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Aaron Levy Green, 1821-1883

Alex M. Jacob

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Aaron Levy Green, 1821-1883* ALEX M. JACOB, J.P. Aaron Levy Green (1821-83) was one of the earliest English-born Jewish preachers and a leading member of the generation which set the pattern for the Jewish ministry as we now know it in this country. As the Jewish Chronicle's leader-writer1 commented at his death: 'The life of Mr. Green was coincident with a remarkable change in the position of the Jewish Clergyman in England?a change cujus pars maxima fuit. He strove and strove successfully to raise his profession from the position in which it was placed half-a-century ago. 'At that time a Reader was no more than a Chazan whose sole qualification used to consist in his voice. It was only natural that his social position was no higher than that of a Sheleach Tsibur (Messenger of the Congre? gation) as Mr. Green used often to point out. Against this degraded state of things Mr. Green protested with all the energy of his nature. He made it an established institution that an English sermon should form an inte? gral part of public worship.'2 From the reports of his contemporaries it is clear that his sermons made a deep impression by their learning, sincerity, and wit. But his influence was felt far beyond the bounds of his own congregation and far beyond the pulpit. A. L. Green is best remembered, as he would have wished, as a preacher and as the minister whose energy and force of character made the Central Synagogue the foremost London congregation; but he contrived to find?or more probably to make?time for many com? munal activities. He was an assiduous Visitor to hospitals, asylums, and prisons; it was at his initiative that both the Board of Guardians and the United Synagogue established Visitation Committees.3 He involved himself actively in many of the developments of his day, playing a leading part in the formation of Jews' College, the Board of Guardians, and the Anglo-Jewish Association. He was a prolific writer to the press, both Jewish and non Jewish. Particularly effective were his many contributions to the Jewish Chronicle under the pseudonym of4Nemo', which were very widely discussed in the community and which made him, in the words of his obituarist, a 'power in the land'. Though dealing with questions long since settled, and though filled with topical allusions, the letters explain, even today, Green's reputation for learning and wit as well as the respect that his contemporaries held for his judgment. Though his formal education ended before he was 17 and for the rest of his life ministerial and communal commitments occupied the bulk of his time, he never ceased to be a student. Solomon Schechter (1850-1915) has described him as a 'mixture of the ideal and the practical . . . one of the first of our Jewish clergy [to have] made the . . . discovery that ministerial work is not incompatible with Jewish learning. Thus attending all sorts of meetings and performing all kinds of parish work during the day, he devoted his nights mostly to the study of Jewish literature. Once every month he would sit up the whole night for a mental stock-taking, to review the studies that had occupied him for the previous four weeks.'4 Aaron Levy Green was born in August 1821 at his parents' home at the corner of Middle? sex Street and Ellison Street, Aldgate.5 Many * Paper delivered to the Society on 3 April 1974. 1 In the opinion of Mr. Shaftesley, the most likely writer of the article is Lionel Louis Cohen (1832-1887). 2 Jewish Chronicle (hereinafter J.C.), 18 March 1883. 3 Note 92 infra and J.C, 24 March 1911, letter to Editor from Rev. A. A. Green. 4 J.C Jubilee Supplement, 13 November 1891, p. 20. 5 J.C, 16 March 1883, Obituary of A. L. Green (hereinafter Obit.). (Mr. J. M. Shaftesley suggests that the author was Asher I. Myers, Editor of the J.C This is confirmed by the obituarist's statement that he accompanied A. L. Green to Newcastle in 1873 and by a reference to Myers's presence at a meeting in Newcastle, J.C, 29 August 1873.) 