|Vol. III, No. 8
Heshvan 5606, November 1845
The Jews in England.
The children here are, many of them, but mere infants, others the children of the very poor; and as the ladies of the German congregation do not pay that attention to the interests of the school, and are much less frequent in their attendance as visitors to this institution, than are the ladies of the Portuguese congregation in the superintendence of their own schools: the children here present an unfavourable comparison, either as regards cleanliness, or proficiency, with those of the first-mentioned establishment, arising, no doubt, from the above-mentioned cause.
Were the beholder impressed with the belief in the truth of the flattering annual reports of the Jews’ Free School, he might indeed believe “that it is able to crush in the bud all growing disposition to vice, to implant into the mind the germs of knowledge, the tenets of our holy faith, the elements of moral and religious truths; for although (vide report), in the boys’ school, fifty-seven read and translate the Pentateuch; ninety read and translate the prayers; ninety read the prayers and lessons; and the remainder are in the lower classes;” and although “one hundred and twenty-eight read the Bible in English, and receive incidental instruction in geography, history, general information, and mental arithmetic, eighty read lessons, and the remainder are in the lower classes,” still the impression on visiting the school is far from being gratifying. In a large room (with a stone or composition floor, injurious to health at any season,) are congregated together, under the superintendence of one master, three hundred and sixty boys. Entering here, as they mostly do, in perfect ignorance of knowledge of any kind, is it to be supposed that one or two teachers, (there was formerly an assistant,) are able to implant into this barren soil, such seeds of religious and necessary knowledge as are capable of producing the hoped-for fruit? As it is not within the range of possibility that one man can teach so many, the different classes are taught by monitors, chosen from amongst themselves, not the most fitted for developing the various capabilities of the boys, and the master’s time is taken up in the few minutes spent in the supervision of each class; not sufficient to instruct any. Would to Heaven that the same spirit of benevolence that prompts the Baroness de Rothschild to clothe the outward form of these children of the poor, would incite some other benevolent individual to make the endeavour to have the inner temple of the mind equally well clothed with ideas of piety and wisdom. There are one hundred and seventy girls taught in this establishment, whose appearance is more favourable than the male pupils.
The number of scholars in the Jews’ hospital is, I believe, at present, sixty-five. They are instructed in the elementary branches of a common education, and taught various trades within the precincts of the establishment. The school seems to be well conducted, and promises soon to make an addition to the course of instruction, which I think in the end will be of great importance for good. A fund arising from donations is to be set apart for the purpose of instructing religious teachers, a course of instruction much needed; for it cannot be said that the midras supplies this want, and which I trust may answer the intended purpose.
The Hazanim in England certainly do not possess that influence which their position entitles them to; and so far from receiving proper respect, I have heard it affirmed, that no respectable family would educate a child for an office to which was attached so little honour. May this feeling be eradicated, and may England honour herself sufficiently, by choosing from her own sons those who show a capability for the office, and fit them for religious instructors by property educating them for such. It is rather a matter of surprise, that no college has as yet been founded or endowed by the English Israelites, long ere this. It is not because the spirit of benevolence dwells not here; for who can call to mind the names of a Montefiore, a Rothschild, a Cohen, and a host of others, without being convinced that there are those here who think the best use that money can be applied to, is in the relief of the wants of the needy and unfortunate? But the question arises, why some of this lavish wealth is not employed in procuring mental food, which as it multiplies and increases in the storehouse of memory, would preclude the necessity of supplying food for the body, by calling into play those faculties necessary for self-support?
The power of the press seems here to be much undervalued, and Jewish talent not any too much appreciated: certainly sufficient of the latter exists, which if called into requisition, and properly supported, would be found all-powerful enough to supply the vacuum in Jewish literature that at present exists. The mind can no more be supported by delicacies alone, than can the body; to enjoy its full health and vigour, its appetite must be satisfied; but by the present order of things, mental food or any kind, that emanates from Jews solely, is a luxury that all cannot partake of.
In recurring once more to the subject of schools,* it must not be supposed that there are no well-conducted private Jewish schools. Fortunately there are a number for both sexes, where the various branches of a liberal education are taught with credit both to teachers and pupils.
During my stay here a school has been opened under the auspices of some of the gentlemen of the Burton Street congregation, which bids fair to attain the desired success. Much is hoped for in the influence of Dr. Adler, who, as the friend of peace and education, is expected to bring to bear all the resources of his mind and office, to heal existing differences, and to supply existing wants; may God grant him success in his holy endeavours.
The number of scholars in the different schools amount to, (as near as I can recollect,) 1068:—say Infant School, (Portuguese,) 150, at a cost per annum of £150; Villa Real, 20, £30; Orphan School, 8, £120; Boys’ School, 95, £300; Jews’ Free School, (German,) 530, £829; Jews’ Infant School, 200, £200; Jews’ Hospital, 65, which, at a supposed cost of £15 each, is £995; or at a total cost per annum of £2654. If we take the number of the children of the poor, who should, but do not go to school, at 932, which I do not think is too great a number, we find that they amount alone to one-twentieth part of the whole Jewish population of London.