Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A tale of two pamphlets; a blood libel pamphlet and its strident rebuttal in England in 1656

In 1656 a small pamphlet was published in London called The Case of the Jevvs stated: or The Jewes Synagogue Opened. With Their preparations in the morning before they go thither, and their doings at night when they come home. Their practices in their Synagogues and some select actings of theirs in ENGLAND, upon Record.

While much of it only mildly hostile to Judaism (the Jews blaspheme when they praise God for bestowing the cock with wisdom!") the reference to "some select actings of theirs in England, upon Record" refers to the blood libel, which this book wastes no time in stating as a historical fact on the first page of the pamphlet. Here is the title page:

A little later that year a man named Joseph Copley published a vigorous, really vehement rebuttal called  The Case of the Jews is Altered and Their Synagogue Shut To all Evil-Walkers. Or, a Vindication of the JEWES From the false Imputations laid upon them in a scrurrilous PAMPHLET, INTITLED The Case of the Jews Stated, etc. Presumably Joseph Copley was really a pseudonym for Yankel Koppelberg. No, I'm kidding. I am not sure who he was, but here is his title page:

Although not really stated much in either of these two pamphlets, there can be little doubt that the background has to do with the question of the readmission of the Jews, which some in England were debating at the time. The year before Menasseh hen Israel had been a guest of Oliver Cromwell's in London, where he formally petitioned for the readmission of the Jews. Menasseh ben Israel is referred to twice in the second pamphlet, in defense of the Jews, whereas opponents of resettlement pointed to what they probably believed were the historical crimes of the Jews, as a reason for not allowing them back in England after 350 years. The background of the resettlement question can be read in this good Wiki entry here.

I will post both pamphlets in their entirety below, but here is some summary.

1. Against.

The writer begins by describing synagogues, and states that when the Jews "were in England (as Matthew Parris hath recorded...) [they] used every year to steal a young Boy (the child of a Christian, and to circumcise him, and then in their Synagogue sate in solemn Assembly, chusing one of themselves to be Pilat, who out of their Devillish malice to Christ and Christians condemned the child, and crucified him to death; and this was discovered at Norwich, where they circumcised a Christian child and called him Jurnin, and condemned him to be crucified, it was discovered, for which four Jews being convicted were drawn at horses tails, and hanged on a Gibbet, and 18 Jews were drawn and hanged for thus crucifying of one Hugh Lincoln. They were banished...and their houses was given to the Master of the Rolls." He continues, noting that the Jews above age seven were then obligated by law to wear a piece of wool on their chest "to be known."

That pleasantry out of the way, the pamphlet now described what a Jew does when he wakes up. Or, rather, first: the wife wakes up the husband before dawn, since they are supposed to pray with the sunrise. How did the wives wake up? He describes superstitions about unclean spirits that require washing, and says that the Jews blaspheme when they wash their hands after because they utter the blessing "Blessed be thou O God our God, King of all the world, who hast commanded us to wash our hands."

Upon entering the synagogue they "endeavour chearfulness," clean their shoes at the door, deposit a halfpenny in the tzedakah box, and bow toward the ark and reciting Scriptural verses "expressing a high esteem of the House of God," as this man who accepts the blood libel as a historical fact, writes. He describes the blessings, prayers, and how it includes a prayer for the destruction of Christians. He gives a complete translation of the Velamalshinim blessing, and the rest of the service, and then the men go home. Then "the Good-wife" at home sweeps in anticipation of her husband's return, and "layeth him a book on the table" from which he doth learn from for "an hours space." Then at 11:00 she serves him dinner. At 5:00 the schul klopper, or as he calls it, the Scholae pulsator, knocks on their doors to get the Jews to return to the synagogue. He describes the prayer, supper, going to bed and concludes by saying that Jews are really raunchy in the bedroom: "their chamber morals are so lascivious written upon their walls, as is unfit for chaste ears," meaning that they have some kind of pornographic (?) things written on their walls. It concludes with a quotation from Corinthians: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus, let him be Anathema Maranatha."

2. For.

This pamphlet is not anonymous, as I said. Its author, Joseph Copley, begins with both fists swinging. He calls it a Libel, and paranthetically adds that he is told that its author once "did pennance in a sheet," meaning that he is a man of low character, according to rumor. He says that one would be impressed to find so much venom in the body of a little spider, as the author (much venom, is a little spider). The insults he pours on this man goes on for lines. His heart is "filled with envy and malice" "his noddle is well gifted with a goodly talent of beastly ignorance."

The blood libel quoted from Matthew Parris is a "ridiculous fable": "'tis a likely matter, that the Jews should first circumcise a Child to make him a Jew, and then murder him." He says that it is absurd to say that one of the Jews pretends to be Pontius Pilate "when none of them that I ever spake with, believe there was any such person" - which tells you both that Copley met Jews and that they didn't believe in Pilate and therefore presumably much of the narrative about Jesus from the New Testament. Finally, Copley says that if there was any truth to it they would have given the child a Hebrew name and not "Jurnin."

