Decorated initial M

ost Englishmen did not realize that the relatively small numbers of immigrants from Spain and Portugal in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, chiefly traders and medical doctors who presented themselves as Christians or converts to Christianity, were often faithful to their Jewish ancestry and religion and wherever possible practised its rites in secret. Since these foreigners observed outwardly most conventions and refrained from displays of their Jewish origins or faith, they were not pursued and not molested. According to David S. Katz’ Jews in the History of England, “throughout the entire public debate about the Jews that preceded the arrival of Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel [an erudite Amsterdam Marrano who actively worked for legal and public readmission of the Jews into England and who will figure later in the present essay] in London in September 1655, the very existence of a Jewish community in an eastern corner of London was completely unknown to the English authorities” (108). It has even been suggested that “by the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the crypto-Judaism of London New Christians was a mere shadow – and often a distortion – of that which had flourished in Spain and Portugal before the expulsion. For some, it was little more than a consciousness of being of Jewish descent” (Endelman, Jews of Britain, 18). Still, as we have seen, it is a fact that, without any repeal of the expulsion decree of 1290, some Jews had unobtrusively entered and settled in England in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. By the 1630s their number began to increase as more and more were attracted by London’s growing importance in the international economy; but the newcomers were no less discreet than their predecessors.

It was not, in fact, the still relatively limited number of well-concealed Sephardim (Jews from the Iberian peninsula) in England who brought up the issue of the readmission of the Jews into England but English Christians themselves, moved by the Reformation’s emphasis on reading the word of God in its original language and by the considerable, often sympathetic interest, especially among those most influenced by Calvin, in both the word and the people of the Old Testament (Rubenstein, 44). To study the word of God, it was necessary, at least for leaders of the Church, to acquire knowledge of the Hebrew language, and hence to bring in some Jewish scholars to assist in this undertaking. In addition, a number of English Christians began studying Judaism closely and adopting Jewish rituals; some from the more radical sects actually converted to Judaism, the men even accepting to have themselves circumcised (Poliakov, 205). Though ordained as an Anglican minister in 1611, John Traske (1585-1636) kept the Jewish dietary laws and maintained that the Jewish Sabbath should be observed and no work done on that day. For this he was prosecuted in Star Chamber in 1618. In 1621 the Archbishop of Canterbury, complained in the House of Lords that “many were inclined to Judaism,” and proposed that Sunday be styled “The Lord’s Day,” rather than the Sabbath, with its Jewish connotations (Endelman, Jews of Georgian England, 55).

By the time of the Civil Wars (1642-51) there was a movement, especially among Puritans and several of the smaller sects, in support of official recognition of every citizen’s right to practise the religion to which he or she was in conscience committed (Katz, Jews in the History of England, 110-114; Endelman, Jews of Britain 1656 to 2000, 18-20). Those making this argument had the Nonconformists (Protestants whose religious beliefs did not conform to those of the established Church of England) chiefly in mind, the Jews serving largely as an extreme case. Thus at Whitehall the Council of Mechanics passed a resolution in favour of “toleration of all religions whatsoever, not excepting Turkes, nor Papists, nor Jewes.” On Christmas Day, 1648 this policy was endorsed by the Council of Army Officers and the suggestion was probably made that a clause to this effect be embodied in the nation’s new constitution. A month later, in January 1649, a formal petition for the repeal of the statute of 1290 and the readmission of the Jews into England was presented to Lord Fairfax and the General Council of Officers by Johanna Cartwright and her son Ebenezer, Baptists who had settled in Amsterdam. It was favourably received with a promise that it would be taken into consideration as soon as “the present more publick affairs are despatched” (Hyamson, 167-69).

