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The legacy of the Baal Shem Tov
(5520 AM - 1760 CE)
Tevele Schiff, Chief Rabbi
(5540 AM - 1780 CE)
Edict of Tolerance in Austria
(5541 AM - 1781 CE)
Moses Mendelssohn and the Haskalah
(5543 AM - 1783 CE)
(5544 AM - 1784 CE)
Edict of Tolerance in France
(5547 AM - 1787 CE)
Civil rights for the Jews of France
(5551 AM - 1791 CE)
The Pale of Settlement
(5551 AM - 1791 CE)
The crossroad of Judaism
(5555 AM - 1795 CE)
The legacy of Vilna Gaon
(5557 AM - 1797 CE)
Chaim of Volozhin
(5557 AM - 1797 CE)
Solomon Hirschell, Chief Rabbi
(5562 AM - 1802 CE)
Nachman of Breslov
(5562 AM - 1802 CE)
Napoleon establishes the Great Sanhedrin
(5566 AM - 1806 CE)
Schneur Zalman of Liadi and Napoleon
(5572 AM - 1812 CE)
Emancipation of the Jews in Prussia
(5572 AM - 1812 CE)
The Hep-Hep riots and pogroms
(5579 AM - 1819 CE)
Wellington and the Jews
(5593 AM - 1833 CE)
Reform Judaism of England
(5596 AM - 1836 CE)
The Industrial Age
(5600 AM - 1840 CE)
The Damascus affair
(5600 AM - 1840 CE)
Nathan Adler, Chief Rabbi
(5604 AM - 1844 CE)
Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto
(5608 AM - 1848 CE)
Emancipation of the Jews in Portugal
(5614 AM - 1854 CE)
Emancipation of the Jews in England
(5618 AM - 1858 CE)
The case of Edgardo Mortara
(5618 AM - 1858 CE)
When the Jews owned Jerusalem
(5621 AM - 1861 CE)
Moses Hess, the "proto-Zionist"
(5622 AM - 1862 CE)
Mark Twain visits the Holy Land
(5627 AM - 1867 CE)
Emancipation of the Jews in Spain
(5628 AM - 1868 CE)
(5630 AM - 1870 CE)
The Cremieux Decree
(5631 AM - 1870 CE)
The Mikveh Israel school
(5631 AM - 1870 CE)
The Chafetz Chayim
(5633 AM - 1873 CE)
Previous << Generation 47 >> Next
Hebrew years 5520 to 5640 (1760 - 1880 CE)
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
This 47th generation has witnessed major transformations in the world: calls for freedom, equalitarian rights, emancipation of people from the yoke of totalitarian regimes and monarchies, huge progress in sciences, development of industrialisation, migration of people from the fields to the big cities, and, also paradoxically, in another hand, a race and competition of these Western "liberated" nations to dominate other countries in Asia and Africa in the wave of colonialism. The generation will unavoidably end with the seeds that led, in the next generation, to major world conflicts and wars. This 47th generation is to be remembered as the precursor of Messianic times to follow.
The Baal Shem Tov died not long after the mass conversion of the Frankist Jews to Christianity. It is said that the existence of this movement, and the threat it caused to Judaism, had undermined his health and caused his demise. It seemed that the Frankist success was caused by an appetite from Jews of these times for something new that would shake their lives which were otherwise very doomed due to persecutions, poverty, and so on. The Baal Shem Tov came at the right time, for this point of view, as he engaged the mass of mainstream Judaism to rise their spirituality and somehow not be concerned any more by the difficulties of their materialistic conditions. The legacy of the Baal Sham Tov is not in books, but in the spirit he infused in people and in the Chasidism movement he created. He was also a man of great optimism who always followed the words that his old father told him before he had: Always believe that God is with you, and fear nothing. He applied this principle to fight the demons of the soul, such as fear.
The tomb of the Baal Shem Tov in Ukraine
Several of the Baal Shem Tov's students and followers opened their own schools to teach the Chasidic principles. One of his key principles was that God fundamentaly wants His people to experience goodness. So, even if situations were circumstances are bad, or seem bad, there is a good outcome to result from them. This principle of Bitachon Hashem (the Trust in God) gave huge optimism to masses of Jews in these difficult times, who experienced massacres from the Cossacks less than 100 years before, or who were shattered by the Frankist movement who endeavoured to convert their fellow Jews to Christianity. Since the Baal Shem Tov, Jews could see divine presence, and hope, in every situation or circumstance that fell upon them: everything had a divine design, even if we could not fully grasp its significance. The other important teaching was that the Torah was for every Jew, not just for the scholars, so the effort of his disciples was to bring the Torah to everyone of the community.
The Chasidic movement amplified during the years, with more and more students, and created several branches of Chasidic schools, named after the founders of the Besht's students or disciples. These Chasidic offsprings included the Chernobyl dynasty, the Belz dynasty, the Savran dynasty, the Boston dynasty, and so on. One of the dynasties came of direct descent from the Baal Shem Tov: the Breslover dynasty, founded by one of his great-grandson, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
Yet the Chasidic movement met with some opposition from Orthodox Judaism and a first excommunication was pronounced in 1777 in Vilnius, Lithuania. The reproach of the Rabbinical authorities was that the Chasidic movement was proselyte, aiming to bring Jews back into the faith and thus making compromises to achieve such goal.
Meshullam Solomon left for a post of Rabbi in Russia in 1780 and Schiff became the sole Chief Rabbi in England after a dispute that lasted 24 years. Schiff died in London in 1791.
