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«Biographical Illustrations, Proselytes and their acceptance to Judaism between the 9th and 19th Centuries PhD Thesis Guiding and Supervising ...»

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Thomas Salamon

Biographical Illustrations, Proselytes and their acceptance to Judaism

between the 9th and 19th Centuries

PhD Thesis

Guiding and Supervising Professors:

Rabbi Dr. Istvan Doman and Dr. Judit Karpati

OR-ZSE, Doctoral School






Biographical illustrations, Proselytes and their acceptance to Judaism

between the 9th and 19th Centuries.

Chapter 1

The History and Laws of Conversion-A Short Historical Perspective and the Converts

(i) Definition of Convert/Stranger/Foreigner in the Bible................5 (ii) Definition of a Convert or Stranger/Foreigner in the Talmud.....7 Chapter II

Khazars –a nation which converted to Judaism and Review............8 Chapter III Converts to Judaism

i) Bodo (Eleazar) the Cleric (814-840)

i/a) The Debate between Alvaro and Bodo

ii) Obadiah the Norman Proselyte-(b. 1070)

iii) Andreas the Bishop of Bari (1032-1078)

iv) Wecelin, the Cleric Convert (990?)

v) The Woman from a Narbonne Family- 1090?

vi) Cornelio Da Montalcino-1553

vii) Deacon Robert of Reading-Haggai

viii) Moses ben Abraham Avinu Haas-1686

ix) Johann Peter Spaeth (1640-1701) known as Moses Germanus 36

x) Alexander Abraham Cooper (1609 -1660)

xi) Abraham ben Jacob (1693-1714?)

xii) Aaron D’Antan (c.1710)

xiii) The Righteous Convert (Ger) Count Valentin Potocki (d.1749?) 4 4 xiv) Lord George Gordon (1751 – 1793)

xv) Richard Brothers (1757-1824)

xvi) Warder Cresson Michoel Boaz Yisroel ben Abraham (1798-1860) and p.319

–  –  –

xviii) Eliza Nathan (1795-1824)

xix) Baron Ernst Albert Emil von Manstein (1869-1944)...............65 Chapter IV

Examples of little known Proselytes in Germany and France.........66

i) Frau (Mrs) Pesslin, daughter of... (d.1341) and Reb Isaac son of Abraham

ii) Miscellaneous Accounts of Proselytes

Chapter V

i) Why did anyone wish to convert to Judaism? Social, Economic (and Political) Background to Conversion & Conclusion

Appendix I

Jews Converting to Christianity

Appendix II

i)Deacon Robert of Reading-Haggai

(ii) Marriage Certificate of Isaac Nathan and Rosetta Elizabeth Worthington 16th July 1812

Appendix III

i)Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 268 Laws Pages 1-7 in Hebrew and English

ii) Talmud Masechet Yevamoth 46a,46b,47b,48a in Hebrew and English

Appendix IV

Appendix V


–  –  –

Introduction Biographical illustrations, Proselytes and their acceptance to Judaism between the 9th and 19th Centuries.

On 24th October, 1977 I received a letter from Rabbi Dr Professor Alexander Scheiber suggesting that I write a paper on proselytes of the Middle Ages. Since that time I have given this much consideration but have never had the opportunity of actually taking up this challenge. One of the points he mentioned was that that there was material available but it had not been properly structured, assembled or fully analysed.

As I was researching the subject the thought arose that whilst I would like to complete this paper I would also wish to continue in my research, looking at intermarriage and its influence on conversion to Judaism, trying to find additional material on the individual proselytes, though this may mean a great deal more research and travelling in spite of today’s technology and the influence of the Internet. Further, it would also be interesting to see whether free societies facilitate more conversions to Judaism or whether this remained static. Above all I was interested to see whether in the USA, where there was both freedom of religion and absence of persecution (apart from the persecutions of black people in the 20th Century or “dissenters”),1 there was any noticeable effect on people wishing to convert to Judaism in the light of the degree of welcome or otherwise. Another aspect of interest to me would be the conversion of Jews to Christianity and particularly as to how many Jews, who became Christians, entered the Church and were active in its antiJewish activities or being just passive Christians, such as some censors of Jewish books see 2.

I have set out in this Dissertation to bring together the lives and names of the Proselytes.

