Monday, November 09, 2009

An aborted attempt to establish an English yeshiva 270 years ago.

In 1739 a Jewish man in England, Elias de Pas, willed £1200 to establish a yeshiva. That's more than $260,000 in today's money. The court ruled that it is superstitious use, and therefore an illegal charity, and instead the funds went to the Foundling Hospital.


By the way, "superstitious" in the 18th century meant "mistaken devotion," which it still does, in a way, but was more of a commentary on wrong religion rather than lack of critical or rational thinking (although in a way, to profess "wrong religion" was seen as a lack of critical thinking). In this case, "superstitious use" was a legal term.

Note as well that although this is not religious tolerance as we've become accustomed to, this should not be seen as antisemitic. It was the law and had nothing to do with Jews per se. Below is from a legal treatise on wills from 1809:

By 1848 the reasonableness of such a law was questioned:

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