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Solomon Bennett: Artist, Hebraist and Controversialist (1761-1838)

Rev. Arthur Barnett

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Solomon Bennett, 1761-1838 Artist, Hebraist and Controversialist1 By The Rev. Arthur Barnett, B.A., H.C.F. OLOMON BENNETT was a vivid and vigorous personality of \he eighteenth (and nineteenth centuries, who, in my view, has so far not received the attention *^due to him from Anglo-Jewish historians. Of the scanty notices recorded of him many are quite incorrect in their facts, most are only indirect in their interest, and nearly all are chiefly concerned with his polemics against the Chief Rabbi, Solomon Hirschell. I hope to show from my investigations that he is quite worthy of an identity of his own among the notable figures of Anglo-Jewry in a period not particularly con? spicuous for Jewish literary or cultural productivity in this country. Whether as artist, scholar or controversialist, he is sufficiently outstanding to warrant a personal and a permanent place in the Anglo-Jewish story. Until recently this colourful, caustic and sometimes choleric character has been passed over as inconsiderable; and, even where referred to, dismissed somewhat contemptuously as little more than a scribbling, communal squabbler who was inspired merely by personal grievance and whose pen flowed with venomous spite. I have come to the conclusion that this general estimate is quite inadequate and ill-balanced. As an artist, he enjoyed a high European repute; as a scholar, he was equipped with a Hebrew, rabbinic, and general culture quite rare to his environment; and as a polemicist he has, at any rate, the signal merit of having furnished us with a more faithful picture, than did any of his contemporaries, of the social and religious conditions of English Jewry of his time. I believe that the real explanation for his remaining in comparative obscurity is his scathing denunciations of the sad shortcomings of the Community. What he has to say is often extremely un? pleasant, but never far from the truth. This, in my view, is why the historians have neglected him. On consulting the Jewish Encyclopedia I find a notice on Bennett by Joseph Jacobs, of a dozen or so lines. Now Jacobs was a historian; yet he is quite hazy about the year of Bennett's birth, quite incomplete about the extent of his writings, has barely a word about his art, and is quite incorrect about both the place and date of his death. Obviously Jacobs did not think him worth-while; for he could not even have taken the trouble to discover Bennett's most valuable contribution to the Anglo-Jewish story,?"The Present Reign of the Synagogue at Duke's Place." Admittedly this is a rather rare booklet?not to be found even in the British Museum; nevertheless it is somewhat surprising that Jacobs has no mention of it in his Bibliotheca Anglo-Judaica. And Jacobs seems to have set the pattern for most of his successors in regarding Bennett as of no account. In Matthias Levy's "The Western Synagogue" (London 1897) there are a few scattered references to him and his family, who were active members of that congregation. But it was not until 1921 when Charles Duschinsky published his "Rabbinate of the Great Synagogue" that there was revealed for the first time even a hint of the value of Bennett's writings as a mirror of Anglo-Jewish life at the opening of the nineteenth century. A further account of him was included in a paper read before 1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England, 27th June, 1949. K 91</page><page sequence="2">92 SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRIAST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) our Society in 1940 by Mr. Alfred Rubens on "Early Anglo-Jewish Artists.1 But I shall rely mainly upon Bennett's own works for my assessment of his rightful place among Anglo-Jewish literati of his time. Let me begin with an outline of his biography, gathered for the most part from contemporary records. He was born in 1761 in Polotzk, in White Russia. His Hebrew name was Yom-tob ben M. Ha-Rav Shelomoh. His father therefore must have been something of an orthodox Jewish scholar and certainly of some especial merit, to have received even the honorary title of Rabbi. The son seems to have inherited the father's Jewish learning, though he was apparently not so keen about the legacy of his orthodoxy. He claims to have been reared and educated in a milieu of rabbis and always to have held in honour all learning, both religious and secular. Nevertheless he admits that strict religious conformity was not his forte. "Love, Unity and Justice," he declares, "are the chief points of the universe. The rest, I look upon merely as ceremonial affectations, which can make no difference with mankind at large and still less to a Supreme Power." "In this principle I live, and in this principle I will continue." ("Constancy of Israel"). This liberal outlook was to bring him much trouble, as we shall later see. In talking of his native Poland, he says in 1809 "The memory of my infancy is still struck with horror at the oppressions and cruelties inflicted on the Jews in that kingdom." He personally suffered confiscation of his business, which was that of an innkeeper or a distillery. At the age of 25 (i.e. in 1786) he set out on a tour a"etudes in pursuit of literature and the arts. In 1792 he left Polotzk for good, and after visiting Riga went to Copenhagen where he stayed for three years while studying at the Danish Academy of Arts. In August 1793, there was issued to him by the Director of the Royal Academy of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture of Denmark a letter of recommendation stating that he had attended that institution for the past year and during that time he had applied himself with success not only in engraving 'pierres fines' but also in copper-plate; and that if he could find means of maintenance he would become a very skilful engraver. (Jews' College Library). In 1795 a great fire in that city impelled him to Berlin, where he continued his art studies and was awarded the patent of R.A. of the Berlin Academy for an engraving of a life-size portrait of Frederick the Great of Prussia. Some