Menasseh Ben Israel
Menasseh Ben Israel
|Died||20 November 1657 (aged 52–53)|
|Resting place||Ouderkerk a/d Amstel|
Manoel Dias Soeiro[needs Dutch and Ladino IPA] (1604 – 20 November 1657), better known by his Hebrew name Menasseh ben Israel (מנשה בן ישראל), also, Menasheh ben Yossef ben Yisrael, also known with the Hebrew acronym, MB”Y or MBI, was a Portuguese rabbi, kabbalist, writer, diplomat, printer, publisher, and founder of the first Hebrew printing press (named Emeth Meerets Titsma`h) in Amsterdam in 1626.
Menasseh was born on Madeira Island in 1604, with the name Manoel Dias Soeiro, a year after his parents had left mainland Portugal because of the Inquisition. The family moved to the Netherlands in 1610. The Netherlands was in the middle of a process of religious revolt against Catholic Spanish rule throughout the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648). Amsterdam was an important center of Jewish life in Europe at this time. The family’s arrival in 1610 was during the Twelve Years’ Truce mediated by France and England at The Hague. In Amsterdam he studied under Moses Raphael de Aguilar.
Menasseh rose to eminence not only as a rabbi and an author, but also as a printer. He established the first Hebrew press in Holland. One of his earliest works, El Conciliador, published in 1632, won immediate reputation; it was an attempt to reconcile apparent discrepancies in various parts of the Hebrew Bible. Among his correspondents were Gerardus Vossius, Hugo Grotius, Petrus Serrarius, António Vieira and Pierre Daniel Huet. In 1638, he decided to settle in Brazil, as he still found it difficult to provide for his wife and family in Amsterdam. He may have visited the Dutch colony’s capital of Recife, but did not move there. One of the reasons his financial situation improved in Amsterdam was the arrival of two Portuguese Jewish entrepreneurs, the brothers Abraham and Isaac Pereyra. They hired Rabbi Manasseh to direct a small college or academy (a yeshibah in Spanish-Portuguese parlance of the time) they had founded in the city.
In 1644, Menasseh met Antonio de Montezinos, a Portuguese traveler and Marrano Sephardic Jew who had been in the New World. Montezinos convinced him of his conclusion that the South America Andes’ Indians were the descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel. This purported discovery gave a new impulse to Menasseh’s Messianic hopes, as the settlement of Jews throughout the world was supposed to be a sign that the Messiah would come. Filled with this idea, he turned his attention to England, whence the Jews had been expelled since 1290. He worked to get them permission to settle there again and thus hasten the Messiah’s coming.
With the start of the Commonwealth, the question of the readmission of the Jews had found increased Puritan support, but it was often mooted under the growing desire for religious liberty. In addition, Messianic and other mystic hopes were then current in England. His book, The Hope of Israel, was first published in Amsterdam in Latin (Spes Israelis) and in Spanish (Esperança de Israel) in 1650. The book was written in response to a 1648 letter from John Dury enquiring about Montezinos’ claims. In addition to reporting Montezinos’ accounts of Jews in the Americas, the book also expressed the hope that the Jews would return to England as a way of hastening the coming of the messiah. Menasseh also stresses his kinship with parliament, and explains himself as driven by amity for England rather than financial gain.[note 1]
In 1651 he offered to serve Christina, Queen of Sweden as her agent of Hebrew books. The same year he met Oliver St John and his envoys on his mission to secure an Anglo-Dutch coalition (which would have given Dutch citizens, and thus Jews, privileges to stay and work in England). The English were impressed by learning and manner, and advised him to formally apply for Jewish readmission to England. In 1652 The Hope of Israel was translated from Latin into English by John Dury or one of his associates, and it was published in London by Moses Wall, prefixed with a dedication to the Parliament and the Council of State; his account of descendants of the Lost Tribes being found in the New World deeply impressed public opinion and stirred up many polemics in English literature. This included a debate between Edward Spencer and Moses Wall, an MP and a scholar respectively, on ben Israel’s millennial claims and the manner in which the Jews would be converted. Wall and Spencer’s letters were printed in later additions of the book. Despite their historic misfortunes and movements, Menasseh characterizes the condition of Jewry at the time by saying:
- ”Hence it may be seen that God hath not left us; for if one persecutes us, another receives us civilly and courteously; and if this prince treats us ill, another treats us well; if one banisheth us out of his country, another invites us with a thousand privileges; as divers princes of Italy have done, the most eminent King of Denmark, and the mighty Duke of Savoy in Nissa. And do we not see that those Republiques do flourish and much increase in trade who admit the Israelites?”