Several tracts in a similar vein also appeared. 1646 saw the republication of Leonard Busher’s Religious Peace; or, a Plea for Liberty of Conscience, long since presented to King James and the High Court of Parliament then sitting, by L. B., Citizen of London, and printed in the year 1614 . Busher advocated both religious toleration, freedom to speak one’s mind and to print one’s convictions in the matter of religion, and the resettlement of the Jews in England (no doubt with a view to their eventual conversion). Two years earlier, in 1644, while on a return visit to his native England, Roger Williams -- a Puritan minister and theologian, and the founder, after being convicted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, to which he had emigrated in 1630, of sedition and heresy, i.e. of spreading “diverse new and dangerous opinions,” such as the dignity and humanity of the Indians and the immorality of slave-holding -- of the Colony of Rhode Island as a refuge for “liberty of conscience” -- had argued in his Bloody Tenent of Persecution that, even though they were heretics, Jews could be good human beings and good citizens. Though this work was burned by the Common Hangman within months of its publication in 1644 (Katz, Philo-Semitism, 176-87; Toone, 116), Williams reasserted in a later work, The Hirelings Ministry none of Christ’s (London, 1652), that “No opinion in the world is comparably so bloody or so blasphemous as that of punishing and not permitting in a civil way of cohabitation the consciences and worships both of Jews and Gentiles” (Quoted, Méchoulan and Nahon, 56). In 1648, the London printer John Field brought out an Apology for the Honourable Nation of the Jews and All the Sons of Israel by Edward Nicholas, Gent, in which the author pleaded that his aim was to eradicate a national sin, defined as “the strict and cruel Laws now in force against the most honourable Nation of the World, the Nation of the Jews” (4). “It is not tolerable,” Nicholas argued, “even amongst Moral men, if we go no further, to adde affliction to the afflicted, as we do in continuing Laws in force against them; it stands not with a generous spirit, to triumph over a man helpless and in misery; much more hateful is it in men that profess themselves the servants of God; but rather that we endeavour to comfort them, and (if it were possible) to give them satisfaction for the innocent blood of theirs shed in this Kingdom, and to restore them to commerce amongst us” (8). In making his plea, the author insisted, he was responding not to a hidden demand or request on the part of the Jews but to the urging of his own conscience: “What I have now written, was not upon any mans motion of the Jews Nation, but a thing that I have long and deeply revolved within my heart; but truly and indeed, my endeavours are for the glory of God, the comfort of those his afflicted people, the love of my own sweet native countrey of England, and the freeing of my own soul in the day of account” (15). The classic formulation of the plea for tolerance is Locke’s Letters concerning Toleration, the first of which appeared in 1689. “Neither pagan nor mahometan, nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth, because of his religion,” Locke wrote. “The gospel commands no such thing. The church, ‘which judgeth not those that are without,’ 1 Cor. v. 11. wants it not” (Works, 83).

Robert Maton after Thomas Cross. 1655. Courtesy of the National Portrait gallery, London. NPG D5799. Purchased with help from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Pilgrim Trust, 1966.

Repeal of the 1290 expulsion decree and official readmission of the Jews into England was also the aim, even more passionately pursued, of significant numbers of English Christians eager to move as quickly as possible toward the fulfilment of the two conditions, as they believed, for the longed for Second Coming: on one hand, the scattering of the Jews to the furthest corners of the earth, predicted in the Book of Daniel, and on the other, their conversion to Christianity as the prelude to their Restoration or return to Israel. Both conditions, the Messianists believed, would be significantly promoted if Jews were allowed to cross from the Continent to the northern island kingdom of Britain. Hence the seemingly philo-Semitic views expressed in his Israel’s Redemption (1642) by Robert Maton, a Puritan divine and Fifth Monarchy adherent (i.e. believer in a “Fifth Monarchy or Kingdome that is shortly to come into the world,” as the title of a 1652 tract by William Aspinwall has it). Christians should not “contemne or revile the Jewes, a fault too common in the Christian world; and that partly because we are unmindfull as well of that Olive from whence we were taken, as of that into which we are grafted; whose root bears us, & not we the root.”(69, quoted in Katz, Philo-Semitism, 172; also Toon, 115-25).

