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Eliakim Ben Abraham (Jacob Hart): An Anglo-Jewish Scholar of the Eighteenth Century

Rev. Arthur Barnett and Selig Brodetsky

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Eliakim ben Abraham (Jacob Hart) An Anglo-Jewish Scholar of the Eighteenth Century (0 By the Rev. Arthur Barnett, B.A. Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England, May 24, 1938. The subject of this paper is a man who was probably unique in Anglo-Jewry of the eighteenth century. As a lay scholar I think he will be found to have been without peer in his day. Yet he has remained in such obscurity that not a single fact of his personal life had ever been recorded until Dr. Cecil Roth re-discovered him some six years ago in relation to the old Westminster Synagogue, then in Denmark Court in the Strand, and now known as the Western Synagogue.1 Who was Eliakim ben Abraham ? If you seek the answer to this question in any current book of reference you will find little else than a list of his writings with a short description of their contents. The Jewish Encyclopaedia2 devotes to him some thirty lines, des? cribing him as a Cabalist and Grammarian ... of vast erudition, and endowed with a fine critical sense . . . living in London in the eigh? teenth and nineteenth centuries. Fiienn in his Keneseth Israel, a Hebrew biographical lexicon of Jewish scholars, published between 1886 and 1890, contents himself with a mere catalogue of Eliakim's works. 1 Records of the Western Synagogue. Cecil Roth. London, 1932. 2 sub. Eliakim, vol. v. p. 109. 207</page><page sequence="2">208 ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM In Elkan Adler's History of the Jews in London it is disappoint? ing to find no mention even of his name in the chapters on Jewish worthies of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; while in Hyam sons' History of the Jews in England* there is a notice of some two or three lines. Picciotto in his Sketches of Anglo-Jewish History (1875) is a little more generous. Writing of the products of Jewish intellect in the eighteenth century he says :4 " Among these we must enumerate two important works by Eliakim ben Abraham which saw the light in 1794. One . . . Milchamoth Adonai, (The Battles of the Lord) . . . consisted of essays on several philosophical subjects; and the other, Maamor Beenah Laitim, was a commentary on the most difficult passages of Daniel. The diction of these treatises has been pro? nounced to be chaste and elegant, and their contents to display much knowledge in science, natural philosophy, and theology. The same writer also edited other works in the holy tongue, consisting mainly of philosophy and metaphysics." Curiously enough, it is the Jewish apostate, Moses Margoliouth, who is most liberal in his appreciation of Eliakim (and let me assure you that this is no reflection on Eliakim's religious views, for he was rigidly orthodox in spite of his extensive secular knowledge). In a reference to the interregnum between the death of Rabbi David Tevele Schiff in 1792 and the appointment of Rabbi Solomon Herschell ten years later?a period when no Chief Rabbi reigned over Ashkenazi Jewry in London?Margoliouth writes as follows in his History of the Jews in Great Britain (London, 1851):5 "There were not wanting in that time amongst the British Hebrews, men of genius and of learning. And it would moreover appear, paradoxical as it may sound, that individual members of the Synagogue received literary vitality by the removal of the head. In 1794 a series of Hebrew works began to be printed in London, which reflect great credit on the authors, editors and Hebrew printers. A learned Hebrew, Eliakim ben Abraham, was the author of the first works of the series." Margoliouth then enumerates and describes the works 3 p. 302. 4 p. 227. 5 Vol. ii, p. 131ft.