Hart, Aaron (DNB00)

HART, AARON (1670–1756), chief rabbi, born in 1670 at Breslau, studied at a rabbinical school in Poland, and probably came to England in 1692 to act as rabbi of the first synagogue of the English congregation of German and Polish Jews, which was opened in that year in Broad Court, Mitre Square, London. He removed in 1721 to the Great Synagogue in Duke's Place, Aldgate, then just built at the expense of his brother Moses (see below), and he remained there till his death in 1756. He married a daughter of Rabbi Samuel ben Phœbus of Fürth. His own name appears in Hebrew as Rabbi Phœbus (or Uri) ben Rabbi Hirz Hamburger, and he is sometimes referred to as Rabbi Uri Pheibush. Before 1707 he agreed to dissolve, according to Jewish ecclesiastical ordinances, the marriage of a member of his congregation who was leaving England for the West Indies, and was severely attacked on the ground that he had acted irregularly, by another rabbi in England, Jochanan Hellishaw, or Johanan ben Isaac, in a work called ‘Maasé Rab’ (Amsterdam, 1707, 4to). Hart replied to the strictures in a book entitled ‘Urim ve-Thumim’ (London, 1707, 4to), which is the first Hebrew book printed in London. Very late in life he is doubtfully said to have held disputations with one Edward Goldney, who sought to convert the Jews in England to Christianity. Dandridge painted the rabbi's portrait, which was engraved by McArdell.

Hart, Moses (1676?–1756), younger brother of the above, came from his native place, Breslau, in early life, and became a prosperous merchant in London. Godolphin, while first lord of the treasury (1702–10), employed him in financial dealings. He built at his sole expense the Great Synagogue in Aldgate, which was opened in 1721, and was rebuilt in 1790. It remains the chief London synagogue. His place of business was in St. Mary Axe, and he had a mansion at Isleworth. He died 19 Nov. 1756, leaving, among other bequests, 1,000l. to the London Hospital (Gent. Mag. 1756, p. 595). His will was disputed by his grandchildren and other relatives among themselves, and the case was carried in 1760 to the House of Lords (cf. Naphtali Franks & others v. Joseph Martin & others, a printed statement of the grounds of the appeal to the lords). A portrait of Hart hangs in the vestry-room of the Great Synagogue. Another Aaron Hart (1722–1800), a London merchant, born in 1722, accompanied the commissariat of the battalion which, under Sir Frederick Haldimand [q. v.], took part in the conquest of Lower Canada in 1760, and when Haldimand became governor of Three Rivers was ‘the first British merchant’ who settled there. He died 23 Dec. 1800 (cf. European Magazine, 1801, i. 239).

Aaron's son, Ezekiel Hart (1770–1843), succeeded to his father's business, and was elected in 1807, just before a prorogation, member of the assembly of Lower Canada for the borough of Three Rivers. On the opening of the next session (January 1808), the house by resolution declined to allow him to take his seat on the ground that he was a Jew. He was re-elected by his constituency to the new assembly which met in April 1809. The house again passed a resolution excluding him, and twice read a bill excluding Jews thenceforth. But the governor-general, Sir James Henry Craig, dissenting from this action, dissolved the assembly. The rights of the Jews of Lower Canada to sit in the assembly when elected to it were secured in 1831 by the statute 1 Will. IV, c. 57 (cf. also statute, 27 Aug. 1841, 4 and 5 Vict. c. 7; and Robert Christie, Hist. of Lower Canada, i. 255–6, 271, 281 sq.) Hart died 16 Sept. 1843, aged 73. He is described in the obituary notice in the ‘Quebec Gazette’ (22 Sept. 1843) as ‘seigneur of Becancourt’ (cf. Voice of Jacob, 2 Feb. 1844, p. 78). Adolphus M. Hart (1813–1879), son of Ezekiel, was an attorney-at-law in Canada, and published many works on Canadian history and politics, including ‘A History of the Discovery of the Valley of the Mississippi’ (St. Louis, 1852), and pamphlets issued under the pseudonym of ‘Hampden.’

[Picciotto's Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History, pp. 133, 143; Dr. H. Adler on the Chief Rabbis of England in Papers read at Anglo-Jewish Exhibition, 1888, pp. 278–80; Jacob's and Wolf's Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica, 1888; information from Mr. Gerald E. Hart of Montreal.]

S. L. L.