Oliver Cromwell was sympathetic to the Jewish cause, partly because of his tolerant leanings but chiefly because he foresaw the importance for English commerce of the participation of the Jewish merchant princes, some of whom had already made their way to London. At this juncture, the English gave Jews full rights in the colony of Surinam, which they had controlled since 1650. There is some debate among historians concerning whether Menasseh’s motives for pursuing the readmission of the Jews by England were primarily political or religious. Ismar Schorsch, for example, has argued that the idea of England being a final place for Jews to inhabit in order to bring about the coming of the Messiah was hardly present in The Hope of Israel (1652), but rather was developed by Menasseh later (1656-57 when he was in London) in order to appeal to English Christians with Millenarian beliefs. Henry Méchoulan, on the other hand, in his later in-depth detailed analysis of the book has striven to show that the Jewish messianic theme in it is also rather fundamental to its initial conception. Steven Nadler, in his 2018 book, which is actually the last word on Menasseh’s biography to be published to date, has seemingly also closed the debate on this issue of Menasseh’s own messianic beliefs:
- “They [the sundry European Gentile Millenarians that were in contact with him] especially valued [Menasseh] as the Jewish expositor of a common [Jewish-Christian] Messianic vision, wherein the worldly empires will be swept away by a “Fifth Kingdom” [or Fifth Monarchy] ruled by a savior sent by God.”
In November 1655, Menasseh arrived in London. During his absence from the Netherlands, the Amsterdam rabbis excommunicated his student, Baruch Spinoza. In London, Menasseh published his Humble Addresses to the Lord Protector, but its effect was weakened by William Prynne‘s publication of Short Demurrer. Cromwell summoned the Whitehall Conference in December of the same year.
Some of the most notable statesmen, lawyers, and theologians of the day were summoned to this conference to discuss whether the Jews should be readmitted to England. The chief practical result was the declaration of judges Glynne and Steele that “there was no law which forbade the Jews’ return to England” (as they had been expelled by royal decree of King Edward I, and not by formal parliamentary action; Jews remaining in England lived, however, under constant threat of expulsion). Though nothing was done to regularize the position of the Jews, the door was opened to their gradual return. On 14 December 1655, John Evelyn entered in his Diary, “Now were the Jews admitted.”[note 2] When Prynne and others attacked the Jews, Menasseh wrote his major work, Vindiciae judaeorum (1656), in response.
Menasseh ben Israel stayed in England for close to two years after the Whitehall Conference. During this time he tried to obtain written permission for the resettlement of the Jews in England. Although he failed in this endeavour, during his stay he met with a large number of influential figures of the age, including Cambridge theologian Ralph Cudworth, Henry Oldenburg, Robert Boyle and his sister, Adam Boreel, John Sadler, John Dury and Samuel Hartlib, as well as more marginal prophetic figures such as Ambrose Barnes and Arise Evans. Ben Israel’s stay was managed by the millenarian philosemite Baptist clergyman Henry Jessey.
Death and burial
In February 1657 Cromwell granted ben Israel a state pension of £100, but he died before enjoying it, at Middelburg in the Netherlands in the winter of 1657 (14 Kislev 5418). He was conveying the body of his son Samuel home for burial.
Menasseh ben Israel was the author of many works. His major work Nishmat Hayim is a treatise in Hebrew on the Jewish concept of reincarnation of souls, published by his son Samuel six years before they both died. Some scholars think that he studied kabbalah with Abraham Cohen de Herrera, a disciple of Israel Saruk. This would explain his familiarity with the method of Isaac Luria.