</page><page sequence="3">ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM 209 of Eliakim and pronounces upon their style and scholarship in the exact terms which Picciotto later plagiarised from him. " But," continues Margoliouth, disparagingly, 44 the whole of the author's fabric is based on Talmudic premises. Nevertheless, his books merit a place in the libraries of the learned; and had Eliakim had the will, or perhaps, the way of communicating his ideas in the English langu? age and style, his name would be known a little beyond the Mile End cemetery, where indeed his merits are lavishly recorded." I rather agree with Margoliouth that the scant acknowledgment of Eliakim's abilities has been due to the fact of his writing in Hebrew instead of English. When one compares his scholarship and cultured style with that, for example, of his contemporary David Levi, the printer and translator, one can only conclude that David Levi has received so much more attention merely because his works were writ? ten in English and were therefore more accessible to Anglo-Jewish writers. But on other points Margoliouth undoubtedly is in error. Firstly, Eliakim must have " had the way " if not the will to write in English. His Hebrew work Milchamoth Adonai unquestionably implies a wide reading of English. Indeed, I hope to establish that he was born in England. He wrote in Hebrew, not because of his ignorance of the English language, but because, through the vehicle of Hebrew, his vast knowledge could obtain a wider audience than a mere handful of Anglo-Jewish intellectuals in the eighteenth cen? tury. His books must have gone abroad and found a ready public on the Continent. It is worth noting that Margoliouth states that he himself "picked up several of Eliakim's works published in London in the Holy City, Jerusalem." (Incidentally, I acquired my own copies from the same source.) Margoliouth is wrong also about the Mile End cemetery; for Elia? kim was buried in the Hambro' Synagogue cemetery in Grove Street, Hackney.6 That the tombstone lavishly recorded Eliakim's merits, Margoliouth must have learned from actual inspection some ninety years ago. I visited the cemetery, together with Dr. Cecil Roth, for the same purpose a year ago. Alas, there is not a single letter left (-) Ilnmbro' Synagogue Archives, F..t-~. P</page><page sequence="4">210 ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM on the stone and much valuable information that once existed con? cerning him will go for ever unrecorded. The works of reference that I have quoted comprise the sum total of our knowledge of Eliakim until the year 1932, when Dr. Roth published the Records of the Western Synagogue. In these records a few facts were brought to light concerning Eliakim's personal history. Subsequently it has been my privilege to make further investigations and (with the very generous help of Dr. Roth and also after valuable consultations with the Rev. Morris Rosenbaum, to both of whom I here acknowledge my indebtedness), I have been able to gather some new facts which may help to build up a person out of the ghost of Eliakim ben Abraham. But first a word as to his works. They were produced under the title Asarah Maamaroth (The Ten Words). Of these, the chief work is the Mile ham oth Adonai, of which you will hear more from Pro? fessor Brodetsky. Suffice it for me to say that it is a defence of Judaism against what Eliakim characterises as the seductive teachings of Science and Philosophy. He displays here an extraordinary diver? sity of secular knowledge as well as Biblical and Rabbinical learning, and he shows a fine independence of mind. Some of the subjects with which he deals are as follows : Primitive and Comparative Reli? gion, Egyptology, Geology, Natural History, Philosophy, Mathema? tics, Chemistry, Physics, and Astronomy, Some of the thinkers he discusses are Plato, Aristotle, Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Descartes, Hume, Locke, Hobbs, Voltaire, and Tom Paine?to mention just a few names. He is careful to assure his readers, however, that his object in acquiring secular knowledge is to make it serve the defence of the Torah. His use of scientific terms transliterated into Hebrew is interesting. You find such words as DttlSD IS (air pump), (atoms), (optics), and SOlpDlK JfTDKp (camera-obscura), and so forth. He has a biting, satirical style when he chooses, and is at times something of a humorist. For example, in dealing with Voltaire in relation to Deism, Eliakim writes: .. . rsTM rman nn??n ? ? ? ? ^sri^n ? ?. isn</page><page sequence="5">ELTAKIM BEN ABRAHAM 211 JEffi pt? " The enemy Frenchman . . . who seduces people with his plausible lies ... is not worth the time I have spent on him." The play on the word ' Frenchman ' is really quite clever. ^ilDI^Jl becomes ^Jis ^?fi, " the simpleton enemy ". His final verdict on Voltaire is " that he did not reach even to Isaac Newton's ankles ". Thomas Paine is described by Eliakim as just an impu? dent 233 of Voltaire's nonsense, with which he tried to trap the feeble-minded. This polemic and apologetic work was published in London in 1794 and was printed by David Levi. For whom, and why, was it written ? The handful of English Jews who might have read Vol? taire and Tom Paine would probably not have read Hebrew litera? ture, and vice versa. I would suggest that Eliakim had in mind, particularly, the Jews of Germany who had been blinded by the dazzling sun of the new enlightenment of the Mendelssohnian era. That is why he preferred to write in the lingua sacra which was the lingua franca of eighteenth-century Jewry. His next work was the Binah La-itim, also published in London the next year, 1795. It deals mainly with the cryptic chronology of the Book of Daniel in relation to the rise of the world empire. It may be worth noting that Eliakim concludes this work with a reference to God's wonders that never cease. He calculated that the year 1783 was the end of Daniel's time units. It was the year of the close of the American War of Independence, out of which the dawn of emancipation and liberty spread to France. Eliakim was writing six years after the rise of the French Revolution. In both these events he saw a fulfilment of Hebrew prophecy, the dawn of Liberty. His next work was the Zuph Nobeloth, published in London in 1799. It was a sort of abridged critical edition of Joseph Solomon Delmedigo of Candia's treatise Nobcloth Chochmah, a metaphysical work on the problem of " creatio ex nihilo ". In at least one copy7 of this volume there appears before the title page a list of subscribers, among whom are numbered many of the important London families, including the Wardens of the three City 7 Jews' College Library, London.</page><page sequence="6">212 ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM Synagogues and the Western, as well as members of the Goldsmid family, Assur Keyzor, Joshua van Oven, and others. There is a statement above the names which runs : " The following having seen the first two parts of the work Asara Matnoroth (sic) desire to see the other parts and have therefore given their assistance to print them." Evidently Eliakim had his patrons in London. Only two others of the " Ten Essays " were published. These were Mayan Ganim and Ein Ha\ore\ both printed in Berlin, 1803. Whether any MSS. exist of the remaining five I cannot say. There are none in the British Museum. He also published in R?delheim in the same year his Ein Mishpat, which, like the Ein Majore, deals with Hebrew grammar, with special reference to the sound-values of the vowels. He advocates the study of grammar for a proper understanding of the meaning of the Torah and the work of the Rabbis. He is very vehement in his objection to Sephardic pronunciation of the vowels ?particularly the Cholem and Zere?the ' ? ' and ' ei' which Eliakim probably pronounced like a good Cockney, ow and eye. This throws an interesting light on the English Ashkenazi's pronunciation of Hebrew, so common even to this day. Incidentally, I have in my possession a copy of David Levi's Pentateuch of 1822 which disports an imprint on the spine, in English lettering, Kowdish Towrah, a most delightful sample of characteristic London Hebrew for the " Holy Law ". But Eliakim's basis of objection is scientific. He claims that the variations of vowels can only be explained in Hebrew grammar by recourse to Ashkenazic sound-values. He complains of Ashkenazic grammarians who accept without critical inquiry the Sephardic vowel sounds " as though they were revealed at Sinai ". " But," he adds, " they are only the opinions of mere mortals, and built on empty foundations. . . . The errors of our Sephardi brothers are not to be wondered at. They lost the ow and eye because they were exiled among nations who had no such sound in their language; just as we Ashkenazim have lost the y because German has no similar sound. . , . But I do not ask you to accept my opinion," he naively adds;</page><page sequence="7">ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM 2I3 "just accept the truth. . . . And I render thanks to God for this goodness that He has led me in the path of truth," quoting in support the