top of page
< Back

"The Deacon and the Jewess". Preparatory Note.

Israel Abrahams

<plain_text><page sequence="1">"THE DEACON AND THE JEWESS." PREFATORY NOTE. By ISRAEL ABRAHAMS, M.A. Thanks to the generous permission of Messrs. Methuen, it has become possible to include in this volume a reprint of a charming essay by the late Professor F. W. Maitland. The essay, entitled " The Deacon and the Jewess," first appeared in 1886, in the Law Quarterly Review, edited by Sir Frederick Pollock. It filled pages 153 to 165 of the second volume of that periodical. It was reprinted in Maitland's book, Roman Canon Law in the Church of England (London, Methuen, 1898). Still more recently it has been again reprinted in the first of three volumes (pages 385-406) of The Collected Papers of Frederic William Maitland (Cambridge University Press, 1911). The same subject is also discussed more briefly in the History of English Law (vol. ii., book ii., ch. viii., ? 4), of which Maitland was joint author. Delightful in form as well as original in substance, this essay well deserves the popularity it has attained. For the first time it gave a clear insight into the procedure and the application of laws of heresy in Mediaeval England. Yet, accomplished lawyer as Maitland was, he possessed also a rare gift of untechnical exposition, which renders his work as attractive to the general reader as it is valuable to the specialist. Maitland made literature of the most forbidding of records. But over and above his style, his learning, and his originality, stands and towers his warm humanity. Whatever he handled was touched with the deepest sympathy. He realised the men and women who were hidden behind the crabbed Latin of the Record and the Roll. His attitude towards the Jews was in keeping with the characteristic generosity of his whole nature. Maitland's early death in 1906 (he 254</page><page sequence="2">THE DEACON AND THE JEWESS. 255 was then fifty-six years of age) removed a genuine friend of the Jews. He understood them, and therefore judged them truly. Maitland had long felt the keenest interest in the Anglo-Jewish Records. In the History of English Law before the Time of Edward I., written by Sir F. Pollock and himself, the section dealing with the Jews (book ii., ch. ii., ? 7), is a model of careful scholarship and just insight. A similar remark applies to the allusions to the removal of Jewish disabilities in Maitland's lectures on The Constitutional History of England (written in 1887-88, though not published till 1908, two years after his death). But Maitland's interest in the history of the Jews in England was not exhausted by his own published references to the subject. In 1887 the Anglo-Je wish Historical Exhibition was held ; in 1887 the Seiden Society was founded. The Seiden Society owed its inception largely to Maitland, who, besides editing nine volumes of its publica? tions, for many years inspired its plans and directed its activities. The Seiden Society was founded " to encourage and advance the knowledge of the History of English Law." From the first Maitland designed the publication of selections from the Rolls of the Jewish Exchequer. It may be that his general interest in the subject was derived?just as his special interest in the Deacon story was?from his close reading of Bracton, whose " Note Book " he edited in three volumes in 1887, and selections from whose better-known work he published for the Seiden Society in 1895. Bracton (reign of Henry III.) makes several references to the Jews, to their Exchequer, their justices, their causes and so forth. Soon after the Jewish Historical Society was founded, Professor Maitland communicated with our Society on the subject. As we were then too young to undertake so important a work as the preparation of a volume on the Jewish Plea Rolls, Maitland proposed that the Seiden Society should publish such a volume, and he suggested that Mr. Joseph Jacobs should be its editor. This plan fell through, as that eminent student of Anglo-Jewish records was occupied in other important literary undertakings. But the scheme was not abandoned, and the two societies eventually collaborated in producing a volume of selections, edited by Mr. J. M. Rigg, for the Jewish Historical and the Seiden Societies conjointly (1902). In his Preface, Mr. Rigg wrote : "I am especially indebted to Professor</page><page sequence="3">256 THE DEACON AND