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The earliest date at which Jews arrived in Scotlandmarker is not known. It is possible that some arrived, or at least visited, as a result of the Roman Empire's conquest of southern Great Britain, but there is no direct evidence for this. What the Romans referred to as "Caledonia" was never integrated into the Empire, although there was a short-lived occupation of southern Scotland, but Roman influence and trade continued after the withdrawal of their troops. Most histories of Jews in Scotland deal with the subject matter from a British perspective, and the Scottish aspect tends to be marginalised.

The vast majority of Scottish Jews are Ashkenazi with many from Lithuania.

Middle Ages to Union with England

While Englandmarker during the Middle Ages had state persecution of the Jews, culminating in the Edict of Expulsion of 1290 (it has been suggested that Jews may have arrived in Scotland after this date [260128], there was never a corresponding expulsion from Scotland. Indeed the eminent Jewish-Scottish scholar David Daiches states in his autobiographical Two Worlds: An Edinburgh Jewish Childhood that there are grounds for saying that Scotland is the only European country which has no history of state persecution of Jews. Evidence of Jews in medieval Scotland is fairly scanty, but in 1190, the Bishop of Glasgow forbade churchmen to "ledge their benefices for money borrowed from Jews".This was around the time of the Anti-Jewish riots in England so it is possible Jewish refugees lived in Scotland for a brief time, or it may refer to English Jews' interests in Scotland. Aberdeenmarker and Dundeemarker had close links to Balticmarker ports such as in Polandmarker and Lithuaniamarker known as Scottishmarker merchant trade routes. It is possible that Jewish people may have come to Scotlandmarker to trade with their Scottishmarker counterparts

Like many Christian nations, medieval Scots believed themselves to have a Biblical connection. The Declaration of Arbroath (6 April 1320), which was sent as an appeal to Pope John XXII, confirmed Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and asserted its right to use military action when considered unjustly attacked. It was sealed by fifty-one magnates and nobles. It is still periodically referenced by British Israelitists. The text asserts that in the eyes of God:

cum non sit Pondus nec distinccio Judei et Greci, Scoti aut Anglici
("there is neither bias nor difference between Jew or Greek, Scot or English")

The Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil) is also supposed to be the pillow stone said to have been used by the Biblical Jacob.

The first recorded Jew in Edinburghmarker was one David Brown in 1691, shortly before the Union [260129], who made an application to reside and trade in the city.


The majority of Jewish immigration appears to have occurred post-industrialisation, and post-1707, meaning that Jews in Scotland were subject to various anti-Jewish British laws. Oliver Cromwell readmitted Jews to England, Cornwallmarker and Walesmarker in 1656, and would have had some influence over the Scottish situation. Scotland was under the jurisdiction of the Jew Bill, enacted in 1753, but repealed the next year.

The first graduate from the University of Glasgowmarker who was openly known to be Jewish was Levi Myers, in 1787. Unlike their English contemporaries, Scottish students were not required to take a religious oath.

In 1795, we learn of Herman Lyon, who bought a burial plot in Edinburgh. He was of Germanmarker nationality originally, and was a dentist and chiropodist. He had moved to Scotland in 1788. There is no trace of the burial plot on Calton Hillmarker today, but it is marked on the Ordnance Survey map of 1852 as "Jew's Burial vault".

The first Jewish congregation in Edinburgh was founded in 1816, and in Glasgow in 1823. That of Aberdeenmarker was founded in 1893. The Jewish cemetery in Dundeemarker indicates that there has been a Jewish congregation in that city since the 19th century.

Glasgow-born Asher Asher (1837–1889) was the first Scottish Jew to enter the medical profession. The only book he published was The Jewish Rite of Circumcision (1873).

By 1878, Jews became attached to the Scottish aristocracy when Hannah de Rothschild, born in England, married Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery. She died at Dalmenymarker. Her son, Harry, would become Secretary of State for Scotland in 1945 for a year.

In order to avoid persecution in the Russian Empiremarker, Jews settled in the larger cities of the UK, including Scotland, most notably in Glasgowmarker (especially the Gorbalsmarker), although there were smaller populations in Edinburghmarker and to a lesser extent, Dundeemarker, Aberdeenmarker, Greenockmarker and Ayrmarker. The Russian Jews tended to come from the west of the empire, especially the Baltic countries, and in particular Lithuaniamarker. It has been suggested that the Gorbals had a Jewish population of between 10,000 to 20,000, many decades ago although this has not been verified.

20th and 21st centuries

Immigration continued into the 20th century, with over 8,000 Jews in 1905 The Scottish Jewish community was augmented in the mid-20th century by refugees from Nazism and the Second World War. However some estimates were as high as 80,000 [260130], it is important to remember that at its peak the Jewish population for United Kingdom all peaked at 500,000 but has almost declined half that number today[260131].

Organised British anti-Semitism arose in the form of British Union of Fascists, which met with limited success in Scotland. Oswald Mosley did visit Scotland, but his group was physically attacked on Princes Street in Edinburgh by "Protestant Action", which believed his group to be an Italianmarker (i.e. Roman Catholic) intrusion. In fact, it has been claimed that bigotry was diverted away from Jews by anti-Catholicism, particularly in Glasgow, where the main racist and religious prejudice was against Irish people. The Englishness of many "British" hard-right movements also most-likely alienated many Scots who could have been potential converts. Perhaps the most prominent and vocal supporter of anti-Semitism was the eccentric aristocrat Archibald Maule Ramsay, but it is difficult to link him with any large Scottish tendency. In the Gorbals at least, both Louise Sless and Woolf Silver, recall no anti-Semitic sentiment.