87</page><page sequence="2">88 Alex M. Jacob years later he said publicly that he could 'speak without shame or false pride of Petticoat Lane, for [he] was born there.'6 He was the eighth and youngest child of Levy Ephraim Green (1784-1858) and his wife, Amelia.7 The father was one of a family who, in their youth, had come to England from Amsterdam?on, it is said, a Dutch herring-boat.8 Levy Green settled in the East End of London and under the name of L. Green &amp; Co. traded at 33 Middlesex Street as a matza-baker, cheese factor and grocer; the Green matza factory in Middlesex Street was later to become a well known institution in the East End.9 Of Aaron Green's mother little is known, except that she was English-born and that her father, Aaron Hyams, had married his mother's servant, who was not of Jewish birth and whose name Lydia reappeared among a number of her descendants under the guise of Leah.10 With less than his customary originality, A. L. Green was once to tell a public gathering that his parents were 'poor but honest'.11 (1797-1873), the future Lord Mayor, a Trustee of the society. By 1835 many of the society's sup? porters felt that there existed the need for a specifi? cally Jewish Hospital and Levy Green appears to have been one of the signatories of a manifesto advocating this. The project was later dropped in favour of a scheme agreed with the London Hospital, which made four of its wards available for the use of Jewish patients and provided catering and other special facilities. The Society for Sup? porting the Sick set up a trust fund with a capital of ?1,800, the interest being paid to the hospital half-yearly. Levy Green, as a Trustee of the society, attended the meeting held in April 1842, when the resolutions to give effect to the arrangements received the Committee's consent. (See J.C. 23 October 1868 [letter signed 'A Jew'], 7 May 1869 [editorial], 11 February 1876.) It is of interest that when the demand for a Jewish Hospital was re? newed later in the century, A. L. Green proved one of the foremost opponents of the scheme which his father had supported some 30 years previously. One of Levy Green's brothers, Abraham Green, a street vendor of olives and cucumbers, also lived in Middlesex Street. 'The poorer Jews of London eat Spanish olives and Dutch cucumbers pickled in salt and water as food rather than as a relish.' (Charles Dickens (1837-1896), eldest son of the novelist, in Dickens's Dictionary of London [Macmillan, 1884], p. 140.) He too was deeply involved in charitable matters, his interests including the Widows' Home (of which he was President for some years) (see J.C. 28 November 1845, 10 February 1847), the Hand-in-Hand Asylum, the Lying-In Charity, and the Widows' Pension Fund; but he first became known within the community during the cholera epidemic of 1830. Hearing that a poor Jewish couple had died within a short time of each other, leaving three young children, he took them with him around the Jewish districts and, with his cucumber-bowl in his hand, he collected a main? tenance fund for them (see C. Roth, History of the Great Synagogue, p. 222 [hereinafter Gt. Syn.]; J.C. 30 October 1868 [letter signed S. A. Green]; ibid., 14 July 1899 [obit. S. A. Green]; J.C., articles 'From the Communal Armchair', by 'Tatler', pseudonym of the Rev. A. A. Green (hereinafter 'Tatler'), 25 December 1908). From these humble origins developed the Jews' Orphan Asylum, which since 1876 has formed part of Norwood Jewish Orphanage. The Greens' sister, Sarah (1800-1885), who kept a provision store in Stoney Lane (see 'Tatler', 25 December 1908), married another figure well known in the East End?Isaac Valien tine (1793 1868), whose father, Nathan Isaac Valien tine, was Minister at the Hambro Synagogue for over 30 years, and who was himself a member of the governing bodies of eighteen charitable organiza? tions, a co-founder of five literary and scientific institutions, publisher of the Prayer-Books and of the Almanac which bear his name, and founder of 6J.C, 18 July 1879. 7 The family consisted of Ephraim Levy Green (1809-1874), Michael Levy Green (1811-1876), Solomon (Sholem) Levy Green (1813-1904), Leah (Mrs. Asher Green) (1816-1912), Shaiva (Mrs. Jacobs), Passy (Mrs. Jonas), Sarah (Mrs. Nathan), and Aaron (Information of Miss Lily Fay [1884? 1973], granddaughter of Asher and Leah Green [hereinafter Fay], and Sir Thomas Colyer Fergusson, MS. Papers, Jewish Families' and Jewish Pedigrees' [hereinafter Col.]). s Fay. 9 In the matza factory Levy Green installed a machine that he had invented for kneading dough; but as late as 1874, when the business was under the management of his eldest son, who had taken over after his father's death, all other processes in matza-making were performed by hand, as the Chief Rabbi refused to sanction the use in England of various mechanical devices to be found on the Continent, for fear, it was suggested, of causing unemployment (Jewish World, 6 February 1874). 