Isaac Disraeli and his quarrel with the Synagogue-a reassessment*

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Isaac Disraeli was born in 1766 and died in 1848 aged 81. His lifetime thus coincided with the growth of religious toleration in England and the granting of civic rights to minorities such as Catholics and Jews. But it was not until 1845, just three years before his death, that the Jewish Disabilities Removal Act was passed, granting Jews full rights.

It was a period when the Jews in England felt sufficiently secure to loosen their allegiance to Judaism, which they thought hindered their entry into the wider Christian community. They were no longer prepared to limit their ambitions to the advice given to fellow-Jews by Moses Mendelssohn, 'adapt yourselves to the customs and conditions of the country in which you find yourselves, but also be steadfast in upholding the religion of your fathers. Bear both burdens as well as you can.' Many Jews found the burden of Judaism too heavy and abandoned it. Other pressed for its reform, not only to lighten their burden, but also, as they saw it, to enable Judaism itself to survive as a religion. Isaac Disraeli was in the forefront of this movement for reform and although he admired Mendelssohn's philosophical outlook he did not share his enthusiasm for the principles of Judaism and its ceremonial practices.

This paper is intended to sketch Isaac Disraeli's personality, and particularly his attitude to religion in general and Judaism in particular, both of which justified Isaac's contention that he was not a suitable person to serve as Warden of a synagogue, and to proceed from there to examine Isaac's influence, if any, on the movement in Britain for the reform of Judaism.

There is little room here for an assessment of Isaac's literary career, which would justify a paper in itself. Cecil Roth in his biography of Isaac's distinguished son Benjamin, later Lord Beaconsfield, wrote: 'The passage of years has somewhat blurred the reputation that was so great a century and a half ago, but Isaac Disraeli was in all probability the first European Jew since the Renaissance, if one excepts Moses Mendelssohn in Germany... who had ostensibly reached the front rank in what was then termed the Republic of Letters.'((Cecil Roth, Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfleld (New York 1952) 16.)) Isaac's most valuable literary work was judged to be his five-volume Commentaries on the Life and Reign of Charles the First, published between 1828 and 1831, in which he defended the reputation of the king. It was for this work that Isaac was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law by Oxford University in 1832.

As such tributes imply, Isaac D'Israeli was in the fortunate position of having his genius recognized in his own lifetime. Tributes came from friends and critics alike. Typical of these is the following note entitled 'A Biographical Sketch of Mr. I. D'Israeli, Esq.', which appeared in the Monthly Mirror for December 1796, in Isaac's lifetime. It read: 'He is a rare instance of a person of [Jewish] origin acquiring any literary reputation. But

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