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Lecture on the Jews of England

By the Rev. Abraham De Sola.

On Wednesday evening the 19th April, the Rev. Abraham de Sola, by special invitation, delivered a lecture on the “History of the Jews in England,” before the members of the Montreal Mercantile Library Association. The lecture room (the Odd Fellows’ Hall) was filled with some five to six hundred persons, among whom were to be seen several of the Christian clergy, members of the bar, and some of the most respectable and influential inhabitants of Montreal. Almost every Israelite resident in the city also attended. The lecturer, on making his appearance, was cordially received, and listened to with the greatest attention, save when his audience evinced their somewhat loud tokens of approbation and applause. He commenced by stating his conviction that the subject, which, at the request of the managers of the institution, he had selected for the consideration of his auditors that evening, would command their attention, and enlist their sympathies, since it related to a people from whom had been received that sacred volume, upon which nearly the whole of the civilized world had based their hopes, their faith, and their salvation. In complying with the committee’s request to lecture on the history of the Jews, he had been well aware, that the subject was by far too expansive, by far too discursive in its character, to be dismissed with the short consideration of one or two evenings. The history of the Jews embracing, as it did, a period of more than <<144>>thirty centuries, was to be found in the history of every kingdom and country, ancient and modern, where until very recently they had been the victims of bigotry, ignorance, and fanaticism. After showing how men, “in the name of a religion which condemned what they did,” had persecuted them “because they were Jews,” the reverend lecturer spoke of the happy change which had taken place in men’s sentiments towards the sons of Abraham, instancing in proof the fact that one of the mightiest cities of the world had chosen a Jew to represent them in the national senate—that to a Jew they had confided the care of their most valuable interests and rights. He farther cited in proof, the fact, that men were now anxious to hear the Jews speak for themselves, and alluded to the invitation which he, a Jew, had received to lecture in that Christian institution, before that Christian audience.

After some farther remarks, he proceeded to a very elaborate inquiry into the question of the first settlement of the Jews in England. He disproved the opinion of those who placed the event in the reign of William the Conqueror, showing that this opinion “originated in Saxon prejudice.” In citing a statute of Edward the Confessor, which invested the king with absolute power over the Jews and their property, he spoke at some length in proof of the genuineness of this law, and after observing that the fact of their being settled at an earlier period was not at all affected by the question of its genuineness, showed that they were to be found there as early as 750, and by a quotation from a Hebrew chronological work, that they were settled in England when she was a dependency of Rome. The lecturer was inclined to that opinion, and brought forward several considerations in its support. He then proceeded to that portion of the history of the Jews in England, on which historians had been more explicit, and detailed the various acts of cruelty, oppression, and persecution which they suffered, till their expulsion in 1290, showing that they exhibited a spirit of barbarism, cupidity, relentless cruelty and ferocity, which indelibly stamped their perpetrators with infamy. After making some retrospective remarks on that portion of their history which he characterized as the dark age of Judaism in England, he continued with their re-establishment under Cromwell, or rather, according to the lecturer’s opinion, in the reign of Charles II. He then furnished the audience with a sketch of the progress of Jewish emancipation from the year 1753, when the naturalization bill was introduced into the houses of Parliament. This he extended to the present day, concluding with the earnest hope, that the last relic of barbarous ages would share the same fate as others, and <<145>>that Jewish emancipation in England might be complete, by the speedy entrance of Baron Lionel de Rothschild in the British senate.

In speaking upon some of the arguments which at the present day were brought against the repeal of Jewish disabilities, he noticed the objection, that as the Jews look forward to the coming of the Messiah, and to be restored to Palestine, that they cannot identify themselves with the state in which they dwelt, that they cannot seek its interests, but that their best wishes must be centered in the Holy Land. After showing how the first part of this objection might apply equally to those Christians who look forward to a second coming of their Messiah, he remarked that both the Jews, and he as a Jewish teacher, did give a most unqualified denial to the assertion; for that every Israelite was scripturally bound to pray for, and promote the welfare of the country in which he dwelt, that their Rabbins and teachers had ever inculcated the same doctrine, and that experience had shown the falsity of the supposition, since Jews in every stage of their history, had filled offices of trust and importance, the duties of which they had most honourably and successfully discharged.

In the present day he spoke, as deserving honourable mention, of Sir Moses Montefiore, Bart., and Mr. David Salomons, who had been elected alderman, magistrate, and sheriff; Mr. Joseph Montefiore, magistrate for Sussex; Mr. Emanuel Lousada, for Devonshire; Benjamin Cohen, for Surrey; Myer  de Rothschild, for Buckinghamshire; and Sir I. L. Goldsmith, for Middlesex.

The lecturer, amidst loud applause, spoke in high and grateful terms of the eminent philanthropist and champion of his brethren, Sir Moses Montefiore, remarking on the repeated efforts made by that gentleman for the amelioration of the position of his co-religionists, not confining them to England, but extending them abroad also, as shown in the various journeys he and his noble-minded lady had made to Jerusalem, Damascus, and Russia, the objects of which had always been relief to Israel. After showing how the Jews in England had been, and are even now, shut out from honourable preferment in the path of science and literature, the lecturer remarked that such men as David Levi, Solomon Bennet, Arthur Lumley David, Hurwitz, Bolaffey, Newman, Michael Josephs, Löwe, De Sola, and Raphall, in the literary world,—while in the scientific, such men as the Messrs. Samuda, the introducers of the atmospheric railway into England, had fully proven that it was from no inherent mental disqualification, that the Jews in England had not occupied a more prominent and proud position in such pursuits.