By way of English sectarians who had taken refuge in Amsterdam, word of the spread of Messianism in England reached Menasseh ben Israel, a learned and respected Jewish rabbi, scholar, and printer, originally from Portugal, who had settled in the Dutch city and who, like so many at the time, Jews as well as Christians, had come to embrace a form of Messianism. Menasseh ben Israel, a broad-minded man, in whose view the merit of anyone living “with equity and justice,” whatever the form of his beliefs, will be recognized by the Lord (Méchoulan and Nahon, Introduction, 44-45) had heard in 1644 from Antonio de Montezinos, a Portuguese New Christian recently arrived in Amsterdam, of a group of Indians, whom Montezinos claimed to have met in the mountains of the Spanish South American territory of New Granada (present-day Colombia). The Indians recited the Hebrew Shema, practised Jewish ceremonies, declared their Fathers to be “Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Israel,” and must therefore, Montezinos held, be descended from one of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Montezinos had embodied his account in an affidavit executed under oath before the elders of the Amsterdam Synagogue and he repeated his assertion of truthfulness on his deathbed – when, according to the theretofore sceptical Menasseh, one is not likely to tell untruths. The scholarly rabbi then heard from John Dury, a member of the Westminster Assembly, whom he had met several years before, that in an English scholar’s as yet unpublished treatise, of which Dury sent him a copy, the claim was made that the American Indians were descended from the lost tribes of Israel. Like the English Messianists, who linked the Second Coming to the readmission of the Jews into England, Menasseh had also finally come to believe that the return of the Jews to England would not only be of immediate practical benefit to Iberian Jews persecuted because of their religion but add to the scattering of the people of Israel to the far ends of the earth and thereby significantly accelerate the advent of the Messianic age envisioned in Judaism, and now, in the mid-seventeenth century, expected in a foreseeable future. (Endelman, Jews of Britain, 20-21; Katz, Jews in the History of England, 112-13; Wolf, xviii-xxv).

With this idea in mind and in response to Dury’s urging that he communicate in a letter his view of the topic treated by the English scholar and -- supposedly on the basis of personal experience on the ground -- by the Portuguese traveller, Menasseh composed a scholarly tract of some 47 pages, entitled The Hope of Israel, in which, following the text of Montezinos’s narrative (7 pages), he carefully examined and expanded on it. While rejecting on doctrinal grounds the claim that the American Indians were descendants of the ten lost tribes, he argued that they were Israelites who had probably had to flee persecution in lands where they had settled. Originally published (and probably written) in Spanish as Miqweh Israel [in Hebrew lettering]: Esto es, Esperança de Israel, 5410 [the Jewish year, i.e. 1650), and soon after in Latin and English translations (Spes Israelis, 1650; The Hope of Israel, 1650, 2nd ed. 1652), it is said to have produced on its appearance in England “a profound impression” throughout the country but particularly, as was to be expected, among Messianists and Millenarians. Dury distributed the Latin edition “among all the leading Puritans,” according to the scholar Lucien Wolf, and “it was probably read in Parliament,” while the “two English editions issued anonymously by Moses Wall were rapidly sold.” (Wolf, xxvii).

To the Spanish text Menasseh prefixed a dedication to the seven Elders of the Amsterdam Talmud Torah (Jewish religious school for boys), each of whom is named, and a prefatory note “To the Reader” (“Al Lector”). An occasional word or phrase in Hebrew lettering confirms that the book was intended in the first instance for the substantial Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community of the Netherlands. The English translation, on the other hand, is somewhat different in lay-out (the numbered sections into which the text is divided do not correspond to those of the Spanish text) and it lacks any Hebrew lettering. It also carries a somewhat different address “To the Courteous Reader” and, above all, a different dedication: “To the Parliament, The Supreme Court of England, And to the Right Honourable the Councell of State, Menasseh Ben Israel prayes God to give Health and all Happinesse”.

Menasseh then explains to the “most renowned Fathers” that he writes “in order to “gain your favour and good will to our Nation.” He also acknowledges and expresses gratitude for what he has learned from English friends of “your charitable affections toward us” and for help received “not onely by your prayers.” “The whole world stands amazed,” he asserts flatteringly, by Parliament’s actions to “defend the small and weak [. . .] and the eies of all are turned upon you, that they may see whither all these things do tend.” The “most renowned Fathers” would assuredly not have failed to recognize both the author’s discreet but obvious appeal to them to enact by law the readmission of the Jews into England and his allusion to the Messianic belief concerning “whither” such a move would “tend.” (Wolf, 3-5) Menasseh ben Israel had in fact become more and more engaged in the effort to bring about an officially sanctioned change of policy in England concerning the Jews. When Oliver St. John and Walter Strickland, sent on a mission to The Hague early in 1651 to negotiate an alliance with the United Provinces, visited the Sephardi synagogue in Amsterdam, Menasseh was present and in all likelihood approached the two Englishmen to express his hope that official permission would be granted for the legal resettlement of the Jews in England. On his side, he was probably informed by the visitors that Cromwell was indeed favourably disposed to such a change. Later in that year Menasseh sent a petition for readmission of the Jews to the Council of State, by which it was discussed on 10 October. The response must have been fairly positive, for in November a passport was issued for Menasseh to come to London to discuss the matter in person. His coming was delayed by passage of the anti-Dutch Navigation Act in 1651 and the ensuing first Dutch War (1652-54) (Endelman, Jews of Britain, 22). Nevertheless, opening Barebone’s Parliament (also known as the Parliament of Saints or Nominated Parliament, since it consisted entirely of 140 members selected by the army’s Council of Officers and Cromwell from names submitted by individual members of the Council), in July 1653, Cromwell – albeit no fanatical millenarian or Messianist but eager to secure the readmission of the Jews – ventured to suggest that history was at a turning-point and implied that the question of the readmission of the Jews might well be highly significant, inasmuch as the fulfilment of God’s promise to the Jews was the model and condition of a larger, coming transformation. “You are Called with a high Call,” he told Parliament,

