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4. Seal of Yosi Son of Bonefay


Dimensions: 24 mm.

Location: Muniment Room and Library, Westminster Abbey, 6734.

Bibliography: see No. 3.

These seals of a father and son are attached to the same document (see the illustration) and will therefore be discussed together here. The substance of the document is that Bonefay, a Jew of Nottingham, in association with his son Josce, leased to Roger Scott of Nottingham his house site, with buildings and appurtenances, in the parish of Saint Mary on the Wall in Nottingham. The price was twenty-four marks sterling in fine, plus a silver obol (half-denier) due at each Michaelmas, with five silver deniers to be paid by the buyer to the royal exchequer.

The document is written in Latin. Beneath the Latin, we can read the Hebrew lines: “We the undersigned acknowledge that everything that is written above in the Latin tongue in the writing of Raoul Bedah the priest is truly correct.” Then come the names in Hebrew: Bonefay ben Barton and Yosi ben Bonefay. We know that, though undated, this document derives from the reign of Henry III.

The question of the transliteration of * though if this interpretation is correct, the seal engraver made an error in adding what seems to be the yod. English Jews at this time did sometimes take place names as proper names.

Deed of real estate sale in Nottingham, 13th century, sealed by Bonefay son of Barton and his son Yosi (reduced in size). The Muniment Room and Library, Westminster Abbey, 6734. Photo courtesy of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster.

Stokes translates the inscription on Yosi’s seal as Gose Fil Bonefay: this writer quite dearly sees Tosi Fili Bonefai, which is also closer to the sound of the first name in Hebrew. The admitted difficulty is the beginning, where instead of the usual I read Sug or Sog; and if Sigillum were contracted, it would be Sig. If the seal engraver were ignorant of Latin, he might make this contraction, which phonetically is quite close.

No. 3, the Hebrew seal, is far more interesting for its unique characteristics. In the center are the Tablets of the Law. This image is shown on the cloth “badge of shame” which Jews in medieval England were forced to wear, as Jews under Hitler wore the yellow star; here a Jew proudly indicates his religion using the very sign intended to degrade him. A similar transposition occurred in medieval Germany, where the Jew’s hat, introduced as a badge of humiliation, was used on Jewish seals and where there was even a synagogal regulation that the Jew’s hat must be worn when going to worship.

This seal is the only English medieval seal extant to give the name in Hebrew letters.* They are very crudely inscribed and run from left to right. One may guess that a non-Jew was given a sketch and executed the Hebrew letters as best as he could, as with amulets from certain oriental countries in which the badly contrived Hebrew letters are gibberish, having been copied from earlier amulets by craftsmen who could not read what they were reproducing.

*This document states that Bonefay is a Jew of Nottingham; however, that city is close to Lincoln.

*Cecil Roth thought that the seal of Samson ben Samson, which is in Hebrew letters, was English, but, though found in England, it is almost universally considered to be that of a French Jew.

*Cecil Roth thought that the seal of Samson ben Samson, which is in Hebrew letters, was English, but, though found in England, it is almost universally considered to be that of a French Jew.

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5. Seal of Aaron

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