Norway, for centuries part of the Danish kingdom, shared the same Lutheran-inspired laws that effectively restricted Jews from settling in the western regions of Scandinavia. It was not until the time of King Christian IV in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, that some flexibility was afforded to Sephardic Jews, who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal, to settle in the country. This was done in order to encourage the utilization of trading relationships nurtured by that Jewish community and help develop the economy of Denmark-Norway. Though he faced opposition from his clergy, Christian IV allowed Jews to settle in the region around 1620, giving them special permission to enter the country. Christian IV then granted freedom of religion, and in 1630, gave Jews permission to travel and trade freely throughout the kingdom. This later applied to Ashkenazi Jews, who received his “protection” in 1641.
King Christian IV’s successor, King Fredrik III placed stricter conditions on Jews in his kingdom, not allowing them to be in Denmark-Norway without a letter of safe conduct. Such restrictions existed throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th century.
Norway gained its independence from Denmark in 1814, and its first constitution prohibited Jews from entering the kingdom. It was not until 1830, that the attitude towards Jews in Norway eased, and a campaign to lift restrictions on Jewish immigration initiated by the liberal literary figure Henrik Wergeland in the 1840s succeeded in getting the Storting (parliament) to accept a resolution to allow Jewish migration to Norway.
By the end of the 19th century, some 650 Jews had arrived in Norway, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, settling in Oslo and Trondheim. Jewish community life slowly developed throughout the latter half of the 19th century, as synagogues and Jewish day schools were established. An influx of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe became commonplace through the following decades, as the result of widespread persecution. Jewish life in Norway really took off in the aftermath of World War I, with expressions of Jewish cultural and religious life – such as Jewish theatrical and Torah study groups – becoming widespread amongst the community, especially in Oslo. By the end of the 1930s, there were approximately 2,000 Jews in Norway.
The aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust saw the Jewish community re-established by returning Jewish refugees. In 1947, the Norwegian government allowed several hundred Jewish refugees from Hungary to settle in Norway. Though the Jewish community’s population was bolstered by the arrival of these refugees and the synagogue was found largely unharmed after the war, the community was largely diminished compared to its pre-war levels, and there were long periods without a rabbi or any spiritual leadership.
It was not until the late 1970s, with the appointment of a new rabbi and new Jewish communal leadership, that the Jewish community in Norway began to experience a revival. A number of Jewish institutions and activities – including Jewish schools, a synagogue, aged-home, and Jewish and Hebrew educational programs – opened in Norway in the last few decades of the 20th century. Norwegian Jews were prominent in general Norwegian society as well. Charles Philipson became the first Jew to serve on the Norwegian Supreme Court, serving as a judge from 1984 to 1990, and Jo Benkow, served as President of the Norwegian Parliament from 1985 to 1993 and President of the Nordic Council in 1983. In 1996, due to public pressure and revelations in the media, the Ministry of Justice appointed a commission to examine the issue of restitution of Jewish property confiscated by the Quisling regime. A fund was eventually established to compensate Jews for their material losses.
Today, Norwegian Jews continue to enjoy a sense of community stability and a growing interest in Jewish religious and cultural life. Moreover, the Jewish community in Norway is considered a part of general Norwegian society, evident by King Harald V’s visit to the Oslo Jewish community in 2009 as part of an effort to reach out to the country's minorities. It was the first time the monarch visited the Norwegian Jewish community. Norwegian Jews continue to be active in numerous areas of Norwegian society.