Lionel Nathan de Rothschild introduced in the House of Commons on July 26, 1858, by Lord John Russell and Mr Abel Smith. Painting by Henry Barraud. (c) The Rothschild Archive / Wikimedia Commons
On 23 July 1858, the House of Lords passed the Jews Relief Act, which removed the requirement for Jews to take an oath declaring their “true faith as ... Christian[s]” in order to enter Parliament. The legislation passed the House of Commons several times before being rejected by the far more conservative House of Lords. The passage of the act, also known as the Jewish Disabilities Bill, was a key step in Jewish emancipation in the United Kingdom.
The Act stated, “Whenever any of Her Majesty's Subjects professing the Jewish Religion shall be required to take the said oath, the words ‘and I make this Declaration upon the true Faith of a Christian’ shall be omitted.”
The push for equal treatment of Jewish citizens began in 1829 after Catholics were relieved of several restriction. Jewish groups lobbied for the ability to hold office, be admitted into university and gain eligibility for ennoblement.
The legislation allowed Lionel Nathan de Rothschild to become the first practicing Jew to serve in Parliament three days later. Rothschild was elected in 1847 as one of the MPs for the City of London, but his swearing-in was delayed as he refused to take the oath declaring “his true faith as a Christian.” Prior to Rothschild, the few Jews who had attempted to enter politics had either converted, as did Benjamin Disraeli, or “modified” the oath on their own, as David Salomons did.
According to historian Geoffrey Alderman, the legislation was an attempt by the House of Commons not only “to bring about a disengagement between Church and State,” but also “to convince their Lordships that they had no business meddling in the affairs of the Lower House.”