and why should wee bee afraid to say, or think, that this way may bee the door to usher in things that God hath promised and prophesied of, and to set the hearts of his people to wait for, and expect? [. . .] Indeed, I do think something is at the door, we are at the threshold, and therefore it becomes us to lift up our heads, and to encourage our selves in the Lord, and we have some of us thought it our duty to endeavour this way, not vainly looking on that Prophecy in Daniel, And the Kingdom shall not be delivered to another people. You are at the edge of the promises and prophecies” – among them, that “He will bring his people again out of the depths of the Sea, as once he led Israel through the red Sea. [Cromwell, 24-25]

Amid conflict and infighting its members voted on 12 December, 1653 to dissolve Barebone’s Parliament without having officially readmitted the Jews or prepared the way for the millennium, and Cromwell took over as Lord Protector. With the end of the Dutch War in 1654, the public campaign in favour of officially sanctioning the resettlement of the Jews in England resumed and in September of that year, one Manuel Martinez Dormido, a Marrano merchant and sometime member of the mahamad or Council of Elders of the Amsterdam Jewish community, travelled to London. His being accompanied by Menasseh’s sole surviving son, Samuel Soeiro, would seem to indicate that Menasseh, constrained by a sense that it was not a good time for him to leave Amsterdam, had encouraged Dormido, who may or may not have been his brother-in-law, to make the trip in his stead (Wolf, ../../painting/17c/matonii-../../painting/17c/matoniii; Roth, “Resettlement,” 7). As a Jew, Dormido had lost his fortune when the Portuguese drove the Dutch out of Brazil and he hoped to persuade the British government, now allied with Portugal, to help him recover it. Dormido presented two petitions to Cromwell in November 1654, one asking the British government to intervene with the Portuguese on his personal behalf, the other requesting official permission for Jews to settle and worship freely in England. No limitations or special conditions on re-entry of the Jews were mentioned in the second petition; on the contrary, Dormido petitioned that Jews be allowed “to come with their families and estates, to bee dwellers heere wth the same eaquallness and conueniences wch ye inland borne subjects doe injoy.” As the historian David Katz put it, “the prime enticement which he presents for Jewish readmission is the economic advantage which would accrue to the English. [. . .] ‘Busines will increase and ye comerce will become more oppulant.’” (Philo-Semitism, 194; Wolf, ../../painting/17c/matoniii-../../painting/17c/matoniv)

Oliver Cromwell. After Samuel Cooper (based on a work of 1656). Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 514.

Cromwell referred the petitions to a special committee of the Council of State, the meetings of which he himself did not attend and which reported, within a month, that it “saw no cause to make any order.” That Cromwell was disappointed by this result is demonstrated, it has been claimed, by the fact that he went ahead on his own in the matter of the first petition, and wrote a personal letter to the King of Portugal on behalf of Dormido. (Wolf, ../../painting/17c/matonv) As for the petition regarding the more contentious matter of a law officially sanctioning the readmission of the Jews, it is usually assumed that, though he apparently did not feel confident enough to intervene on it, Cromwell was in fact strongly in favour of it. The general view among scholars is that, while no millenarian, the Lord Protector supported readmission of the Jews on pragmatic grounds similar to those put forward by Dormido – and, as we shall see, frequently invoked by advocates of the Jews — namely that the Jews, as experienced merchants, would enrich the country and thus also increase state revenues. Some historians maintain, however, that in his attitude to the Jews, Cromwell was motivated, or at least also motivated, by quietly held principles of tolerance (Wolf, xxvii-../../painting/17c/maton, xiv-xlv; Katz, Philo-Semitism, 196). For not all the Sephardi Jews in London were wealthy merchants engaged in international trade. There were also Sephardim in London who depended on communal charity to survive. “Some,” to be sure, one scholar notes, “were persons once financially secure who had suffered business reverses, but others were part of a permanent unskilled underclass – casual laborers, street traders, itinerant peddlers, beggars, vagabonds, and criminals – which was found throughout the Sephardi Diaspora in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries” (Endelman, The Jews of Britain, 30; Roth, History, 190).