The Conciliator was, as above, a work written to reconcile the apparent contradictions in numerous passages throughout the Bible. To achieve this aim, Ben Israel “utilized an astounding range of sources”; primarily the Talmud and the classic Jewish commentaries but frequently quotes from the early Christian authorities as well as Greek and Latin authors of antiquity. Written in Spanish, in Amsterdam, 1632, it was aimed primarily to strengthen the faith of the Marranos in the veracity of the Tanach according to Jewish interpretation. It was translated by Elias Haim Lindo and published by Duncan and Malcolm, in 1842, and again in 1972, with footnotes and introductory material by Sepher-Hermon Press.
His other works include:
- De termino vitae written in Latin 1639, translated into English by Thomas Pocock (London, 1709)
- De Creatione Problemata, in Spanish, Amsterdam 1635.
- De Resurrectione Mortuorum, Book I 1636 – written originally in Spanish but later translated into Latin, 1636 First English Translation, by Walter Hilliger, ISBN 1735673765, and in modern Spanish, ISBN 1735673773, both digital versions available on Sefaria.
- De la Fragilidad Humana (On Human Frailty) (1642)
- Nishmat Hayyim Hebrew
- a ritual compendium Thesouros dos dinim.
- Piedra gloriosa – with four engraved etchings by his acquaintance Rembrandt, who is also thought by some to have painted his portrait. These are preserved in the British Museum.
- The Hope of Israel (London 1652). Printed in Lucien Wolf (ed.), Manasseh ben Israel’s Mission to Oliver Cromwell (London 1901), p. 50-51.
- Vindiciae Judaeorum, Or, A Letter in Answer to Certain Questions Propounded by a Nobel and Learned Gentleman: Touching the Reproaches Cast on the Nation of the Jews ; Wherein All Objections are Candidly, and Yet Fully Clear’d. Amsterdam 1656.
Other works can be found in the Biblioteca Nacional do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for example:
- Orden de las oraciones del mes, con lo mes necessario y obligatorio de las tres fiestas del año. Como tambien lo que toca a los ayunos, Hanucah, y Purim: con sus advertencias y notas para mas facilidad, y clareza. Industria y despeza de Menasseh ben Israel
Menasseh’s wife, Rachel, was a descendant of the Abarbanel family. Menasseh had three children by her. According to family legend, the Abarbanels were descendants of King David, and he was proud of his children’s Davidic ancestry. Both of Menasseh’s sons predeceased their father. Menasseh’s eldest son was Samuel Abarbanel Soeiro, also known as Samuel Ben Israel, who worked as a printer and assisted his father with matters in England. He died in 1657. Menasseh’s youngest son, Joseph, died at age 20, in 1650, on a disastrous business trip to Poland. Menasseh also had a daughter, Gracia, born 1628, who married Samuel Abarbanel Barboza in 1646, and died in 1690.
Moses Jacob Ezekiel, the American sculptor, in his autobiography claimed to be a descendant of Menasseh Ben Israel. His claim is unconfirmed.
- Hope of Israel was translated into English by Moses Wall, a millenarian and friend of Milton. Wall both supported the book’s millennial themes and believed in God’s special favour for the Jews, which he based on the writings of Thomas Brightman.
- John Evelyn’s diary entry for 14 December 1655.
I visited Mr. Hobbes, the famous philosopher of Malmesbury, with who I had been long acquainted in France.
Now were the Jews admitted.
- Cecil Roth published a massive biography of Menasseh ben Israel (Roth, 1934), where this etching is also printed. However, in his 1970 entry on MbI for the Encyclopedia Judaica (see Roth, 2007, below; Roth was editor in chief of the first edition of that encyclopedia in 1970) he wrote:
- His portrait was engraved by Salom Italia (1642). Whether a portrait etching by Rembrandt of 1636 (Bartsch 269) represents Manasseh is doubtful, and painted portraits of Manasseh by Rembrandt or by Ferdinand Bol are not known.
The whole story of the wrong identification of the subject of the etching is now summarized in Nadler, 2018, pp. 223-224. Here is Nadler’s verdict on this alleged identification:
- The scholarly consensus now , however, is that this is not a portrait of Menasseh ben Israel at all.