He then says something amazing. True, he writes, the Jews were accused of these things, and also poisoning the wells. But guess who actually did these things? "None but the Monks and Friers." That is, the priests, who besides being sorcerers also "did frequently murder children in their Monesteries, to keep their unclean conversation from the knowledge of the world, they moved by envy at the prosperity of the Jews, crucified Children, and poisoned Wells" and blamed the Jews and provoked hatred of them among the common people. To reiterate: he assumes that the children were crucified and the wells poisoned - but it was the  medieval Catholic priests who did it and blamed it on the Jews!

He continues and says that he thinks that the terrible sin of persecution of the Jews is something which the present generation may no longer be guilty of, if the Lord will "give us good hearts toward this poor afflicted people, who are therefore dispersed amongst us." We should, he says, exercise mercy and hospitality toward the Jews, for God will judge whether "we will like savage Cannibals devour strangers, or with good Abraham and Lot, receive them kindly into our houses."

He then takes on the idea of forcing the Jews to wear an identifying mark, which had been done in England in the past, as was then the rule in Rome, and asks, should we imitate the Papists? Doesn't the author find in the Gospel that we must do good to those who persecute us? Kal ve-chomer we should not persecute those who do us no hurt, i.e., the Jews. He says that the man is not promoting the coming Kingdom of Christ, but is the voice of an Antichrist. Amazingly, he then says that some Jews living in England are obliged to be Jewish in secret because of their friends in Spain and Portugal and some parts of Italy, and if they would be forced to wear a mark identifying them as Jews, these friends would be in harm's way. To protect foreign secret Jews, Jews in England should be allowed to blend in as well as they want to.

He continues, attacking the anonymous pamphleteer's view of the prayers of the Jews, saying that it is a lie, and he quotes R. Yehuda Aryeh Modena's book, in Chilmead's translation. So, he says, the man "lyes...mingle[s] false with true." It's true, many of the blessings and ceremonies are done by the Jews, and they are not to be blamed for it. But he is simply wrong for asserting that the Jews believe God has need of rest. He makes some nice puns about Cocks and, as for the blessing in the bathroom, "when he comes to the privy he paddles to the very throat in stinking lyes, and there we will leave him" - in the bathroom - "to play the Gold-finder, for 'tis a place much fitter for him than the Pulpit." I suppose that is a hint that the author of the anti-Jewish pamphlet was a clergyman.

He says that the idea that the Jews constantly curse the Christians in their prayers is not true, the opposite is. They pray for the peace of the nations among whom thjey live, for the honor, safety and power of their temporal ruler. He then refers to Menasseh ben Israel's book. And if the man had read his book - here comes the best insult yet - reading it "might have stopt this Fellows mouth, and prevented his ugly, abortive, unlick'd Cub from creeping into the view of the world." He then says the idea that the Jews have "lascivious Motto's" adorning the walls of their homes is just nonsense. It is possible that a lewd Jew had it, and he adds parenthetically that perhaps the author knew such coarse Jews, but actually if Jews put such things up in their homes then the frummer Jews - "the graver sort, who do frequently visit the houses of the rest, would tear it down." And then he gives the interesting information that he has visited the homes of many Jews, and you know what they have hanging on their walls? "Pictures representing Bible-Histories." So now we know what Jews hung on their walls in the 17th century. And if he had actually seen such a thing in a bad Jew's home, "is it not madness in him to charge the whole nation with it? Some of all nations and religions are bad, must therefore all the men in the world be so?" He says that if not for the time of the year it was actually published, you'd think it was the Mid-summer Moon which fried this guy's brain. He picks apart the closing verse from Corinthians and the idea of anathemas.

He closes saying that he has "vindicated the honorable Nation of the Jews from the fowl aspersions of a black-mouth'd slanderer, which, if I have done with some sharpness," he understates, "it is but what his folly hath merited." He then basically warns the next pamphleteer who slanders the Jews that next time he will not use a rod of chastisement, but he will send him a rope, to make a noose and hang himself. He says he could say many nice things about the Jews, and what good they could do in England, but he can't say it better than Menasseh ben Israel. His closing verse is מִי יִתֵּן מִצִּיּוֹן, יְשׁוּעַת יִשְׂרָאֵל בְּשׁוּב יְהוָה שְׁבוּת עַמּוֹ יָגֵל יַעֲקֹב יִשְׂמַח יִשְׂרָאֵל.

Here are the full pamphlets:


  1. I wish I could leave a better comment...But I have no choice. Did you get my emails?

  2. All that work for only one comment? Doubling the count.

    1. Shkeyach. I do it for love.

      Yehoshua, yes, I shall reply. Had a hectic week, with an unforgiving deadline.

    2. If it's worth any I forgive you ;)

  3. Seems unusual for a defender of the Jews at that time not to drop so much as a hint of missionizing intent. Do we know in fact that Mr. Copley was free of such motivation?

    As long as you're checking emails...

  4. Splendid stuff. They wrote better rebuttals back then.

  5. The idea that the monks and friars crucified children and poisoned wells and blamed it on the Jews is not at all out of character for that era, when Catholics were hated even worse than Jews.



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