Tevele Schiff, Chief Rabbi of England
(source: JewishGen, Susser Archive)
On 12 November 1781, the Habsburg emperor Joseph II of Austria promulgated an edict of Tolerance which gave freedom of religion to the subjects of his vast empire which was however mainly Catholic. This edict was initially applicable to the Protestants but also to the Jews from 2 January 1782. It was met with strong resistance from the Roman Catholic Church. The edict was a very different policy compared to the one followed by Joseph's mother, Maria Theresa, who looked at non-Catholic subjects as enemies of the state. Regarding the Jews, she was in fact the most anti-Semitic monarch at a time when Enlightement was gaining ground in Europe. In 1777, she wrote: "I know of no greater plague than ths race." (source from Wikipedia, citing Saperstein, Marc: "Your voice like a ram's horn: themes and texts in traditional Jewish preaching", Hebrew Union College Press, 1996)
The "tolerance" however had limitations: Jews children were allowed to schools but Hebrew and Yiddish language were forbidden for any official document or book. The very first article of this edict made this point clear:
1. In the future also, the Jews in Vienna shall not constitute their own community, under their own direction; each individual family enjoys the protection of the law of the land; no public worship, no public synagogue, no press of their own for works in Hebrew, for which they must use the press in Bohemia. --- Joseph II, Edict of Tolerance, 1782, to see the full text translated in English, click here
This "tolerance" paved the way to force Jews into assimilation to serve the state. It is no surprise that, by the time of one century, most Austrian Jewry had become wealthy (through education) but broadly assimilated too.
The Berlin of the middle 18th century was the city of Enlightment in Europe in these times. The monarch, Frederick the Great, was open to modernizing his state of Prussia after he transformed its status to kingdom. He adopted very liberal policies, even allowing criticism. Moses Mendelssohn, a Jew born in Dessau in 1729, became involved with the German philosophers of his era. His public life started in 1754 and by 1760 he already became a leading figure of the German litterature and philosophy. He however resisted conversion to Christianity and published a book in 1783 to explain his position publicly: Jerusalem, a treatise on ecclesiastical authority and Judaism. In that same year, he also published a German translation of the Torah (the so-called Bi'ur), which was the first of such work since the Luther version. Yet his position unveiled the contradictions of his thoughts: in one hand he promoted emancipation of the Jews and their embracing of German identity, but in another hand he aimed to keep the Hebrew language inside the Jewish community. He refused conversion either, despite other philosophers such as Lavater challenging him to push to the natural conclusion of his desire to assimilate into the German society. Mendelssohn's philosophy had reached its natural limits...
Mendelssohn is considered as one of the founders of the Jewish Enlightment movement (called Haskalah in Hebrew). His character helped non-Jews to realize that Jews were indeed able to integrate in their society and contribute to it. Berlin became the center for the Haskalah movement in Europe. Its existence greatly paved the way to their emancipation across Europe, but not without the associated dangers of total assimilation, as it happened for Moses' famous grandson, the composer Mendelssohn.
Moses Mendelssohn -- by Anton Graff, 1771
(Jewish Museum, Berlin)
Haskalah enabled Jews to live a secular life while remaining Jews (at least they thought it possible). It ultimately led secular (non-observant) Jews to end up in two camps after one century: those who assimilated and progressively forgone their Jewish roots, and those who realized that assimilation would not allow them to remain Jewish and campaigned for the creation of a Jewish State (this became the motto of Sionism).
Naphtali "Cerf" ben Dov Beer, born in Alsace in 1730, became a contractor to the French army to supply them with horses during the Seven-Year War (1756-1763). His relationship with the minister enabled him to obtain the right to reside in Strasbourg, and was the first Jew to be able to do so because the city was closed to them at night. In 1765, he became the representative of the Jews of Alsace and, in 1784, obtained the annulation of the corporeal tax (leibzoll in German) imposed to Jews in Alsace, under diverse forms, since the Medieval times to allow them to settle in this region after the expulsion from the French kingdom.
Cerf Beer -- 18th century portrait (Strasbourg Historical Museum)
In 1786, Cerf Beer established the yeshiva of Birscheim in Alsace, with Rabbi David Snitzheim, his brother-in-law, at its head. Snitzheim was later chosen to head the first Sanhedrin established in France by Napoleon Bonaparte.
Cerf Beer was a great philanthropist for the Jews of Alsace. He also ontributed, through his relation with Malesherbes, minister of Louis XVI, to their forthcoming emancipation in France, while perserving their Jewish identity and religion.
Cerf Beer died in 1793, during the French Revolution, and was buried in the old cemetery of Rosenwiller (ca. 1350), a town which once had hosted one of the largest Jewish community in Alsace.
On 7 November 1787, Louis XVI king of France issued an Edict of Tolerance for all non-Catholic people. This was done following the efforts of his minister Malesherbes, who had been in close relation with Cerf Beer as representing the Jews in this initiave. The edict was approved by the French Parliament on 29 January 1788 (20 Shevat 5548).
The state religion remained Roman Catholic but Protestants and Jews were granted full citizenship and civil rights without obligation to convert to Catholicism. This edict, more generous than its counterpart in Austra, signalled the end of religious discrimations in France. It was in fact the first true edict of tolerance towards Jews. However it was not applied with the same level of openess throughout France because the country, which was the largest of Europe at the time (about 25% of the European population) had many regions that depended upon the authority of local parliaments. These parliaments could adjust the central royal laws in local flavour. For example, the city of Metz in north-east France drastically limited the effect of the edict by excluding the Jews from it ! The officials of this region, and its clergy, continued to be a stern opponent to the emancipation of the Jews during the French Revolution.