THE JEWESS. Maitland for valuable suggestions during revision." After this volume was arranged, Professor Maitland strongly supported the Jewish His? torical Society in its resolve to publish a complete Calendar of the Plea Rolls. On several occasions he expressed his warm approval of the plan. It is with peculiar pleasure, then, that Professor Maitland's essay on " The Deacon and the Jewess " is made more readily accessible to our members. In it Maitland's method is admirably illustrated. His power to vitalise the past is well shown. It has been said of him that in his hands a yearbook became a drama. Certainly he extracted from this love story every fraction of its dramatic possibilities. Yet it is withal a careful study of evidence, and a technical discussion of procedure in heresy charges. Again, such a sarcastic aside as that on p. 270, referring to the ritual murder myth, is worth a paragraph of argument. The footnote on this sentence, with its reference to Tovey, was added by Pollock when the essay first appeared in the Law Quarterly Review. Pollock also inserted the following note at the end of the essay [Ibid, ii., p. 165) :? In Tovey's Anglia Judaica, Oxford, 1738, p. 149, there is quoted from a Jewish source what appears to be a confused version of the incident discussed by Mr. Maitland, which is also cited by Tovey from Matthew Paris at p. 85 of his work ; it is referred to the year 1260, and used to explain the issue in that year of an ordinance imposing fresh restrictions on the Jews in England. Tovey plainly disbelieved the latter story, but he passes over it with a mere indication of contempt. Prynne, I may add, also refers briefly to the case in the first part of his Short Demurrer, p. 16. His authorities are Matthew Paris, the Antiq. Eccles., and Bracton. But the case cited by Tovey relates to a different incident. His " Jewish source " is Gedaliah ibn Yahya's Chain of Tradition (Shalsheleth Ha-qabalah, towards the end of that work, ed. Yenice, p. 112b, 113a). The passage runs thus:? jtti.t nv mirk ait^rao h)m x iod '3 d^k 'n nwii i?m ? dbib6 D^n vm tot vib 12m inn * nnnnai nni&gt;nj?&gt; )bo -raw D^nn 'a -pn ^ -ini mn? -put nopan nwyh tq n??b) 'id Dmn b inpu * wan dud duti -oan * DHwn orrnuK anao )nw \vvb irv?ta epoi&gt; u)ybv)</page><page sequence="4">THE DEACON AND THE JEWESS. 257 " And in the year 5020 a certain Priest was circumcised in "England in order to marry a Jewess with whom he was passionately in love. The matter became known to the citizens, and they desired to burn them. But the King chose to execute vengeance in another fashion. He decreed that within three months they [the Jews] should change [their religion] ; those who circumcised the Priest were burned, and many of them changed [their religion]. And they took all their children from six years and under, and conducted them to the end of his kingdom, in order that they might forget the custom of their fathers, the Jews." Tovey (p. 149) paraphrases this passage with fair accuracy in these words :? All the Jews in England were commanded by the King [Henry III.] to change their Religion ; having their Children, under six Years of Age, taken from them, and brought up Christians : which, he says, was occasioned by the Marriage of a Christian Priest with a Jewish Woman, whom he was desperately in love with, but cou'd obtain from her Parents no other con? dition than Circumcision [Tovey adds the reference to the parents, about which the Hebrew says nothing] ; which so enrag'd the Populace that they would have burnt all the Jews alive [Tovey again embellishes the Hebrew, which says nothing about " all the Jews "], if the King, to pacify them, had not given the aforementioned Orders. And this Accident he [Gedaliah] fixes to the year 1260, or forty-fourth of Henry. Gedaliah ibn Yahya proceeds to connect the Expulsion of the Jews from England in the following reign with this incident. As Graetz {Geschichte der Juden, vol. vii., note 11), shows, a similar story is told by Ibn Verga {Shebet Yehudah, No. 20) and Samuel Usque (Dialogue III., 12). Nor is there wanting a Christian source for it, though in Tovey's day this source was unknown. Prynne was equally ignorant of its existence, and Pollock does not refer to it. Ibn Verga dates the Expulsion from England in 1260 (perhaps it ought to be 1290, as has been suggested, by emending the a of the Hebrew date to 3. This would replace, in the