A LETTER OF MENASSEH BEN ISRAEL.

By:
Articles Image

The letter which is here edited and translated is a holograph docu? ment written by the famous Menasseh Ben Israel from Amsterdam in 1648. It occupies two large folio pages, written in a tiny but very legible hand, and runs into a third page, a facsimile of which is here given. It was edited and translated in Spain, and bought by me in Lisbon. Unfortunately it is difficult to decide to whom it was addressed. Menasseh boasted of his acquaintance with many of the non-Jewish savants of his time. The fact of its having been in Spain and written in Spanish might suggest its being addressed to a learned Spaniard who had written on Bible chronology and whom the writer regarded as an authority on the subject. The greater part of the letter, dealing with chronology, though ingenious, is of less import? ance than the conclusion of the letter, which gives very interesting autobiographical details. It does not settle the doubts which exist as to his birthplace, though it suggests that Menasseh Ben Israel was born in Lisbon.1 In all probability also it implies that he had carried out his intention of visiting America, although his statement that he had " lost his estate in the varying fortunes of America " is capable of the interpretation that he had invested money in some trading expedition to Brazil, which had not turned out satisfactory. But the facilities for making such American investments were not so great 250 years ago as they are, unfortunately, to-day. The account of the Rabbi's division of his day is distinctly interesting, and suggests a parallel with the famous letter of Maimonides, written when the latter was Court physician at Cairo.

1 Another suggestion is that he was born at La Rochelle in France.

Untitled-29

The Encyclopaedic works which he said he was writing do not appear to have ever been published. Perhaps they will turn up hereafter as the spoil of some hunter after modern MSS. His Bibliography especially would have been of value. It is referred to in Hottinger's Bibl, Orient.

The other facsimile is that of the title-page to an exceedingly rare tract by Menasseh Ben Israel. My copy is bound up with his Fragilidad Humana. It is a small quarto of eight pages, probably printed by Menasseh himself. It contains a congratulatory address in Portuguese, addressed by him, in the name of his " nation," to the Prince of Orange on his visit to their Talmud Torah Synagogue, on May 22, 1642, in company wdth Queen Henrietta Maria of England, " worthy Consort of the Most August Charles, King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland." This seems to be the oration referred to by Lucien Wolf on page xxiii of his introduction to " Menasseh Ben Israel's mission to Oliver Cromwell." If this is the case the pamphlet, as appears from the facsimile, is not accurately described. Or was there a separate pamphlet " extolling the Queen of

Become a member to read the full article
Become a member today

£7

24 hour access to JHSE online resources

Instant access to over 700 articles View the original articles as a PDF
Learn More

£40

Annual JHSE Membership

Members are entitled to a free copy of the latest Jewish Historical Studies, free access to our online resources and associate membership of the UCL Library in London.  In addition, they receive the JHSE Newsletter, special offers on books for sale and pay less to attend our series of lectures and other public events.
Learn More

£20

Student Membership

The JHSE want to encourage students to engage with Jewish history.  Apply for a Student Membership with your university email account and once we have verified your status you will soon have all the benefits of being a full JHSE member.
Learn More

£80

Associate your Institution with the JHSE

Give your members access to JHSE online resources and special offers on book sales.  Use your institutional email account when applying, and once your status is verified we will explain the scheme.  Preferred payment is by credit or debit card.
Learn More
0

Your Cart