The Edict of Tolerance of Louis XVI - 1787
Since the beginning of the French Revolution in the summer 1789, voices were heard to give full rights to all citizens, regardless of their faith, throughout France (with no restriction in the regions). This was after all one of the great principle of the Revolution. Yet, although such rights were easily adopted for the Protestants and other faiths, there was considerable opposition, mainly from the Alsacian representatives, to extend this freedom to the Jews as well. The passing of the law was not eased due to the fact that, since 1789, the Revolution went through several crisis, each time with a revolution on its own, executing the previous political leaders and starting some debates again. For example, Robespierre expressed strong opinion in favour of the emancipation of the Jews:
"Let us bring them to the happiness, to the nation, to the virtue, by returning the dignity of men and citizens to them. Let us remember that it can never be political, whatever it is said, to condemn to degradation and oppression a multitude of men who live among us." --- Robespierre, during the debates at the French National Assembly, december 1789 The comte of Clermont-Tonnerre expressed the assimilation principle upon which such emancipation should be granted:
We must refuse everything to the Jews as a nation and grant everything to the Jews as individuals. They must not remain in the state either a political body or an order. They must be individual citizens.
In January 1790, a first step is achieved by granting civil rights to the Jews from some regions of France. But, the greatest part of them lived in Alsace at the time and opposition from the local authorities there remained strong. The debate was postponed several times. In September 1791, the initial National Assembly had to be dismantled to be opened to national elections for the first time in France. But, barely two days before the closure of the first Assembly, the Jacobin deputee, Adrien Duport, rose to the chair and declared:
I believe that freedom of religion does not allow any distinction in the political rights of citizens because of their [religious] belief. The issue of political existence [of the Jews] was adjourned [several times]. However, Turks, Muslims, men of all sects are allowed to enjoy political rights in France. I request that the postponement [of the question of the Jews] is revoked and therefore to decree that Jews enjoy the rights of active citizenship iin France.
His speech was loudly applauded and the opponents ofthe vote were silenced as being against the Constitution itself ! The National Assembly then passed to the vote and passsed the law to finally grant all civil rights for all the Jews of France.
The civil rights for the Jews of Europe was obtained with the conquests of the French revolutionary armies and of Napoleon Bonaparte over the years that followed: Holland in 1796, Hesse in 1808, Frankfurt in 1811, Prussia in 1812. They also abolished the Spanish Inquisition after they entered Spain. The fall of Napoleon in 1815 did not stop a trend once it got started. Other revolutions shook Europe in the 1820s and in the 1830s with civil rights for the Jews obtained in 1830 in Belgium and Greece, 1835 in Sweden, 1839 in the Ottoman Empire, 1842 in Hanover, 1848 in Sardinia. Other countries followed at a much later stage: Hamburg in 1849, Switzerland in 1856, Britain in 1858, Italy in 1861, Austria in 1867, Germany in 1871 (after the French-German war of 1870-1871). The last major states to grant such rights were Russia in 1917 after the Bolchevik revolution, and in 1923 in Romania.
While the solution to the "Jewish Question" in Western Europe seemed to be the granting of their emancipation, the decision in Russia was rather to effect their expulsion. After unsuccessful several past attempts by her predecessors to convert the Jews, Catherine the Great decided to move them outside the boundary of Russia into a "buffer" zone spreading from Poland and the Baltic States in the North, until Ukraine and the Black Sea in the South: this became known as the Pale Settlement, where all Jews from Russia, Poland were ultimately amassed by the authorities.
The Pale of Settlement (source: The Jewish Encyclopedia, 1905)
Jews of Poland by Piotr Michalowski (ca. 1850)
The Hebrew year 5555 has surely a special significance, because of the combination of the number 5 which is associated to the Jewish condition. Indeed the achievement of the divine principles is associated with the number 10, and the number 5 is the only number between 1 and 9 that only needs to mix with itself to achieve 10, as 5+5 = 10 versus 1+9 or 2+8, etc. What does this means? Jews, if they want to achieve their closeliness to God, must remain within their own community and not mix with non-Jews, otherwise they would melt into the other people and entirely lose their Judaism. This is not a choice of theirs but a divine commandment in fact.
The year 5555 is this special moment when the Jews of Galut (Exile) are faced with many choices, and freedom to choose between the authority of Orthodox/Rabbinical Judaism, the trends to Emancipation (Haskalah) which is the doorstep to Assimilation or even willful conversion, but also Chasidism who intended to reignate the Jewish soul for those who were losing their faith, Reform Judaism who tried to build a Judaism that copied the Gentile culture by loosening the harsher Orthodox principles. The years that followed this year 5555, which was really the crossroad for Judaism, showed the result of these paths taken by the Jews of Europe. Their ancestors had faced about the same choices about 2000 years before, prior to the destruction of the Second Temple, when they were divided between four main sects, the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots. The latter were crushed in wars. The Essenes disappeared when their mysticism proved wrong. The Sadducees ultimately assimilated so well with the foreign cultures they admired (Greek, Roman) that they became part of them. Only the Pharisaic movement survived and became mainstream Judaism.
The Vilna Gaon died in 1797 at the age of 77 and was buried in his hometown of Vilnius with his family.
The tombs of Vilna Gaon and his family in Vilnius, Lithuania
At some point, he did want to make Alya to Israel but was prevented to complete his trip, probably due to the wars that plagued the continent in these years that followed the French Revolution of 1789. Yet he had the commitment from some of his disciples that they should move to Israel. Three groups of them, known as the Perushim, did so between 1808 and 1812 and established themselves in Safed than in Jerusalem. Their presence revived the Jewish soul in the Promised Land and initiated the Litvak school there (Litvak refers to Lithuanian yeshiva). In the Old City of Jerusalem, they also rebuilt the Hurvat Synagogue on the site that the old synagogue dating back from Juda ha-Nassi about 200 CE had been erected but that had laid in ruins for the past 140 years after the Ottoman authorities confiscated the property.