famous tag of Aristotle: MB Km \V^2X SVIN tttnplD niHS "UTp 21m K " Socrates and Plato are both dear to me, but it is my duty to prefer truth." Who shall say that Eliakim had no sense of humour? He concludes this essay with the pious hope (which is of topical interest) that one day we shall attain a standard pronunciation. But our author is afraid that for this he has only Providence on which to rely, when, in God's own good time, Sephardi and Ashkenazi shall become one people with one pure tongue. Evidently Eliakim could no more endure Sephardic pronunciation that he could its blue blooded, superior exclusiveness. Time does not permit me to deal further with his works. They reveal him as a most versatile scholar, religious and secular, scientist, philosopher, mystic, cabalist, grammarian, widely read in the litera? tures of many ages and many lands?a somewhat unique type of Jewish layman in eighteenth-century London Jewry. And now I return to my original question: Who was Eliakim ben Abraham? I have no complete-answer, but I can now clothe his skeleton with some flesh. When was he born ? On the occasion of my visit to the Hambro' cemetery in Hackney, though I could not discover any epitaph of Eliakim, I was not entirely unrewarded for the search. For I found a stone bearing the Hebrew inscription of which the following is a translation: " Here lies the woman [name obliterated; I have since discovered it was * Hannah '] daughter of Our Master the Rabbi, Eliakim Hart: died on Sabbath, the 23rd Adar, and was buried on Sunday, 5606"; and, in English: "Aged 76; died March 1846." Now this at once established two facts : 1. That Eliakim ben Abraham was known by the English name of Hart. 2. That since his daughter (who, by the way, must have been a spinster) was born in 1770, he must have been married not later than 1769, and, unless he was very precocious, born not later than</page><page sequence="8">2I4 ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM 1750. I think it safer to assume 1745 to be the latest terminus for his birth. With these bare facts the search began. Till this moment the only sources for his personal history were the archives of the Western Synagogue. Unfortunately they only begin in the year 1797?except for two small manuscript volumes in the possession of Dr. Gaster which go back to the earliest Westminster He bra in 1767. The dis? covery that Eliakim was buried in Hambro' Synagogue cemetery did not imply that Eliakim was in any way connected with that congrega? tion. In those days the Western Synagogue had no cemetery of its own, and all its members were buried in one or other of the City synagogue cemeteries. However, it indicated there were possibilities in a search of the Hambro' records. These revealed the following facts: 1. That in the year 1767 (when Eliakim was perhaps twenty-two) he subscribed 10s. 6d.?possibly as the son of a full member?to the Hambro' Synagogue. 2. That one of the earliest members of the Hambro' was a certain Abraham, son of Eliakim, who (I am confident) was our Eliakim's uncle. 3. That our Eliakim was a Treasurer, Gabbai Zedakah, of that Synagogue in 1784, and that in that same year he was a trustee of a fund raised for the acquisition of the Lauriston Road Cemetery (then called Grove Street). 4. That his death is recorded in two different registers of the Ham? bro' Synagogue (a) in Hebrew : " Our Master, the Rabbi Gottschalk (i.e. the equivalent of Eliakim) the son of Abraham Hart, died on Sabbath, of the Sedrah ^ntt and buried Sunday the nth Iyar 5674 " together with its English entry : " Mr. . . . Hart died Sat. 30th April, buried Sunday the ist May 1814." (b) That he was buried in the Lauriston Road Cemetery, Row IX, No. 324.8 5. That his widow was buried in the same cemetery. Her death is recorded in the Hambro' register in both Hebrew and English. In Hebrew thus: " Rachel, widow of Our Master, the Rabbi, 8 A marginal note adds "*n p =From the side.</page><page sequence="9">ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM 215 Eliakim son of Abraham Hart, died nth Kislev 5594 " etc.; and in English: " Rachel Hart, widow of the late [sic] Jacob Hart (of Plumbtree Street, Bloomsbury). Died Saturday night 23rd Nov. . . . 