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Menasseh Ben Israel’s Apology for the Jews.


Our readers are doubtlessly aware that at the time of the Protector Cromwell, Jews were prohibited from residing in England, having been banished from England by various royal decrees, and lastly by that of Edward I., in 1290. We extract from Lingard: “The sufferings, however, of this unhappy people were not yet at an end. In 1287, on an appointed day, all the Jews in England, without any distinction of age or sex, were arrested, thrown into prison, and confined till they had purchased their liberty by a present to the king, of twelve thousand pounds. Three years later, in 1290, their doom was fixed. The whole race was ordered by proclamation to quit the kingdom for ever, within the space of two months, and under the penalty of death. The number of the exiles was sixteen thousand five hundred and eleven, who were furnished with passports by the king, and allowed to carry with them a competent supply for the journey; but their houses and lands, treasures and debts, were confiscated for the benefit of the crown. It is said that during their passage, many perished through the hatred or rapacity of the mariners, of whom several were afterwards convicted, and suffered the punishment due to their crime.” This is merely one instance of what the Jews suffered; we shall probably give more hereafter, with some comments of our own. At present our object is merely to introduce to our readers the contents of the Apology of the celebrated Rabbi and physician Menasseh Ben Israel, who visited England during the protectorate, and addressed Cromwell upon the benefit which the country would derive by re-admitting the Jews within its boundaries. The existence of this document is generally known, but few we think have ever seen it. And as we wish to make the Occident the recipient of every thing of interest, we believe that we cannot communicate to our friends a more gratifying article than the one which we commence in this number. We retain the ancient spelling, and state merely at the same time, that from the appearance of the copy from which we transcribe, we deem it to be one of the original edition, say of the year 1655.—Ed. Oc.

To His Highnesse The Lord Protector of the Common-Wealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland. The Humble Addresses of Menasseh Ben Israel, A Divine and Doctor of Physick, in Behalf of The Jewish Nation.

Give me leave, at such a juncture of time, to speak to your Highnesse, in a style and manner fitting to us Jewes and our condition. It is a thing most certaine, that the great God of Israel, Creator of Heaven and Earth, doth give and take away Dominions and Empires, according to his owne pleasure; exalting some, and overthrowing others: who, seeing he hath the hearts of Kings in his hand, he easily moves them whithersoever himselfe pleaseth, to put in execution his Divine Commands. This, my Lord, appears most evidently out of those words of Daniel, where he, rendering thanks unto God, for revealing unto him that prodigious dreame of Nebuchadnezar, doth say: Thou that removest Kings, and sets up Kings. And else-where, To the end the living might know, that the Highest hath dominion in Mans Kingdome, and giveth the same to whom he please. Of the very same minde are the Thalmudists likewise, affirming that a good Government, or Governor, is a Heavenly Gift; and that there is no Governor, but is first called by God unto that dignity: and this they prove from that passage of Exodus: Behold I have called Bazale’l by name, &c., all things being governed by Divine Providence, God dispensing rewards unto Vertues, and punishment unto Vices, according to his owne good Will. This the Examples of great Monarchs make good; especially of such, who have afflicted the people of Israel: For none hath ever afflicted them, who hath not been by some ominous Exit, most heavily punished of God Almighty; as is manifest from the Histories of those Kings, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezar, Antiochus Epiphanies, Pompey, and others. And on the contrary, none ever was a Benefactor to that people, and cherished them in their Countries, who thereupon hath not presently begun very much to flourish. In so much that the Oracle to Abraham (I will blesse then that blesse thee, and curse them that curse thee) seemeth yet daily to have its accomplishment. Hence I, one of the least among the Hebrews, since by experience I have found, that through Gods great bounty toward us, many considerable and eminent persons both for Piety and Power, are moved with sincere and inward pitty and compassion towards us, and do comfort us concerning the approaching deliverance of Israel, could not but for myself, and in the behalf of my Countrey men, make this my humble addresse to your Highness, and beseech you for Gods sake, that ye would, according to that Piety and Power wherein you are eminent beyond others, vouchsafe to grant, that the Great and Glorious Name of the Lord our God may be extolled, and solemnly worshipped and praised by us through all the bounds of this Common-wealth; and to grant us place in your Countrey, that we may have our Synagogues, and free exercise of our Religion. I nothing doubting, but that your Clemency will easily grant this most equitable Petition of ours. Pagans have of old, out of reverence to the God of Israel; and the esteem they had to his people, granted most willingly free liberty, even to apostated Jewes; as Onias the High Priest, to build another Temple in their Countrey, like unto that at Jerusalem: how much more then may we, that are not Apostate or runagate Jewes, hope it from your Highnesse and your Christian Council, since you have so great knowledge of, and adore the same one onely God of Israel, together with us. Besides, it increases our confidence of your bounty towards us, in that so soon as ever the rumour of that most wished-for liberty, that ye were a thinking to grant us, was made known unto our Countrey-men; I, in the name of my Nation, the Jewes, That live in Holland, did congratulate and entertaine their Excellencies, the Ambassadors of England; who were received in our Synagogue with as great pomp and applause, Hymns and cheerfulnesse of minde, as ever any Soveraigne Prince was. For our people did in their owns mindes presage, that the Kingly Government being now changed into that of a Common-wealth, the antient hatred towards them, would also be changed into good-will: that those rigorous Laws (if any there be yet extant, made under the Kings) against so innocent a people, would happily be repealed. So that we hope now for better from your gentleness and goodness, since, from the beginning of your Government of this Common-wealth, your Highnesse hath professed much respect, and favour towards us. Wherefore I 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 brethren 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.