Like for other scholars, the Vilna Gaon also gave root to new schools from his students. One of them, Chaim of Volozhin, founded a yeshiva in his hometown of Volozhin in 1803. It became the model for Lithuanian yeshivot, and operated for nearly 90 years until its closure in 1892. He also authored a major work, Nefesh ha-Chaim ("The Spirit of Life").
Solomon Hirschell was chosen Chief Rabbi in 1802, after Tevele Schiff had died in 1791. He came from a Polish family.
Solomon Hirschell, Chief Rabbi of England
(source: JewishGen, Susser Archive)
Nachman was a great-grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. He was born in 1772 in the town where the Besht had his shul. He started to attract disciples even from his young age of Bar-Mitzva. In 1799, he travelled to Israel and helped reconcile some religious dispute between some of the Chasidic movements who had already expanded to the Holy Land. When he returned to Ukraine a few months later, he was already very well known and attracted thousands of students. In 1802, he and his followers moved to the town of Breslov, also in Ukraine, and settled there: they formed what became known as the Breslaver school or dynasty, still one of the most important school (yeshiva) to this day.
In 1810, he moved to the nearby city of Uman, where a big massacre had taken place some years earlier in 1768 at the hands of a rebel army of Cossacks. The number of Jews killed in that massacre, along with Poles, was estimated to be anywhere between 2000 and 20,000. After the fateful event, the city started to repopulate and hosted Jews again who had lived there for a long time, with relatives buried in its cemetary. Rabbi Nachman died there of tuberculosis during Sukkot 1810 at the young age of 38. The site of his grave is the occasion of an annual pilgrimage in Uman, Ukraine, over the High Festivals from Rosh Hashana until Sukkot, a pilgrimage which has greatly been facilitated since the fall of Communism in 1989. Today this pilgrimage attracts over 25,000 Breslaver students from all over the world.
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov grave in Uman, Ukraine
A few months before his death, which was anticipated for his two last years of life, Rabbi Nachman made the following vow to his closest disciples that will be valid beyond his death:
"If someone comes to my grave, gives a coin to charity, and says these ten Psalms [the Tikkun HaKlali he published], I will pull him out from the depths of Gehinnom [the place where the wicked go after their death]. It makes no difference what he did until that day, but from that day on, he must take upon himself not to return to his foolish ways." --- Nachman of Breslov, Tzaddik 122
On 6 October 1806, Napoleon decreed the creation of the Great Sanhedrin in France. This notification was sent in various languages to all Jewish communities of Europe, which caused negative reaction from the monarchs in Russia, Austria and Germany. Napoleon hoped to attract Jews in France to benefit from the civil rights and contribute to the improvement of the nation, so he brushed out all the critics, even those coming from his close advisors:
"We must prevail in encouraging the Jews who are only a very small minority amongst us. In the departments of the East, we find a great number of Jews that are very honest and industrious." --- Napoleon, reply to Marshall Kellermann on the Jewish question, cited in Aish web site
After further campaigns from the opponents to freedom for the Jews, Napoleon eventually tried to soften the freedom law in 1808, but his action caused regions to impose more restrictions in 1808. But in 1811, he imposed to remove all restrictions placed on the Jews. Judaism became the third religion of France, after the Catholics and the Protestants.
Napoleon established the Great Sanhedrin
Schneur Zalman was born in 1745 in present-day Belarus, Western Russia, and was from the great grandson of the Maharal of Prague. He was educated in the town of Lyubavichi near Smolensk, the holy city of Imperial Russia. In 1764, he became the disciple of the "Great Maggid", Rabbi Dovber of Mezeritch, who was himself a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov. So Schneur Zalman became part of the new movement of Chasidism that had reached that part of Western Russia. Then he became the leader of the Chasidic movement in Lithuania when Rabbi Dovber died in 1772, but he had to face the opposition from leaders of Orthodox Judaism. Yet many Chasidic disciples started to spread their teaching onto Europe and received growing enthousiasm from masses of Jews.
Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chabad
Schneur Zalman authored a book called Tanya where he endeavoured to combine Chasidism with Kabbalah. This gave a spiritual turn to the Chasidic movement and birth to a branch of it called Chabad, which is one very important movement until today across the world. He chose the name Chabad as an acronym of the three Hebrew words: Chochma (wisdom), Bina (understanding) and Da'at (knowledge). The Chabad movement is also known as Lubavich, named after the Russian town where it was started.
When Napoleon invaded Europe and spread the principles inherited from the French Revolution, with equalitarism and civil rights for all citizens regardless of faith, many Jews in Europe thought that he was guided by God. Yet, Schneur Zalman saw it differently, with emancipation being a frist step to assimilation. He therefore engaged his followers to rather support the Czar, when Napoleon's armies started to invade Russia in summer 1812, as he explained to the following letter to a friend:
Should Napoleon be victorious, wealth among the Jews will be abundant. . .but the hearts of Israel will be separated and distant from their father in heaven. But if our master [Czar] Alexander will triumph, though poverty will be abundant. . . the heart of Israel will be bound and joined with their father in heaven. . . And for God's sake: Burn this letter. --- Rabbi Schneur Zalman's letter to Rabbi Moshe Meisels, Igrot Kodesh Admur ha-Zaken, No. 64, cited in Chabad web site
Upon Rabbi Zalman's directives, Rabbi Meisels acted as a spy for the Russian army while he was employed as translator by the invading French army. Rabbi Zalman died in late 1812 when the French army was retreating from Russia after Napoleon's unfulfilled expectation to force the Czar to a peace treaty. Rabbi Meiseils emigrated to Hebron, Israel, in 1816 where he died in 1849.
