Jewish and Israel Studies

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‘From One End of the Earth to the Other’

The London Bet Din, 1805–1855, and the Australian Convict Transportees

Jeremy I. Pfeffer teaches physics at the Rehovot campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. A graduate of Imperial College in London and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, he has taught science in high schools in England and Israel and served as principal of several Israeli high schools. He has written and published textbooks on Modern Physics in both English and Hebrew. He is the author of the well received Providence in the Book of Job: The Search for God’s Mind.

The emancipation of the Jews of England was largely complete when George III came to the throne in 1760. Free to live how and where they wished, the Jews had been specifically exempted from the provisions of the 1753 Marriage Act which made Christian marriage the only legal option for all others. The effect of this exemption was to put the matrimonial causes of the Jews of England exclusively in the hands of their Rabbis and Dayanim (Jewish ecclesiastical judges) for the next one hundred years. No Bet Din (Jewish ecclesiastical court) anywhere in the world has left such a complete record of its transactions – matrimonial and proselytical – as that contained in the extant Pinkas (minute-book) of the London Bet Din from 1805 to 1855.

In all other matters, including the offences punishable by transportation, Jews were subject to the jurisdiction of the civil courts. Of the estimated 150,000 convict transportees shipped to the Australian penal colonies, some seven hundred were Jews. Matrimonial and related matters involving twenty of these miscreants are recorded in the Pinkas. Jeremy Pfeffer recounts the history of the London Bet Din during these years as revealed by the Pinkas record and relates the previously untold stories of this group of Jewish convict transportees and their families.

Hardback ISBN: 978 1 84519 293 8
Hardback Price: £49.50 / $74.50
Release Date: September 2008
Paperback ISBN: 978 1 84519 366 9
Paperback Price: £22.50 / $44.95
Release Date: June 2009
Page Extent / Format: 336 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


Preface and Acknowledgements

Part One The Coming of Jews to England and Australia

Chapter 1 The Resurrection of English Jewry

The Birth of the English-speaking Jew
The Newtonian Revolution
The Resettlement of the Jews in England
The Jew-Bill of 1753
Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1753
Judaism in Georgian England

Chapter 2 The Penal Transportation of Jews to Australia

The Origins of Transportation: America
The Hulks
A New Destination: Australia
The Jewish Convict Transportees
Jewish Crime in Georgian England
The Matrimonial Consequences of Transportation

Part Two The First Bet Din of the Jews of England

Chapter 3 The Establishment of the London Bet Din

The Appointment of R. Solomon Hirschell
R. Solomon Hirschell’s Innovations
The Institution of a Chief Rabbinate
The Crises of 1832/3
The Only Bet Din in the English-speaking World
R. Solomon Hirschell’s Record

Chapter 4 The Pinkas Record

Prison Visitors
Missing in Action
Cause Célèbre
Intrigues, Cuckolds and Happy Endings

Chapter 5 Giur and Gerim in London

Giur According to Halachah
The Giur of ‘New Christians’
Giur: Problems and Policy
Lord George Gordon
The Giur of Jew-fathered non-Jews
The Giur of Gentiles; The ‘Dutch Solution’
The Rothschild Conversion
The Mudahi Giurim 1809-1816

Part Three The First Bet Din of the Jews of Australia

Chapter 6 Australia Bound

Dead or Alive
Darling, I’ll Wait for You
O, You’re Back!

Chapter 7 The Sheerness Connection

The Isle of Sheppey: Atrocity, Navy and Crime
The Jews of Sheerness
Jewish Navy Agents
A Most Daring Robbery
No Honour Amongst Thieves; The ‘Grass’
The Execution of Abraham Abrahams
Jews Informing on Jews; The ‘Moser’
Why Did Abraham Abrahams Hang?

Chapter 8 Esther Solomons

The Solomons Brothers
Van Diemen’s Land
The Russell/Davis/Solomons Scam
J. and J. Solomons; Tasmanian Gentlemen
Solomons v. Solomons

Chapter 9 Reb Aaron Levy

Jewish Divorce Procedure
R. Aaron Levy of Lissa
The First Bet Din Convened in Australia
Reb Aaron of the London Bet Hamidrash

Chapter 10 Giur and Gerim in Australia

The First Giur in Australia
Do-it-yourself Giurim in Australia
The Giur of Australians in London

Appendix I Extant works written or owned by R. Aaron Levy of Lissa


In 1805 R. Solomon Hirschell established the first continuing Bet Din (Rabbinic Court) in the English-speaking world. Two of their Pinkassim (minute books), spanning from 1805 to 1855, which record the decisions of over seven hundred cases related to marriage, divorce and conversion are the subject of Jeremy Pfeffer's groundbreaking research. A few of the cases involving convict transportees were included in an article by Pfeffer in the AJHS Journal (XVIII, Part 3, 2007). Other Australian related cases are included in this publication. …This publication by Jeremy Pfeffer is like an X-ray view of the nerve centre of Halachic Judaism as it mapped a path through a difficult new world.
Gary Luke, DipFHS, committee member of the AJHS

Curiosity over a family portrait of a rabbi who served in London’s Bet Din (ecclesiastical court), who travelled to Australia in 1830 to arrange a Get (religious divorce) for the British wife of a Jewish convict transported there, led Pfeffer to research the fate of these couples. Drawing on Bet Din records, he relates this little-known chapter of Jewish history in the contexts of Jewish law (on conversion as well as marriage), and the expulsion and return of Jews to England. Illustrations include marriage registers for Australia and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), and ritual art. This issue is still timely for women unable to remarry when a Get cannot be secured.
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