This text was prepared by William Gross:
The beginning of the Jewish community in Amsterdam is rooted in the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions at the end of the 16th century. During this period, many of the large number of Jews whose ancestors had been forcibly converted almost one hundred years earlier and labeled "New Christians" were being hounded and accused of heresies. Some of these chose to leave and found a friendly refuge in the Protestant city of Amsterdam. As more and more of them arrived and sought to return to their Jewish roots, the need arose for fundamental Jewish texts that would be comprehensible to an audience ignorant of Hebrew. Menasseh Ben Israel’s major work on the reconciliation of biblical passages. The first edition was published in Spanish (Frankfurt (or Amsterdam), 1632).
The composition Conciliator, written by Menasseh Ben Israel, was one of his greatest achievements. This work, written mostly in Spanish, was primarily intended for Christian scholars and clerics, to enable them to understand genuine Judaism according to commentaries of verses in the Bible and reconcile apparent discrepancies in various parts of the Hebrew Bible. Moreover, the composition was intended to strengthen faith and the principles of Judaism among the Anusim. The book was highly successful, was translated into several languages and spread the name of Menasseh Ben Israel among non-Jewish scholars.
The Conciliator was a work written to reconcile the apparent contradictions in numerous passages throughout the Bible. To achieve this aim, Ben Israel "utilized an astounding range of sources"; primarily the Talmud and the classic Jewish commentaries but frequently quotes from the early Christian authorities as well as Greek and Latin authors of antiquity. Written in Spanish, in Amsterdam, 1632, it was aimed primarily to strengthen the faith of the Marranos in the veracity of the Tanach according to Jewish interpretation. It was translated by Elias Haim Lindo and published by Duncan and Malcolm, in 1842, and again in 1972, with footnotes and introductory material by Sepher-Hermon Press
Born a Marrano in Madeira, the scholar Menasseh Ben Israel is renowned as the founder of Hebrew typography in Holland, a friend of Rembrandt, and the man who petitioned Cromwell for the readmissiono f the Jews to England.
A Spanish edition was published in the same year as this 1650 Latin edition: Tercera Parte del Conciliador o de la Conciniencia de los Lugares de la S. Escritura, que repugnantes entre si parecen.
Manoel Dias Soeiro (1604 – November 20, 1657), better known by his Hebrew name Menasseh ben Israel (מנשה בן ישראל), also, Menasheh ben Yossef ben Yisrael, also known with the Hebrew acronym, MB"Y, was a Portuguese rabbi, kabbalist, writer, diplomat, printer and publisher, founder of the first Hebrew printing press (named Emeth Meerets Titsma`h) in Amsterdam in 1626.
Menasseh was born on Madeira Island in 1604, with the name Manoel Dias Soeiro, a year after his parents had left mainland Portugal because of the Inquisition. The family moved to the Netherlands in 1610. The Netherlands was in the middle of a process of religious revolt against Catholic Spanish rule throughout the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648). The family's arrival in 1610 was during the truce mediated by France and England at The Hague.
Menasseh rose to eminence not only as a rabbi and an author, but also as a printer. He established the first Hebrew press in Holland. One of his earliest works, El Conciliador, published in 1632, won immediate reputation; it was an attempt to reconcile apparent discrepancies in various parts of the Hebrew Bible. Among his correspondents were Gerhard Johann Vossius, Hugo Grotius, António Vieira and Pierre Daniel Huet. In 1638, he decided to settle in Brazil, as he still found it difficult to provide for his wife and family in Amsterdam. He may have visited the Dutch colony's capital of Recife, but did not move there. One of the reasons his financial situation improved in Amsterdam was the arrival of two Portuguese Jewish entrepreneurs, the brothers Abraham and Isaac Pereyra. They hired Rabbi Manasseh to direct a small college or academy (a yeshibah in Spanish-Portuguese parlance of the time) they had founded in the city.
In 1644, Menasseh met Antonio de Montezinos, a Portuguese traveler and Marrano Sephardic Jew who had been in the New World. Montezinos convinced him of his conclusion that the South America Andes' Indians were the descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel. This purported discovery gave a new impulse to Menasseh's Messianic hopes, as the settlement of Jews throughout the world was supposed to be a sign that the Messiah would come. Filled with this idea, he turned his attention to England, whence the Jews had been expelled since 1290. He worked to get them permission to settle there again and thus hasten the Messiah's coming.
With the start of the Commonwealth, the question of the readmission of the Jews had found increased Protestant support, but it was often mooted under the growing desire for religious liberty. In addition, Messianic and other mystic hopes were then current in England. His book, the Hope of Israel, had first been published in Amsterdam in Hebrew (Mikveh Israel) and in Latin (Spes Israelis). In 1651 he offered to Christina, Queen of Sweden to become her Hebrew books agent. In 1652 his book was translated into English and published in London, prefixed with a dedication to the Parliament and the Council of State; his account of descendants of the Lost Tribes being found in the New World deeply impressed public opinion and stirred up many polemics in English literature. Despite their historic misfortunes and movements, Menasseh characterizes the condition of Jewry at the time by saying: ”Hence it may be seen that God hath not left us; for if one persecutes us, another receives us civilly and courteously; and if this prince treats us ill, another treats us well; if one banisheth us out of his country, another invites us with a thousand privileges; as divers princes of Italy have done, the most eminent King of Denmark, and the mighty Duke of Savoy in Nissa. And do we not see that those Republiques do flourish and much increase in trade who admit the Israelites?"
Oliver Cromwell was sympathetic to the Jewish cause, partly because of his tolerant leanings but chiefly because he foresaw the importance for English commerce of the participation of the Jewish merchant princes, some of whom had already made their way to London. At this juncture, the English gave Jews full rights in the colony of Surinam, which they had controlled since 1650. There is some debate among historians, particularly Jewish historian Ismar Schorsch, concerning whether or not Menasseh’s personal motives for pursuing the readmission of the Jews by England were primarily political or religious. Schorsch argues that the idea of England being a final place for Jews to inhabit in order to bring about the coming of the Messiah was hardly present in Hope of Israel, but rather was developed by Menasseh later in order to appeal to English Christians with Millenarian beliefs.
Some of the most notable statesmen, lawyers, and theologians of the day were summoned to this conference to discuss whether the Jews should be readmitted to England. The chief practical result was the declaration of judges Glynne and Steele that "there was no law which forbade the Jews' return to England." Though nothing was done to regularize the position of the Jews, the door was opened to their gradual return. On December 14, 1655, John Evelyn entered in his Diary, "Now were the Jews admitted." When Prynne and others attacked the Jews, Menasseh wrote his major work, Vindiciae judaeorum (1656), in response.
Soon after Menasseh left London, Cromwell granted him a pension, but he died before enjoying it, at Middelburg in the Netherlands in the winter of 1657 (14 Kislev 5418). He was conveying the body of his son Samuel home for burial. His tomb is in the Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel.
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