Jewish life in England goes back almost 1000 years. It is believed that the first Jews were brought over from Normandy by William the Conqueror in 1066; there is reference to Jews in Oxford as early as 1075 and the Domesday Book of 1086 records the Jew Mennasseh owning land in Oxfordshire.
Several Baalei Tosafot (commentators) lived in England including R.Yaakov MiOrleans, (martyred in London at the coronation of Richard the Lionheart in 1189), R. YomTov MiYoigny, author of Omnam Kein recited on Yom Kippur Maariv (martyred in the York massacre of 1190) and the R'i MiLondri, mentioned in the Remo in Hilchot Pesach (Siman 473 Sif 76 ) as recommending the recitation of the Hagadah in the vernacular.
In 1290, however, Jewish life in England came to abrupt end when the Edict of Expulsion was proclaimed by King Edward I, resulting in the banishment of the entire Jewish Population from Britain. The Edict was issued on 18th July, which that year was the Fast of Tisha B'Av.
1656 - The Resettlement
England remained "Yudenrein" until 1656 when R. Menashe Ben Israel successfully petitioned Oliver Cromwell to allow the readmission of Jews. It is said that Menashe Ben Israel pressed Oliver Cromwell on the grounds that England -Angleterre- was one of the four "angles" of the earth referred to in the prophecies of the ingathering of the exiles, and thus resettlement would hasten the coming of the Messiah!
Within only 50 years the offices of the Chief Rabbi and the London Beth Din came into being to provide central religious authority for Jewish communities in London and throughout the United Kingdom - a role reflected in the London Beth Din's official title "D'Kehila Kedosha London Bet Din Vehamedina" - The Beth Din of London and the Country. This national role has become increasingly important in recent years with the decline of Jewish communities and local Batei Din in Britain.
Among the early Chief Rabbis who helped establish the central Orthodox authority for which the UK is renowned was R. Dovid Tevele Schiff (Chief Rabbi 1765-1791), whose explanations on the Mishna, Lashon Hazahav, is printed in the Yachin Uboaz Mishnayot, and R. Nosson Adler (Chief Rabbi 1845-1890) author of the famous commentary on the Targum Nesina LaGer.
HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky
In 1934 the prestige of the London Beth Din as a world ranking halachic authority was greatly enhanced with the appointment of the Gaon HaRav Yechezkel Abramsky (the Chazon Yecheskel) as Rosh Beth Din. Although other renowned Talmidei Chachamim served both during and since his time - such as Dayan Arieh Leib Grosnass (Lev Aryeh) and Dayan Rapaport (Be'er Avroham), it was Dayan Abramsky above all who established the policies and customs that are followed by the London Beth Din to this day.
Av Beth Din , Rosh Beth Din and Senior Dayan
Since 1984, the Rosh Beth Din has been Dayan Chanoch HaCohen Ehrentreu ,formerly Rosh Beth Din and Communal Rabbi of Manchester, and previously Rosh Kollel Sunderland. Dayan Ehrentreu retires from the Beth Din in January 2007 and will retain his links as a Consultant to the Beth Din. Serving together with him is Dayan Menachem Gelley (son of R. Zacharia Gelley of Washington Heights), who will become the Senior Dayan in January 2007, Dayan Yonason Abraham, Dayan Ivan Binstock and Dayan Shmuel Simons. The title of Av Beth Din is formally held by the Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, whose high profile as an international religious leader and author and lecturer of renown has done so much to enhance the stature of Orthodoxy both nationally and internationally. By dint of his extensive workload as well as convention of his office, the Chief Rabbi is not generally personally involved in day to day Beth Din work, but remains in constant contact with the Dayanim.
The activities of the London Beth Din encompass all aspects of London Beth Din work including Dinei Torah (court cases), Gittin (divorces), Geirut (conversions), Shechita (Jewish slaughter), Kashrut, personal status, and all the trials and tribulations of major community life. The central authority of the London Beth Din is such that by convention neither the Kedassia, Manchester, nor Sephardi Batei Din carry out Geirut in the UK and virtually all authority in this critical area is delegated to the London Beth Din.
The London Beth Din is a major department of the United Synagogue, the main Orthodox synagogue grouping in Britain, which was established by Act of Parliament in 1870. The United Synagogue has over 60 communities throughout London and encompasses the full spectrum of Orthodox community facilities including schools, Chadarim, Mikvaot (ritual baths), Chevra Kadisha (burial society), Batei Olam (cemetries) and Tribe (The Young United Syangogue).