1833." It therefore appears, so far, that Eliakim ben Abraham was one Jacob Hart born c. 1745, died 1814?living possibly in Plumbtree Street when he died. Plumbtree Street no longer exists; but an early London map shows it to be identical with Grape Street, running off Shaftesbury Avenue near Drury Lane. Unfortunately the rate-books of the period both in the borough of Holborn and the city of Westminster do not cover the Plumbtree Street area, and so far I cannot trace the name Jacob Hart in any rate-books. The next question I would ask is: Where was Eliakim born? and I answer, In England and most probably in London. Why? Eliakim's father was named Abraham Hart. If Abraham had not already assumed the name of Hart before Eliakim's birth then Elia? kim would probably have been known in English as Gottschalk (or Jacob) Abrahams. Such was the usual procedure in adopting Eng? lish patronymics. Furthermore, we have seen that as early as 1767 Eliakim was known as Hart, and it is beyond reasonable doubt that he was born in London of a father named Abraham Hart. Now as to Eliakim's family. After careful investigation, I have built up a genealogical tree going back to the end of the seventeenth century. In parts I admit it is only tentative. But the continual recurrence of the family names of Asher ( ? Angel, the name of Eliakim's son), of ttfTH h2? =Hart, of Eliakim and of Abraham, make it almost certain that Eliakim's father was Abraham Hart and that Abraham Hart was the son of a certain tSHVJ *0? son of of Eisenstadt (then in Hungary).9 The family hailed then from Eisenstadt, and it is no mere chance that Eliakim's name appears in a list of subscribers to the Midrash Pinchas (a London publication of 1795) side by side with a certain Asher Angel, son of 9 This would give Eliakim a descent from the well-known Rabbi Meyer Eisenstadt, b. 1670.</page><page sequence="10">2l6 ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM Zevi ( = Hart) of Eisenstadt. Both Angel Eisenstadt and Eliakim ben Abraham were then members of the Hambro' Synagogue. In 1768 Angel Eisenstadt was teacher and Shochet to the Westminster Hebrah, and by 1797 Eliakim is a prominent member of the Denmark Court Synagogue. I think it probable that they were uncle and nephew. There is another branch of the family from which was descended a certain John Hart, a diamond broker of Fleet Market, who mar? ried a Judith Emden of a well-known family connected with the Hambro' Synagogue. But I do not wish to weary you with genea? logies. Anyone interested can consult the family tree I have drawn up. Eliakim himself had at least three daughters, Hannah, Ann, and Frances; and a son, Eliezer, who was a member of the Great Synagogue; a child Abraham (Aberle) who died young, and a second son, Asher Angel. Asher Hart appears as a member of the Westminster Synagogue in the year 1797 together with his father, Eliakim, and his mother ?all seatholders. Of Asher, who married a certain Clara Douglas, I shall have more to say. Now let me ask : What was Eliakim or Jacob Hart ? He was a jeweller, living in the Strand10 and must have been a merchant or trader in fairly comfortable circumstances, for he spends quite goodly sums on seat rental at Westminster and makes generous and frequent offerings. He was very active at the founding of the Denmark Court Synagogue. He was prominent in formulating the early Laws (Takanoth) of 1798 and in their revision in 1809. For the Consecra? tion Service at Denmark Court in 1797 Eliakim composed an acrostic poem in a beautiful style of liturgical Hebrew, in which he reveals his mystical and philosophic mind, as well as an ardent love of Jewish observance. Between the years 1800 and 1804 he disappears from the account books (the Dp^?). He was probably in Germany busy with his publications, and, I have no doubt, preparing for his Rab 10 He signs his name as " Jacob Hart, Jeweller, of the Strand " on the lease of the Denmark Court Synagogue in 1797.</page><page sequence="11">ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM 217 binical degree. It is only by 1805 that he appears for the first time as i-e. as a qualified Rabbi. It is impossible that he should suddenly have been called by this title if it were merely an honorific conferment in reward for his writings. His major works were already produced before 1799 in London. He must, therefore, have received Semichah, the Rabbinical diploma, while on the Continent. In the year 1797-8 it is worth recording that David Levi, the printer, paid ^8 lis. 6d. to the credit of Eliakim's Syna? gogue account of some ^17, a large sum in those days. Evidently David Levi was selling, as well as printing, Eliakim's publications. In the same year Eliakim seems to have had some distinguished visitors with him in Synagogue who made offerings of as much as ? 