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Menasseh Ben Israel

Biographical data
 

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1604 Menasseh Ben Israel was born at Lisbon into a family of Marranos. According to custom he got his godfather's name and was baptized Manuel Dias Soeiro. This name was also used later on in his family.
During a stay in Spain his father was persecuted by the Inquisition and the family goods were distrained on, so his father and the rest of the family went into exile, first to La Rochelle in France, then to Amsterdam.
1616 The family took an active part in Jewish life that was just starting in Amsterdam around that time and in this year both father and son joined a study-circle, Santa Irmandade de Talmud Tora, which had just been founded.
1621 Menasseh writes his first book, a Hebrew grammar, entitled: "Safah beroerah".
1622 Death of Menasseh's parents. He is involved in Hebrew primary education and becomes the rabbi of a local synagogue.
1623 Menasseh marries Rachel Abarbanel, descendant of a famous Spanish-Jewish family. Three children are born: Gracia also known as Hanna, Joseph and Samuel.
1624 Menasseh is appointed as a teacher of Talmud studies.
1627 (1 jan.)-The first Hebrew book from the printing office founded by Menasseh is published. The Hebrew types were cast from a drawing by Michael Juda (Leon). With this Menasseh lays the foundations of the Hebrew printing offices that were to make Amsterdam famous in the Jewish community all over the world for more than a century and a half.
1632 Among his writings is "Conciliador" (this book was an attempt to reconcile discordant passages in the Old Testament); it attracted considerable attention in non-Jewish circles and provided food for reflection, especially among Dutch Christians.
1635 Caspar Barlaeus writes a Latin poem in praise of Menasseh, published in "De creatione problemata". This was amongst other things the reason why in the Netherlands, as was the case in other places, Jewish books were almost censored. Fortunately, this did not happen. What did happen was that the governors decided that they should give permission before any Jewish book could be published.
1636 Rembrandt makes an etching representing Menasseh. This shows how widely known Menasseh already was at the age of 32 in non-Jewish communities.
1639 Menasseh is appointed third Rabbin in the Rabbinate of the three Sephardic communities, united this year.
Discord in the Rabbinate led up to Menasseh's excommunication for one day and he was not allowed to preach for one year. That is probably why he decided to emmigrate to Brazil, but this plan falls through.
1642 Menasseh is appointed head of the Jesjiwah (School of the Talmud), founded by two brothers, Abraham and Isaac Pereira.
Menasseh delivers a speech during the visit of the Prince of Orange, Frederik Hendrik and Mary, Queen of England to the synagogue at the Houtgracht.
1644 The printing office of Menasseh passes into the hands of Ella Aboab, probably due to financial problems. Menasseh, however, stays on as a corrector.
1646 The management of the printing office passes to Menasseh's son Joseph, and after his death in 1648 to his second son Samuel. In 1652 Menasseh takes charge again.
1655 Menasseh leaves for England. There he argued his cause for the formal recognition of Jewish settlement in England. This action was preceded in 1651 by an open letter to the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell.
1656 Menasseh publishes in Londen his well known book "Vindiciae Judaeorum", (Vindication of the Jews), which was to influence the later Jewish emancipation movement tremendously.
1657 Without having seen any direct results of his efforts with the English authorities, Menasseh dies on 20th November 1657 at Middelburg, where he had buried the mortal remains of his son Samuel, who died in England.


Last revision: 14 February 1997