Decorated initial I

n light of the growing rapprochement of upper-class Jews and well-to-do Englishmen, the general rise and increasing prominence of the Jewish population of England from about 1,000 in 1700 to 8,000 in 1753 (Newman, 1),1 and, not least, the role of the Jews in contributing by their expertise in trade and finance to the prosperity of the realm — bearing out Dormido’s already cited prediction under Cromwell that “Busines will increase and ye comerce will become more oppulant” (Quoted Katz, Philo-Semitism, 194) — it is not surprising that a measure would be proposed making it possible for wealthy and productive non-native members of the Jewish community in England to acquire the same rights as native-born English Jews. “London’s Jews,” in the words of historian Dana Rabin,

were involved in every aspect of its financial and commercial activity. They held stock in the Bank of England, traded in the money market, and advised the government on its financial policies: they owned the national debt, and they actively participated in selling it to the public. Over the course of the eighteenth century as Britain’s military expanded, Jews provisioned solders with supplies and the government with loans to fund the wars. [ . . . ] Jews were active in overseas importing and re-exporting commodities and exporting British goods. Their commercial networks made them international brokers around the world. The record of Jewish investment in colonial enterprises is quite dramatic. Between 1691 and 1712, fifty-eight Jewish names show up among the investors in the Royal Africa [the Royal African Company], while in the same time period thirty-four Jewish shareholders invested in the South Sea Company. Jewish merchants actively promoted trade in sites all over the Empire, including India, the Caribbean, North America and South America. [Rabin, 47]2.

The relative integration of Jews into English society having taken place without the enactment of any special legislation, positive or negative, governing their legal position specifically as Jews, the disabilities native-born Jews suffered from were chiefly those affecting other nonconformist groups. Foreign–born Jewish immigrants, however, were subject to some major inconveniences from which native-born English Jews were exempt. For instance, as aliens, they were not permitted to hold land. They could likewise not own or be a partner in the ownership of a British ship3 — this at a time when ownership of ships was an integral aspect of merchant trading and was thus by no means uncommon among successful native-born Jewish merchants, especially the Sephardim. Foreign-born merchants were also excluded from the colonial trade, while those who engaged in foreign trade were subject to substantial port fees and customs duties often twice as high as those to which native merchants were subject (Singer, 20)..

The purpose of the Jewish Naturalization Act of 1753 was to make England a more attractive place for well-to-do and enterprising foreign Jewish merchants – notably refugees from Spain and Portugal who continued to be drawn to Amsterdam or had already found asylum there . This highly controversial “Jew Bill,” as it became known, held out the possibility of naturalization. The motives of the bill’s proponents in the Whig government and of its supporters in Parliament, in society at large, and in the Jewish community itself were no doubt partly moral and ideological — the liberal principle of freedom of religion, championed by John Locke, many Protestant dissenters from the Church of England, and not least – albeit anonymously — John Toland, the pantheist son of Catholic parents, in his extraordinarily eloquent Reasons for Naturalizing the Jews in Great Britain and Ireland on the same foot with all other nations. Containing also, A Defence of the Jews against all Vulgar Prejudices in all Countries (London: J. Roberts, 1714).

But the expense of pursuing naturalization according to the terms of the act – i.e. for each individual through a particular act of Parliament — effectively confined the act’s application to a relatively small minority of Jews wealthy enough to take advantage of it and of whom it could therefore be expected that they were likely to contribute significantly to the nation’s prosperity and international standing.4 The option of “endenization” – i.e. moving upward to a status roughly equivalent to that, in modern times, of U.S. permanent resident, as distinct from citizen — was available to England’s foreign-born Jews, but in addition to being itself extremely costly — it was obtained by letters patent from the King — becoming a denizen provided only partial relief from the burdens born by resident aliens. It allowed for the purchase of land, for instance, and for passing it along to the next generation, but only to children born after the father’s endenization; it opened up the colonial trade, but it was again not retroactive so that the privilege could not be passed along to a child born prior to the father’s endenization; above all, the denizen was not exempt from onerous alien duties.5 .