Whatever his motives, Cromwell took it upon himself to reissue the invitation to Menasseh ben Israel, as a Jewish scholar widely respected and immeasurably better known than Dormido, to come to England in order to activate the imagination of the educated classes, justify the government’s taking serious steps to resolve the question of the status of the Jews, and participate in discussions about what these steps should be. Distressed by the failure of Dormido’s mission but encouraged not only by the urging of his son, who was sent back to Amsterdam to persuade his father to undertake the journey, but by letters of invitation received from Cromwell himself, Menasseh was led to “conceive high hopes” and set out for London in October, 1655 with the text of his now well known “humble address” in hand. In the meantime, Cromwell had been gathering intelligence from various London Marranos concerning the colony of Suriname (present day Guyana and Surinam), where the English had established a presence in 1650, and he had come up with the idea of populating it with Jewish fugitives from the neighbouring colony of Nieuw Holland, with its capital at Mauritsstad (present-day Recife), conquered by the Dutch in 1630 but currently being recaptured by the Portuguese. In order to attract them to British-held Suriname the Jews were granted a charter in which full liberty of conscience was secured to them, together with civil rights, a large measure of communal autonomy, and generous land grants. Thanks to Cromwell, a first step was thus taken toward the solution of the Jewish question by admitting Jews as full citizens in one of the colonial dependencies of Great Britain (Wolf, ../../painting/17c/matonvi-../../painting/17c/matonvii).

In London Menasseh did not seek the hospitality of Dormido, who had been given permission to settle in England. Lodged in an expensive house in the then fashionable Strand, he was, clearly, the guest of the Protector, brought to London to discuss high affairs of state. Menasseh lost no time in having the manuscript of the text he had brought with him printed and published. In “To his Highnesse the Lord Protector of the Common-wealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland” -- the first of several texts gathered together under the title To His Highnesse the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The Humble Addresses of Menasseh Ben Israel, a Divine and Doctor of Physick, in behalfe of the Jewish Nation -- he declared unambiguously that his aim was to “humbly entreat your Highnesse, that you would, with a gracious eye have regard unto us, and our petition, and grant unto us, as you have done unto others, free exercise of our Religion, that we may have our Synagogues, and keep our own publick worship, as our brethern doe in Italy, Germany, Poland, and many other places, and we shall pray for the happinesse and Peace of this your much renowned and puissant Common-wealth” (Wolf, 77).

In another of the Humble Addresses – “A Declaration to the Common-wealth of England [. . .] shewing the Motives of his coming into England,” he listed four such motives:.

First and foremost, My Intention is to try, if by God’s good hand over me, I may obtaine here for my Nation the Liberty of a free and publick Synagogue, wherein we may daily call upon the Lord our God, that once he may be pleased to remember his Mercies and Promises done to our Forefathers forgiving our trespasses, and restoring us once againe into our fathers Inheritance; and besides to sue also for a blessing upon this Nation, and People of England, for receiving us into their bosomes, and comforting Sion in her distresse.

My second Motive is, because the opinion of many Christians and mine doe concurre herein, that we both believe that the restoring time of our Nation into their native Countrey is very near at hand,” while he himself believes, in addition, that the predictions of Daniel (12, 7) must first be fulfilled, and that, in other words, “the People of God must first be dispersed into all places & Countreyes of the World.” As it is now known that “our Nation at the present is spread all about and hath its seat and dwelling in the most flourishing parts of all the Kingdomes and Countreyes of the world, as well as in America [. . .], except onely in this considerable and mighty Island,” it is clear that “before the Messia come and restore our nation first we must have our seat here likewise.

His “third motive,” Menasseh explained, “is grounded in the profit that I conceive this Common wealth is to reap, if it shall vouchsafe to receive us” as a result of “a very abundant trading into, and from all parts of the World, not onely without prejudice to the English Nation but for their profit, both in Importation and Exportation of goods.”

