew Bill of 1753 (1962); Endelman, Jews of Georgian England, index; F. Felsenstein, Anti-Semitic Stereotypes: A Paradigm of Otherness in English Popular Culture, 1660–1830 (1995), 187–214; W.D. Rubinstein, Jews in Great Britain, 55–56; Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews in England (1964), index.
[William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]