Steps had been taken toward making naturalization available to foreign-born Jews in the American colonies. The Plantation Act, passed by Parliament on 1 June, 1740, provided for the naturalization of foreign Jews and Quakers resident in the colonies for seven years. 189 Jews obtained British nationality in Jamaica by taking advantage of this legislation. It was not likely, however, that even well-to-do Spanish, Portuguese, German or Polish Jews aspiring to British nationality would be in a position to cross the Atlantic and to spend seven years in the New World as a condition of acquiring the naturalization necessary for relatively unconstrained trading in the city of London. No less significant, perhaps, were several attempts in the Irish Parliament to pass legislation enabling Jews to be naturalized. Within five years four bills for naturalizing the Jews of Ireland were introduced into the Irish Parliament, but all four were blocked by the peers. One introduced into the Irish House of Commons in 1745 passed within a week but was thrown out by the peers. A third bill brought before the Commons soon afterwards was carried without a division in three days, but once again the peers rejected it, albeit by only two votes. The primate of Ireland, the Church of Ireland’s Archbishop of Armagh, managed to nix a fourth attempt in December 1747 (Hyman 46-48).

The Elders of the Spanish and Portuguese congregation in London had clearly been paying close attention to these developments, for a minute, dated October 1746, in the congregation’s Minute Book indicates that after the third Irish failure, the Elders thought they had not done enough to help secure passage of the bill.

With much grief we remind your Worships [i.e. the Mahamad or directors of the congregation] of the unsuccessful issue of the Bill for the Naturalization of our Nation in Ireland: and when we consider that one vote only [two in fact] deprived us of so great a benefit, we are left wondering what lack of application caused this great good to be defeated; and, seeing the possibility of a similar Bill being brought to this Kingdom at some time . . . we leave your Worships to consider what methods may be adopted to seize any opportunity which may offer in good time to secure liberty for our nation. [quoted Hyman, 47]

The Mahamad responded by having a “Committee of Diligence” appointed to consult the best legal authorities of the realm and any others who might be of help in the matter.

Thus it came about that Joseph Salvador, one of the most prominent and wealthy members of London’s Sephardic community and long active in the East India Company, contacted the Duke of Newcastle — a member of the House of Lords, a protégé and close associate of the great Whig leader and long time prime minister Robert Walpole until the latter’s death in 1745 and an older brother of the liberally disposed Whig prime minister (1743-54) Henry Pelham — about legislation that would make it possible for foreign-born Jews living in England to be naturalized. According to a memorandum among the Newcastle papers described as “Mr. Salvador’s Paper concerning the Jews” and dated London, 14 January 1753, “it is desired that it be enacted, that any person professing the Jewish religion whom it may in future be thought proper to Naturalise, shall in lieu of taking the Holy Sacrament, take the oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance, or such other oaths as may be thought proper, on or before the Second Reading of the Bill for Naturalising him in either of the Houses of Parliament.” Salvador went on to provide seven reasons for supporting his proposal. Among these, that as present law effectively excluded Jews by requiring those seeking naturalization to take the Christian Holy Sacrament, rich Jews were gravitating to other countries, instead of to England, which thus lost the benefit of their wealth and commercial skills; that the law could be formulated in such a way that it encouraged only “those that may be thought worthy and useful” (i.e. “the Rich Jews”) and effectively discouraged “the middling and lower sort from coming into those realms”; and that Jews or at least “the rich among them have by Experience been found to be true Friends to the Government in all its Parts, and if further encouraged will be more closely connected with it, as they have no connection or tie with any other Government or State whatsoever” (Roth, Anglo-Jewish Letters 129-30). The British Jews’ strong, practical support of the government during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, Salvador may well have thought, provided clear evidence of that last point..

