By Monica S. Meyer
Senior Honors Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2009
Introduction: In December 1655 Major General Edward Whalley, in a letter to Oliver Cromwell’s secretary John Thurloe, remarked “I am glad so godly and prudent a course is taken concerning the Jewes; yet cannot conceive the reason, why so great varietye of opinion should bee amongst such men.” This is precisely the question I plan to explore in this thesis. What were the differing opinions regarding Jews and how did these notions play a role in the readmission of Jews to England? Persons of the Jewish faith have often been at the center of religious, social, and political controversies, and the Protectorate in England is no exception. Under the direction of Oliver Cromwell, England ushered in an age of relative religious tolerance and openness to unorthodox ideas. Despite the recognition of dissenting religious sects, tolerance was limited to those who recognized Christ as their savior. The ever-present Jewish Question enters the scene due in part to the drastic change in English government in the 1650s.2 Much like revolutionaries in France in 1789, seventeenth century English people felt that they were part of a new era in history, one that would eventually lead to domestic peace, economic prosperity, and perhaps, the second coming of Christ.
Various clergy and laity alike weighed in on the subject of readmission, and their justifications for and against Jewish reintegration into English society ranged from medieval ideas to the hope that the final conversion of Jews to Christianity would aid in Christ’s return. These arguments were clouded with religious, social, and economic rhetoric, which made a seemingly religious issue pertinent to individuals of all walks of life.
Much of the existing literature on the subject discusses Manasseh Ben Israel’s campaign to lobby Oliver Cromwell, which emphasizes the assets Jews would provide the kingdom if readmitted. David Katz’s Philosemitism and the Readmission of the Jews to England, a premier work on the subject, addresses a number of issues, including Millenarianism, which played an enormous role in Christian advocacy of the readmission. All-encompassing works such as Cecil Roth’s A History of the Jews in England and David Katz’s The Jews in the History of England sufficiently describe the debate but fail to further define and explore the varying opinions over readmission. Elaine Glaser’s works are more specific to the issue of readmission, but her chief point is the ownership of responsibility for readmission (that Charles II ratified the readmission rather than Cromwell). Her discussion of the debate itself in “Reasons…Theological, Political, and mixt of both’: A Reconsideration of the ‘Readmission’ of the Jews to England provides a more comprehensive approach to the subject, drawing on mid-seventeenth century pamphlets in the context of wider constitutional politics. She concludes that the debate surrounding Readmission was ultimately an exercise in legal and religious polemic amongst English Christians, not an attempt to reach a solution regarding the resettlement of Jews in England.