of Bennett's hostile critics have suggested that this claim to have been elected an Academician of Berlin is spurious. But in Kauffmann's "Gedenkbuch" (Breslau 1900, p. 629) there appears a statement that among three Jewish artists who were honoured "as extraordinary members of the Royal Academy of Berlin" was "the Painter, Engraver and Hebraist, Solomon Bennett." Since this paper was read before our Society I have myself seen the original certificate duly signed and sealed and dated 14th October 1797. It was presented to the Jews' College Library in 1952 by the Misses Tickell of Rye, Sussex?descendants of Bennett. Certainly he must have been regarded as an artist of outstanding merit to have received such an official recognition in Germany at a time when Jewish honours were rare indeed in that country. He also received complimentary letters from both the King and Queen (i.e. Frederick William III and Louisa Augusta) and (to use his own delicate phrase) "a decent pecuniary present." In spite of these honours he found the oppressed conditions of the Jews in Germany too abhorrent to his freedom-loving mind and after visiting Dresden, Leipzig and Hamburg he decided, in 1795, to move either to Paris or London. France being then in a convulsed state, he chose London as the goal of his wanderlust and here he arrived about the end of 1799. i Trans. Jew. Hist. Soc. Eng. Vol. XIV.</page><page sequence="3">SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 93 The character of the English nation, he says, came up to his expectations; but not so "respecting my own nation." Notwithstanding the recommendations he had brought with him from his continental Jewish brethren, he has to complain of coldness and aloofness towards him. "Their doors became barred against me with answers :? c Master is not at home, Master cannot see you.'" "It is a theme in their religious senti? ments [that] if a Jew be not orthodox in the extreme they proclaim him to be an infidel. On the other hand a man may commit all [kinds of] depredations and immoralities [but] if he contributed to and attended the Synagogue, he is then, they say, *a "good Idde Kiend'." But as Bennett was not particularly orthodox he was ostracized as a heretic. "Would I have been qualified to be a good companion, to associate in their convivialities, to give an Italian, French or German song, would I possess that gallant politeness as to caress their ladies and domestics, undoubtedly I might obtain their friendship. But, alas, I was not educated to such fineries" ! English gentiles helped him, by recommendations of his art, to earn a livelihood; but his fellow-Jews, he complained, totally ignored him as an artist. The only encourage? ment he got for his literary efforts in defence of Judaism came from non-Jews. In London he found liberty and toleration everywhere except from his own people, with whom he declares it "impossible to co-operate either spiritually or materially." Of London Jewry he says that they are proud of their descent and antiquity, but they have little regard for their ancient literature, or any literature, or even for their Jewish doctrines in general; nor do they understand how to make a proper use of their liberties in England. Now this description of his reception in London I do not regard as highly coloured. There is plenty of evidence that both morally and culturally the state of the Ashkenazi Community at this time was deplorably low. Morally there must have been a definite tide of degeneration. This is borne out by the well-known sociologist, Patrick Colquhoun (writing in 1801), by contemporary records of London rabbis and Ben-Din proceedings, no less than by some synagogue Takkanoth (Rules) and Laws of Institutions. It seems to have become necessary in quite a number of instances to introduce special regulations penalizing members who openly led a dissolute life. Culturally it was not only an unproductive period, it was a contemptuous one. The standard of Jewish education was at a dismal ebb. In the middle of the eighteenth century Chief Rabbi Hart Lyon was bitterly lamenting London Jewry's utter ^difference to all learning. He could not find a solitary pupil or colleague with whom to pursue his own studies. In 1762 Lyon wrote "God Almighty, alone, knows how weary I am of my life here. I cannot bear any longer to behold all that you do in public and in your private life." Two years later, after less than seven years in London, this Chief Rabbi returned home to Germany in sorrow and disgust. Forty years later his son, Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell, was presiding over a London community that seems to have changed very little; certainly not for the better. What Solomon Bennett has to say concerning London Jewry is sometimes very bitter, but it could not have been very remote from the facts. Notwithstanding his cool reception, Bennett remained in London for good. Accord? ing to Joseph Jacobs he spent the latter part of his life in Bristol; but his authority for this assertion I cannot discover. (Possibly it was due to the fact that one of his works received the patronage and financial assistance of a Christian lady living in Bath).1 There is little doubt that he never left London,?except perhaps temporarily?for he was continually pubhshing his works here till within a year of his death in London in 1838. Until 1828 he continued to practise "in different branches of the art of 1 See page 98.