Following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, and the forced conversion of Portuguese Jewry shortly thereafter, many converted Jews and their descendants continued to observe Jewish rituals in private. But knowledge of Hebrew was gradually lost among them, and many who eventually found their way to other parts of Western Europe continued to pray in Spanish. The scholar Aron Sterk’s recent discovery of an English-language prayer book casts some light on the first of these Jews to make their way to England—perhaps even before the formal re-admission of Jews in 1656. Jenni Frazer writes:
Sterk found . . . an English translation of [a printed] Spanish version of the siddur, painstakingly handwritten and copied—almost certainly, because it is full of mistakes, by someone who was not Jewish.
[Sterk] believes that [this prayer book] is one of only four copies of a translation from the Spanish version, probably printed between 1700 and 1734. . . .
The siddur, says Sterk, “is very English-looking and beautifully bound. It has a beautiful gilt black Morocco-leather binding, with gilded edges to the pages, a green silk page-marker, and lovely crimson and gold-foil ‘brocade’ endpapers with an embossed floral design. The book has been written by hand by a professional penman in an italic hand with gothic titles.” . . .
[W]hile the book itself is dateable to the early 18th century, Sterk believes that the translation is based on a much older edition of the Spanish prayer book, maybe even dating back to shortly after the first Amsterdam edition [was published] in 1612.