10 Fay. nJ.C, 9 January 1852. In the first half of last century, modest circumstances did not debar the Jews of London from participating in the organisa? tion and administration of charities. Levy Green became a leading figure in 'The Society for Sup? porting the Destitute Sick' (Meshanat Lecholim), founded in 1824 and supported by subscriptions of one penny per week or 4s. 4d. per annum. He was Treasurer for many years and was also, with Zadok Aaron Jessel (1794-1864) and David Salomons</page><page sequence="3">Aaron Levy Green, 1821-1883 89 The Green family was closely connected with the ministry and from an early age Aaron Green was aware of his parents' hopes that he would enter it.12 In Amsterdam, a cousin, Nathan Green, served as a chazan for many years.13 In 1844, Abraham Green's 20-year-old son, Lewis Abraham (1824-44), was appointed Head Teacher of the Sephardi Free School in Jamaica and Minister to the Montego Bay congregation, only to die of yellow fever before the end of the year.14 And in the next genera? tion another Aaron Green was to make a name for himself in a London congregation.15 Another member of the Green family to enter the ministry was Michael, the second of Aaron Green's three brothers; despite a difference of ten years, a particularly strong bond existed between them?indeed, Aaron was often heard to say that to this brother he owed everything. came Minister at Exeter. The appointment did not prove a happy one, and he ultimately left to become a successful business man.16 Of his sisters, Aaron was particularly attached to the eldest, Leah, who married a cousin, Asher Green (1826-1891). His affection for her and her family was shown late in his life when one of her daughters became engaged and a long delay before her marriage seemed inevitable until he sent his niece a cheque for ?100?at a time when his salary was ?600 per In 1830, when only 19, Michael, a pupil of Dayan Aaron Levy and a favourite of Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell (1767-1842), be the Jewish Chronicle (1841). It was Vallentine's connection with Sussex Hall, at which he was the first teacher (unpaid) in Hebrew, that provided A. L. Green with the opportunity for his first public appearance in London. (See J.C., 18 September 1868, Memoirs of the late Mr. Isaac Vallentine [by his nephew Samuel Vallentine]; ibid., 12 December 1906, obit, of Philip Vallentine [1826 1906], son of Isaac and Sarah Vallentine and first cousin of A. L. Green.) i2 J.C, 12 December 1879. "Ibid., 22 September 1933, obit. Rev. A. A. Green. "Ibid., 18 October 1844; 3 January 1845; 5 February 1845. A. L. Green's eldest son, born in 1845, was named Lewis. I5 See family tree (below). 16 Fay. Michael had a reputation in his family for being hot-tempered?on one occasion it is said that, finding a bucket of water on the landing of his Gower Street house, he kicked it downstairs so that the maid should have to dry the staircase and he soon found himself in dispute with his congregation. Exception having been taken to letters written by him in his capacity of Secretary of the congregation, it was resolved that in future these should all be written and posted in the presence of the members, In 1839, having married and wishing to supple? ment his salary of ?5 6s. 8d. per calendar month (Account Book of Exeter congregation [deposited with Anglo-Jewish Archives]), he opened a clothier's shop in Exeter. The congregation ob? jected to their Minister's engaging in commerce and a note in the minute book in Michael's handwriting, reading 'M. L. Green's reply is that he will not give up the shop', was followed by his departure for London and a successful career as a wholesale clothier at No. 10 Houndsditch (J.C, 25 March 1910, report of lecture by A. A. Green to J.H.S.E., on Exeter congregation). Members of the J.H.S.E. may be interested to know that his daughter, Sylvia, wife of Mordecai Abrahams (1844-1923), became the mother of the eminent civil servant Sir Lionel Abrahams (1869-1919), an authority on pre Expulsion Anglo-Jewish history, and President of the Society 1916-1918. (Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England (hereinafter Trans.), Vol. XXI, p. 248b [Dr. P. Abrahams].) Ephraim Levy Green Levy Ephraim (1784-1858) Son Michael Aaron Leah = Asher (1811-70) (1821-83) (1816-1912) i i (1826-91) Aaron Asher (1860-1933) 1 Abraham Lewis (1824-44) Sarah (1800-85) Isaac Vallentine (1793-1868)</page><page sequence="4">90 Alex M. Jacob annum.17 Asher and Leah Green's son, Aaron Asher Green (1860-1933), greatly admired his uncle and namesake, whom he followed into the ministry, becoming a well-known and popular figure as Minister at Hampstead from 1892 to 1930. He used to tell his family that he had always tried to model