</page><page sequence="4">94 SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) engraving/' but by then failing eyesight threw him out of business. He seems to have lived at various addresses in the West of London,1 at one time in Panton St., at another in Burr St., then at Orange Court (both in Leicester Square), at No. 63 Charing Cross, and finally in Villiers St., Strand. He could not have prospered at his art (probably due to his progressively failing sight) for he was always finding his financial stringency a handicap to his literary pursuits and the publication of his writings. He engraved not only pictures but also seals and is, in fact, described as a "Seal-engraver" in an entry in the Marriage Registers of the Western Synagogue of 1850. In the controversial pamphlet between Hananiah Bolaffy, (a teacher in the Sephardi Congregational School) and Rachel Fanny Antonina Lee (Baroness Despenser) Bennett appears to have engraved seals for that curious lady. I am of the opinion that the early congregational seal of the Western Syangogue was executed by him; for I find in it,?apropos of nothing at all,?an isolated letter (Beth) which I have suggested to be the initial of the signature "Bennett" (?SJia). It can be readily understood that life must have been none too easy for him; for he had to support a wife and at least seven children in London and had already left behind in Polotzk a former wife, and also children, for whose maintenance he would have been responsible. What happened to his Polish wife and family he does not tell us. His enemies accused him of desertion. But he strenuously maintains that he left Polotzk with the full consent of his family and that to obtain an exit permit this consent was a legal pre-requisite, unless bail be given to the Government by his relatives for the security of his person. There is a certain amount of mystery attached to this matter. When Bennett writes about his arrival in London he refers to himself as "a single man." Yet I find that in 1817 one of his enemies states definitely that Bennett had abandoned the wife of his youth for the past tiiirty-five years and had left her unprovided for until she died in 1815; adding that when Bennett heard the news of her death "marvellous to relate, he wept ! " The mystery deepens when one examines his Ketubah. Here I find that wherever his status, bachelor, widower, or divorcee, should be mentioned there has been an erasure on the document, which now leaves a blank space. My theory is that, although he was still a married man until 1815, his wife had forfeited her Ketubah-rights of alimony through refusal to join him in his English domicile. In any case he remarried in London on the 28th Tishri 5579-1818, in the Western Synagogue. Of this union to a London lady called "Pascha, daughter of Asher Angel" (her English name was Elizabeth), I have discovered at least seven children. One, a daughter, Eve, died as a child. Of the six sons five were well-known as short-hand writers (a somewhat new and diffcult profession in those days) and the eldest, Angelo, (obviously named after his maternal grandfather) had a reputation as a masterly exponent of the "Samuel Taylor" short-hand system. Angelo did law-reporting and was so engaged in at least one famous murder trial in 1856. This was of Palmer, the poisoner; and during the fourteen days which it lasted Matthias Levy, one of Angelo's articled pupils, transcribed his master's reports at the end of each day's proceedings. Another of the famous "short-hand" brothers was2 Moses, (1825-1892); he reported all the principal trials of the latter half of the nineteenth century?and notably the Tichborne Case. He was highly respected by both Bench and Bar and was President of the Institute of Shorthand Writers at the time of his death. It is curious to note that of Angelo's brothers one bore the personal names Isaac Newton and another Charles Newton. A grandson of Solomon Bennett was Sergt. Henry Bennett, born in 1863, who served in Egypt in the Dorset Regiment, 1 See Western Synagogue Circumcision Register. 2 See Jewish Chronicle 1 April 1892.</page><page sequence="5">SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 95 where his knowledge of Arabic was highly valued by the Army authorities for his training of black troops. He was killed in action in India in the 1897 Afridi campaign. A great-grandson, Mr. Hugh Meredith, whose father was a founder and the first Treasurer of the Hampstead Synagogue, is the present possessor of a painting of his ancestor which I am promised will one day find its way into the Society's museum. This picture portrays a man of fine breeding with an aesthetic and keenly intellectual appearance, though of somewhat sad aspect. It certainly confirms the character which his own writings reveal. I should also mention that there is a great-great-grand-daughter who, inheriting her ancestor's literary and artistic talents, is to-day a writer on painters and painting. She is Lilian Browse, the editress of a number of books on that art. Con? cerning the family history I will only add that both Solomon and his widow, Elizabeth, who survived him by twenty-six years, lie in the old Western Synagogue Cemetery in the Fulham Road. He died in 1838, aged 77, and she in 1864, aged 84. He was 57 when he married her and was still adding to his progeny in his 69th year, and possibly later. His vision, it would seem, was his only failing faculty. I turn now to Bennett as artist. In this sphere, no less than in his scholarly achieve? ment, I think that he was under-rated in England. I have spoken of his early work on the Continent where he certainly enjoyed a high reputation. According to Nagler's K?nstler-Lexikon he was well-known as a capable portrait-painter in Berlin and in St. Petersburgh. There is, however, no doubt about his engraving work being of a high order. While in Copenhagen and Berlin he executed several notable works. At that time his signatures to his pictures varied from "B. Salomon" to "Benet Salomon," "Benet Salomo"?and "Benoit Salomon". In this he was merely following the common practice of adopting the Hebrew name of his father as his own surname. His own Hebrew name, "Yom-tob," he seems to have translated into "Bennett." He did not sign as "Solomon Bennett" till he was in London. Kirschstein in his J?dische Graphiker (Berlin 1918) has quite a lot to say about Bennett's artistic powers and it is significant that Kirschstein uses Bennett's self-engraving as the frontispiece for his own book (which deals with Jewish engravings between 1625 and 1825). In it he reproduces many Bennett items with lengthy and flattering comments. And while I have no competence whatever as an art critic, they certainly appear to me to be very impressive and beautifully executed;?at any rate until his failing eyesight affected the finesse of his work. Kirschstein suggests that his father may have been a Sopher (a writer of Torah scrolls, etc.) and that the son may have got his first introduction into art from his father's illumination of the Megillah and the Haggadah. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that among the MSS etc. presented by the Misses Tickell to Jews' College (see p. 92 &amp; 100) was a beautifully indited Scroll of Esther?probably the work of his father. One of his earliest engravings is that of Lorenz Werskoss,?an alchemist of the seventeenth century. This was done in Copenhagen probably in 1795 and in it Kirschstein detects something of Bennett's own mystical nature. Of the picture of Frederick the Great, Kirschstein says that Bennett has reproduced, in a moment of creative genius, the portrayal not of "Frederick, the war-mongering Field-Marshal," but of "der alte Fritz," ?"Frederick, the thinker, the philosopher on the throne, Frederick the friend of Voltaire.' It is worth noting Bennett's dedication of this engraving:?"Dedie tres respecteuseument ? Sa Majeste, Paul I, Empereur de toutes les Russies, par son tres homble et tres soumis sujet et serviteur?Bennett Salomon." Now this was in 1797?five years after he had left Russia. It shows that he must still have regarded himself as a Russian subject while in Berlin and must still have contemplated returning home at some time or</page><page sequence="6">96 SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) another. Herein is further proof that he had no intention of deserting his first wife. Of the picture of Louisa Augusta, the twenty-two year old Queen of Frederick William III, (done in 1797), Kirschstein writes that Bennett has caught, through the simplicity of his technique, all the youthful earnestness which the troubles of the French Revolution had impressed upon the visage of this newly-wed princess. In Bennett's self-engraving Kirschstein sees the whole history of the man. In the eyes are a penetrating spirituality and a quiet pensive melancholy. You can read from his face all his wanderings and strivings, all his intellectual and artistic powers, and all his lone battle with life, far from home and kinsfolk. There is another excellent picture (1796) of Field-Marshal Moellendorf, Governor of Berlin, and one in 1797 of Chodowiecki, Director of the Berlin Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences. Of his established reputation as an artist, not only does his work give proof but, even more so, the distinguished character of his subjects. Kirschstein says that there must be many more works?paintings and engravings?still undiscovered by him in 1918. In my view it is as absurd to dismiss him as a cheap seal or picture engraver as it is to regard his literary work as mere common-place polemic screed? as so many Anglo-Jewish writers have done till now. Of his engravings published in London I will mention only three. First, there is an excellent picture of Napoleon I, done in 1808 and published by Bennett at 63 Charing Cross. (A copy of this is in the Jews' College Library). Then there is the magnificent reproduction of the "Temple of Ezekiel," based upon the biblical text of the Prophet's vision {Ezekiel Chs. 40 to 42). This work, measuring some 24in. x 17in. was conceived, designed and executed entirely out of his own interpretation of the scriptural record and the rabbinic commentaries. It is a masterpiece both of imagination and of technique and it is accompanied by a ground-plan which implies a sound knowledge of architectural draftsmanship. Its wealth of detail, its bold presentation and its general elegance of delineation give it almost a three-dimensional aspect. It is a notable achievement. The third picture is that of Chief Rabbi Solomon Hirschell; and thereby hangs a tale. It was the cause of an unholy war between the artist and his subject, and was doubtless the origin of all the polemics for which Bennett is famous, or, should I say, notorious. As a result of it Bennett declares that he suffered the loss of more than ?100 and also imprisonment. What exactly happened is difficult to discover. I would conjecture that there must have been a law-suit over it in which judgement went against Bennett, who, not being able to pay, found himself in a debtor prison for a while. An explanation offered by Mr. Alfred Rubens in his paper on "Early Anglo-Jewish Artists," reads as follows :? Bennett was responsible for a portrait of Hirschell which appears in a pamphlet entitled cThe Axe laid to the Root; or Ignorance and Superstition evident in the Character of the Rev. S. Hirschell/ published in 1808 by Levi Alexander . . . The Portrait carries the caption 'Thou shalt not bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Lev. XIX, 18) and would no doubt have been held to be extremely libellous. Bennett, having already quarrelled with the Rabbi, would have had no scruples in assisting in the production of the pamphlet.1 Now this would be quite a plausible suggestion except for the following facts, viz. (1) that the portrait does not bear Bennett's signature; (2) that it is a crude and course 1 Trans. Jew. Hist. Soc. Vol. XIV.</page><page sequence="7">SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 97 picture, the quality of which is so inferior to any known work of Bennett's hand as to render it almost impossible to be of his authorship; (3) that although Alexander had recently engaged in a violent public quarrel with Hirschell, Bennett's controversy with the Chief Rabbi did not begin till nine years later. I can find no trace of Bennett's differences with Hirschell before 1817. Even what might be construed as an oblique reference by Bennett to Hirschell is only a general statement about the deficiency of modern rabbis in the scientific knowledge of the Hebrew language; and this was not made till 1809. There had been, however, strained relations between Bennett and Hirschell's father while in Berlin and possibly the family feud had been carried across the channel with Bennett's arrival in London. But it certainly did not boil up till the years 1817 and 1818. I am therefore unable to agree with Mr. Rubens and would suggest that the offending engraving of Hirschell must have been done between the years 1816 and 1818. Whatever be the facts, the consequences become clear enough, as we shall later see. I would mention that I have searched the "Commitments Registers" of the Fleet Prison and Queen's Bench for the period but can find no trace of