10 10s. on one Sabbath. Among them is a Solomon Gompertz (a well-known name), a Mr. Brandon (a Sephardi, whose English guineas probably compensated Eliakim for his Hebrew pronuncia? tion) and a certain R. Zelig (probably Emden). In 1813 Eliakim's son married Clara Douglas; and thereby hangs a tale. Clara Douglas was a proselyte, the daughter of one Abra? ham ben Jacob Douglas, a member of the Westminster Congrega? tion. Jacob Douglas was in turn the son of one Abraham Vantz mania K^SD^t?iKH. Clara's mother, Polly Douglas, was also a proselyte. Angel and Clara were married on March 31st, 1813, and there are some curious features about the wedding. The cele? brant was not the Chief Rabbi, Solomon Herschell, which was the usual procedure (unless the bride was of doubtful reputation), nor yet the Chazan; it was only " Mr. Kisch, the Shammash ". The Sabbath before and after the wedding it was obligatory (on pain of a fine) for the fathers of bride and bridegroom to be called to the Law in Synagogue. On those two Sabbaths Angel was there, and Abraham Douglas was there. But Eliakim (who had drawn up the Ta\anoth) was not there. Why ? Did he object to the proselyte bride? Probably. But he had more serious objections and most likely did not attend even the wedding. Who was Abraham Douglas, Clara's father? Where did he get this un-Jewish name from? This is the story. In the Great Syna</page><page sequence="12">2l8 ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM goguc records, Abraham Douglas is known as Abraham Vantzmania, when he marries Polly, his proselyte bride. Abraham Douglas's father is Jacob ben Abraham Vantzmania, who was also a member of the Great Synagogue in 1776. Where do the names Vantzmania and Douglas come from, and how do they become equated ? (Vantz? mania, I am assured by Mr, Wilfred Samuel, is Wintzenheim, in Lorraine.) And now let me turn briefly to a sorry story of the case of one Henry Simons and one James Ashley tried at the Old Bailey in 1751. Simons, a long-bearded Polish Jew, arrives in London wearing a belt, heavy with ducats. He is robbed at an inn near Hounslow by Ashley, who is in league with the innkeeper. Ashley is arrested. On the scene comes one Jacob Abrahams, known by the nickname " Wants money "?i.e. Vantzmania. He tells Simons' solicitor that he had a brother who once stayed at the same inn, where he was also threatened with robbery and only escaped by producing a pistol from under his pillow. " Subpoena me as a witness," he says, " and I shall corro? borate Simons' evidence"! Jacob "Wants-money" is called as a witness. But he is in the pay of Ashley; and in the witness-box he cheats Simons' solicitor, swearing that the innkeeper knew that his brother had a large sum of money on him, yet made no attempt to rob his brother; and that Ashley was innocence and honesty per? sonified. Poor Henry Simons is then tried and sentenced for perjury. But the Jewish community in London is so incensed against Jacob Abrahams " Wants-money " for playing such a trick on Simons that, I presume, Jacob ben Abraham " Wants-money " hurriedly leaves town. I suggest that, already (as we are informed) a fugitive from justice in Holland, he repairs to the Isle of Man, where at that time there was flourishing business in contraband, and when things have quietened down in London he comes back Mr. Jacob ben Abra? ham Douglas. I may be wrong in this Isle of Man hypothesis, but it seems to fit the story. It also fits in with the common practice of the period to adopt as one's English patronymic the name of the last place of domicile. In any case, it explains why Eliakim, the scholar and the gentleman, will have nothing to do with the rascally</page><page sequence="13">ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM 219 Douglas, with pretty Polly, or their daughter, the comely Clara; and why he will not go to his son's wedding. There is one more incident concerning Eliakim with which I shall conclude. In the year 1810, on Kol Nidre night, the Denmark Court Synagogue