Hebrew date, 5020 by 5050 = 1290). Gedaliah does not assign the date 1260 for the Expulsion, for he dis? tinctly states (in the lines following the words quoted above) that the calamity befell the Jews in the reign of Henry's successor. But Gedaliah does date the conversion of the friar in the year 1260. The Latin chronicler, on the other hand, enters it under the year 1275. Londoniis quidam de ordine praedicatorum, dictus frater Robertus de Redingge, praedicator optimus, linguaque Hebraea eruditissimus, aposta VOL. VI. K</page><page sequence="5">258 the deacon and the jewess. tavit, et ad Judaismum convolavit, atque Judaeam ducens uxorem, se clrcumcidi, atque Haggaeum fecit nominari. Quern accercitum et contra legem Christianam audacter et publice disserentem, rex archiepiscopo commendavit Cantuariensi. After reporting various other events, unconnected with the Jews, the chronicler continues with a summary of the restrictive laws against the Jews, under penalty of expulsion if these laws were infringed ("et qui hac conditione stare nollet ante Pascha proxime sequens [14 Apr.] Anglia sua presentia vacaret"). In the same year 1275, the Jews were expelled from Cambridge, at the instance of the Queen Mother (Florentii Wigorniensis Monachi Chronicon, ed. B. Thorpe, London, 1848-49, vol. ii., pp. 214-216). Whether any such incident really accelerated the Expulsion of the Jews from England is uncertain. Perhaps the most satisfactory compromise is to regard the occurrence as possibly one of a series of events which stiffened the King's resolve to dispense with his Jewish subjects (B. Lionel Abrahams, Expulsion of the Jews from England, p. 63). Florence of Worcester's narrative is very circumstantial, giving as it does the name of the convert. Yet it cannot be accepted with full confidence, seeing that it says nothing of the fate of the offender. It may be a mere echo of the better-authenticated case which Maitland discusses ; especially as the passage occurs not in Florence's Chronicle itself, but in the Continuation. Florence of Worcester himself died in 1118, and it is not certain who his two Continuators were, nor what sources they employed. Another point of some importance is this. The Hebrew chronicler, continuing the passage cited above, says : no*n in imrfe cpm vnnn m yhm itan . run both nan d^dkd nrm Dmrrn mvrb *a " And the King died, and his son reigned in his stead, and immediately there came on his kingdom a pestilence and famine, and his counsellors said that because the Jews were not true believers this punishment had befallen (the land)." Now this association of bad weather with the story of the monk's apostasy, again suggests that the later report is but another version of the event of 1222, a year which, as Maitland points out, all the</page><page sequence="6">THE DEACON AND THE JEWESS. 259 chroniclers describe as marked by severe storms and other natural catastrophes. After all, however, the two stories are sufficiently dis? tinct for them to be independent, and the one need not be a variant of the other. For, whereas Maitland's unnamed Deacon of 1222 became a Jew from love of a Jewess, the Continuator of Florence states that Robert de Redingge joined the Synagogue as a result of his deep study of Hebrew literature. His marriage was not the cause but the conse? quence of his conversion, as Graetz points out. Picciotto, in his Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History (p. 24), writes thus :? One or two authorities have attributed the banishment of the Jews to the fact that a Dominican friar, being enamoured of a Jewess, became a convert to Judaism and subsequently sought safety in flight. This act, it is alleged, being regarded as a slur upon the Church, caused its high dignitaries to bestir themselves, and thus they induced the king to sign the edict for the banishment of the Jews. This version is derived from a Jewish writer. However romantic the story may be, it seems to us improbable and far-fetched; and being uncorroborated by sufficient testi? mony, we cannot think it deserving of credence. In so far as the causes of the Expulsion of the Jews are concerned, Picciotto's scepticism may be well-founded. Yet, that the " romantic story " is not in itself " improbable and far-fetched," but did actually occur in 1222, whatever be true of 1260 or 1275, the essay of Mait land sufficiently demonstrates.</page></plain_text>

bottom of page