- Menasseh Ben Israel. El Conciliador (The Conciliator). Amsterdam, 1632. Reprinted in The Conciliator of R. Manasseh Ben Israel: A Reconcilement of the Apparent Contradictions in Holy Scripture: To Which Are Added Explanatory Notes, and Biographical Notices of the Quoted Authorities. Translated by Elias Hiam Lindo. London, 1842. Reprinted by, e.g., Nabu Press, 2010. ISBN 1148567577.
- For the economic ties binding Manasseh Ben Israel’s intellectual activities to the mercantile activities of the brothers Pereyra throughout the entire period, see Roth, Cecil (1934). A Life of Manasseh Ben Israel, Rabbi, Printer, and Diplomat. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America. pp. 62–63 and 316–317.; and Méchoulan, Henry; Nahon, Gérard, eds. (1987). Menasseh Ben Israel: The Hope of Israel. The English translation by Moses Wall, 1652. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 40 and 70.
- Those were the two initial main languages used by Menasseh when addressing the general Christian public in Europe. The full title of the Latin edition was Mikveh Israel, hoc est Spes Israelis. The Hebrew part of this full Latin name is taken from Jeremiah 14:8, as Menasseh explains in the introduction to the Spanish version. The English version was first published by Moses Wall in London only in 1652.Cf. Méchoulan and Nahon, op. cit., pp. 60-62.
- Crome, Andrew (2014). The Restoration of the Jews: Early Modern Hermeneutics, Eschatology, and National Identity in the Works of Thomas Brightman. Springer. ISBN 9783319047614. p.192-194
- Sachar, Howard M. (1994). Farewell Espana: The World of the Sephardim Remembered p.313. Knopf Doubleday. ISBN 9780804150538
- Lucien Wolf (ed.), Manasseh ben Israel’s Mission to Oliver Cromwell (London 1901)
- Wilensky, M. (1951). “The Royalist Position concerning the Readmission of Jews to England”. The Jewish Quarterly Review. New Series. 41 (4): 397–409. doi:10.2307/1453207. JSTOR 1453207.
- Manasseh ben Israel, ‘The Hope of Israel’ (London 1652), printed in Lucien Wolf (ed.), Manasseh ben Israel’s Mission to Oliver Cromwell (London 1901), p.50-51.Noted in Paul Johnson, A History of the Jews, p.246
- Schorsch, Ismar (1978). “From Messianism to Realpolitik: Menasseh Ben Israel and the Readmission of the Jews to England”. Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research. 45: 187–200. doi:10.2307/3622313. JSTOR 3622313.
- Méchoulan and Nahon, op. cit., pp. 76-81.
- Nadler, Steven (2018). Menasseh ben Israel, Rabbi of Amsterdam. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-300-22410-8.
- The diary of John Evelyn ed. Bray, William. (1901). Archive.org p.307
- Katz, David S. (1989). Menasseh Ben Israel’s Christian Connection: Henry Jessey and the Jews pps. 117-119 in eds. Kaplan, Yosef; Popkin, Richard Henry; Mechoulan, Henry Menasseh Ben Israel and His World, BRILL, ISBN 9789004091146
- Graetz, Heinrich (2009). History of the Jews: From the Chmielnicki Persecution of the Jews in Poland (1648 C. E. ) to the Period of Emancipation in Cent. Cosimo. ISBN 9781605209494. p. 49.
- “Palache, Samuel (archive card number 15226)”. Dutch Jewry. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
- “Begraafplaats Ouderkerk a/d Amstel – Menasseh Ben Israel”. Dutch Jewry. Retrieved 8 September 2016.
- “(no title: headstone of Manasseh ben Israel)”. Dutch Jewry. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
- “(no title: gravestone of Manasseh ben Israel)”. Dutch Jewry. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
- At least some parts of that work were translated into English by Dr. Raphael Polyakov and are available at http://raphael.eu.pn.
- Manasseh ben Israel; Lindo, Elias Hiam (14 March 2018). “The conciliator of R. Manasseh ben Israel: a reconcilement of the apparent contradictions in Holy Scripture”. Duncan and Malcolm – via Hathi Trust.