This has proved to be an enormous task as available material is deficient and is scattered across numerous books and sources. Nevertheless I decided to try to do justice to Professor Alexander Scheiber’s aspirations and to my own desire to fulfill a dream dating back some 30 years or more.

My Dissertation goes beyond existing research to date as it tells of a number of new examples of individuals who converted between the 9th to 19th Centuries, exploring their lives,their attitudes and those of the people around them, who either rejected them or welcomed them into the bosom of Judaism. There were some who paid with their lives for daring to go against the established Church by converting to Judaism. One of the martyrs 1Howard Brotz, The Black Jews of Harlem; Negro Nationalism and the Dilemmas of Negro Leadership (Sourcebooks in Negro History; New York: Schocken Books, 1970).

2Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, The Censor, the Editor, and the Text : The Catholic Church and the

Shaping of the Jewish Canon in the Sixteenth Century (Jewish Culture and Contexts; Philadelphia:

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007) viii, 314 p.

10.13146/OR-ZSE.2014.001 5 mentioned frequently is Count Valentin Potocki, a member of an aristocratic rich Polish family who allegedly turned against his own background, eventually to be betrayed and burned at the stake in 1749.

My discovery in Leo Baeck College’s Library of a small ”booklet” called Count Potocki, the Righteous Convert (Ger Tzedek) and written in Yiddish by J. Kagan, published in Poland by “Drukarna Uniwersalna, Warsaw in and around the early 1920) together with the account by Avrom Karpinovitsh (see below)3 throws a different light on the story. This booklet has not been previously acknowledged, not even by Joseph H.Prouser4, who has researched widely on this subject.

Chapter 1 The History and Laws of Conversion-A Short Historical Perspective and the Converts (i) Definition of Convert/Stranger/Foreigner in the Bible Biblical Hebrew 5 and other Scripture references refer to converts or proselytes using the following expressions: ‫“ נוכרי זר בן נכר אחר אזרח‬Nochri, Zar,Ben Nechar, Acher Ezrach” as well as ‫“ גר‬Ger”,generally are understood to mean “strangers”.

The latter came to be understood as referring to those who became Proselytes i.e.

converted to Judaism, although in Genesis 23:4 "I am a stranger and an inhabitant with you. Give me burial property with you, so that I may bury my dead from before me."

implies a “stranger” an “alien”-Abraham being a “stranger” and “citizen”, Bible using ‫ גר‬and ‫.תושב‬ There are however instances where the word “Ger” combined with the word ‫“ תושב‬Toshav” inferring, in such a combination to mean someone who is a “citizen” of the land. This is made obvious when we look at Exodus 23:9 and 12 “And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt”.

This implies that “Ger” can also mean “foreigner/stranger” “Six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, in order that your ox and your donkey shall rest, and your maidservant's son and the stranger also ”.

3 Avram Karpinovitsh, Die Geschichte Fun Vilner Ger-Tsedek Graf Valentin Pototski (Tel Aviv: Vilner Pinkas, 1990).

4 Joseph H.Prouser, Noble Soul the Life and Legend of the Vilna Ger Tzedek Count Walenty Potocki (1; NJ USA: First Gorgias Press Edition, 2005).

5 Albert S Goldstein, 'Conversion to Judaism in Bible Times', in David Max Eichorn (ed.), Conversion to Judaism (a History and Analysis) (Ktav Publishing House INC., 1965).

10.13146/OR-ZSE.2014.001 6 In Exodus 12:48 and 49 we read “And should a “Ger” reside with you, he shall make a Passover sacrifice to the Lord. All his males shall be circumcised, and then he may approach to make it, and he will be like the native of the land, but no uncircumcised male may partake of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who resides in your midst." Surely here it refers to an “alien”, though some translate “Ger” as someone who has converted, but this cannot be correct. According to the commentary by Ibn Ezra, a renown Bible commentator and poet from the Golden Spanish period, the meaning of the word “Ger” is what later was to be understood as “Ger Tzedek” –(the righteous proselyte), but again this cannot be right (see also Numbers 15: 26,29 and 30). “Ger” according to these Biblical verses clearly means “stranger” though who may at some point decide to convert to Judaism.

