Monday, January 18, 2010
Conversion to Judaism described in 1853.
I wouldn't draw too many conclusions from this, but there are three interesting points.
1. The author is unaware of male converts in Britain, but knows of several females.
2. Her head is shorn?
3. The reference to going to Holland for the conversion itself. I was surprised to read this in 1853. Formerly in Europe there was only one place where it was legal to convert to Judaism, or at least not particularly controversial, and that was Holland. Consequently, many gentiles wishing to convert went to Holland where they could legally convert. In addition, Jews who had converted to Christianity would go to Holland if they wanted to revert back to Judaism, Holland being the place they could do so safely. In the case of England, I don't think it was really illegal; certainly not by 1853; but traditionally the Jews in England would not convert gentiles, believing that they had agreed to this condition to Oliver Cromwell when he allowed Jews to be readmitted to England in the 17th century. As the story goes, Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel had lobbied for the legal readmission of the Jews, and Cromwell was leaning toward it but raised three problems. His problems were that Jews would engage in usury, that Jews are rumored to kill Christians for their blood, and that Jews would proselytize Christians. Menasseh ben Israel was able to convince him that the blood accusation was a libel, that so long as the Jews were not forbidden from other trades they would not engage in usury and that Cromwell was simply mistaken about proselytization, which is forbidden (or at least frowned on -- me) by the religion. These arguments were accepted.