The fourth motive of my coming here is my sincere affection to this Common wealth, by reason of so many Worthy, Learned, and Pious men in this Nation, whose loving kindness and Piety I have experience of: hoping to find the like affection in all the People generally (Wolf, 78-80).

Two other texts accompanied the address to Cromwell and the Declaration to the Commonwealth of England that expanded on their themes. “How Profitable the Nation of the Jewes are” emphasized the benefits that Jewish commercial expertise and trade bring to the entire community, including the state treasury; “How Faithfull the Nation of the Jewes are” gave numerous examples of the Jews’ unswerving loyalty -- interestingly enough, as presented by Menasseh, not so much to the nation or state in which they live as to the royal family or ruler under whose protection they live. This tract also responded to the accusations that usury is the normal business of the Jews, and that the Jews kill the young children of Christians.

The general tone of the Humble Addresses is more like that of Dormido’s petition – practical and feasible – than that of Menasseh’s own earlier millenarian Hope of Israel. One of the most learned scholars and writers on Menasseh and his English mission argues, however, that “the nearer people approached the Readmission question as a problem of practical politics, the less enthusiastic they became for its solution,” and that when Menasseh formally opened his negotiations with the Government of the Commonwealth the attitude of the public had become “inhospitable.” (Wolf, xl-xliv).

On 31 October 1655 Menasseh visited Whitehall and presented copies of his Humble Addresses to the Council of State. Unfortunately for him, Cromwell was again not present at the session and thus did not participate in its deliberations, with the result that the Council felt free to take no action other than instructing a clerk to “go forth and receive the said books.” Around the same time, Menasseh submitted a formal petition to Cromwell requesting repeal of all the laws against the Jews and their readmission on a number of precisely delineated terms. On 12 November Cromwell brought this petition up for consideration at a meeting of the Council of State, proposing that “Jews deserving it may be admitted into this nation to trade and traffic and dwell amongst us, as providence shall give occasion.” While he failed to carry the Council, its members did not wish to cross him. They therefore appointed a sub-committee to review the issue, but it too failed to act and recommended that outside opinion be sought. It did act immediately on that recommendation, however, sending out letters on November 14 to “twenty-eight of the most distinguished figures in English public, economic and intellectual life throughout the country” with orders to come to London to consult with the Committee on “some proposals made to His Highness in reference to the nation of the Jews” (Roth, “Resettlement,” 9; Wolf, xliv-xlviii).

The Conference opened on 4 December, 1655 in the Council Chamber at Whitehall. Cromwell himself addressed the assembled lawyers, clergymen and merchants, clarifying the issues before them, which he reduced to two: Is it lawful to admit the Jews to England, and, if it is lawful, on what terms should they be admitted? The first question was quickly answered by the two distinguished judges at the Conference, representing legal opinion: There was no law which forbade the Jews’ return into England, the Expulsion order of 1290 having been an exercise of the royal prerogative in regard to the personal “chattels” of the king, not an act of parliament, so that its validity expired with the death of Edward I.

William Prynne after unknown artist. 1640. Courtesy of the National Portrait gallery, London. NPG D42624. Given by Henry Witte Martin, 1861.

The second question on the agenda, as presented by Cromwell, was not so easily answered. In the words of Cecil Roth, the great scholar of the history of the Jews in England, theological misgivings on the one hand, commercial rivalry on the other, now began to manifest themselves. “It became obvious that the terms which the delegates would recommend would have been harshly restrictive” and contrary to the intentions of both Menasseh and Cromwell himself (Roth, “Resettlement,” 11, Toon, ch.7). Having called the Conference precisely to spell out these terms, however, Cromwell would have been obliged to follow its advice. Aware of the way the wind was blowing, he decided to intervene. First he added three eminent judeophiles to the delegates. Then finally, on 18 December, when for some reason the doors of the Council Chamber had been opened to the public, to which William Prynne’s newly published anti-Semitic Short Demurrer to the Jewes (1656) had just become accessible. The proceedings, abetted by the representatives of the native merchants, had degenerated into “a vehement demonstration against the Jews,” in the words of the early twentieth-century scholar and editor of Menasseh ben Israel, Lucien Wolf. At this point, Cromwell rose from his chair, and in a powerful speech complained that he could no longer expect help from the Conference despite its having been charged with clarifying the issues and helping him to formulate a fair policy. Thereupon he left the room, signalling that the proceedings were at an end. “The Conference broke up without a word of protest and the crowds dispersed in cowed silence.” (Wolf, xlix-liii)