was the scene of a most untimely disturbance. The son of a certain Mr. Davis had been allotted a seat with which his father was not satisfied. A turbulent quarrel ensued, in which the father and grandfather joined. The august Parnass was insulted. After the solemn day had passed a general meeting was called. The offen? der was ordered to apologise and to pay a fine of 39s. (jTlp^ft). He refused. It was thereupon raised to 39 guineas. Davis remained obdurate; and out of this incident the Maiden Lane Synagogue eventually arose some years later. But in the meantime Eliakim appears to have disapproved of the general meeting's decision. He exercised the right of summoning another general meeting on the requisition of seven members. The vestry met before Succoth and resolved not to call another general meeting. They replied to Elia? kim that his proposals could not be laid before a general meeting as they had already been rejected. " Therefore," says the minute book, in its curious Hebraeo-Jiidisch: " An answer should be sent to Our Master, the Rabbi Gottschalk, saying that he ought to know how to read and he can convey the rejection to the other six requisitionists." Eliakim seems to have taken umbrage at the tone of their reply (he may only have been working for peace), and from that day he never attended another meeting, though he continued to attend the Synagogue. In December 1813, I gather from the entry of an offering made by his son, Angel, Eliakim became ill. He died, as I have already mentioned, on April 30th, 1814, and three coaches were sent by the Synagogue to his funeral (at about double the usual cost!) He left no money to the Synagogue, which, in view of the incident men? tioned, is not so strange. But he did leave to the Western Synagogue the signal merit of having numbered among its members one of the most outstanding scholars in Anglo-Jewry in those days. It is significant that in the Synagogue commemoration book, the</page><page sequence="14">220 ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM first name (and, indeed, one of the very few names) to which no gift or bequest is attached, is that of " Our Master, the Rabbi, Eliakim ben Abraham." This name is still recited in the Western Synagogue on each festival when memorial prayers are offered. And as I utter the name in the Synagogue to which I minister I feel a sense of pride in recalling the association of this unique Anglo-Jewish scholar with the historic congregation to which he rendered such constant and valuable service. In the time at my disposal this is all I can tell you of the story of Eliakim, so far as I have been able to reconstruct it. Perhaps at some future date the complete figure of Eliakim ben Abraham, alias Rabbi Jacob Hart of London, may come to life. Meanwhile, I trust that my attempt to resurrect him has left him not entirely in a valley of dry bones. (?) Supplementary Note By Prof. S. Brodetsky, M.A. The scientific writings of Eliakim ben Abraham are contained in two books, the first entitled Milchamoth Adonai (" The Battles of the Lord "), published in London in 1794, and the second, Binah La-itim (" Wisdom for the Times "), published in 1795. As is to be expected, Eliakim's object in studying secular sciences was to make them ancil? lary to his religious and theological learning. The first book, Milchamoth Adonai, consists of a preface and six? teen chapters. Having stated his complaint that people seeking wisdom from the secular sciences like Mathematics and Astronomy had made the mistake of putting the maid-servants (i.e., the secular sciences) in the place of the mistress (i.e., Religion), Eliakim proceeds to declare his intention of combating four groups of philosophers, namely:</page><page sequence="15">ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM 221 (1) The heathens, who claimed for ancient mythology an origin dating before the traditional Jewish date of Creation. (2) The school of Aristotle the Greek. (3) The school of Descartes the Frenchman. (4) The school of Newton. He then deals with each in turn, and shows a remarkable knowledge of the ancient mythology of Crete, Egypt and China, and of the writ? ings of the classical philosophers as well as those of Descartes and his followers and of Newton. In discussing the Greek philosophers, he controverts their views on the elements, and incidentally