Salvador’s embryonic “Jew Bill” won the support of many Whigs in Parliament, among them Robert Nugent, author of a failed “Generalized Naturalization Bill,” introduced in 1747 and 1751, that would have allowed foreign Protestants to be naturalized without incurring the expense of a private act of Parliament. (One of the objections to Nugent’s bill had been that by not including Jews, it would drive away a small number of rich Jews in favour of a swarm of poor Protestants, as had happened on passage of an earlier act of 1709 that permitted naturalization, without a private act of Parliament, of foreign Protestants who could swear the required oaths and take communion in a Protestant Church.6) Other Whig supporters were Lord Halifax, President of the Board of Trade, and the triumvirate that ran the English government at the time: the Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary of State, his brother Henry Pelham, the Prime Minister, and the earl of Hardwicke, the Lord Chancellor. The task of presenting the text of a bill “To Permit Persons Professing the Jewish Religion to be Naturalized by Parliament” was entrusted to Lord Halifax. The bill was read for the first time in the House of Lords on 3 April, 1753. It was sent to committee, which made several amendments, and after three readings in quick succession achieved its final passage unanimously, without a division, on April 16..

On the following day it was read before the Commons. At first it seemed as though it would have a similar easy passage, but by the second reading on 7 May, opposition had begun to develop. The imminence of a general election probably stimulated Tory members to seize the opportunity of discrediting the ruling party by attacking the bill, while some Whig members also spoke out against it. Thus the Tory M.P. for Caine in Wiltshire, William Northey, warned that if the bill was passed one could expect

to see the Jews become the highest bidders for every estate that is to be purchased in England, the counties of which . . . they will at some private meeting divide among their several tribes, by lot, as they of old did the land of Canaan; and when the rich Jews have thus become possessed of land estates, great numbers of poor Jews must necessarily settle in their neighbourhood; for we know that they can make use of none but Jew butchers, bakers, poulterers, and the like trades, which, of course, must make them soon become very numerous in this country. [quoted Hyamson 161]

A fellow-Tory, Sir Edmund Isham, member for Northamptonshire, predicted that passage of the bill would result in the naturalisation of multitudes of foreign Jews who would constitute an enduring alien element in British society, since, unlike French refugees and German Protestants, the Jews never assimilate but keep themselves apart from the general population. In addition, it would give “the lie to all the prophecies in the New Testament,” according to which the Jews are “to remain without any fixed habitation until they acknowledge Christ to be the Messiah,” at which point alone they will be “gathered together from all corners of the earth and restored to their native land.” In contrast “we seem resolved to gather them from all corners of the earth, and to give them a settlement here without any such acknowledgment” (Quoted Hyamson, 161) One M.P. went so far as to suggest that, instead of proceeding with the bill, a secret committee be appointed to investigate by what right the Jews were tolerated in the country at all (Roth, History, 216-17)..

The leading opponent of the bill, however, was Sir John Barnard, a former Lord Mayor of London (1737-38), a Whig M.P. for the City of London (1722-1764), a staunch defender of the English merchant class in the City, and a long-time enemy of the Jewish merchants whose prosperity, in his view, threatened that of the natives. In addition to his opposition to the bill on religious grounds, he argued that a Jewish immigration, which supporters of the bill claimed would increase commerce and thus benefit the country as a whole, along with all its inhabitants, would in fact reduce the profits of the English merchants by transferring much of their business into Jewish hands. “Jews may become our only merchants, and our only shop-keepers. They will probably leave the laborious part of all manufactures and mechanical trades to the poor Christian, but they will be the paramount masters.” The impoverishment of the mercantile and trading classes would impact the landed gentry and most of the landed estates of the country would pass into Jewish hands (Hyamson, 162). Yet another speaker, evoked the “resentment and cruelty of the Jews,” as illustrated by the story of Esther, where one learns that on getting power into their hands “they put to death in two days near 76,000 of those they were pleased to call their enemies, without either judge or jury,” and expressed his fear that naturalisation of foreign Jews might be a danger to the state and to the freedom of its citizens. Obnoxious as they will always be to the people, the Jews would find it in their interest to side with the king should he wish to oppose the will of his subjects and in all likelihood would supply an authoritarian monarch with the money necessary for the support of a foreign army in oppressing his own subjects (Hyamson, 162-63).