It was widely believed that, having made his preferences clear, Cromwell would act on his own authority to readmit the Jews. But the Committee of the Council of State having finally come out with an extremely restrictive report on the status of Jews in England, Cromwell probably preferred not to challenge it immediately and nothing happened (Wolf, liv). A few continental Jews who had accompanied Menasseh to London, despairing of any positive outcome, packed up and went home. Menasseh himself stayed on in London, composing his Vindiciae Judaeorum, in Answer to certain Questions [. . .] touching the Reproaches cast on the Nation of the Jewes; wherein all objections are candidly, and yet fully cleared (1656). But he had become more and more despondent and pessimistic about obtaining the settlement he had long desired and worked to bring about.

An unexpected crisis in the local Marrano community in 1656 suddenly altered the situation. Since autumn 1655, Britain had been at war with Spain. The fact that many of the Marranos were of Spanish origin made them both useful to the government for intelligence purposes and vulnerable to accusations of collaboration with the enemy. They were thus thrown into consternation when, on the denunciation of an informer, proceedings were opened against one of their number, the affluent merchant Antonio Rodriguez Robles, as an enemy alien, and all his property, including two ships in the Thames, was seized. Hitherto closeted Jews, discreetly presenting themselves as Christian converts, the Marranos saw only one solution to the problem: to reveal themselves as Jews, refugees from the generally hated Spanish Inquisition, and throw themselves on the mercy of the Protector. Hitherto, they had held themselves aloof from Menasseh’s millenarian-inspired quest, seeking only, as they had done for generations, to be allowed to live quietly and mind their own business, and fearful that Menasseh’s highly public activities might cause them harm. The Robles case drove them into the open and into collaboration with Menasseh. In association with the latter they presented a petition to Cromwell, signed by Menasseh and six prominent Marranos, requesting permission to meet for private prayer according to Jewish rites and to have a burial place outside the city for their dead. As on previous occasions, Cromwell immediately passed the petition along to the Council of State with an endorsement in his own hand. Perhaps because the Robles case was currently under consideration, the Council delayed taking the petition up. In addition, the immediate situation was not favourable: opponents of any concessions to the Jews had mounted a powerful campaign highlighted by the publication of anti-Jewish books and pamphlets -- notably William Prynne’s already mentioned Short Demurrer and Second Part of a Short Demurrer (1656) and Alexander Ross’s View of the Jewish Religion (1655, republished 1656) – to which Menasseh’s Vindiciae Judaeorum (also 1656) had been largely intended as a response. Meantime Robles had adopted the tactic of appealing for release of his sequestered property on the grounds that he was not a Spaniard, but a Portuguese “of the Hebrew nation” and on 16 May, the Council ordered that Robles’s property be returned to him and the proceedings against him dropped. As Cecil Roth put it succinctly. “As a Spanish Catholic his position would have been open to question; as a refugee Jew . . . he was safe.” (“Resettlement,” 13).

As there was still, however, no response from the Council to the petition of 24 March 1656, it was placed on the agenda again on 25 June. The initial response of the Council appears to have been favourable after all, for Menasseh wrote to a relative in Amsterdam asking him to apply to the Sephardi community there for loan of a Torah scroll for the expected new London synagogue. This was received on August 4. Meantime the London Jews had hired a rabbi from Hamburg and were looking round for a site for their new synagogue, even though the original petition had requested only the right to meet for prayer “in our particular houses.” By the end of the year they had negotiated lease of a property in Creechurch Lane. A burial ground was also acquired in Mile End, to the East of the city. There appears to have been little public opposition to these developments among ordinary citizens, as distinct from jealous merchant-princes or argumentative theologians. When a prominent Marrano died in 1659 and was buried in the new cemetery, the great bell of the parish church was tolled and Samuel Pepys visited the synagogue for a memorial service a month later.

