Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England, Julyj, 1936
My story opens in Amsterdam in 1663, three years after the Restora? tion of Charles II to the throne of England. One of the principal Rabbis of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of that city was Haham Jacob Abendana, a Rabbi of great industry and learning, and author of the Spanish version of the Mishna. His brother, Isaac, a great scholar likewise, had that year accepted the invitation of the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, to take up his residence there for the purpose of translating the Mishna into Latin, and he continued to be so engaged for the ensuing twelve years.1 In 1667 Isaac Abendana's finances became involved, and?peace having been declared in July between the English and Dutch forces?Rabbi Jacob visited his brother in England in connection with some bookselling transac? tions, and at the close of that year he seems to have officiated at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London, to judge by an entry in their accounts.2 Fourteen years later, in August, 1681, he became Haham of the London congregation, serving them until his death in London in September, 1695,.
Jacob Abendana's earliest approach to England occurred, how? ever, in Amsterdam in 1663, the opening year of my story, when he
1 Trans., viii. p. 98.
2 L. D. Barnett, El Libra de los Acuerdos (Oxford, 1931), p. 35. Trans., x. p. 223.
published his Spanish translation of Yehuda Halevi's great work, the Cuzary, being led to do so after a determined but quite unsuccessful attempt to convert him to Christianity made by one Hulsius, a Leyden professor, who, in his turn, published in 1669 the corres? pondence that had passed between him and the Rabbi. Now Aben dana's book was dedicated to Sir William Davidson of Amsterdam, a Christian gentleman who stood high in the favour of King Charles, and one is tempted to speculate as to the bonds between this courtier and the Rabbi. Indeed, Mr. Israel Solomons was so puzzled at the linking of these two names that, rather characteristically, he wrote to the journal Notes and Queries* for a solution, but succeeded only in getting some general information about Sir William's career.
Here are some excerpts?personal, theological, and political? from Abendana's exuberant but lucid dedication :4
The decision to offer this book to you is born of a most anxious desire to make some small demonstration of affection, and to give some slight indication of my wish to employ myself in your service, if my weak forces do not defeat my intent. Wherefore it is rather my goodwill that I offer to you than the volume. . . . This excellent book contains Jewish Theology, and treats admirably of the prin? cipal and most weighty matters of Divine Law, with marvellous genius, and in a pleasing and agreeable style. ... [It] . . . proves the errors of the Gentiles, destroys the false opinions of the Philoso? phers,