In favour of the bill, as has been noted, it was argued that it would introduce capital into the country by encouraging rich Jews to immigrate and settle, while still maintaining restrictions both on the total number of Jews who could become naturalised and on their political influence.7 Robert Nugent, whose naturalisation bills (which, as we saw, were not directed toward Jews) had been rejected only a few years earlier, supported the bill on the grounds that by encouraging rich Jews to settle in Britain, the bill would in fact facilitate their conversion to Christianity. “There is a fashion in religion as well as in everything else,” he argued, and “it is unfashionable to be of a religion different from that established in the country in which we live” (quoted Katz, Jews in the History of England, 163). Another champion of the bill, the liberally inclined lawyer, classical scholar and poet, M.P. for Eye in Suffolk, chief clerk to the House of Commons (1731-1752), and subsequently secretary of the treasury, Nicholas Hardinge, attributed opposition to the bill to simple commercial rivalry, insisted instead on the great commercial advantages conferred on states by the settlement of Jews in their territories, emphasized that as the Jews provide for their own poor, there would be no burden on any parish, and recalled the substantial services rendered to the state by the Jews during the crisis of the ’45 Jacobite Rebellion (Katz, Jews in the History of England, 163-64) “A propulsive assumption behind the bill,” in the summary view of one recent scholar, “was that given the global network of their trading connections, the naturalization of these wealthy Jews would prove of untold economic benefit to the state” (Felsenstein, 188).

The opposing positions adopted by the members of Parliament were reinforced by petitions presented to the House. In response to a growing public outcry against the bill, word of which had begun to spread, or be spread by the bill’s opponents, a petition in favour of the bill was drawn up, seemingly at the instigation of the government itself. A hundred and two London merchants and traders signed this first petition, in which the case was made that enactment of the bill would “increase the commerce and credit of [the] nation.” The other side responded, on the same day, with a vehement protest against the bill from the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons of London. Along with their objection to the bill on economic grounds, namely that its enactment would have a negative effect on the established merchants of the city of London, these petitioners issued a broader and more popular cultural and religious warning: passage of the bill would “tend greatly to the dishonour of the Christian religion, and endanger our excellent Constitution.” A third petition, for which signatures were still being solicited when the Lord Mayor’s critique was presented, again stressed the economic consequences of the bill’s enactment. Those subscribing to it, for the most part English merchants trading with Spain and Portugal, argued, in view of the still ongoing activity of the Inquisition in the two Iberian countries — which, as one of the signatories acknowledged, “hate the Jews out of measure” — that discriminatory commercial measures might well be taken against native English merchants in retaliation and that Great Britain might lose its valuable “most favoured nation” privileges in Portugal. A final petition, in favour of the bill, bore the signature of over two hundred merchants, manufacturers, shipwrights and ship commanders, and argued that, if passed, the bill would increase the nation’s foreign trade, especially “the Exportation of the Woollen and other Manufactures of this Kingdom, of which the persons who profess the Jewish Religion have, for many years, exported great quantities.” This last petition was also strongly critical of the popular agitation that it claimed had been fomented by the bill’s opponents, and warned of its implications: “Were it once admitted that it is proper for the Public to examine People’s private Rights on Account of their Religion, none can answer where that would end” (Perry, 54-62; Hyamson, 164-66).

Prime Minister Pelham wound up the debate on the bill by categorically denying what had become the rallying-cry of the bill’s opponents in the press and on the street, namely that its passage would result in a massive influx of Jews and the destabilisation and de-Christianising of the country. Jews, he argued, ought to be considered in the same light as other dissenters — “not as enemies of our ecclesiastical establishment, but as men, whose conscience will not allow them to conform to it.” Indeed, “we have less danger to apprehend from them than from any other dissenters” since “the strict tenets of their religion exclude every man who is not of the seed of Israel.” Moreover, as they cannot, as Jews, “intermarry with a strange woman, we need not fear that they will have any success in converting our country-women” (quoted Perry 164)..

