“””The Messiah promised in the Sacred Scripture came a long time ago””: the Cambridge Platonists’ attitudes towards the readmission of the Jews, 1655—56″

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In November 1655, at the instigation of the Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell, twenty-eight men were invited to meet the Committee of Council to consider "the proposals of Manasseh [s»V] Ben Israel for the Jews".1 Menasseh had come to England from Amsterdam at Cromwell's invitation and had pre sented the Council with a petition requesting that the Jews be given legal per mission to reside in England, under a schedule of conditions, reversing their forcible expulsion of 1290. The ensuing Whitehall Conference met four times during December but failed to achieve a consensus; in the absence of any formal recommendation on a course of action, Menasseh's petition was neither granted nor rejected. Yet Cromwell continued to favour Jewish re admission and informally protected the small community of Jewish mer chants who had been settled in the East End of London for some years. In the longer term, that community played a role at least as important as that of Menasseh's mission in the re-foundation of Anglo-Jewry, especially as the restored Stuart monarchy formalized Cromwell's protection of the London Jews.2 This story is probably well known to readers of this journal from the

1 Mary A. E. Green, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, 1655-6 (London: Longmans& Co., 1882), 23.

2 Lucien Wolf, Menasseh Ben Israel's Mission to Oliver Cromwell (London: Jewish Historical Society of England by Macmillan & Co., 1901); Lionel Abrahams, "Menasseh ben Israel's Mission to Oliver Cromwell", Jewish Quarterly Review 14(1901): 1-25; Albert M. Hyamson,H History of the Jews in England, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen, 1928), 131-88; Cecil Roth, A Life of Menasseh ben Israel: Rabbi, Printer, and Diplomat (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1934), 190-279; Peter Toon, "The Question of Jewish Immigration", in Puritans, The Millennium and the Future of Israel: Puritan Eschatology 1600-1660, ed. Peter Toon (Cambridge and London: James Clark & Co., 1970), 115-125; David S. Katz, Philo-Semitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England, 1605-1655 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982); idem ,Jews in the History of England 1485-1850 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), ch. 3; Barbara Coulton, "Cromwell and the 'Readmission' of the Jews to England, 1656" (2001), http://www.olivercromwell.org/jews, accessed 7 March 2013.

perspective of Jewish historiography, but a closer examination of the views of some of the delegates should enrich our understanding of the range of opinions represented at the Whitehall Conference.

The present article focuses on the attitudes towards the Jewish question of two members of the Whitehall Conference: Benjamin Whichcote, the Provost of King's College, Cambridge, and Ralph Cud worth, the Regius Professor of Hebrew and Master of Christ's College, Cambridge. Whichcote and Cudworth were major members of the circle of philosophical theologians known as the Cambridge Platonists, and a study of their positions should enlarge our under standing of liberal Christian reactions to the establishment and growth of Anglo-Jewry. Very unfortunately, there is no extant evidence for any verbal utterance or writing specifically on the question of the readmission of the Jews by either Whichcote or Cudworth at the period of the Whitehall Conference

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