It would appear that the closest meaning of “Ger” and “Toshav” we can gather from Numbers 35:15 “‫ “ לבני ישראל ולגר ולתושב בתוכם‬where a distinction is made between the aforesaid words, so seemingly clarifying their individual and combined meaning for the children of Israel and for the stranger and (not as it is often translated meaning a convert) and resident among them, so that anyone who unintentionally kills a person can flee there”. In this verse “Ger” means “stranger. In combination with the word “Toshav” “Ger” means here a stranger and not a convert.

It is obvious from the texts that “Nochri” means “a foreigner” as in Deuteronomy 17:15 “You shall set a king over you, one whom the Lord your God, chooses; from among your brothers, you shall set a king over yourself; you shall not appoint a foreigner over yourself, one who is not your brother” and in Deuteronomy 29: 21 where again the use of the word “Nochri” denotes a foreigner. The expression “Ben Nechar”- " ‫ " בן נכר‬means a slave who had to be circumcised if he was to be part of a Jewish household see Genesis 17:12: “And at the age of eight days, every male shall be circumcised to you throughout your generations, one that is born in the house, or one that is purchased with money, from any foreigner, who is not from your seed”. Words in Numbers 17:5, " ‫" איש זר‬ denote a stranger- a non-Jew.

–  –  –

(ii) Definition of a Convert or Stranger/Foreigner in the Talmud Examining the expression in Talmud “Makot 9a” the words “Ger Toshav” would appear to imply that such a person is treated as a heathen (in regard to the law of refuge); but he is treated differently if he kills a Jew or another stranger/convert. “Ger” was meant to mean a convert to Judaism,see in Masechet Megilah 3a “Rab Jeremiah or some say R. Hiyya b.

Abba also said: The Targum of the Pentateuch was composed by Onkelos the proselyte under the guidance of R. Eleazar and R. Joshua…….. But did Onkelos the proselyte compose the Targum to the Pentateuch?” where Onkelos was referred to as “Ger” a proselyte. This particular verse points towards someone who would otherwise be called “Ger tzedek” the righteous proselyte. The text discussions gives an opportunity to examine the meaning of the word stranger ‫ “ תושב אלמא גר תושב עובד כוכבים הוא אימא סיפא גר‬Save not for a sojourning — stranger, etc. This implies that the sojourning-stranger is treated as a heathen (in regard to the law of refuge); but then reading the latter clause: “ A sojourning

-stranger goes into banishment for (Another) sojourning stranger (in accordance with the law of refuge — “Said R. Kahana: It is not difficult to explain the seeming discrepancy); the last clause provides for a sojourning-stranger who had slain (inadvertently) another sojourning — stranger, whereas the previous clause provides for a sojourning-stranger who had slain an Israelite”. So this expression clearly to a non-Jew.

Further, in Talmud Masechet Avodah Zarah 64b is a discussion as to who is “Ger Toshav” and it would appear, that in respect of annulments of idolaters, that such a person may have been someone intending to convert to Judaism, at any rate someone not being a heathen. The Babylonian Talmud6 and see also7, not surprisingly, had a very similar approach. For example in Shabbat 31a there is a use of the word “‫”… “ נוכרי‬stranger or foreigner”, which is translated as referring to a “heathen” “On another occasion it happened that a certain “heathen” came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the builder's cubit which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbour: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it”. The Hebrew for “make me a proselyte” was created from the word “‫”- ”גר‬stranger”-”‫.”גיירני‬T h e a f o r e s a i d reference and the meanings as herein explained, as to the use of different words in both 6 Isidore Epstein et al., The Soncino Babylonian Talmud (Editorial Benei Noah, 2005).

7 Isidore Epstein I. Cohen A. (ed.), Babylonian Talmud 19 vols. (London, 1938-1965).

10.13146/OR-ZSE.2014.001 8 the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud give a clearer and better understanding of reference in Eichhorn’s and Albert S.Goldstein’s Book, Chapter 1 8, “Conversion to Judaism” which appeared to have been “lost in translation” giving a confusing message both in their translation and explanation.

However, whichever words are used, be it in the Hebrew Bible or the Talmud it would seem that it was only following the two exiles, when the true meaning of proselyte, convert, citizen or foreigner became clearer. However it was in that period when yet another expression was used namely, “Ger Tzedek” the true (righteous) stranger and where “Ger Toshav” (citizen) was an additional notation of one who converted to Judaism.

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