By Jim Leen
One of the most tantalising threads running through the Ripper mystery is the Judaic aspect. From the "Juwes" graffito, the Polish Jew implicated but never specifically named, the Shochet theory, the reluctant witness, it all adds up to everything but nothing. Yet a Judaic thread seems to persist amongst the tangles; highlighted, above all else, by the location.
Officially, 100,000 Jews were resident around Whitechapel in 1888. However, unofficially, this figure errs on the side of the acceptable as householders, fearful of eviction through overcrowding, rarely gave true accounts. In Goulston Street, for example, a Whitechapel Sanitation inspector found 20 people living in a small house during a spot check. And this was unlikely to have been a singularity.
Yet even though the east end should have been something of a Hebrew haven it almost certainly wasn't. Aside from the poverty and squalor, anti-Semitism was rife. But the issue was still more complex. The Sephardi Jews, (of Spanish and Portuguese origin), and Ashkenazi Jews, (of central European origin), were horrified by the influx of Polish and Russian immigrants.
"…We have now a new Poland on our hands in East London. Our first business is to humanise our Jewish immigrants and then to Anglicise them…"
Strong words, yet spoken by the man instrumental in setting up the Jewish shelter at 84 Leaman Street: Lord Rothschild, himself a Jew.
As if this undercurrent of resentment was not enough, more volatile attacks on Judaic beliefs were extant. The Times printed a ludicrous story, originating in Germany, about a Jew seeking redemption from sin by murdering a young Christian woman. His sin? The pair had sex and according to Jewish Law the only way to atone for this crime was by killing his partner. Absolute rubbish of course, but why let the facts get in the way of a good story?
Even during the Autumn of Terror, then as now, it was widely accepted that no Jew would testify against another. But there is no tenant in the Talmud, nor generally held belief, that allows an individual to harbour a fugitive from justice, Gentile or otherwise. Perhaps the best illustration of this is demonstrated in the New Testament when a young Nazarene was given over to the Romans. Whether he was The King of the Jews, or a proto-Marxist revolutionary, Roman justice still took precedence. [There's a wonderful irony there that I'll refrain from commenting on.]
This backdrop of uncertainty and hostility may have played a part in Chief Rabbi Adler writing to other Rabbis throughout eastern Europe beseeching them to persuade emigrants to forgo London because it was so dangerous:
"Every Rabbi of a community kindly to preach in the synagogue and house of study, to publicise the evil which is befalling our brethren who have come here and to warn them not to come to the land of Britain for such ascent is descent".
This point was later reinforced by the removal of the Goulston Street graffito on the grounds that "…property would have been wrecked, and lives would probably have been lost…[my italics]"
Was this reason given purely to cover up bad procedure? To veil an allusion to Freemasonry? Or was it based upon public sentiment? After all, following Annie Chapman's murder the East London Observer reported that:
"…crowds began to threaten and abuse such unfortunate Hebrews as they found in the streets. Happily…a large number of police…prevented a riot actually taking place."
There is a truism that, delicately stated, birds do not soil their own nest. If we accept that lives would probably have been lost then we must consider why the killer selected this almost exclusively Jewish area in which to operate. Furthermore, the murder scenes are, in themselves, provocative.
Buck's Row - opposite Brady Street Ashkenazi Cemetery.
Hanbury Street - Glory of Israel and Sons of Klatsk Synagogue situated
at no. 50a. Synagogues at 19 Princelet St. and 17 Wilkes St.
Berner Street - St. George's Settlement Synagogue.
Mitre Square - beside the Great Synagogue.
Miller's Court - beside Spitalfields Great Synagogue, Church St. ( Fournier St.)
Consider the pattern of "silent" killings in almost open ground. How could the killer escape so easily? Why did he continue operating in an area where police activity and public vigilance was heightened? What if: he knew that he was guaranteed sanctuary in a place of worship? Notice the two Great Synagogues? It would seem that the killer was deliberately laying a trail towards Jewish culpability, possibly responsibility.
Again the graffito is a signifying factor; the discarded apron, a seeming guarantee of the bona fides of the author.
The Juwes are
The men That
It seems a rather cryptic denunciation if written by the killer. Taken in the context of civil unrest, suspicion, and downright fear, the message, though ambiguous, is surely an explicit denial. Remember, this was written in the only available space above a piece of evidence. Ignore the almost stanza like setting, (constrictions of space), the almost random capitalization, (education or possibly language constrictions), the sexism, ("The men", refers to who wears the trousers and pays the bills), gives an unequivocal, almost hectoring, meaning:
We are innocent but we will fight back.
In this context the message is a response, a barely suppressed call to arms. But, what is more important; the medium or the message?
Walter Dew thought it unlikely that the killer would "…fool around chalking things on walls when his life was imperilled by every minute he loitered…" So the apron, the medium, is what should be considered above all else. Remember, in a few short hours a market, in a predominantly Jewish area, with predominantly Jewish traders would commence. So the apron seems to have been a deliberate and inflammatory token. The majority of the populace would, perhaps understandably, have viewed the discarded apron as proof of Jewish complicity. The killer was thus giving the impression that he resided amongst these people. That he felt safe in the ghetto. That he was one of them. That nobody would give him up to Gentile justice.
Leaving the grisly relic of the crime by the Model Dwellings was a calculated action seemingly at odds with the accepted behaviour of serial killers. It is often stated that serial killers like to retain "prizes" from their crime. If that is the case, why did Jack the Ripper throw away the portion of apron? Not only was he depriving himself of a ghoulish reminder of his depravity he was ostensibly narrowing down his avenue of escape and effectively pointing to the approximate area he lived in. We must accept that the killer discarded the apron exactly where he wanted…on a street where Jews were crammed in 20 to a house.
If we consider the facts it can be assumed that if no graffito had been found there would have been a riot. The accumulation of the night's events is enmeshed around the Jewish immigrant population. After all, the first of the night's victims was found, by a Jew, close to a Jewish Socialist club. An apron from the second victim was found in a Jewish area where Christians would soon be congregating. Yet this calculated implication of the Jews, especially Socialist ones, is so subtle it can be easily overlooked.
Had it not been for a confused message inextricably linked with the killer, lives would probably have been lost. But the proximity of the writing to the apron defused this threat by implying that the killer was such a madman he had no care nor thought for his own security.
And maybe that was why poor Mary Kelly had to suffer the most of all.