himself on his uncle.18 Aaron Green was educated at the Talmud Torah attached to the Jews' Free School in Bell Street, Spitalfields, where he was a pupil of Michael Goldsmid, Master of the Talmud Torah; of a certain Rab Moshe, an experienced Koreh or Reader, known by the somewhat bizarre name of Chatziplatz, from whom he learned Hebrew Reading; and of his brother's teacher, Aaron Levy (1795-1875), a much loved Dayan affectionately known throughout the East End as Rov Oron, with whom he studied Rabbinic literature, Mishna, and part of the Talmud; he was later to continue his study of the Talmud until he had mastered it in its entirety.19 From his writings it is clear that Aaron Green also had a wide knowledge of English and Classical literature and his command of German was proved at a meeting under his chairmanship of the Jewish Deaf and Dumb Home in 1872. On that occasion the newly appointed Director delivered a lengthy report in German. Although he had taken no notes of what had been said, A. L. Green immediately gave a paraphrase in English of the report.20 Green's contemporaries are all agreed that he possessed a fine and particularly accurate voice ?a characteristic transmitted to many of his descendants. It is on record that, many years later, on the occasion of a Rothschild Barmitz vah, Benjamin Disraeli showed 'visible enjoy? ment of [his] intonation of grace' at the reception.21 His musical knowledge and ability also enabled him to accept responsibility for the training and performance of the Great Portland Street Choir for a few months in 1862.22 As a result of these talents, he was allowed at the precociously early age of 1423?or, according to some reports, when only 924?to conduct a service in the Great Synagogue; and in May 1838, three months before his 17th birthday, he was appointed Minister at Bristol.25 It is perhaps no coincidence that Zadok Jessel, his father's co-Trustee of the Sick Society, had strong family connections with Bristol. In the first half of the last century, the Bristol congregation, which had been in existence since before 1751, was relatively of far greater importance than it is today, when its Jewish population is put at little more than 400. The current Jewish Tear Book lists twenty-two provincial centres of England and Wales with a larger Jewish population than Bristol's; in 1850, according to Dr. Lipman's studies, the Bristol congregation was among the five largest out? side London, its 300 inhabitants making it the equal of Portsmouth and smaller only than Liverpool (2,500), Manchester (2,000), and Birmingham (750/1,000).26 Three years before Green's appointment a communal split which had weakened the congregation had been healed and the new? found unity expressed itself in the purchase of a building formerly used as a Quaker Meeting House, which was adapted for use as a syna? gogue. The alterations amounted to a virtual reconstruction of the building which contem? poraries regarded as one of the handsomest places of worship in the city. The building was consecrated with much pomp on 18 August 1842. An account of the service in the Bristol Gazette referred to the number of non-Jews invited to it, explaining that 'the Jews had seized upon the occasion in order to give a practical illustration of the feel? ing of universal charity. On the same bench 17 Fay: Amelia (Milly) Green married Michael Fay. 18 Information of Mrs. E. Carmel, W. Palm Beach, Fla., daughter of Rev. A. A. Green. 19 Obit. 20 J.C., 1 November 1872. 21 E. N. Adler, Jewish Community Series: London (Philadelphia, 1930) (hereinafter London), p. 180. 22 J.C., 14 and 21 April 1905. Rev. M. Adler, The History of the Central Synagogue 1855-1905, (hereinafter Adler). 23 Gt. Syn., p. 243. 24 Information of Mr. H. A. Simons. 25 Obit. 26 C. Roth, The Rise of Provincial Jewry (London, 1950), p. 40 (hereinafter Prov.); Jewish Year Book, p. 193 (hereinafter J.Y.B.); V. D. Lipman, Social History of the Jews in England 1850-1950 (London, 1954), pp. 185-7 (hereinafter Soc. Hist.).</page><page sequence="5">Aaron Levy Green, 1821-1883 91 might be seen some of the strictest communi? cants of the Established Church, with Inde? pendents, Methodists, Quakers and Baptists and all in immediate contact with the descend? ants of Abraham?the depositaries of the written law as delivered by Moses . . The galleries . . . are appropriated to the ladies, and they were crowded with beauty and fashion . . . 'The service began with an introductory symphony on the pianoforte composed and played by Mr. M. Moss of the Great St. Helen's Synagogue, London; the Hazan and choir also came from there.' A lyrical hymn, written by Hyman Hurwitz (1770-1844) and set to music by Moss, was also performed. 