During the Napoleonic wars, Prussia was heavily defeated. Their king, Frederick-Willhem III, maybe feeling that he needed the support of the broadest possible number of his population, passed a decree on 11 March 1812 to grant most of the citizen rights to his Jewish subjects. This decree which emancipated the Jews marked a turn in the religious affairs in Prussia and Germany. While France had granted such rights to its Jews, and while Napoleon imposed it in all the countries where he established his rule and those allied to him, these rights generally did not survive the fall of his Empire in 1814 because the Congress of Vienna nullified many of the laws passed in France and in Europe during the French Revolution and the Empire. Such attempts to reverse the Jewish Emancipation were also made in Prussia and in other German States after the fall of Napoleon. For example, in Prussia, a law of 1822 forbade the Jews access to academic jobs. In other states however, such as in Bavaria and in Bade, their rights were maintained, despite some resentment from the non-Jewish population.
Even with some early emancipation in these times, the Jews were always submitted to high taxation, forbidance to possess any building, restrictions on their commerce, and lack of political right.
The move towards emancipation of the Jews was not accepted broadly by the popular masses. The first Anti-semitic riots against such reform took place in the Kingdom of Bavaria, which had been an ally to Napoleon during the era of his Empire. The riots started in August 1819 in the city of Wurzburg and spread to other cities within the previous zone of influence of the French Empire, meaning Bavaria and the so-called Confederation of the Rhine. The German people probably thought that the emancipation was the result of a pro-Jewish policy that Napoleon had, and took the opportunity of his demise to settle their score against the Jews of their region who had lobbied the Congress of Vienna in 1815 to ask emancipation within all Europe. The riots lasted until October 1819 and resulted in the death of many Jews and destruction of Jewish property in the cities of Bavaria and Western Germany.
Hep-Hep pogrom in Frankfurt - 1819
The Duke of Wellington, the victor of Napoleon, was a very influential character of British (and European) politics of the times. After the failure of his governement formed in the late 1820's, a liberal cabinet was in charge of the affairs of Britain by 1833. It was a time for potential reforms, after many years of Conservatism, and naturally the question of religous emancipation came to be discussed in Parliament. Wellington made a declaration in favour of the emancipation of Catholics but strongly opposed the same for the Jews, arguing there was no need for it:
But no such necessity [for emancipation] existed in the present instance, nor did any reason, equally forcible, now occur. Indeed, no one noble Lord who had supported the Bill, had attempted to prove any necessity for it. They had heard of other countries. Buonaparte had granted great privileges to the Jews, it was true; but it was on reasons of strong-policy, and not till he had carefully inquired whether there would be any danger in so doing. Whereas, here, there was not the slightest previous examination attempted. All that could be contended in favour of this Bill was, that the present was the age of liberal principles, and that this Bill suited the liberal principles of the age. --- Report of Parliament debate, 1833; to see full text, click here
So the Bill for proposed emancipation was rejected. And England, the first major country of Europe to expel the Jews would also become the last one to emancipate the Jews.
The main crisis that Chief Rabbi Hirschell met during his tenure was the rise of Reform Judaism in England. The movement created by Moses Mendelssohn in Germany the previous century gained audience first in the synagogue of Hamburg, Germany, which introduced several changes in the religious service. This was done in response for the desire for more secular Judaism but, inevitably, it also opened wide the door for faster assimilation and intermarriage. The movement reached England and several members of the Great Synagogue wished to introduce such changes in the service as German synagogues were already doing. Hirschell's response was to oppose them vigorously and excomunicating the Reformers from (Orthodox) Judaism. This led the latter to erect a temple for their own aspirations, in 1840, as the West London Synagogue. The first Rabbi of this synagogue was David Woolf Marks who largely contributed to establish the prayer books that are used since in Reform synagogues of Britain.
Later in 1856, the British Parliament passed a law enabling this Reform Synagogue to register marriages, and this act established the Reform movement more strongly within Britain.
According to the author of the Zohar, human knowledge would greatly improve after the 6th century of the 6th millennium from Creation:
And after six hundred years of the sixth thousand there will be opened the gates of wisdom above and the fountains of wisdom below, and the world will make preparations to enter on the seventh thousand [the Messianic era] as man makes preparations on the sixth day of the week, when the sun is about to set. As a mnemonic to this, we take the the verse, (Genesis 7:1) "In the six hundredth year in the life of Noah [...] all the fountains of the great deep were broken open". --- Zohar, part I, 117a
This ancient prediction proved correct because, from Hebrew year 5600 (secular 1840 CE), humanity started to experience a huge leap into human knowledge, entering industrial age, mechanised work, and many more changes that followed. The world really took a drastic turn from the middle of the 19th century and the limits of knowledge have been pushed further and further in the 20th century and this process continues to this day as the world gets close to the end of the "sixth day"...