On its third and final reading on 22 May, it turned out that though the minority opposed to the bill had increased its numbers from 16 to 55, the number of government supporters had remained stable at 96. The bill thus passed and was duly signed into law by George II on 7 June. It has been suggested that with a more concerted effort the opposition could have prevented passage of the bill, had not many Tories become convinced, in view of the public uproar against the bill, that the Whigs would be more easily defeated in the upcoming election if the bill was passed rather than defeated (Henriques, 171; Roth, History 217)..

That public uproar took a number of forms and has been diversely interpreted. First, there was a lively and copious newspaper and pamphlet literature, along with cartoon-like prints, warning that facilitation of Jewish settlement represented a serious threat to the established Church of England, to the very character (Christian) of the nation, to the liberty and material wellbeing of the British people, gentry and workers alike, and to the entire future of the realm, which was virtually certain, in the view of the pamphleteers and letter-writers in the newspapers, led by the popular London Evening-Post, the London Magazine, and The Craftsman, to be completely taken over and ruled by the Jews and transformed into a Jewish state – Nova. The English were warned that with the passage of the bill they would become foreigners and second-class citizens in their own land (Cranfield, 16-30; Felsenstein, 187-214; Singer, 19-36). There appears to have been a curious preoccupation in the popular literature with circumcision, as if, in addition to their take-over of the land and the economy, the massive immigration that would result from conceding citizenship to the Jews would compromise the native Englishman’s masculinity. A song in Jackson’s Oxford Journal for September 1753 (no. 20, p. 1) warns in its chorus, repeated four times, that with the passage of the Jewish Naturalization Bill, Britons were about to lose “Liberties, Properties, and their Fore-Skins” (quoted Wolper, 63).

So shocking a Thought is sufficient to scare one.
Think well Lady S——-n of this Operation
And join with good Christians in saving the Nation.8 .

Though there is no record of widespread acts of violence, criticism of the Jew Bill in Parliament and in print quickly morphed into significant mob unrest and widespread popular hostility to Jews in general. In the space of a few months, Horace Walpole wrote, “the whole nation found itself inflamed with a Christian zeal,” though “this holy spirit seized none but the populace and the very lowest of the clergy. . . . The little curates preached against the bishops for deserting the interests of the Gospel; and aldermen grew drunk at county clubs in the cause of Jesus Christ” (Memoirs, 1: 238, January 1751-March 1754). As one scholar has observed, “the mob frenzy that [antipathy to the bill] aroused provides as close an approximation as we are likely to find in eighteenth-century England to the kind of popular hysteria that in pre-expulsion days may have sparked a pogrom.” At the height of the turmoil the archbishop of Canterbury (as Walpole points out, the higher clergy in the House of Lords supported the bill and some of them were exposed to popular attacks as a result) expressed his fear that “such an abominable spirit” is brewing against the Jews “that I expect in a little time they will be massacred.” Another supporter of the bill in Parliament, Richard Grenville, Earl Temple, the brother-in-law of William Pitt, “trembled lest fires should be rekindled in Smithfield to burn Jews” (Felsenstein, 190-91). The unrest provoked by the passage of the bill was such that the Whig governing party, fearing a disastrous result at the upcoming election, brought in a new bill to repeal the measure it itself had worked so hard to pass only a few months earlier. While maintaining that the original proposals had been wise and beneficial, the Duke of Newcastle, who introduced the new bill to the House of Lords on 15 November, argued that the government had no choice but to yield to the public clamour. He was supported by the Bishops of Oxford and St. Asaph who acknowledged regretfully the need to yield to “weak and misguided consciences.” In the Commons too, after fierce debates, the new bill was passed, receiving royal assent on 20 December, 1753 (Roth, History, 221-22).