'The local Minister . . . Aaron Levy Green . . . de? livered a discourse on Prayer?indeed Mr. Green was remarkable as one of the first Ministers in the country to deliver a sermon in English. The service ended with the National Anthem sung in Hebrew.'27 This synagogue served the needs of the congregation until 1870, when it moved to its present premises in Park Row.28 The records of the Bristol congregation for this period are no longer in existence but it is not difficult to picture A. L. Green's activities while serving it. His first concern must, of course, have been the synagogue services and in this connection a problem arose from his desire to introduce regular sermons into them. Even before leaving London he had tried his hand at preparing a sermon, which he had submitted to Dr. Joshua Van Oven (1766-1838), the educationalist, who was at this time occa? sionally preaching at the Great Synagogue.29 Aaron Green later related how he received an invitation to breakfast with the doctor, who discussed many subjects but appeared to be avoiding the main purpose o?the visit. Finally the sixteen-year-old screwed up his courage and as he was leaving asked Van Oven's opinion of the sermon, whereupon he was handed a sealed envelope. When he opened it on his return home, he found his own script together with a second sheet of paper on which Van Oven had written in Hebrew the verses from the Book of Leviticus (xix, 23-24) which lay down that, after a tree has been planted, three years shall elapse before its fruit shall be eaten; but 'in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy for giving praise to the Lord'. 30 Notwithstanding this advice, the new Mini? ster was invited to Exeter by his brother Michael, who strongly urged him to introduce sermons into the Sabbath morning service. At this time sermons in the vernacular?or lectures, as they were then more usually called ?were a rarity; and as their regular introduc? tion was one of the Reformers' demands, it is not altogether surprising that the Establishment of the period looked on English sermons with some of the suspicion and distaste that attach to mixed choirs today. The Bristol authorities seem to have feared that sermons would dis? turb the morning service; but a compromise was reached and sermons were permitted on Saturday afternoons. Michael Green travelled to Bristol, where he was one of the half-dozen present at A. L. Green's first appearance in the pulpit. 31 Ten years later, the Jewish Chronicle, deplor? ing the scarcity of preachers in the country, was to name A. L. Green as one of only five ministers serving provincial congregations who were qualified to deliver a sermon.32 Throughout his life education was one of A. L. Green's major preoccupations. In 1849, the Bristol Hebrew Ladies' Benevolent Society paid tribute to his 'continued and unwearied efforts in the religious instruction of the children',33 and these efforts he no doubt supplemented by private tuition.' He also interested himself in the general affairs of the community. In the first issue of the Jewish Chronicle (12 November 1841) his name?the only clerical one?figures in the list of its Agents, and some nine years later he was 27 Bristol Gazette, 25 August 1842, transcript provided by Mr. A. Schlesinger, Bristol; Prov., p. 41. MJ.T.B., p. 103. 29 Gt. Syn., p. 259n. 30 Obit.; Nemo (A. L. Green's pseudonym to letters to the J.C.) 1 April 1870. 31 'Tatler', 4 September 1908. 32 J.C, 12 January 1849. 33 Ibid., 4 May 1849.</page><page sequence="6">92 Alex M. Jacob to become known in the community by a con? tribution to the struggle for the admission of Jews to Parliament. On 8 July 1850, the Standard newspaper published the report of an attack on the cam? paign, in which it was alleged that Jews did not take oaths with sufficient seriousness, that they were strangers 'by blood, by habit and by religion,' and that they were unfitted to repre? sent Christian constituencies. The author of this outburst was Dr. George Croly (1780-1860), Rector of the City Church of St. Stephen's, Walbrook, a versatile Irishman described in the Dictionary of National Biography as 'con? tentious and supercilious, but not devoid of geniality.' Three days after (11 July 1850), A. L. Green wrote a 15-page pamphlet which was pub? lished and put on sale for 6d. in London and Bristol under the title Dr. Croly LLD versus Civil and Religious Liberty.34 In an essay amply studded with literary and, in particular, poetic allusions, and with quotations from both Old and