A Christian monk, who was a French citizen, and his Arab servant diasappeared in Damascus in early 1840. The French consul in the city, Ulysse de Ratti-Menton, led the investigation and quickly accused the Jews of having done a ritual murder. This false accusation had disappeared in Europe, so it came to the surprise of other European consuls to see their French colleague carry out this accusation to the Arab authorities. Eight Jews were accused of the crime, tortured, some finally confessed the crime, one of them died from torture, and another preferred to convert to Islam to avoid the harsh ordeal
The affair caused a big outcry in Europe, especially among the Jewish communities, as an accusation dating back from the Medieval times. After months of campaign, the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, overruled the judgment of Damascus and condemned the accusation of blood libel:
...and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth... --- Firman issued by Sultan Abdulmecid I, cited from Wikipedia
The main consequence of this Damascus affair was to make the Jews of Christian world, who started to enjoy from the benefits of Emancipation, that their brethren in Muslim countries were still under the uncertainty of archaic laws and rumours. It became the mission for the emancipated Jews to help improve the condition of Oriental Jews.
Solomon Hirschell served as Chief Rabbi for 40 years until his death in 1842. He was succeeded by Nathan Marcus Adler in 1844, who came from Hanover, Germany. The post of Chief Rabbi for Britain, and the British Empire, was by then a big post, because Britain had been victorious in Europe and controlled the maritime routes over the world. There were a dozen of candidates for the post but, apparently, Adler owed his election thanks to the special relationship he had with Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge and Regent for Hanover, who had recommended Adler as Chief Rabbi.
Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler
(source: Jewish Museum London)
Under Adler's tenure, the Jews of Britain benefited from emancipation and better rights than ever before.
The advent of the Industrial Age also meant the feel of inegalities to ripe the benefits of human progress: some became extremely rich from it, and masses were poor workers just ensuring that the machines worked. This led two political theorists, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, to publish a small book in February 1848, The Communist Manifesto, that aimed to make workers realize their strength if they acted together: "Proletarians of all countries, unite !". This was a call for mass popular revolt. This publication had a lasting influence over the years that followed as it was the root to the existence of trade unions, of Socialism parties in Europe, the Communist era, and more.
Karl Mark was born in Prussia in 1818 from a middle-class Jewish family. His ancestors were all Orthodox Jews from Holland but his father was the first member of his family to receive a secular education and he adopted Enlightenment. His son Karl followed the same path and diverted further from Judaism. After his studies, he moved to Paris in 1843 where he met his long-life collaborator, Friedrich Engels. Being expelled from France in 1849 after the publication of his Manifesto, he found refuge in London where he took part in the organisation of the First International, an association of workmen, in 1864. The concept of this association greatly influenced the revolt in Paris, during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871, called the Commune de Paris, harshly repressed by the French authorities while the Prussian troops stood and watched from the outskirts of the city.
Karl Marx died in London in 1883. Only about 10 people, his family and close political friends, attended his funeral but he later became acknowledged as one of the most influential men in world history.
In 1854, the King of Portugal, during an official visit to Amsterdam, went to the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue where he publicly condemned the "impolitic conduct" of his predecessors and encouraged Jews to return to Portugal (source: Revue des deux Mondes, article "Les Juifs de Hollande", by Esquiros, 1856, période 2, tome 5).
The emancipation of the Jews was a long process in Britain as compared to Continental Europe. Until it was won, many Jews who wanted to take part in public affairs or business felt compelled that conversion to Christianity was the only possible way. This was the case, for example, for Disraeli family whose conversion enabled one member of their family to became Prime Minister of Britain ! But other Jews patiently acted towards emancipation rather than renouncing to their faith and tradition. This was the case of Lionel de Rothschild who was elected in 1847 as MP (Member of Parliament) for the City of London but, due to the fact that MP's were required to swear an oath on the New Testament, with a statement saying upon the true faith of a Christian", when entering first the House of Commons, he had to refuse to comply and was dismissed. This brought the need for another election to elect an MP for his constituency, and he was again candidate, and was again elected, and again prevented to join the House. The saga continued until 1858 when, finally and after several previous attempts to amend the procedure of entering the House, he was finally able to become MP.
Lionel de Rothschild entering Parliament in 1858 -- by Henry Barraud, 1872
(source: The Rothschild Archive)
This milestone could probably be considered as the main event that concretised the emancipation of the Jews in Britain who, from then on, could take public office while keeping their religion. Some years later, in 1885, another Rothschild succeeded to be chosen for the House of Lords and was the first Jew to be so.
Another dominant figure of this emancipation effort was David Salomons who became Sheriff of the City of London in 1835, and then Lord Mayor of London in 1855. Trained as a lawyer, he also was the first Jewish magistrate in England in 1849. By marriage, he was linked to both the Rothschild and the Montefiore.
The 6 years old Jewish boy Edgardo Levi Mortara was taken away from his parents in Bologna, Northern Italy, by the Church authorities in June 1858 after they learned that the family servant had baptized the child in secret during a serious illness. As he had recovered from it, the Church considered that his recovery was owned to the baptism and that he thus ought to be raised in the Roman Catholic faith. The child was taken away from is family to a house in Rome dedicated to Christian converts. Pope Pius IX got personally involved in the case and only allowed the parents to have their child back if they would also convert to Catholicism. This case caused an outcry across Europe and the public opinion was critical of the Church authority which, at the time, controlled most of Italy under the Papal States. This didn't last long however because, when the French troops that protected the Eternal City where removed in 1870, insurgents stormed in and put an end to the authority of the Papal States in the Italian Peninsula: the road for the Italian national independence was paved. Already in 1859, Bologna was captured by Piedmont and, by 1870, only Rome remained under the authority of the Papal States while both the Northern and Southern regions of the peninsula had been liberated by nationalistic movements.
The case of Mortara was also the reason why the Alliance Israelite Universelle was founded in 1860 in France: Adolphe Cremieux and other founders wanted to provide a legal assistance to Jewish families in case such incident would occur to them. The case was also seen as a warning that Jewish families should neither employ Gentile servants nor at least leave their children in their unattended care. As a coincidence, the year 1860 also saw another event that later brought the solution to the Jewish question: the birth of Theodore Herzl.