Bennett among the many (and sometimes well-known) Jewish names occurring therein. It is also worth recording that in a copy of the "Present Reign of the Synagogue in Duke's Place displayed" (Seep. 104 ff), now in the possession of Mr. Cecil Roth, and bearing the book-plate of Lord Chief Justice Ellenborough, runs the following inscription in Bennett's hand :?"To the Rt. Hon. Lord Ellenborough?Presented by the author; requesting the honour of the reading and of taking the contents thereof into consideration." Might this not point to the case having been tried by Ellenborough shortly before his death in December 1818 ? So far, I have not found the answer. Let me turn now to Bennett's literary activities. His first work published in London was in 1809: ^mw nsa "The Constancy of Israel." It bears the sub-title?"An unprejudiced illustration of the most important texts of the Bible : or a polemical, critical, and theological reply to a public letter by Lord Crawford addressed to the Hebrew Nation." Part I contains Crawford's groundless arguments and Bennett's complete refutation of them. It demonstrates the falsity of the translations of Christological passages in the Bible and also of their dogmatic interpretation. Bennett claims to have "an unbounded veneration for our present Nazarenes" ; but that will not prevent him from taking up his pen against the roaring of the many proselytes who, with arrogance and pride, abuse the pure doctrines of the Hebrew faith. He chastises the missioners, those "Fishers of men," who with insidious bribes, entice poor ignorant Jews, like those of Pettycoat Lane and Frying-pan Alley, into their nets ; and, equally, he reproaches his own people who never attempt any answer in defence of Jewish principles. He warns his readers not to rely on many of our Hebrew Rabbis, "who though in holy surplice and though Talmudists, yet are very little Orthographists and Etymologists." (Is this perhaps a reference to Hirschell ?) He states that though English Jews do not read their Bible but prefer novels and romances, and scarcely understand their common Hebrew prayers, this is not the case with their brethren throughout the Diaspora. An Appendix to Part I constitutes a reply to an address to the Jews by one John Xeres (1710) a Jewish convert, who gives his reasons for embracing Christianity. Bennett here refutes the Trinitarian Doctrine based upon the Hebrew idiom of the "Pluralis Majestatis" of the Divine Name. Part II is an essay on Israel's Dispersion, which Bennett conceives as the agency of Israel's mission to the nations. It is a history of the Jews from Adam to 1809 C.E.?an heroic effort, set out in 120 pages, to prove that the Galuth (exile), far from being a divine punishment for Israel's</page><page sequence="8">98 SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) rejection of the Christian Messiah, was the divine plan for the world-dissemination of Jewish teaching. This book includes a certain amount of autobiography and also the self-engraving to which I have already alluded. Though it was ignored by the Anglo Jewish community, it must have been considered of some importance on the Continent; for twenty-one years later it was translated into German by the Rev. Dr. L. Wilhelm Wagner and published in Darmstadt in 1835, under the title "Israel's Best?ndigkeit." In the introduction Prof. Dr. Hartman is quoted (Dec. 1833) as an admirer of "The Jewish Scholar in London, Solomon Bennett and of his many biblical writings." In 1815 appeared a "Discourse on Sacrifices," showing that the sacrificial system was only a temporary stage in Israel's religious progress, that it was not essential to human salvation, and that, therefore, the Christian doctrine of the "Lamb of God" finds no support in Jewish theology. In 1817 and 1818 came his two main internal polemics with which I will deal separately. There followed in 1824 "The Temple of Ezekiel" ?"An Elucidation of the 40th to 42nd Chapter of the Book of Ezekiel; and a minute description of the Edifice on scientific principles; with an appendix on the authenticity of the Book of Daniel." This work is dedicated to a Mrs. Housman of Sidney Place, Bath, a patroness who had helped him financially with its publication. Among the patrons are three bishops, Earl Spencer and the Rev. Dr. Solomon Hirschell. It seems that by this time the author and the rabbi had composed their differences, despite the fact that in the preface Bennett complains, rather pathetically, that the public will favour any author with a title or rank, or even bearing the ambiguous designation of "Rabbi" or "Rev." ; but an untitled Jewish layman, who fives by the products of his industry, is not so happily placed. "Of this I may speak confidently" ... he says, "having suffered from it" ! (One of the three publishers of this book was Myer Solomon of Pall Mall; Art-dealer, Lay-Reader, Lay-Mohel, Scroll-writer and Parnass of the Western Synagogue.) In 1834 came "Critical Remarks on the Revised Version of the Old Testament." This was inspired by some satirical tracts of Tom Paine (published in 1812) attacking the Bible, and is also mainly concerned with the mistranslations of the Christian versions of the Hebrew Bible. He mentions here his friendship with Thomas Burgess (1756 1837), Bishop of Salisbury, who was no mean scholar and theologian. In 1835 he published "A Theological and Critical Treatise on the Primogeniture and Integrity of the Holy language." Its Hebrew title is tnpn ]Wb ni?Vt&amp;l m?lp *?S7 nplWl ?mn Win and it is dedicated to Moses Mocatta "who rendered assistance and support in bringing the same to light." Moses Mocatta was at that time the President of the Jewish Board of Deputies, one of the rare patrons of Jewish scholarship and, himself, a translator of a number of Hebrew works. He later became one of the founders of the West London or Reform Synagogue.1 In this volume Bennett attempts an independent enquiry into the antiquity and systematization of the Hebrew language. He claims that the Holy tongue goes back to Creation itself and that its grammatical system has suffered no change. He rejects the view that Hebrew evolved out of Egyptian hieroglyphics. In one passage he complains of Christian prejudices in the attitude to the Hebrew language and to rabbinical writings. He states :?"I must not, however, be too censorious towards the literati of our Christian brethren, considering that most of my Israelitish brethren in this kingdom are also indifferent towards the Holy Language and the extensive literature 1 Among the subscribers were :?The Duke of Sussex, Earl Spencer, Viscount Kingsborough, The Bishop of Chichester, The Bishop of Salisbury, Mrs. Housman (Bath), Moses Mocatta, Asher Samson, Lyon Moses, Morris Emanuel, Aaron Goldsmid, Myer Solomon, S. A. Hart, Abraham Hertz, L. Durlacher, J. Davis, and Mrs, J. Alexander.