Modern Jewish History - Maurice Harris

Manasseh Ben Israel.

Netherlands severed from Spain.

Jews began to settle in the Netherlands before these lands came into the possession of Spain. So when the "New Doctrine" as Protestantism was called, took root in the "Low Countries" the Jews made common cause with the dissenters against the Catholic dominance of Spain. The Inquisition was introduced and the same revolting methods were resorted to here to suppress Protestantism, that had been used against the Maranos of Spain and Portugal. In France King Charles IX, in the interests of Catholicism did not hesitate to plan the St. Bartholomew Night massacre in 1572, to eradicate the Huguenots, as the Protestants were called there. It was the story of the Albigenses over again.

The inhuman Duke of Alva and his fitting master, Philip II of Spain did their best, which was their worst, to coerce the Dutch to their will, but they failed. Egmont and Horn were among the martyrs to the cause. Under the brave William of Orange, they threw off the Spanish yoke and established the Dutch Republic. The Union of Utrecht, 1579, acknowledged the United Provinces of the Netherlands. William of Orange became Stadt-holder. Americans should appreciate to the full this struggle for independence and this "father of his country". Did not their own Pilgrim Fathers set out from free Holland? Terrific experience had taught William to make toleration one of the pillars of the new State.

Jews Admitted into Holland.

So Jewish refugees from Portugal found here a refuge, and in this free land thousands of Neo-Christians returned to the Jewish fold. Amsterdam, styled the "Northern Venice" was for the time being their new Jerusalem. They made themselves further welcome by transferring to their new home their trade with the East Indies. In conjunction with their brethren settled in the West Indies, they extended trans-Atlantic enterprise.

Scholars came to Holland as well as merchants and transferred the Torah as well as doubloons. Some of the refugees were professional men who brought with them five centuries of Spanish culture. So love of scholarship was yet another reason that made their immigration desirable; for appreciation of learning was the spirit of the times, and Holland was one of the scholarly centres. Maranos of the third generation had not forgotten their Judaism, though like their brethren of ancient Alexandria, they had forgotten their Hebrew. But by importing rabbis and learned men, such as Saul Morteira, Isaac Aboab and David Pardo, they were enabled to found schools and later still a rabbinical college. From this college they sent forth rabbis to the new communities in South America.

Manasseh ben Israel.

From this academy came forth Manasseh ben Israel. Born in 1604 (one year after the death of Queen Elizabeth of England), his father escaped the clutches of the Inquisition and reached Amsterdam with him in 1605. Not a profound scholar, he became a very broad and versatile one. Though a linguist and an orator, and well versed in sacred and secular literature, he eked out but a scant living between preaching and printing. He wrote many books, but his greatest production was his "Vindiciae Judaeorum," a work defending Israel against its detractors, which takes rank with Josephus' "Contra Apion." Hebrew was becoming a favorite study of Christian savants and they turned to Manasseh as guide. But like Abarbanel, another man of varied rather than deep learning, he attained pre-eminence in the field of action rather than in that of thought. Abarbanel had striven to prevent Jews being expelled from Spain. But Manasseh ben Israel won international renown by undertaking to secure the re-admittance of the Jews into England — banished since 1290.

To make clear why this was a propitious time to plead for their return, a word must be said to explain some peculiar anomalies in the spirit of the age. It was an era, following the great upheaval of the Reformation and its Thirty Years War, of great Messianic expectation. This carried with it a reaction of sympathy and even appreciation of the much persecuted people of Israel. The study of the Scriptures now encouraged revealed them so much more clearly as the source of the ethics and main beliefs of the Church. The study of the Prophets from the Christian point of view showed that the fate of the Jews was bound up with Christendom's hopes for the second coming of their Messiah. Manasseh and his co-religionists, all more or less tinged at this time with Kabalistic mysticism, were also awaiting the speedy advent of the Messiah, in the sense in which the Synagogue interpreted that hope.

Such was the temper of Protestant Holland and also of Protestant England. The English Puritans were now in the ascendancy with Oliver Cromwell, the uncrowned king. Puritanism stood for simplicity and liberty in religion. It was from the Old Testament rather than from the New that the Puritans chose their standards of conduct; from Hebrew heroes their warriors took inspiration. The Puritan note at this moment was an approach towards Judaism. Many works were written in behalf of the Jews and of their share in the Messianic Kingdom soon to dawn.

At this psychologic moment Manasseh came to England to plead for the readmission of his people. The reason he urged, voiced the mystic expectations of both Judaism and Christianity at this hour. What was it? The Messiah's advent was not ripe till the dispersion of the Israelites was complete. They were now, said Manasseh, settled in every land — except England! So their admission there might decide the Messiah's imminent arrival. Strange though this argument seems to us, it mirrored many of the fantastic opinions of the pamphlet literature then flooding the land and was quite likely to appeal to Cromwell.

Manasseh's first argument then was spiritual, his second material. A progressive mark of the times was the growth of commerce. To control the West Indian colonial trade was part of Cromwell's imperialistic ambition. International trade was largely in Jewish hands. Settled in Brazil in America, and in Italy and Holland in Europe, Cromwell was made to see through Manasseh, that the Jews controlled the trade of the New World in gems, wines, oil, indigo and cochineal. For such men of enterprise to settle in England and to bring their means and commerce with them, could only redound to the advantage of the country. So Cromwell invited Manasseh ben Israel to come to England and press his claims in person. He came in 1655 and his brethren in all lands regarded him as their representative.

He presented his cause, which included an apologia, a defense of his people. This was later developed into the work above referred to in which he answers every slander against Israel. It is the best product of his pen.

