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Portsmouth Jewry - 1730's to 1980's
Jews in Kingston Prison
Dr Aubrey Weinberg (1985)

When the Jewish Association for Diffusion of Religious Knowledge began to express its interest in Jewish prisoners held in English jails it recognised the convenience of concentrating them in one place so that they might constitute a suitable congregation for worship. After some negotiation, the Association secured Home Office agreement for all Jewish convicts undergoing punishment at public works prisons to be transferred to Portsmouth. Portsmouth had been recommended, ‘there being in that town a congregation which had, in a most enlightened spirit, always carefully looked to the religious wants of the few unfortunate Jews who were in prison in the Government and country gaols in its vicinity’.[48] Captain Rose, governor of Kingston prison, placed a large room for use as a synagogue at the disposal of the 21 Jewish prisoners who were subsequently directed to Portsmouth. The first Jewish service held in the prison took place in 1865. Initially, a minister from Jew’s College was appointed to care for the prisoners’ needs but, by December 1868, following the consecration, by the Chief Rabbi, of a purpose built synagogue in the prison, A. Leon Emanuel, Honorary Visitor of the Portsmouth congregation, had become minister and local teacher to the prisoners.

With the passage of time, the numbers of Jewish prisoners at Kingston fell and A.L. Emanuel’s ministrations had established a close collaboration with the prison governor. The governor was successful in winning from the Home Office a scheme for the provision of a kosher part of the prison kitchen for use at Pesach. New cutlery and plates were supplied each year. In appreciation of A.L. Emanuel’s services to the prison, its directors sent a harmonium to the Queen Street synagogue in 1879, ‘for the training of singers’. On the occasion of the Chief Rabbi’s visit to Portsmouth to recon— secrate the Queen Street synagogue in 1890, he also went to give a service at the prison. Returning on a pastoral visit four years later, the Chief Rabbi found that the prison synagogue had fallen into disuse and was to be dismantled. Another sixty years elapsed before a letter from the prison visitation committee requested the appointment of a visiting chaplain to Jewish prisoners once more being held at Kingston. The incumbent minister at Portsmouth assumes that responsibility and his province now extends over the wider southern region.

An indication of the type of Jewish prisoner committed to Kingston in the last century is provided by the case of Maurice Emanuel, alias Guttman, an itinerant Jew who was sentenced to six weeks hard labour in 1891 as a rogue and vagabond’, for obtaining money under false pretences of conversion to Christianity. A local minister, Reverend Charles Joseph, had baptised him and provided fifty shillings to enable Guttman to pursue his stated intention to return home to Warsaw. Guttman subsequently attempted the same conversion in Southampton, but was apprehended, having overestimated the gullibility of the Christian clergy in their proselytising mission.