A short history of Cambridge Jewry

The first Jews crossed the Channel from Rouen, Normandy, to England in the wake of William I's conquest of England, with the majority settling in London. They were mostly money lenders, dealing with both the King and his barons (Gilbert, p41). Cambridge, being less than 60 miles from London, was probably one of the earliest provincial Jewish communities, with the first Jews bringing financial capital from London.

Jews were more active in 12th century Cambridge than 13th, though 13th century Cambridge Jewry is better documented.

1144: Theobold of Cambridge (Theoboldus Kantebrugie) is the first recorded medieval Cambridge Jew. An alleged convert to Christianity and a Christian monk. He supported boy William's sanctity and was crucial in establishing the case for St William's martyrdom at the hands of Norwich Jews, and therefore equally crucial in disseminating the first known ritual murder allegation in Judeo-Christian history.

1266: Chirograph chests (or archa, the official record of Jewish transactions) removed to Ely.

1275: Jews banished from Cambridge.

1290: King Edward I of England issued an edict expelling all 5,000 Jews from England and confiscating their property. The expelled Jews crossed to France and Flanders.

1650s: Jews start to return to England under Oliver Cromwell. Jewish scholars visited Cambridge to teach Hebrew as part of the Cambridge BA.

Early 1700s: Stable Jewish communities started to emerge.

1847: A tiny residents' congregation worshipped in the Union Society's premises.

1849: Arthur Cohen entered Magdalene. He was the first Jew to take his BA at Cambridge, in 1858

1856: An Act of Parliament opened up Cambridge BA degrees to Jews, Moslems, and others "without violence to the conscience".

1873: The Cambridge Hebrew Congregation met in Regent Street.

1888: Brief move to Petty Cury.

1897: Solomon Schechter brought the Cairo Genizah to Cambridge.

1899: Students take over running of the Synagogue from the residents.

1900: Residents plus students managed a minyan in a room over Messrs. Barrett's china shop in St Mary's Passage, on the south west corner of Market Place. They then moved to a studio in a garden in Camden Terrace (Park Terrace).

1912 (late): The community moved into premises behind a cycle shop opposite the entrance to Sidney Sussex College.

1937: The purpose built Synagogue in Ellis Court (as it was called then) in Thomson's Lane was consecrated on 21 October by the Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Dr Joseph Herman Hertz. There were some 50 active Jewish students at the time. Sir Robert Waley Cohen and Professor Selig Brodetsky were key figures in the project. The commemorative stone on the wall in the entrance lobby is inscribed 25th April 1937. In the same year the Cambridge Hebrew Congregation became the Cambridge University Jewish Society.