</page><page sequence="9">SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 99 of the Rabbies," (p. 48). He refers also in this volume to a work of his still in manuscript entitled: " The Pre-eminence and Stability of the Hebrew Language," '?iVs which, so far as I can ascertain, was never published. In a notice at the end of the volume he states that he has devoted himself to a revision of the translation of the Hebrew Bible, having found the Authorized Version full of errors. In view of his rapidly deteriorating eyesight he is determined to lose no time in this project but to apply his few remaining years to the task of pubhshing his own revised version. He laments his inability to find the resources for this object but piously hopes that some generous patrons may come to his aid. This hope was not realized; but he lived to see the publication in 1836 of a "Specimen of a New Version of the Hebrew Bible." Among the subscribers were the Duke of Sussex, Sir Moses Montefiore and Zadok Jessel (Father of the future Master of the Rolls). In his preface he has a reference again to Anglo-Jewry's contempt for scholarship. With them "all Rabbinical learning is a mere dream; but on this etiquette commands me to keep silence." The British Museum copy of this work bears the book-plate of the Duke of Sussex and attached to it is a letter from Bennett begging his influence with the wealthy members of the Synagogue to help him in his literary efforts. Finally and posthumously, in 1841, came two further parts of Bennett's project to produce his own original translation of the whole Hebrew Bible. The Editor was Francis Barham, who says in his preface :? Solomon Bennett was a Hebrew of the Hebrews . . . with all the peculiar sagacity and learning of his nation. He brought to the study of the original [text] a mind singularly erudite, yet free, bold and unfettered. His merits and defects are all his own. He borrowed little or nothing from his predecessors. Its originality will not fail to excite the keen intellects of our age. The Times of October 24th, 1841, refers to this work as a very beautiful piece of English and Hebrew letter-press. The learned labours of Solomon Bennett are calculated to throw a great deal of light upon numerous texts . .. and convey generally to all readers of the Bible a vast deal of import? ant instruction. Bennett was known in his lifetime as one of most eminent Hebrew scholars of his age; we believe he was instructor of Dr. Burgess, Bishop of Salisbury,?a prelate well calculated to estimate his merits and proficiency. I am confident that he must have completed the manuscript of the whole of this courageous undertaking though only two parts of Genesis appeared in 1841?three years after Bennett had made his own exodus from a troubled life. What became of the manuscript I can not discover. All I could gather was that at a meeting, presided over by Hananel de Castro, held on the 25th May 1844, for the purpose of establishing the Jews' and General Literary and Scientific Institution1 a Mr. J. Russell announced that he was in possession of a valuable manuscript by the late Mr. Bennett which was the result of five years' labour, and that he would be happy to present it to the Institute. Did the manuscript find a home in Sussex Hall, the first Jewish Literary Institute to be founded in this country ? What is certain is that it was placed at the disposal of the 'Revised Version Committee,' set up by Wilberforce in 1870,2?and that a letter was received by Bennett's family, in which the Committee acknowledged the value of the translation, of which they availed themselves in some instances. Three years after this paper was first prepared I found an answer?in any event, a partial answer?to a See Voice of Jacob 7 June 1844, p. 155. i See Jewish .Chronicle, 1 April 1892.</page><page sequence="10">100 SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) the above query. In 1952 the Jews' College Library was presented by the great-grand? daughters of Bennett with two quarto volumes of the Oxford Edition of the English Bible of 1824. They are interleaved with copious corrections of the Authorized Version and lavishly annotated with textual criticism in Bennett's own hand. In a prefatory note on one of the covers he apologizes for the somewhat disordered sequence of his work here and says that he has collected these notes in a complete manuscript which, doubtless, he intended for ultimate publication. I am of the opinion that the final manuscript did go to "Sussex Hall," while the rougher form of it remained in the possession of the family. In the Preface he refers to the many mistranslations of the Authorized Version, due to the lack of knowledge of the Hebrew idiom no less than to the tendentious religious prejudices of the translators and critics. "My venerable friend, Dr. Burgess, Bishop of Salisbury," he says, "once candidly declared to me that the English Version of the Hebrew Bible requires a thorough correction and revision by Hebrew scholars and grammarians." So impressed was Bennett by this confession of a great divine, not unversed in the Hebrew language, that it prompted him to undertake the task. He began by making his notes when using the English text for tutoring his own "six male children "; and the work was only completed after five years of continuous labour. This critical commentary on the whole of the Hebrew Bible is sufficient of itself to establish Bennett as a Jewish scholar of a very high order. It displays a vast knowledge not only of Hebrew grammar, philology, rabbinics, and Jewish mediaeval philosophy but of the classical and modern philosophers, of physics, astronomy and