In 1870, Mortara was 19 years old and then could choose to return to his parents' faith. But he wished to remain Catholic and entered the Augustine Order. His father died the following year and his mother in 1895. He spent most of his life to unsuccessfully attempt to convert Jews to Catholicism. He died in Belgium in 1940 at the age of 88.
Edgardo Mortara with his mother and brother in 1880
An Italian scholar travelled to the Holy Land and remained thee for about 8 years. This gave him the opportunity to learn about the customs of the Jews and the Arabs. He also witnessed a peculiar circumstance that he narrated as follows:
We all know, and the Arabs also are aware, that God said to Abraham: "Unto your seed will I give this land" (Genesis 12:7), and repeated the promise several times to him, and to Isaac and Jacob. So fully do the Mahommedans believe this, that they kept a jealous watch over the tombs of these three patriarchs at Hebron, to prevent the Jews from approaching and obtaining them as intercessors with God to restore to them their country. Every Mahommedan also knows that Jerusalem once belonged to the Hebrews, and was taken from them as a punishment for their infractions of the laws of Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon. Now, on July 8th, 1861, the day on which the news of the death of Abdul Megid and the accession of Abdul Meziz arrived at Jerusalem, the Jews waiting with all formalities on the governor Suraya pasha and requested him to restore to them the keys of Jerusalem, according to a right which they claimed on the death of one sultan and the accession of another. [...]
Their decision was in favour of the Israelites, the whole council being aware that they were the original owners of the country. [...]
So, in 1861, the Jewish nation possessed for one hour the keys of Jerusalem, which were delivered over to them by the Arabs in consequence of the unvarying tradition which they had preserved.--- Pierotti, Ermete, Customs and Traditions of Palestine, illustrating the manners of the ancient Hebrews, translated by T.G. Bonney, Cambridge 1864
Moses Hess was an emancipated Jew from Bonn in Germany, which was under Napoleonic French rule when he was born in 1812. His early journalistic and political career followed the path of Karl Marx. The salvation of the Jewish people would surely, in their eyes, be achieved by the broader Socialism. Hess thus collaborated with both Marx and Engels. But, from 1861, when he lived in Germany, he was confronted to core Anti-Semitism and changed radically his opinions. He published in 1862 a book titled Rome and Jerusalem. In it, he condemned the assimilation to Gentile societies for the Jews, as not offering them the emancipation they hoped for, and rather proposed that they should build their own state in the Holy Land ! Although he himself married a Gentile, before his change of opinion, he declared:
"Even an act of conversion cannot relieve the Jew of the enormous pressure of German anti-Semitism."--- cited from Wikipedia
His warning and solution went unnoticed or unsupported at the time when the emancipation of the Jews was becoming more and more prevalent in European countries. Yet the optimism of the Jews was not going to last... For his early stance, Hess won the right of having been a "proto-Zionist". He died in Paris in 1875. But his remains were transferred and buried in Israel in 1961 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
Mark Twain visited the Holy Land in 1867, and published the memoirs of this travel. There he described the utter desolation of the land:
We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds—a silent, mournful expanse, wherein we saw only three persons—Arabs, [...]The narrow canon in which Nablous, or Shechem, is situated, is under high cultivation, and the soil is exceedingly black and fertile. It is well watered, and its affluent vegetation gains effect by contrast with the barren hills that tower on either side. One of these hills is the ancient Mount of Blessings and the other the Mount of Curses and wise men who seek for fulfillments of prophecy think they find here a wonder of this kind—to wit, that the Mount of Blessings is strangely fertile and its mate as strangely unproductive. We could not see that there was really much difference between them in this respect, however. [...]The further we went the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare, repulsive and dreary the landscape became. There could not have been more fragments of stone strewn broadcast over this part of the world, if every ten square feet of the land had been occupied by a separate and distinct stonecutter's establishment for an age. There was hardly a tree or a shrub any where. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bounds the approaches to Jerusalem.--- Twain, Mark, "The Innocents Abroad", from chapter 47
This description fits the prophecy of the Bible which describes how God will drive the Jews away from the promised land, because of their sins, but that He will not allow any other nation to live from the land as it will become desolate until the Jews will return:
And the anger of the Lord be kindled against you, and He shut up the heaven, so that there shall be no rain, and the ground shall not yield her fruit; and you perish quickly from off the good land which the Lord gives you.--- Deuteronomy 11:17
In Spain, the so-called Glorious Revolution took place in 1868 which resulted in the deposition of the reigning monarch, Isabella II, and the setting of new laws of rights for all citizens. As a result, the infamous expulsion decree of 1492 was de facto nullified. Thus, by a strange coincidence of History, the efforcement of this decree and its annulation occurred with the reign of the two Isabellas of Spain !
Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michael Weisser, so called the Malbim, published a commentary on the Torah in 1870. It was the first monumental Biblical commentary since the Medieval times with scholars such as Rashi, Nahmanides, Maimonides and others. His motivation to undertake such work was to fight assimilation and Reform Judaism in particular, which were too keen to reject the Rabbinical authorities, by proving the Oral Law to be correct.
He was born in 1809 in Ukraine, not far from a town named after the infamous Cossack leader Khmelnytsky, and studied in Warsaw where his fame started to rise. In 1840 he moved to Kempen where he remained for 18 years (thus Malbim is also known as "Der Kempener"). In 1858, he accepted the function of Chief Rabbi in Bucharest, Romania, which was then under the Ottoman rule. But, in 1864, for political reason, he had to leave Bucharest and suffered a series of setbacks with calumny and persecution mostly because he opposed the trend for Jews in Europe to endorse enlightenment which he justly saw as a doorstep to assimilation. He died in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1879 during one of his travels.