Cromwell appointed a commission to consider whether it was lawful to readmit the Jews into England, and if so, on what conditions. Popular feeling ran high on both sides — some opposition coming from Royalists and Catholics. If previously much had been written in favor of the Jews, now pamphlets were circulated to their detriment. But when the Dutch expressed alarm that they might lose their Jewish settlers, they were unconsciously offering to England the very best argument in their favor.

What was the result of Manasseh's able defense? In spite of a pension from Cromwell, he returned disspirited, thinking he had failed. On his way home he died, perhaps of a broken heart.

Jews readmitted into England.

As a matter of fact, like Elijah of old he was more successful than he realized. While no official law was promulgated announcing the readmission of the Jews, Cromwell — fearing that to force the issue might defeat it — let it be quietly understood that they would not be debarred. Some Maranos in England now dropped their Catholic mask. In 1657 they were allowed to acquire a Jewish burial ground. So while it is hard to fix on any date as that of their readmission, English Jews have chosen February 4, 1657, as the date of resettlement.

Had Manasseh ben Israel lived but a few years longer, he would have seen Jews coming to England in King Charles II's reign and the establishment of a strong Sephardic community that ultimately outrivalled that of Amsterdam.


Christian Appreciation of the Jew:—The change of front towards the Jew seen in the English Puritan was also visible on the continent. The "outcast of God" became "God's chosen". The marvel of Israel's survival was compared to the burning bush. The enthusiasm of some even carried them into the Jewish fold. A stimulus for Hebrew learning followed.

Father Richard Simon, a Frenchman and as appreciative of Jewish literature as Reuchlin, wrote "The Critical History of the Old Testament."

William Surenhusius, a Dutchman, translated the Mishna and its commentaries.

Basnage wrote "The History of the Religion of the Jews."

Charles XI of Sweden, despatched scholars to investigate the Karaites. Appreciation came from Denmark and Augsberg.

Eisenmenger's two volumes of slander were suppressed for forty years—though later it became the encyclopedia and arsenal of Judeophobe.

For appreciation of Jews in fiction, the reader is referred to "Adventures of Ferdinand", Tobias Smollett, and "The Jew" a drama by Richard Cumberland, both of the 18th century. In this connection, belonging to the 19th century, the following may be mentioned: "Israel Among the Nations" Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu, trans, by Frances Hellman (Putnam's 1895), Macaulay's "Essay on the Disabilities of the Jews"; George Eliot's Essay "Hep! Hep!" in her "Theophrastus Such", as well as her novel "Daniel Deronda"; also Pere Hyacinth's "Tribute Paid to Israel" in 1891. (Sept. 27th) 'on the centennial anniversary of the emancipation of the Jews by the Constitutional Assembly. "It was a day that witnessed the reparation of a long and cruel injustice. . . . We are Christians and as such we must not forget that it was from Israel's bosom that we have sprung."

Another Catholic, Le Monde, paid a tribute to them.

Buxtorf:—The Buxtorfs, father and son, contributed much toward the further knowledge of biblical and rabbinic Hebrew. Just a century elapsed between the birth of the father and the death of the son, 1564-1664. Both gathered large Hebrew libraries and held in succession the Hebrew professorship in the University of Basel. From their pens we have Hebrew and Chaldaic grammars and lexicons. The elder — the pioneer of rabbinic studies among Christians, edited a Hebrew Bible with rabbinic commentaries. In their case love of Hebrew did not imply approval of Hebrews, and the elder entered into the mania of the age — the conversion of Jews to Christianity.

Delitzsch:—The 19th century furnishes a similar instance of Christian father and son interested in Hebrew learning, Franz and Friedrich Delitzsch. The contributions of Franz Delitzsch (1813-1890) toward biblical and general Hebrew literature are very great. He also became an ally of the Jews, defending them against slanders and exposing the calumny of the "Ritual Murders". This friendliness has not been shown by his son Friedrich, the Assyriologist, still living, who would rob the Jew of priority and leadership in giving to the world religious and ethical ideas.

Manasseh ben Israel:—Manasseh ben Israel's Mission to Oliver Cromwell, by Lucien Wolf; Macmillan, 1901.

Mr. Wolf made the discovery that a community of crypto-Jews had been living in England since Charles I's days as Spaniards and that the disguise was naturally thrown off when England made war with Spain in 1656. It was then learnt that there was no law against their stay in England, for their banishment in 1290 was a royal edict, not an act of Parliament. Thus the right was won for the Jews already there to remain in England. This prepared the way for Manasseh's plea that additional Jews be admitted.

The commercial importance of the Jews at this time is thus summarised by Mr. Wolf: "They controlled the Spanish and Portugese trade. They had the Levant trade largely in their hands. They had helped to found the Hamburg bank and were deeply interested in the Dutch East and West Indian Companies. Their command of bullion too was enormous and their interest in shipping was considerable".

Manasseh ben Israel's Mission to Oliver Cromwell, Lionel B. Abrahams, /. Q. R., October, 1901.

The Conciliator of apparent Contradictions in Holy Scripture, by Manasseh ben Israel. Translated by Lindo; Glasgow, Oppenheim & Co.

Isaac da Fonseca Aboab. Kayserling, "First Jewish Author". American Jewish Historical Society publications, Vol. v, p. 125.

These A. I. H. S. publications are recommended to those who wish to follow further the persecutions of the Jews in South America, particularly vols, iv and vii.

"England and the Lost Ten Tribes," Hyamson, J. Q. R., vol. xv. See "Soul is Likened to the Moon," translated by B. Halper in Post-Biblical Hebrezv Literature, J.P.S.A.

Theme for Discussion:—Contrast the Jews with the Puritan. For this purpose read "Puritan and Hebrew." J. Q. R., Vol. iii.