Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 36.djvu/19

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Manasseh
Manasseh
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iii. 963 ; Haynes's State Papers, p. 472 ; Lodge's Illustrations, 2nd edit., i. 437; Murdin's State Papers, pp. 763, 765 ; Oxford Univr. Register (Boase), i. 160; Walcott's Wykeham, p. 396; Watt's Bibl. Brit. ; Wood's Hist, et Antiq. Univ. Oxon. i. 285 ; Wood's Athenae Oxon. (Bliss), i. 366 ; Wright's Elizabeth, i. 247, 249.]

T. C.


MANASSEH ben ISRAEL (1604–1657), Jewish theologian and chief advocate of the readmission of the Jews to England under the Commonwealth, born in 1604 in Portugal, probably at Lisbon, was son of Joseph ben Israel, one of the Maraños (i.e. Jews who professed Christianity but secretly practised Judaism in the Spanish peninsula), by his wife Rachel Soeira. The family subsequently emigrated to Amsterdam, where the education of Manasseh was entrusted to Rabbi Isaac Uziel, a distinguished talmudist and physician. Manasseh proved an apt pupil; he studied almost every branch of knowledge, while his attractive manners and high-minded character gained him numerous friends in the best society of Amsterdam. Besides Hebrew and other Semitic dialects, he was thoroughly acquainted with Latin, Spanish, Dutch, and English. His master, Rabbi Isaac, died in 1620, and two years later Manasseh, although only eighteen years old, was appointed his successor as minister and teacher of the Amsterdam synagogue known as Neveh-Shalom. He interested himself in all the theological controversies of the day, and Christian scholars listened with interest to his arguments. He soon counted Isaac Vossius and Hugo Grotius among his friends. With many of his contemporaries he shared an inclination towards mysticism, but his works do not show much knowledge of the Kabbalah. He was convinced of the imminent fulfilment of the Messianic prophecies of the Bible, and was confirmed in this belief by the story told by a certain Aaron Levi, alias Antonius Montezinus, and readily accepted as true by Manasseh, of the discovery of the lost ten tribes in the American Indians (see Manasseh, Spes Israelis). His salary being small, he supplemented his income by establishing in 1626, for the first time, a Hebrew printing-press at Amsterdam, and thus was the founder of Hebrew typography in Holland. When in course of time competition reduced this source of income, he resolved (1640) to emigrate to Brazil, but was dissuaded by his friends.

Manasseh at an early age resolved to do what he could to improve the condition of the Jews in Europe, by securing for them readmission to countries still closed to them. He imagined that the restoration of the Jews must be preceded by their dispersion into all parts of the earth. So that this condition might be fulfilled, he was especially desirous that England should be opened to them. Since Edward I's edict of 1290, the Jews had no legal right to reside in England, and although a few had settled there [see Lopez, Roderigo], their position was insecure. The relations between Holland and England had long been close, both socially and commercially, and Manasseh followed with great attention the course of the civil war in England. He had watched the growth of the demand for liberty of conscience, and soon found that the readmission of the Jews into England had some powerful advocates there from a religious point of view (cf. Rights of the Kingdom, by John Sadler; An Apology for the Honourable Nation of the Jews, by Ed. Nicholas, and the petition of Johanna and Ebenezer Cartwright, dated 5 Jan. 1649, for the readmission of the Jews). In a letter to an English correspondent in September 1647 he ascribed the miseries of the civil wars to divine punishment for wrongs done to the Jews (Harl. Miscellany, vii. 584). Encouraged by English friends (Vind. Jud. 37) he undertook after the death of Charles I to petition the English parliament to grant permission to the Jews to settle in England freely and openly. Thurloe records (State Papers, ii. 520) that an offer was made in 1649 to the council of state by Jews to purchase St. Paul's Cathedral and the Bodleian Library for 500,000l., but the story seems improbable, and Manasseh was at any rate not concerned in the matter. In 1650 he published, in Latin and Spanish, ‘Spes Israelis,’ which was at once issued in London in an English translation. In the dedication to the English parliament Manasseh, while acknowledging their ‘charitable affection’ towards the Jews, begged that they would ‘favour the good of the Jews.’ The work, despite some adverse criticism, was favourably received. On 22 Nov. 1651, and again on 17 Dec. 1652, Manasseh secured a pass for travelling from Holland to England, but circumstances prevented his departure. On the second occasion, however, Emanuel Martinez Dormido, alias David Abrabanel, accompanied by Manasseh's son, Samuel, went to London to personally present Manasseh's petition to parliament. It was recommended by Cromwell, but its prayer was refused by the council of state.

Manasseh himself visited London (October 1655) with his son Samuel, and some influential members of the Jewish community in Amsterdam. On 31 Oct. he presented an ‘Humble Address’ to the Lord Protector,