Caring for the dying and the dead in the London Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities, 1656–1800
in Religion and life cycles in early modern England
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In 1656 Menasseh Ben Israel wrote a petition on behalf of ‘The Hebrews at Present Reziding in this citty of London’ which pleaded for, alongside the freedom to worship in their own houses, a place to bury their dead. The right to be buried according to their own faith, in a suitable environment set aside for the purpose, was central to the informal re-establishment of Jewish congregations in England, allowing the maintenance of communal identity and a strengthening of links to the wider diaspora. This chapter explores how the London Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities established the means to care for their dead and dying in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and in turn how the dead, through the use of charitable bequests in their wills, and examples of pious lives lived, continued to care for the community left behind. By making use of institutional records, burial records, wills and gravestone inscriptions, it shows how appropriate management of the death of an individual was important to the religious identity of the collective and, by extension, that the establishment of distinct burial grounds and traditions for a congregation early in its own life cycle set concrete foundations for envisaged future generations.

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