He also mentioned the name of Hananel De Castro, Esq., as a warm friend to the cause of Jewish education in <<146>>England, and as one of the founders and best friends of the literary institution lately established in London. He noticed this institution as proving at once the grateful sense the Jews of England entertained of the acts of kindness and liberality shown to them, in styling it Sussex Hall, after his late royal highness the Duke of Sussex, their warm and tried friend; and that they are not actuated by any petty feelings of malice or revenge—that their doctrine is not the doctrine of the Jew of Shakespeare—that they have not said with him “The villainy you teach me I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction;” but that while Cambridge and Oxford shut their gates to Jewish seekers after knowledge, the library, class, and lecture-rooms of the Jews and General Literary Institution of London, were open to dispense their benefits, as well to the Christian as to the Jew. He adverted to the important influence this institution was likely to exercise in correcting and exploding old prejudices, and of cementing the bonds of friendship and good will between the Jewish and Christian inhabitants of London. He spoke of the readiness existing between them to co-operate for mutual assistance and benefit in the pursuit of knowledge. And as farther proving the existence of this feeling, and the desire evinced by Christians to learn what the Jews thought and said on matters which equally concerned their eternal interests, he was enabled to state that a new translation of the Scriptures, with a most elaborate and learned commentary, by two Hebrew divines (Messrs. De Sola and Raphall), had been as eagerly received and as warmly supported by Christians as by Jews. The revered gentleman then proceeded to make some general remarks on the character of the Jews, and concluded a lecture which appeared to have given general satisfaction to his audience. The lecturer, as remarked by the Montreal Courier, was loudly and repeatedly applauded by his audience, and the lecture itself was a most instructive one. The following is from the Montreal Transcript.

Lectures of the Mercantile Library Association.

“The Rev. A. De Sola, delivered a lecture before this association on Wednesday evening, the 19th ult., entitled, ‘A History of the Jews in England.’ We anticipated, in common with the other usual visitors to this lecture room, a very interesting description of the early and subsequent history of this portion of the human race, who, perhaps, more than any other people, possess a claim on the sympathies of the civilized world;—nor were we disappointed,—although from unavoidable causes, we were unable to attend the lecture room until Mr. De Sola <<147>>was considerably advanced with his subject, which we regret the more, as we understand he was particularly eloquent in his opening address on the persecutions and cruelties submitted to with so much patience and stoical endurance in England during the dark ages of our country’s history; it also prevents us from following the thread of the reverend gentleman’s lecture as we would otherwise have done, and compels us to content ourselves with a few remarks on the facts introduced,—which, of course, cannot possess the weight or interest of the words of the lecturer himself—a learned and reverend member of the Hebrew race.

“Mr. De Sola alluded to the well-known persecution of the Jewish race during the reign of King John, for the purpose of obtaining forced loans—for, divested of every opportunity of obtaining honourable preferment, open more or less to every other native-born subjects of the British Crown—the Jews had at that early period directed their energies to the attainment of wealth, as the only means left them of upholding their influence in society. At that period they had attained a money-influence superior to that of any other people, and they have ever since maintained it: and deeply is the Government of Great Britain, and likewise those of most of the other nations of Europe, indebted to the Jews for the means of carrying forth their schemes of conquest—of maintaining their rights, and accomplishing their projects of self-defence; and, although it may be said that they found their account in so investing their enormous capital, every one is aware, had not a strong spirit of loyalty been mingled with the natural desire of Jews—as well as all other tribes of men without distinction—to increase their own wealth, they might have been the cause of painful and perhaps most serious embarrassment to the Government. Mr. De Sola spoke of the privileges now almost universally accorded to the Hebrew race, in so far as perfect political freedom is concerned, by the chief nations of Europe, and hinted plainly and pointedly at the strange and bigoted pertinacity with which freedom, in a full sense of the term, was withheld from the Jews only, by a government and people who in every other respect have shown themselves the friends of the oppressed and the true possessors and determined advocates of rational freedom; that a great many disabilities had been got rid of, Mr. De Sola allowed, and instanced the high position and dignified station occupied in the metropolis of England by the branches of the Rothschilds and Goldsmidts families and others, as well as the general estimation in which these gentlemen were held by their fellow-citizens; but he justly insisted that they should enjoy as an undoubted right every privilege enjoyed by their fellow-subjects, and he noticed the humiliating position in <<148>>which the Jews of England were placed, in the fact of the Baron Lionel de Rothschild being prevented from taking a seat in parliament, as one of the chosen representatives of the metropolis of the British Empire, in consequence of those prejudices which still disgraced the political code of Great Britain; but which it is earnestly to be hoped, may be speedily abolished for ever.

“Mr. De Sola paid a marked compliment to the press, and to the people of Canada, for the liberal opinion they had ever expressed and acted upon for the complete and thorough emancipation of the Jews in Canada from any kind of political thralldom—instancing, as an example in which they had been voted into places of acknowledged trust by their fellow-citizens, among others, the case of Mr. Hart, of Three Rivers. He also alluded to the public spirit shown by the wealthy classes of the Hebrew race of Canada, and of Montreal, in particular; observing that to that spirit the city stood indebted for some of its greatest improvements.

“Mr. De Sola concluded his lecture by expressing a hope to which we heartily respond, that the day might speedily arrive when the Jewish race, who, let their birthplace be in what part of the globe it might, were remarkable for attachment to the soil, and loyalty to the government, would no longer have cause to mourn over the restraints with which they were still fettered, and said, when thanking the audience for the great attention and flattering applause with which they had listened to his lecture—that he would be ever ready at any future period that he might be called on, to lend his humble efforts towards combating  the prejudices of public opinion, now fast subsiding, and endeavouring to raise the Hebrew race to to the political and social condition they were fully and deservedly entitled to hold among their fellow-subjects of the British Empire.”