Having some years since often perceived that in this Nation, God hath a People, that is very tender hearted, and well-wishing to our sore-afflicted Nation; Yea, I my selfe having some Experience thereof, in divers Eminent persons, excelling both in Piety and Learning: I thought with my-self, I should do no small service to my owne Nation, as also to the People and Inhabitants of this Common-wealth, if by humble addresses to the late Honourable Parliament, I might obtaine a safe-Conduct once to transport my selfe thither. Which I having done, and according to my desire, received a most kinde and satisfactory Answer, I now am come. And to the end all Men may know the true Motives and Intent of this my coming, I shall briefly comprehend and deliver them in these particulars.

First and formost, my Intention is to try, if by Gods 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 Fore fathers, 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 bosoms, 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 neer at hand; I believing more particularly, that this restauration cannot be, before these words of Daniel, Chap. 12. ver. 7. be first accomplished, when he saith, And when the dispersion of the Holy people shall be compleated in all places, then shall all these things be compleated: signifying therewith, that before all be fulfilled, the People of God must be first dispersed into all places and Countreyes of the World. Now we know, how 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 Countreys of the World, as well in America, as in the other three parts thereof; except onely in this considerable and mighty Island. And therefore this remains onely in my judgement, before the Messia come and restore our ration, that first we must have our seat here likewise.

My third Motive is grounded on the profit that I conceive this Common-wealth is to reap, if it shall vouchsafe to receive us; for thence, I hope, there will follow a great blessing from God upon them, and 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. Yet if any shall doubt hereof, I trust their Charity towards the people of God, will satisfie them, especially when they shall reade the ensuing Treatise.

The fourth Motive of my coming hither, is, my sincere affection to this Common-wealth, by reason of so many Worthy, Learned, and Pious men in this Nation, whose loving kindnesse and Piety I have experience of: hoping to finde the like affection in all the People generally; the more, because I alwayes have, both by writing and deeds, professed much inclination to this Common-wealth; and that I perswade my selfe they will be mindfull of that Command of the Lord Our God, who so highly recommends unto all men the love of strangers; much more to those that professe their good affection to them. For this I desire all may be confident of, that I am not come to make any disturbance, or to move any disputes about matters of Religion; but onely to live with my Nation in the fear of the Lord, under the shadow of your protection, whiles we expect with you the hope of Israel to be revealed.

(To be continued.)