Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sitting in the House of Commons

On July 26, 1858, Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild entered the British House of Commons and took the oath required to serve as a Member of Parliament. His oath was a groundbreaking step in Jewish Civil Rights in the United Kingdom. For the first time, the oath was recited by a practicing Jew and the words "upon the true faith of a Christian" were replaced. (Benjamin D’Israeli, while born Jewish, was baptized as a child.)

The story of the Jewish Disabilities Act (disabilities referring to restriction on civil rights) is a tale of political perseverance. The first Jewish Disabilities Act was introduced to Parliament in 1830 - one year after the passing of the Roman Catholic Relief Act - but failed to be passed on four different occasions before it was set aside in 1836.

In 1847, Baron Rothschild, who was active in Liberal party causes, agreed to stand for Parliament for the City of London. As soon as he was elected, Lord John Russell, head of the Liberal party and Prime Minster, introduced a new Jewish Disabilities Act. It passed the House of Commons but failed in the House of Lords in both 1848 and 1849. Baron Rothschild ran again, and won, in 1849. In 1850, at the prompting of several electors, Baron Rothschild entered the House of Commons, but when he demanded an Old Testament on which to take the oath, he was called upon to withdraw. The same thing happened when he refused to say the Christian clause. The pattern continued. A bill was introduced and defeated in 1851, 1853, 1854, 1856 and 1857, and Baron Rothschild continued to be reelected. In 1857, it was decided that each House of Parliament would make their own decision. Thus it was that Baron Lionel Nathan de Rothschild became the first practicing Jew in the House of Commons. In 1885, his son, Nathan Mayer Rothschild became the first Jewish member of the House of Lords.

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