New Testaments, the Mishna, the Talmud, Maimonides, the history of Islam in the seventh century, a speech by Sir Robert Grant (1779-1838), the early champion of Jewish emancipation, and even from Samantha, one of Croly's own novels, A. L. Green refuted the attack point by point. Jews were accused of a frivolous attitude to oaths; a ruling of the Mishna on the inadmissibility of evidence given by persons of doubtful morals was quoted. They were strangers by blood; 'how many millennia,' he asked, 'since the Crolys are known to fame ? Perhaps an inch on the flyleaf of your family Bible will tell the tale . . . We, Reverend Sir, are brothers, elder brethren, to all men who claim Christ [sic] as their Master . . . You seem to forget that your Saviour was a Jew.' Jews may be strangers by habit; the statistics of crime prove the beneficial effects of those habits. Jews have no religion; but did they not 'preserve the Bible when it was a proscribed Book?' 'How', he cries, 'we have suffered at Christian hands for our undying faith.' And how, he asks, can any Member of Parliament represent either the Christianity of his constituents or a distinct race in a country as diverse as Britain? It may be doubted whether this pamphlet played any significant part in the struggle; but it did attract attention in the community, no less a personage than Sir Moses Montefiore (1784-1885) travelling to Bristol to meet and congratulate its author.35 One other contribution by A. L. Green to the struggle is recorded?the supplying to a sympathetic peer of a reference36 to refute the suggestion that Sabbath observance would prevent Jews from playing a full part in public affairs.35 While Minister at Bristol A. L. Green married (31 July 1844)37 Phoebe Levy (1826 1896), who had been born in that city, where her father had lived for a number of years before moving to Shoreditch.38 On the day of the wedding the 18-year-old bride caused dismay by weeping throughout the ceremony? until it was learned that her tears were caused not by emotion but by an attack of measles.39 The young couple set up house at 1 Pritchard Street, Bristol, and to meet his new responsibili bilities the 23-year-old bridegroom asked for an increase in salary. To support his wife, A. L. Green was granted a rise from 27s. 6d. to 30s. 34 Magna Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica, C. Roth (London, 1937), p. 435 (hereinafter Mag. Bib.). 35 Obit. 36 It seems probable that this was a reference from Maimonides, quoted in the Jewish Chronicle at the time of the 1857 General Election (27 March 1857): 'It is lawful to follow on Sabbath any meri? torious occupation . . . even to attend public assemblies and meetings of Gentiles held for the public welfare' (Sabbath, Cap. 24, Halacha 5). 37 Col. 38 Joseph Levy (1776-1856), born in Hanover, married Elizabeth Levy (1786-1871) (no relation), born in London; her family settled in Deal. The Green family are also Levites. One of Mrs. Joseph Levy's sisters, Dinah, married Jacob Farjeon (d. 1856). Their son, B. L. Farjeon (1838-1903), a Vic? torian novelist, was the father of Joseph Jefferson, Herbert, and Eleanor Farjeon. Mrs. A. L. Green's brother, Lazarus Lee, was the father of Sir Sydney Lee (1859-1926), Editor of the Dictionary of National Biography and Official Biographer of King Edward VII. (Col.; Dictionary of National Biography [herein? after D.N.B.]: Farjeon-Sydney Lee.) 39 Others to follow this practice were Louis Cohen (father of Lionel Louis) and Aaron Jessel (grandfather of Sir George). Trans. XVI, table facing p. 23, and Trans. XVIII, p. 224.</page><page sequence="7">Aaron Levy Green, 1821-1883 93 per week.40 No doubt it was the memory of those days that later led him to take part in the work of the Congregational Officials' Association, whose object was to supplement the salaries and pensions of officiants in the smaller provincial towns.41 The marriage proved extremely happy and an account survives of a typical Victorian household, the husband warmly affectionate and protective, the wife supporting his activi? ties and attending to his comfort; but as a widow at the age of 57, Phoebe Green was to surprise those nearest to her by her determina? tion and force of character.42 In the size of the family the marriage also followed the Victorian pattern. Aaron and Phoebe Green became the parents of seven sons and five daughters. As Aaron's brother Michael had a family of 15, one of their nieces used to point out that her two uncles had between them 27 children.43 In the naming of his sons Aaron followed a practice which Mr. Edgar Samuel describes as common among the