- Judaism without Jews: Philosemitism and Christian Polemic in Early Modern England
This study—revised from a dissertation completed in 2000—is a valuable contribution to the history of early modern England and the history of early modern Jewry. Its importance lies in precisely this combination, that is to say the author's insistence that the emergence of a Jewish community in England after a hiatus of almost four centuries can only be properly understood by investigating as fully as possible the complex English context in which the readmission of Jews took place.
Glaser begins by addressing instructively the subsequent treatments of the readmission and the needs imposed by their later settings. She opens the first chapter with a striking citation from Lucien Wolf, composed in 1906, which was purportedly the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of the readmission.
They [Oliver Cromwell and Menasseh ben Israel] are the figures of a Christian and a Jew, standing together in the dawn of English liberty, twin champions of a wronged people, and heralds of a free state. It is a picture on which we do well to dwell ... which in its stability and fruitfulness serves as a beacon of toleration and liberty to the dark places that still linger on the face of God's earth.(p. 7) [End Page 183]
The tendentiousness of this observation is obvious, and Glaser proceeds to present and analyze a series of evaluations of the readmission, ranging from the seventeenth through the twentieth century. In so doing, she introduces us to the diverse views of the phenomenon and convinces us of the need for a presentation more firmly rooted in the context of early modern England.
In chapters two and three, Glaser examines closely the Puritan and Anglican churches and their concern with Judaism, Jewish texts, and Jewish practices in the religious controversies that were endemic to late- sixteenth- and seventeenth-century England and argues convincingly that this concern was a reflection of the ongoing strife between these contesting religious visions. Further, Glaser contends that the discussion of Judaism in Puritan and Anglican circles involved a close look at many key institutions and ideas of the Jewish past, grounded in knowledge of Hebrew and awareness of Jewish sources. Finally, Glaser urges that the late-sixteenth- and seventeenth-century concern with Judaism, Jewish thinking, and Jewish practice, which took place in the absence of Jews and with no thought of a Jewish presence, forms the important prehistory of the eventual grappling with the issue of admitting Jews. As Glaser puts it at the beginning of chapter four: "An analysis of Jewish ideas in these debates [the seventeenth century debates on toleration of Jews] illustrates the continuity between Elizabethan church-state debates and seventeenth-century tolerationist debates, demonstrating both that seventeenth-century toleration was less of a radical departure than its subsequent representation sometimes suggests, and also that references to the toleration of Jews followed in the same tradition as Christian polemical discourse written in a much earlier period, when the very idea of Jews in Christian England was almost entirely theoretical" (p. 94). Once again, her claims are convincing.
In chapters four and five, Glaser turns to the debate on tolerating Jews. While insisting that this debate included important echoes of the earlier religious argumentation, she does make room for the introduction of weighty political and legal issues as well. In many ways, this debate ultimately involved the nature and future of the English state and the English people. For this new debate was no longer about abstractions; it was focused on the issue of admitting actual Jews into the actual English kingdom. As a result, this new debate was—if anything—yet more intense than the earlier religious polemic. As was true for the earlier religious polemic, so too this later debate was hardly simple and clear-cut. Ambiguities abounded on both sides, and it is difficult to create a cast of heroes and villains, as so much history writing ends up doing.
Admission of Jews was hardly the dominant issue on the...