Conditions for the already resident Marranos had thus been considerably improved. Their status as Jews was recognised and they were permitted to observe their religious rites openly in a Jewish house of worship. No clear, public readmission statement had been made, however, such as might have encouraged more Jews to come and settle in England. This suited the London Marranos perfectly. They had obtained what they wanted and had no desire for more. They had no wish to provoke their gentile neighbours by unduly asserting themselves or to draw throngs of immigrant Jews and potential competitors to the land. Menasseh, in contrast, was deeply disappointed. He had thought he had attained his goal of opening Britain to large numbers of Jewish immigrants, in order both to ease the plight of those in distress in other parts of Europe and to further his messianic and millenarian yearnings, and it was clear that that goal had not in fact been achieved. In deep despondency at what he saw as the failure of the mission he had been pursuing for years he decided to return to Amsterdam. But he was now in poor health, short of money, and without prospects either in Britain or in Amsterdam, where others now occupied the positions that had once been his and where he no longer enjoyed esteem and status in a Jewish community largely hostile to Cromwell and supportive of the Royalists. In his distress, he turned to Cromwell for financial assistance and the sympathetic Lord Protector awarded him an annual state pension of £100 to be paid in quarterly instalments of £25. Menasseh set out for Amsterdam a broken man, bearing the body of his last son, Samuel, who had died in England. In poor health himself, he died in Middelburg in the house of his brother-in-law Ephraim Abarbanel, before reaching Amsterdam. Cromwell himself died not long afterwards. (Hyamson, History, 170-211; Katz, Jews,138-39; Roth, “Resettlement,”16-20; Wolf, li-lxxi)

A tragic outcome from one point of view, but according to several scholars a blessing in disguise. “Both Menasseh and Cromwell had built more solidly than they knew,” in the opinion of Lucien Wolf. “If the solution of the Jewish question arrived at towards the end of 1656 was not wholly satisfactory, it was precisely in that fact that its real strength lay. Experimental compromise is the law of English political progress. From the strife of wills represened in its extremer forms by Cromwell’s lofty conception of religious liberty on the one hand, and by the intolerance of the sectaries on the other, had emerged a compromise which conformed to this law, and which consequently made the final solution of the question an integral part of English political evolution.” (Wolf, lxix-lxx)

Part I, 2. Bibliography

Cromwell, Oliver. The Lord Cromwel’s Speech Delivered in the Council-Chamber Upon the 4 of July. To the persons then assembled and intrusted with the Supreme Authority of the Nation. This is a True Copie, publishd for Information and to prevent Mistakes. Printed in the yeer 1654, pp. 24-25. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/102258522

Endelman, Todd M. Jews of Georgian England 1714-1830: Tradition and Change in a Liberal Society . Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. 1979; Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999.

Endelman, Todd M. The Jews of Britain 1650 to 2000. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Hyamson, Albert Montefiore. A History of the Jews in England. London: Chatto & Windus, 1908.

Katz, David S. Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England 1603-1655. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982.

Katz, David S. The Jews in the History of England 1485-1850. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994.

Locke, John. The Works of John Locke in Nine Volumes, 12th ed., vol. 5. London: Rivington, 1824. https://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/764#Locke_0128-05_83. Accessed 6/19/2020.

Matar, N.J. “The Idea of the Restoration of the Jews in English Protestant Thought 1661-1701.” Harvard Theological Review, 78 (1985), 115-48.

Méchoulan, Henry and Gérard Nahon, ed. Menasseh ben Israel: The Hope of Israel, The English Translation by Mose Wall, 1652. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987.

Nicholas, Edward. Apology for the Honourable Nation of the Jews and All the Sons of Israel by Edward Nicholas, Gent. London: John Field, 1648.

Poliakov, Léon. The History of Anti-Semitism. 4 vols., vol. 1, transl. from French by Richard Howard. New York: Vanguard Press, 1965.

Roth, Cecil, “The Resettlement of the Jews in England in 1656,” in V. D. Lipman, ed., Three Centuries of Anglo-Jewish History, 1-25. Cambridge: W. Heffer and Sons for Jewish Historical Society of England, 1961.

Roth, Cecil. A History of the Jews in England, 3rd ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964.

Rubenstein, W.F. A History of the Jews in the English-Speaking World: Great Britain. New York: St. Matins Press, 1995.

Toon, Peter. “The Question of Jewish Immigration” in Puritans, the Millennium, and the Future of Israel. Puritan Eschatology 1600 to 1660 , ed. Peter Toon, 115-25. Cambridge: James Clarke & Co., 1970.

Wolf, Lucien. Menasseh ben Israel’s Mission to Oliver Cromwell. London: Macmillan, for the Jewish Historical Society of England, 1901.


Last modified 22 June 2020