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Tasmania

TASMANIA

TASMANIA , island S. of Australia and Australian state; established as a penal colony in 1803. Jewish names appear in its early history. Solomon, reported to be in safe custody (1819); a land grant to Emanuel Levy (1820); the charter granted for the Bank of Van Diemen's Land with Judah and Joseph Solomon among the shareholders (1823); a letter of recommendation as a settler to A. Aaron (1824). A petition from Bernard Walford was granted for a Jewish burial ground (1828). Ikey Solomons, a famous convict, may have been the model for Fagin in Dickens' Oliver Twist. In 1837 there was a total of 132 Jews, of whom 124 were free. By 1854 the Tasmanian Jewish population was 435, of whom 259 were free. In 1847 it was arranged that all Jews in Hobart and Launceston prisons should have the privilege of attending synagogue and refraining from work on the Sabbath. Pass holders were permitted to be counted in a minyan, but they could not have honors bestowed on them. By 1891 the number of Jews had fallen to 84. Most of the early settlers were illiterate and stated their occupation as farmers. Some, however, rose to prominence. Samuel Benjamin, born in southern Tasmania in 1839, attained the position of an alderman of Hobart City in 1897; John William Israel, born in Launceston in 1850, became auditor-general in 1895 and was elected president of the Civil Servants' Association at its foundation in 1897.

With the arrival of Orthodox newcomers from England, and spurred on by the need to distribute charity, the community consecrated its first synagogue in Hobart on July 4, 1843. In March 1864 the Hebrew Proprietary School was permanently incorporated with the synagogue. The first bet din in the city dates from 1911. The Hobart synagogue is the oldest standing synagogue within the British Commonwealth outside of England. The Tasmanian Hebrew Benevolent Society was formed in 1847. The Hobart synagogue celebrated the 120th anniversary of the laying of its foundation stone in 1963. The community remained small and has been constantly reduced by intermarriage. The Launceston synagogue was consecrated in 1846, with D. Benjamin as its president. It flourished for some years, serving about 100 families, but eventually the Jewish population of the town dwindled, the trustees died, and the religious articles were removed to Hobart. The synagogue was closed down in 1871, but it was reopened in 1939.

Tasmania failed to benefit from the arrival of thousands of refugees in Australia during and after the Nazi period, and its Jewish population steadily declined during the first post-1945 decades. The number of declared Jews in Tasmania, according to successive Australian censuses, totaled 158 in 1954, 136 in 1961, and only 98 in 1971. Since the 1970s, however, the community has grown again, thanks to migration from the mainland and from overseas, and stood at 145 in 1981, 160 in 1986, 167 in 1996, and 180 in 2001. An Orthodox and Reform synagogue currently exist in Hobart, as well as an Orthodox synagogue in Launceston, and a Chabad House in Sandy Bay.

bibliography:

M. Gordon, Jews in Van Diemen's Land (1965); Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal and Proceedings, 1 pt. 3 (1940), 72; 2 pt. 8 (1947), 413–8; 3 pt. 5 (1951), 209–37; 5 pt. 8 (1964), 428–33. add. bibliography: H.L. Rubinstein, Australia i, index; W.D. Rubinstein, Australia ii, index.

[Shmuel Gorr /

William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]

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