current science and literature generally. There could have been few English Jews of his day who came within measurable distance of his wide erudition. I have only been able to deal very briefly with Bennett as a scholar; but I think I have produced sufficient evidence to prove that he was by no means the negligible quantity hitherto assumed. He possessed both Latin and Greek; he was fluent in Polish, Yiddish, Danish, French, German and no doubt Russian, as well as English. He had a scientific approach to Jewish learning, when J?dische Wissenschaft was hardly yet begotten by Leopold Zunz. He was endowed with a fine independent mind and a keen critical faculty such as would have found very few peers in contemporary Anglo Jewry. He was thoroughly at home in both Jewish and Christian theology. In his interpretation of Jewish history he was dominated by a passionate sense of the "Jewish Mission" ; and while he may not have been punctiliously orthodox in his practice, he was unswervingly loyal to fundamental Jewish teachings and a zealous defender of the Jewish Faith at a time when Jews in England had rarely indeed either the ability or the will to vindicate Judaism in the eyes of the non-Jew. He was one of very few English Jews who attempted any refutation of the writings of the missionaries who were so busy at this time trying to seduce Jews into the Christian faith. About this period the methods of the missionaries were designedly undergoing a change. In place of abuse and attack it was thought wiser to attract and win over by the subtler and more insidious course of enticement and reason. All the more essential did it become to base the Jewish reply on intellectual grounds. And Bennett was eminently equipped for this. Whereas Hirschell merely thundered threat and anathema at the potential renegades among his flock Bennett sought to fortify them in their own faith by scholarly dialectic. It is worth recording that in a copy of a missionary work by one Christopher Leo (a converted Jew) which is in the possession of Mr. Alfred Rubens, there appear copious marginal notes in Bennett's hand. The tract is entitled "Remarks on the Traditions of the Rabbins with a concise Answer to the Question 'Why are you become</page><page sequence="11">SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 101 a Christian ? ' " It was published in London in 1815 and is "Addressed to the Jews." The author seems to have been well acquainted with his Rabbinic as well as Biblical sources. But Bennett's annotations are as trenchant as they are scholarly. Doubtless he had the intention, but not the means, of publishing a rejoinder. Here is a further instance of his constant defence of Jewish doctrine against the Christian aggression which so often was allowed to go by default. Moreover he was a syangogue Jew, despite the many false and bitter denials of this by his opponents. He undoubtedly was active in the communal life of the old Westminster congregation as were his sons after him. I hope, then, to have persuaded you that both as artist and Hebraist Bennett was an outstanding Jew of his day. At any rate he seems to have earned such a reputation on the Continent. In Leopold Low's Journal Ben Chananiah (4th Jan. 1861), in an article entitled "Wanderungen im Gebiete J?discher Vorzeit," I find this reference to him :?"He handled the pen with the same skill as the graving-tool. His numerous writings, as interesting as they are learned, deserve a place in every Jewish library." Now I turn to Bennett's polemics. As a controversialist his reputation will need no patronage from me, as you will assuredly agree when I let him speak for himself in his no uncertain language. Here is the story. In 1813 a Polish Hebraist, Salom (Ben Jacob) Cohen (1772-1845) had come to London for the purpose of founding a Hebrew School here. He failed. He obviously did not know London Jewry's utter ndifference about such matters. In a very short time he was back home again on the Continent. But before he left London he had published here, in 1815, a Hebrew book, mi?K WTO " Elements of Faith," a Catechism for the use of Jewish youth. This was translated into English by Joshua Van Oven and issued as a bilingual text-book for school instruction. The publication received a foreword of commendation from Hirschell, who states :?"I have perused it with an open eye and I approve it." Now this sounds an innocuous enough statement, yet out of it there arose a battle royal between Bennett and Hirschell?a battle in which the heavy artillery was spared by neither side,?Bennett using an open frontal attack and Hirschell replying from behind the camouflage of a hired mercenary. The casus belli seems to me so slight that I must confess to the view that Bennett declared war on Hirschell not so much because of any deep-rooted objection to Salom Cohen's somewhat innocent heresies but rather because he could no longer suppress his wrath against Hirschell, which had arisen out of the unfortunate engraving. I feel certain that the picture is at the bottom of all the wretched abuse that followed on both sides. Otherwise I cannot explain why Bennett waited patiently for two years after the appearance of the "Elements of Faith" before he took up his pen against it. I would conjecture that it was during those two years that Bennett must have spent some enforced leisure in the Fleet or Marshalsea where he had plenty of time to brood upon his misfortunes and prepare the 'Grand Revenge.' It came in Bennett's publication of a Hebrew work called "Tene Bikkurim"?"A Basket of Criticism" (London 1817). Bennett apologises for writing it in Hebrew and not in English and gives as his reason that he wishes to draw the attention of continental rabbis to these "Fatal Elements of Faith," the responsibility for which rests not only upon Salom Cohen, the author, but also on "Dignissimo et amplissimo,1 Doctore et Summo Pontifix, Solomon Hirschell, Rabbi of the German Jews in England," who not only sanctioned it but collaborated in its authorship. Bennett declares that he saw the original manuscript with marginal 1 Hirscheil was never entitled to style himself 'Dr.' as he had never been to any university nor had any academic honour ever been conferred on him.