Friday, July 17, 2009

How Yom Tov of Treves came to be Theodore John of London in 1692

There is a small genre of books which are accounts of conversions of Jews to Christianity. I gather their purpose was to give a little hashkafic jolt to the faithful, some of whom probably enjoyed reading these books. In these accounts the men are invariably former rabbis or teachers (as I'm sure some actually were). Since this can't have been the case for a woman in those times, see below for how a converted women is presented:

Not a רב, of course, but an אשה חשובה! In fact, the above account begins with a disclaimer about there being so many false converts, but this one is for real! Her story is one which rather scathingly indicts the Jews for persecuting her, according to the author, but ends on a most interesting note "I do not design to inflame any to Rage or Fury against the Jews, nor do I desire to have any force put upon their Consciences: For the Wrath of Man worketh not out the Righteousness of God." He writes that he is publishing the account simply because he hopes that in another case like hers might proceed with Christians and Jews reacting differently.

Another such account was printed in London in 1693 and is titled An Account of the Conversion of Theodore John, a Late Teacher among the Jews, Together with his Confession of the Christian Faith, Which he delivered immediately before he was Baptized in the Presence of the Lutheran Congregation in the German Church in Little Trinity-Lane, London, on the 23rd. Sunday after Trinity, being the 31st. of October, in the Year of our Lord God 1692 (Translated out of High Dutch into English).

The preface begins as follows: "I was born at Prague in Bohemia, and lived Thirty Years in Ignorance and Abnegation of Christ; I studyed the Talmud of the Jews, and the rest of their Fabulous Comments, and I became a Teacher among them at Treves in Germany. When the blind lead the blind, should they not both fall into the Ditch?

He goes on to thank God for saving his soul, and recalls that even back in his blind old days he had some inkling in his study of the Old Testament (having never seen the New) "against those Principles taught me from my Childhood." He was able to discover some "Precious Pearls," "even in the Dunghil of Jewish Fables," by which he means that he found some Christian principles or doctrines in the midrashim. He continues that he remained several years in this doubtful limbo, unsure whether he would die "in Oblivion," (ie, to remain Jewish) or to convert. Being afraid of his fellow Jews at home, he dared not contact a Christian minister, but instead decided to move to England "where the Jews are less in Number and Authority." He then discusses how he came to make contacts in England, and the rest is an account of his confession of faith before his baptism in church. Ostensibly this conversation took place in front of a full congregation.

It begins like this:

The rest continues the question-answer format, and it is apparent that the entire thing is scripted, which is not to say that Iom Tobh does not believe with his full heart and soul every word he is saying. It basically goes through every classic Christian doctrine and proof, from עד כי יבוא שילה to מלכי-צדק to the Virgin Mary. He is asked if he believes in various doctrines and to show proofs from the Old Testament, which he does.

Most of it continues in this vein, but it is worth seeing another small excerpt, where he is asked to marshal the Zohar for support:

He then confesses to being a sinner, as all men are, and is asked to recite the Ten Commandments. In all about 50 pages of text. The confession must have taken about 20 to 30 minutes.

Anyone who is interested in possessing the full account may email me for a copy.

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