- Sepher-Hermon Press – Product Description Archived 14 July 2014 at the Wayback Machine.
- Kitto – The first volume was translated into Latin by Vossius, Amst. 1633, and the whole has been translated in English by Lindo, London 1842.
- Meyer Waxman 1930 History of Jewish Literature: Volume 2 – Page 697 2003 reprint “Resurrectione Mortuorum (Concerning the Resurrection of the Dead) , written originally in Spanish but later translated into Latin (1636)
- “Rembrandt Revised”.
- Albert Montefiore Hyamson, A History of the Jews in England (1908), p. 182
- public domain: Abrahams, Israel (1911). “Menasseh ben Israel“. In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 18 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 112. This article incorporates text from a publication now in the
- Kayserling, Meyer (1861). Menasse ben Israel. Sein Leben und Wirken. Zugleich ein Beitrag zur Gesch. der Juden in England. Leipzig: O. Leiner. [English transl. by F. de Sola Mendes, London, 1877.]
- Wolf, Lucien (1901). Menasseh ben Israel’s Mission to Oliver Cromwell. London: MacMillan & Co., Limited.
- Roth, Cecil (1934). A Life of Manasseh Ben Israel, Rabbi, Printer, and Diplomat. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America.
- Glaser, Lynn (1973). Indians or Jews? An introduction to a reprint of Manasseh ben Israel’s ‘The Hope of Israel’. Gilroy, California: Roy V. Boswell. ISBN 0-913278-04-1. (Includes reprint of the 1652 ed. of The hope of Israel, printed by R. I. and L. Chapman, London; and bibliographical references.)
- Katz, David S. (1982). Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England, 1603–1655. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-821885-0.
- Méchoulan, Henry; Nahon, Gérard, eds. (1987). Menasseh Ben Israel: The Hope of Israel. The English translation by Moses Wall, 1652. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-710054-6.
- van den Berg, Johann; van der Wall, Ernestine, eds. (1988). Jewish-Christian Relations in the Seventeenth Century: Studies and Documents. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers. ISBN 90-247-3617-X.
- Kaplan, Yosef; Méchoulan, Henry; Popkin, Richard H., eds. (1989). Menasseh Ben Israel and His World. Leiden: E. J. Brill. ISBN 9004091149.
- Katz, David S. (1994). The Jews in the History of England, 1485–1850. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-822912-7.
- Roth, Cecil; Offenberg, A. K. (2007). “Manasseh (Menasseh) ben Israel”. In Berenbaum, Michael; Skolnik, Fred (eds.). Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 13 (2nd ed.). Detroit: Macmillan Reference. pp. 454–455. ISBN 978-0-02-866097-4 – via Gale Virtual Reference Library.
- Nadler, Steven (2018). Menasseh ben Israel, Rabbi of Amsterdam. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-22410-8.
Novels and other Philosophical essays:
- Robert Menasse, Die Vertreibung aus der Hölle, Frankfurt a.M. (Suhrkamp) 2001. Novel on Menasseh ben Israel translated into Spanish, Russian, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Norwegian, Czech, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Greek.
- Robert Menasse, “Enlightenment as a Harmonious Strategy”, publ. by Versopolis: The European Review of Poetry, Books and Culture is a pan-European online literary magazine, Ljubljana, 23 March 2018. http://www.versopolis.com/long-read/587/enlightenment-as-a-harmonious-strategy (retrieved 31 March 2018)
- Leonardo Padura Fuentes, Herejes, 2013 (“Heretics”, 2017)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Menasseh Ben Israel.|
- Jewish Encyclopedia entry on Menasseh Ben Israel
- Digital collection of books and letters related to Menasseh Ben Israel
- Short biography of Menasseh Ben Israel
- The Hope of Israel (Vilnius, 1836 in the original Hebrew text) online at Hebrewbooks.org
- Manasseh ben Israel as a printer Rare Books of the Shimeon Brisman Collection in Jewish Studies, Washington University
- New International Encyclopedia. 1905. .