In 1868, Malbim gave a (wrong) prediction to the venue of the Messiah:
"We are writing these words in 1868 and according to our calculation the time of the redemption will be removed a further 60 years… for the rise of a scion of the house of David, the building of the Temple, and all the promises of the prophets will be fulfilled at the same time, and their luster will shine forth from the year 1913 to the year 1928 [Hebrew year 5688], when the Temple will already have been established." --- sources: Jewish Encyclopedia and Jewish Virtual Library
More interestingly to this site, Malbim gave his view on the apparent contradiction of the so-called "Persian rule" which has been stated by Seder Olam Rabbah to fit the chronology of Jewish history back into the fixed date of the destruction of the Second Temple. According to Jewish tradition (which may have been set by the author of Seder Olam himself), it is assumed that the duration of the Persian rule over the land of Israel only lasted 34 years (to remind the issue, check the page on Seder Olam Rabbah in this site):
Behold! Regarding this verse [Nechemiah 12:10-11, which discusses the descendants of Jeshua, the first High Priest to office in the Second Temple, who was the son of Jehozadak, the High Priest who went into captivity in Babylon] “none of the warriors can find their hands!”[Psalms 76:6], Chazal [i.e. the Sages] state that “For thirty-four years the Persian Empire was spread before the Temple” [Talmud, Avodah Zarah, 9a] meaning that from the building of the [Second] Temple until Alexander the Macedonian was thirty-four years. And [they] say that Simon the Just went out to greet Alexander on his return from the war with Darius. If this is so, then Simon the Just was the second generation from Ezra and Nechemiah, as the Rambam writes in his introduction to Seder Zeraim and is also written by many great authorities. If so, how could there be six generations in such a short time? Especially according to Rashi who writes that all of them were Cohanim Gedolim? Despite all this, I don’t know what all the noise is about. Who says that they were all born within thirty-four years? If we say that Jeshua son of Jehozadak was 105 years old when he returned from Babylon and built the Temple, and that he and his sons all had children at the age of fifteen, if so then when Jeshua son of Jehozadak was ninety years old, Simon the Just was already born, and when the Temple was built he was fifteen years old, and at the time of Alexander he was already forty-five years old. --- Malbim, Commentary on Nehemiah, 12:10
We see from the above that Malbim supports the traditional Rabbinical view that, within 34 years of Persian, several generations of High Priests were born, from Jeshua until Simon the Just, according to Nehemiah 12:10-11: And Jeshua begot Joiakim, and Joiakim begot Eliashib, and Eliashib begot Joiada, and Joiada begot Jonathan and Jonathan begot Jaddua [who was the father or grand-father of Simon the Just]. Thus from the Second Temple to Alexander, there were 7-8 generations of High Priests within 34 years... This is the view taken by the Sages and supported by Seder Olam and subsequent commentators. They could indeed have been born successively at an early age of their fathers (Malbim mentions that they must all of them have beget at the age of 15 years old in average) but then did they become High Priest and also died at a very old age in order to afford to have 7 to 8 High Priests in the 34 years period? Possible but unlikely...
The Persian rule of 34 years not only poses an issue with the lineage of the High Priests but also with the actual number of Persian kings. In one place, Malbim follows the Jewish tradition that says that four Persian kings were in fact the same one and in other places he admits that there is debate on the matter and that nothing can be concluded. This issue in the traditional Jewish chronology is not a closed matter, from what we can conclude.
In October 1870, when the Imperial State collapsed in France in the course of the French-Prussian War, the Republic was established again with a temporay government in exile outside Paris which was besieged. One member of this goverment was Adolphe Cremieux, a Jew who embraced French culture and also was the co-founder of the Alliance Israelite Universelle created in the wake of the Mortara affair in Italy. With a quorum of French deputees, while many other ones were on the roads escaping the war zone, Cremieux managed to pass a law on 24 October 1870 (29 Tishri 5631) granting automatic French citizenship to all Jews in the colony of Algeria.
In 1870, another French Jew, Charles Netter, who also was one of the six co-founders of the Alliance Israelite Universelle (AIU) in 1860 founded the Mikveh Israel school near Jaffa in a location that later became part of the Jewish city of Tel Aviv. He had visited Palestine in 1868 on behalf of the AIU and obtained the right to build a school on a land granted by the Ottoman authorities. A couple of years later, the first Jewish agricultural school opened and called Mikveh Israel. It first met with opposition from the early Jewish settlers in Palestine, who were more religious and only focused on reviving the presence of Torah in the Holy Land, while Mikveh Israel was the first secular-based school established there. The funding came from wealthy European Jews who supported the AIU, such as the Rothschild family.
Charles Netter died in Jaffa in 1882 and was buried on the grounds of Mikveh Israel.
Israel Meir Kagan was born in Zhetl, Belarus, in 1836. At the age of 10, his family moved to Vilnius and he studied there. At 17, he married and settled in Radun, Belarus, where he served as the town rabbi. In 1869, he established his own yeshiva in Radun which grew in fame and importance over the years, and became known worldwide as the Yeshiva Chafetz Chayim of Radun. The name came from the teaching he professed, about bringing goodness and compassion in the world, and the book he eventually published about it in 1873. He lived a long life and died in Radun in 1933, aged 95.
Israel Meir Kagan, the "Chafetz Chayim"
 See related passages in Malbim Commentary on Daniel 11:2, on Ezra 6:14, on Ezra 7:1, and on I Chronicles 3:24
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