England and the Jews

Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks (sorry, but knighthoods are not in the category of Things I Recognize As Real Titles), has an interesting article in a British Jewish newspaper. It gave me a better perspective on the current celebrations going on in the U.K. regarding 350 years of “letting” Jews come back to England. I really couldn’t understand celebrating a condescension like that, but this shows a different side to things.

Non-Jews remember what we all too often forget, that greater than the contribution of Jews to British society has been the contribution of Judaism. They know that what has made the Jewish community distinctive has been its faith, its value system, its way of life. Subtract religion from the Jewish people, and in the long run little remains.

The re-admission of Jews to England in 1656 was primarily a matter of religion. Yes, there was an issue of pragmatism. Cromwell knew, as Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel reminded him, that the presence of Jews in the sceptred isle would bring economic advantage. Out of historical necessity, Jews had become masters of trade and finance. Their presence made a significant difference to Venice in the 16th century and the Netherlands in the 17th. But this was secondary.

At the heart of Rabbi Manasseh’s essay “The Hope of Israel” (1650), the first move in the Jewish appeal for re-admission, was the curious argument that the Messiah would only come once Jews had been scattered to every country on Earth. A traveller to Ecuador, Antonio Montezinos, had claimed to have discovered an Indian tribe descended from the lost tribes of Israel. The one country that had no Jews was England. It was therefore a standing obstacle to Divine redemption. It was defying God’s script for human history.

It’d give it a read-the-rest recommendation.

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2 Responses to England and the Jews

  1. cond0010 says:

    You got a link, Meryl? I know it sounds like ‘Oh Meryl, my mug is empty’, but it’d be nice if you put it in. :)


    Oh… btw, the quote “Subtract religion from the Jewish people, and in the long run little remains. ” hit me pretty good. Sounds like a point that secular Europe should take note of …”

  2. Oops. I do that a lot. Fixed now.

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