gives an account of the Copernican astronomy and of scientific instruments like the microscope and telescope. In writing of Descartes, he objects to his theory of vortices and shows, incidentally, how the Cartesian philosophy led to the " atheists " like Locke and Spinoza. It is inter? esting to note that this is the only occasion upon which he mentions Spinoza. Eliakim has the greatest admiration for Isaac Newton : so much so that he declares that " Descartes did not reach in stature to Newton's ankles ". This admiration for Newton is so great that he attributes to him several discoveries really due to others. But he gives an excel? lent account of Newton's work in mechanics, which is quite remark? able because not many people have been able to explain clearly what Newton did in relation to such matters as inertia, action and reaction, etc. He describes Newton's work on gravitation, and quotes Huygens as proving by means of the pendulum that the earth is not exactly spherical. But finally Eliakim has to object to Newton's philo? sophy too, because Newton's followers used it in order to explain Creation without God. He asks, " Can all Creation consist of motion and attraction? " Eliakim then proceeds to propound his own point of view?the " common sense " point of view?showing that secular study and research can discover many things of importance to man, but that in order to discover the secrets of Creation one needs divine revelation.</page><page sequence="16">222 ELIAKIM BEN ABRAHAM He enlarges upon this by showing how Creation is of use to man from the practical point of view, dealing with such subjects as air pressure, optics, the spectrum and astronomical matters. In this publication, Eliakim shows remarkable erudition which was evidently quite up-to-date. The discovery of Uranus by William Herschel in 1781 is quoted, as well as the discovery of two more moons to Saturn in 1790, and the division in Saturn's ring, discovered as recently as 1792. The second book, Binah La-itim, is a study on the question whether it is possible to calculate the ' Ketz ', or the end of the world; i.e., the coming of the Messiah. As is well known, there is a pre? judice among orthodox Jews against this kind of calculation, for " prophecy " which remains unfulfilled can only lead to confirmed despair. Eliakim shows how many great writers in the past had tried and failed, like Saadiah, Rashi, Ramban, Abraham bar Chiya haNassi, Bechai, Ralbag, but proceeds to beg the question and to claim that if the redemption is near at hand, then it is allowable to calculate! He then gives his own views, basing himself upon the well-known sentences in the Book of Daniel, chapter vii, verse 25, and chapter xii, verses 10, 11, 12. There is a good deal of typical Cabbalistic calculation, including a discourse on the importance of the number seven, namely, that there are seven planets, seven spheres, that Passover has seven days, that Shevuot is seven weeks after Passover, that Rosh Hashanah is in the seventh month, that Succoth has seven days, that Shabbath is the seventh day, that the Shemitah is the seventh year, and that the Jubilee is at the end of seven Shemitoth! He reaches the conclusion that what he calls the " end of years "?Ketz Hashanim?was in the year 1783, and the real Ketz (namely, the " end of the generations")?Ketz Hadoroth?would come in the year 1840. Eliakim quotes as an indication of the correctness of his calcula? tion that the year 1783 was a few years after the Declaration of American Independence, and a few years before the French Revo? lution. The year 1840 passed without the coming of the Messiah. We are now in 1940, and no doubt many minds are again occupied with</page><page sequence="17">ELTAKIM BEN ABRAHAM 223 such calculations; for Eliakim was not so old-fashioned as might appear: intense suffering often entices the human mind into the paths of the mystical. One thing is clear, and this is that Eliakim was a remarkable man. In no sense a professional scholar, he possessed extraordinary width of knowledge, both religious and secular. From the way in which Eliakim transcribes many technical terms in English and Latin, as well as many names, it is clear that he was an Ashkenazi Jew well acquainted with German, and probably with Yiddish too.</page></plain_text>

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