Friday, August 26, 2011

Rabbi Menashe ben Israel (1604-1657)

Menashe (Manasseh) Ben Israel was born in 1604 on Madeira Island, Portugal. His family, running away from the Inquisition, moved to the Netherlands in 1610, where the famous Sephardic community of Amsterdam began to flourish.

Menashe rose to eminence not only as a rabbi and an author, but also as a printer. He established the first Hebrew printer in Amsterdam.

One of his earliest works, written when he was in his twenties, El Conciliador, a book which reconciles all the apparent discrepancies in various parts of the Hebrew Bible. The book, originally written in Spanish, was translated in the nineteenth century to English by Elias Haim Lindo (see here ).
In 1638, he settled in the Dutch colonies of Brazil (Recife). But a few years later he was called back to Amsterdam to found and direct one of the first Jewish Day Schools in the city.
Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel wrote a letter in perfect English to oliver Cromwell (see here), explaining why the Jews should be readmitted into England (The jews were expelled from England in 1290. See here). Menashe Ben Israel himself traveled to London and as a result of his mission Cromwell allowed the Jews to establish a Synagogue and acquire a cemetery, as they were readmitted into England.

Portrait of Menasseh ben Israel painted by Rembrandt

Among many other books (most of them in Spanish) he wrote:

"The hope of Israel", a book which based on the story of Antonio de Montezinos, traces the origin of many American natives to the lost Ten tribes of Israel.

"Nishmat Chayim": a book that deals with all the questions about the Jewish doctrine of resurrection (techiyat hametim) and the nature of the soul.

He died in Amsterdam in 1657.

For more details about Rabbi Mensahe Ben Israel's life see here

For his complete biography read:
"Cecil Roth: Life of Menasseh Ben Israel (The Modern Jewish Experience)"