Menasseh Ben Israel’s petition to Oliver Cromwell

Menasseh ben Israel’s petition to Oliver Cromwell • The National Archives

This document, from The National Archives, is a petition to Oliver Cromwell from Rabbi Menasseh Ben Israel, a distinguished Amsterdam scholar who came to England from Amsterdam in 1655 to petition Cromwell to readmit Jews to the country & allow them to worship. See the fully transcribed document here.

One of the signatories, merchant Antonio Fernandez Carvajal, was the first Jew to be granted British citizenship, by Cromwell in 1655. Originally from Portugal, Carvajal’s extensive West Indies trade let him serve as grain contractor for Parliamentary forces during the Civil War. In 1656 Cromwell allowed Jews permission “to meet privately in their houses for prayer” & to lease a cemetery. In 1657, about 30 Sephardi families including Carvajal founded a synagogue in Creechurch Lane, London.

Rembrandt sketch of Menasseh Ben Israel • Jewish Museum London

Here is Ben Israel’s statement about his petition, dated April 10, 1656:

“The communication and correspondence I have held for some years since, with some eminent persons of England, was the first originall of my undertaking this design. For I alwayes found by them, a great probability of obtaining what I now request, whilst they affirmed that at this time the minds of men stood very well affected towards us, and that our entrance into this Island would be very acceptable and well pleasing unto them. And from this beginning sprang up in me a semblable affection, and desire of obtaining this purpose. For, for seven yeares on this behalf, I have endeavoured and sollicited it, by letters and other means, without any intervall. For I conceived that our universall dispersion was a necessary circumstance, to be fulfilled before all that shall be accomplished which the Lord hath promised to the people of the Jewes, concerning their restauration, and their returning again into their own land, according to those words, Dan. 12,7: When we shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished. As also, that this our scattering, by little, and little, should be amongst all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other, as it is written Deut. 28,64: I conceived that by the end of the earth might be understood this Island. And I knew not, but that the Lord who often works by naturall meanes, might have design’d and made choice of me for the bringing about this work. With these proposals therefore, I applyed my self, in all zealous affection to the English Nation, congratulating their glorious liberty which at this day they enjoy; together with their prosperous peace. xviiAnd I entituled my book named The Hope of Israel, to the first Parliament, and the Council of State. And withall declared my intentions. In order to which they sent me a very favorable passe-port. Afterwards I directed my self to the second, and they also sent me another. But at that juncture of time my coming was not presently performed, for that my kindred and friends, considering the checquered, and interwoven vicissitudes, and turns of things here below, embracing me, with pressing importunity, earnestly requested me not to part from them, and would not give over, till their love constrained me to promise, that I would yet awhile stay with them. But notwithstanding all this, I could not be at quiet in my mind (I know not but that it might be through some particular divine providence) till I had anew made my humble addresses to his Highnesse the Lord Protector (whom God preserve), and finding that my coming over would not be altogether unwelcome to him, with those great hopes which I conceived, I joyfully took my leave of my house, my friends, my kindred, all my advantages there, and the country wherein I have lived all my lifetime, under the benign protection, and favour of the Lords, the States Generall, and Magistrates of Amsterdam; in fine (I say) I parted with them all, and took my voyage for England. Where, after my arrivall, being very courteously received, and treated with much respect, I presented to his most Serene Highnesse a petition, and some desires, which for the most part, were written to me by my brethren the Jewes, from severall parts of Europe, as your worship may better understand by former relations. Whereupon it pleased His Highnesse to convene an Assembly at Whitehall, of Divines, Lawyers, and Merchants, of different persuasions, and opinions. Whereby men’s judgements, and sentences were different. Insomuch, that as yet, we have had no finall determination from his most Serene Highnesse. Wherefore those few Jewes that were here, despairing of our expected successe, departed hence. And others who desired to come hither, have quitted their hopes, and betaken themselves some to Italy, some to Geneva, where that Commonwealth hath at this time, most freely granted them many, and great privileges.”

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