The Jews in Europe: Judaizing England and Sweden
Before we proceed with a short summary of the Jewish presence and influence in 17th century England, we should take a brief moment to look at the Jewish presence and influence in contemporary Sweden. Perhaps the Swedes missed an opportunity in saving England from Judaism, at least temporarily, when Christina the Swedish queen rejected the advances of Manasseh ben Israel. But in truth, she had already had enough Jews of her own.
We do not like to use Jewish sources for our studies, and we strongly dislike quoting Jews unless we are quoting them critically. But on some topics relating to Jews, some of their writers are worthy of quoting, so long as we can corroborate their statements independently. So the following excerpt is from a book written by a Jew named David S. Katz, entitled Menasseh ben Israel’s Mission to Queen Christina of Sweden, 1651 - 1655:
With perfect hindsight, one often sees Menasseh ben Israel’s career as leading inexorably to his mission to Oliver Cromwell in 1655, when he came to London to plead for the readmission of the Jews to England, nearly four centuries after their expulsion. At least this is how the events of the 1650s appear if one begins with the Whitehall Conference of 1655 and follows the thread back to the first tentative overtures toward England from Amsterdam. Even after the publication of The Hope of Israel in 1650, however, it was not apparent that Menasseh would soon be devoting himself to the cause of Anglo-Jewry. On the contrary, it was immediately after the appearance of the rabbi’s inﬂuential book that he began maneuvering for a place in the retinue of the notorious Christina, queen of Sweden. Only after he failed to obtain a position among her band of foreign scholars did Menasseh devote himself wholeheartedly to the readmission of the Jews to England. Other Jews had managed to win themselves a place in Christina’s circle. so Menasseh’s scheme was quite practicable. If Queen Christina had accepted the rabbi’s proposals with more alacrity, the history of seventeenth century Anglo-Jewry would have been very different indeed.
While philosemitic trends are readily identiﬁable in England decades before Menasseh ben Israel turned his energies toward London, it was not until he began to correspond with Englishmen that this vague sense of sympathy was transformed into a political force. Yet while many of the bare facts of his life and the list of his inﬂuential contacts are easily accessible, the implications of the surviving evidence have never been fully drawn. If one examines his early overtures to England side-by-side with his efforts to ﬁnd employment at Queen Christina’s court, it becomes evident that, similar to anyone seeking employment, Menasseh ben Israel submitted more than a single application since by 1650 he was desperately in need of a more lucrative situation. Driven onto hard times by bad luck and political disasters beyond his control, spurned by the Dutch Jewish community as a superficial scholar and an inadequate clergyman, Menasseh found the acclaim he craved among gentiles, who came to regard him as the ambassador of the Jewish people to Europe. Menasseh’s efforts on behalf of Anglo-Jewry appear wholly one-dimensional if seen in isolation from the disappointing period that he endured while Englishmen were ﬁghting a civil war, and the following years when he was distracted by the red herring of Christina’s interest in Jews and Jewish studies.
Christina ruled Sweden from 1632 to 1654, when as a young woman she abdicated in favor of her cousin, Charles X Gustav. At an early age she decided not to marry, and adopted many masculine practices. After abdicating, she went off to Rome to pursue an interest in theater. The introduction of radical liberal feminism is not as new as we think.