According to the 2001 census, approximately 6,400 Jews live in Scotland, most of whom are in Edinburgh (about 1,000), Glasgow (about 5,000) and to a lesser extent Dundee. Scotland's Jewish population continues to be predominantly urban. The SSPCA came into conflict with the Aberdeen congregation over slaughtering methods at the turn of the 20th century. As with Christianity, the practising Jewish population continues to fall, as many younger Jews either become secular, or intermarry with other faiths. Scottish Jews have also emigrated in large numbers to the USAmarker, Englandmarker and the Commonwealth for economic reasons, as other Scots have done. Only a handful have moved to Israelmarker . Scotland currently has a strong Palestinian Solidarity campaign, led by the likes of George Galloway, which sometimes is the cause of some friction with Scottish Jews, particularly over fund-raising by the Jewish National Fund in the country.

In August 2006, protests against the invasion of Lebanonmarker by Israelmarker led to their amateur cricket team having to play behind barbed wire at RAF Lossiemouthmarker.

In 2008, a Jewish tartan was designed and approved by the Scottish Tartans Authority.


Scots Yiddish is the name given to a Jewish hybrid vernacular between Lowland Scots and Yiddish which had a brief currency in the Lowlands of Scotlandmarker in the first half of the 20th century. The Scottish literary historian David Daiches describes it in his autobiographical account of his Edinburgh Jewish childhood, Two Worlds:

"Recently I received a letter from the son of the man who was stationmaster at one of the small railway stations where the earliest trebblers [Yiddish pronunciation of travellers, i.e. Jewish travelling salesmen] would alight; he told me how, at the very beginning of this century, these Jewish immigrants, not yet knowing any English, would converse with his father, they talking in Yiddish and he in broad Scots, with perfectly adequate mutual intelligibility. Scots-Yiddish as a working language must have been developing rapidly in the years immediately preceding the first World War. It must have been one of the most short-lived languages in the world. I should guess that 1912 to 1914 was the period of its flourishing. The younger generation, who grew up in the 1920s and 1930s, of course did not speak it, though they knew Yiddish; and while there is an occasional old man in Edinburgh who speaks it today, one has to seek it out in order to find it, and in another decade it will be gone for ever. ‘Aye man, ich hob’ getrebbelt mit de five o’clock train,’ one trebbler would say to another. ‘Vot time’s yer barmitzvie, laddie?’ I was once asked. ‘Ye’ll hae a drap o’ bamfen (whisky). It’s Dzon Beck. Ye ken: “Nem a schmeck fun Dzon Beck.”’ (‘Take a peg of John Begg’, the advertising slogan of John Begg whisky.)
Daiches explores the social stratification of Edinburgh Jewish society in the interwar period, noting what is effectively a class divide between two parts of the community, on the one hand a highly educated and well-integrated group who sought a synthesis of Orthodox Rabbinical and Modern Secular thinking, on the other a Yiddish-speaking group most comfortable maintaining the lifestyle of the Eastern European ghetto. The Yiddish population grew up in Scotland in the 19th century, but by the late 20th century had mostly switched to using English. The creolisation of Yiddish with Scots was therefore a phenomenon of the middle part of this period.

The Glaswegianmarker Jewish poet A. C. Jacobs also refers to his language as Scots-Yiddish. There was even a case of a Jewish immigrant who settled in the Highlands who spoke no English and was only able to speak Gaelic and Yiddish. [260132]

List of Scottish Jews

Scottish people of some Jewish background, or Jewish people with a Scottish background:

People of Scottish-Jewish extraction

In Popular Culture

  • The Credit Draper - A novel by J.David Simons. A fictional account of a young Russian-Jewish refugee named Avram Escovitz growing up in the Gorbalsmarker in Glasgow before going to work as a credit draper in the Highlands.
  • The Fabulous Bagel Boys - A one off BBC television drama set in Glasgow's Jewish community originally intended to be a series after a luke warm reception it was not picked up. [260134]
  • Rooms - A Rock Musical telling the story of a Glaswegian music act and its two members a Glaswegian Jewish girl and her Catholic lover[260135].

Further reading

  • Collins, Dr. KE - Scotland's Jews - A Guide to the History and Community of the Jews in Scotland (1999)
  • Conn, A (editor) - Serving Their Country- Wartime Memories of Scottish Jews (2002)
  • Kaplan, H L - Jewish Cemeteries in Scotland in Avotaynu, Vol.VII No 4, Winter 1991
  • Levy, A - The Origins of Scottish Jewry
  • Phillips, Abel - A History of the Origins of the First Jewish Community in Scotland: Edinburgh, 1816 (1979)

Scottish Jewish autobiography

  • Daiches, David - Two Worlds - An Edinburgh Jewish Childhood
  • Shinwell, Manny - Conflict Without Malice (1955)

See also

External links


# ^ David Daiches, Two Worlds, 1956, Cannnongate edition 1987, ISBN 0-86241-148-3, p. 119f.

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