Modern interpretations of the popular uproar over the 1753 bill have varied considerably, though virtually all scholars have conceded some pertinence to causes and conditions other than those they themselves judge to have been primary. An upsurge of traditional anti-Semitism is broadly acknowledged as having contributed to the uproar. Some scholars, however, noting that the uproar was not marked by violence, died down after the repeal of the act, and appears to have had no lasting effect on Anglo-Jewish relations, have judged that the whipping up of admittedly deeply embedded anti-Semitic passions and prejudices in opposition to the “Jew Bill” was first and foremost a Tory strategy for bringing down the Whig government of Henry Pelham at the upcoming election.9 To others, anti-Semitism, never far below the surface of the popular psyche, needed little provocation to flare up. The unrest caused by the “Jew Bill” should be recognized in short as, above all, a manifestation of a recurrent social pathology.10 Still others have focussed on the rapid growth by mid-century of the financial sector, in which Jews played a prominent role, and on the hostility and resentment this development inspired among traditional merchants and the fear it aroused, in broad sectors of the general population, of a secretive power (still present in the contemporary imagination as “Wall Street” or “the City”) that was on its way to reduce them to slavery, take over “their” country, and transform it into Judea Nova.11 To still other historians imperial expansion in India, the West Indies, and North America (where the population of the thirteen colonies is said to have reached one and a half million by 1750), and continuing strained relations with Scots and Irish, Catholics and Dissenters within the kingdom itself had aroused an uneasiness among the English about the stability and identity of their state and about their own identity as “Englishmen.”12 All these explanations seem plausible and need not be mutually exclusive.

Bibliography

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Cranfield, G. A. “The ‘London Evening Post’ and the Jew Bill of 1753.” The Historical Journal, 8 (1965): 16-30.

Crome, Andrew, “The 1753 ‘Jew Bill’ Controversy: Jewish Restoration to Palestine, Biblical Prophecy, and English National Identity.” English Historical Review, 130 (2016): 1449-1478.

Dickson, P.G.M. Financial Revolution in England. London: Macmillan, 1967.

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Felsenstein, Frank. Anti-Semitic Stereotypes: A Paradigm of Otherness in English Popular Culture 1660-1830. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995.

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Hyman, Louis. The Jews of Ireland from Earliest Times to the Year 1910. London: Jewish Historical Society of England; Jerusalem: Israel Universities Press, 1972.

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P.J. Marshall, “A Nation defined by Empire, 1755-1776.” In Uniting the Kingdom? The Making of British History , 208-222, ed. Alexander Grant and Keith J. Stringer. London: Routledge, 1995.

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Pollins, Henry. Economic History of the Jews in England. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1982.

Rabin, Dana Y. “Jews, Gypsies, and Jacobites” in her Britain and its internal others, 1750-1800, 45-71. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2017.

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Singer, Alan H. “Great Britain or Judea Nova? National Identity, Property, and the Jewish Naturalization Controversy of 1753.” In British Romanticism and the Jews, 19-36, ed. Sheila A. Spector. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. (Unfortunately, Singer’s Ph.D. thesis, Aliens and Citizens ‐ Jewish and Protestant Naturalization in the Making of the Modern British Nation, 1689-1753, University of Missouri, 1999, appears not to have been published).

Walpole, Horace. Memoirs of King George II. Ed. John Brooke. 3 vols. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Wolper, Roy S. “Circumcision as Polemic in the Jew Bill of 1753: The Cutter Cut?” Eighteenth Century Life, new series 6, no. 3 (1982): 28-36.

Wolper, Roy S. Pieces on the Jew Bill , Introduction. Los Angeles: Clark Memorial Library, 1983 (The Augustan Reprint Society, 217).

Woolf, Maurice. “Eighteenth-century Jewish London Shipowners.” Transactions & Miscellanies of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 24 (1970-1973): 198-204.

Woolf, Maurice. “Joseph Salvador (1716-1786).”Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 21 (1962-1967): 104-137.


Last modified 25 June 2020