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Perceptions of Jewish success in the urban environment

Perceptions of Jewish success in the urban environment
Between the early 1880s and the First World War, around two million Jews left Russia, Romania, parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and went westward. Of this large outflow, a minority settled in England, about 140-150 thousand settled in England. Many more spent a few days or a few years in England on their way to the United States or perhaps to South America. And in England, London was the greatest center of settlement. By 1900 there were perhaps 140,000 Jews.
And the combination of immigration and urban growth, once again led people to ask the question - in what ways are Jews different and in what ways are they similar? So this fed into some of the opposition to Jewish immigration. One of the leading opponents of Jewish immigration was someone called William Evans-Gordon, someone who interestingly had a very friendly correspondence with Chaim Weizmann, but leaving that on one side. Gordon, like many others, believed that urban conditions led to a degeneration, as people put it, of the quality of human being. Rural conditions were seen to be natural, urban conditions as unnatural.
The overwork, the overcrowded conditions, the insanitary conditions were all seen to lead to degeneration, which was then passed on to subsequent generations it was thought. But yet here were these Jewish immigrants, said Evans-Gordon, who were thriving in urban conditions in London and in his view - how could he answer this problem? - it was because he thought that in degenerating conditions, only a degenerate social type would thrive and persist. So in this way, the combination of Jewish immigration and urbanism led to new thinking about forms of Jewish difference.

Prof. David Feldman

The immigration of Jews to urban centers had additional effects on the evolution of antisemitic perceptions. Let’s look into this further by focusing on the major urban centers of late 19th century Britain.

How did Jewish success in these urban environments influence the development of negative attitudes toward the Jews?


  • Feldman, David, Englishmen and Jews: Social Relations and Political Culture, 1840-1914 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994).
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Antisemitism: From Its Origins to the Present

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