</page><page sequence="12">102 SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) notes in HirscheU's own "precious hand." He condemns the book for its dangerous confusion of gentile ethics and morals with the basic teachings of the Law of Sinai. He characterizes each of the three partners in the work as "An abomination." The author, Cohen, is a "Priest of Baal" ; the translator, Dr. Van Oven, to whom it is dedicated, "that great sage,?that skilful healer, ... the beauty of Israel and the glory of its con? gregation?is a heathen." "It is not for me," he says, "to enquire into his medical qualifications?but in all my humble travels throughout Europe I never heard till this day that the 'Glory of Israel' had planted its palace here in London." And turning from the healer of bodies to the doctor of souls, his Excellency the Rabbi Solomon Hirschell, Bennett derisively enquires :?"Is Solomon also among the Prophets ?" When Bennett first read the book he took it to Haham Raphael Meldola and asked him why his name was also appended with Hirschell's as having endorsed its teachings. Meldola assured him that he had never authorized this; all he had promised was to purchase a copy, but the author had blatantly used and abused Meldola's name in order to hoodwink the Sephardi Jews into buying the book. Bennett takes tie Catechism paragraph by paragraph and tears it to pieces; and incidentally he has some sad comments to make on Jewish education in London. Boys attend the Hebrew school till they reach Bar-mitzvah. No sooner can they intone their Parashah and recite a Kaddish over the dead bodies of their parents than their Jewish education is ended. "Once, [he says,] I heard a Baal-Kore in a London Synagogue, misread the text nan WDl DK onMKi as orDW i.e. instead of 'Ye shall lave/ 'Ye shall hate the soul of the stranger." On enquiring the reason he received the reply : "This is the established Minhag (practice) in London"; and Bennett laconically comments : "Like people, like priest." No wonder, he adds, that there is so much conversion to Christianity. The flock is without a shepherd to keep them within the fold; and so Jews seek their salvation in the "London Society" (i.e. the Mission Hall in Palestine Place). Where Cohen's catechism treats of the Fourth Commandment, Bennett charges him with basing the institution of the Sabbath on economic grounds rather than on the divine sanction. He reports that Cohen is once said to have expressed the view that it would be a good thing if Jews in England could transfer their sabbath to Sunday, since the English way of life bears so hard on the Jew's means of livelihood. Bennett is therefore not surprised that Cohen plays such havoc with his exposition of the Fourth Commandment, in his "Elements of Faith." Coming to the Fifth Commandment, Cohen says : [It teaches] "That every congregation must show honour to the Rabbi?at the head of the people,?and every member must treat him with reverence." Can Bennett be blamed for detecting in this HirscheU's own hand ? As to the Seventh Commandment, Bennett comments that Jews in England utterly ignore it. The sanctity of marriage has no meaning for them. Not only is there reckless inter-marriage with gentiles, but open co-habitation and what he terms 'con? tractual prostitution' with them. They adopt all the gentile vices, but none of their virtues. I would interpolate here that this is amply confirmed by the Minute-book of the London Beth-Din 1805-1835, recently discovered by Mr. Cecil Roth; for it teems with such cases. Bennett finally maintains that Hirschell's was the chief hand in all the false teaching of the "Elements of Faith," since he allowed it to go out with his sanction and blessing. But Bennett's "Basket of Criticism" did not go unanswered. In the same year of its publication (1817) there appeared a violent rejoinder in a Hebrew booklet</page><page sequence="13">SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 103 entitled rvrtttj? nm? "An Offering of Vengeance," by one Meir M. Rintel (Meir Hacohen) a London ' 'Poultry- Shochet" (London 1817), printed by "Yechiel Hanau, Bass-singer of the Great Synagogue." Now it appears beyond doubt that this Shochet was merely used by Hirschell to cover his own anonymity. Hirschell always avoided like a plague any form of open polemics. Indeed he seems to have been so timorous of any kind of publicity that he has left not a single published work to posterity. Rintel it would seem, was just a tool; and, at that, not of the finest quality. Bennett says of him that he was deprived of his office and fled the country on Feb. 15th, 1818, after having mulcted the public, and Hirschell himself, of a considerable sum of money. It seems that Rintel absconded to Scotland; for a son, Moses, was born in Edinburgh in 1823. This son, after acting as Hazan in Brighton for a while till 1844, became the Rabbi of Melbourne in 1849 and died in that city in 1880. (Set Jewish Chronicle, 9th and 30th July 1880). "Meir Rintel," says Bennett, "could perform a few strokes on the knife to slaughter fowls and a few more on the fiddle to amuse his female acquain? tances ; but as to the possession of any other kind of knowledge nobody has ever heard of it." I think it must be accepted that this "Offering of Vengence" was Hirschell's own vicarious offering, laid none too gently upon Bennett's "Basket of Criticisms." If this be so then it reflects even less credit upon Hirschell than it does on Bennett. The language used is that of the fish-market; it reeks with even more pungency than the poultry-yard. Bennett is likened to a whole menagerie. He is Daniel's beast, whose teeth are of iron and whose nails are of brass, whose manners are those of a bear, who snarls like a dog, and who blinks like an owl at an honourable man whose bright virtues are too dazzling for this "blind engraver of evil." One can excuse the zoological mixed metaphors, but the reference to Bennett's physical disability is unpardonable. He even makes play on the word nay?referring to Bennett as "this Hebrew," but spelling it with a Vav' and so turning it into "this blind man" ; he is continually taunting him with his blindness. He calls Bennett a madman, a pit of corruption, a wild ass, murderer, adulterer and thief. Indeed there is almost more hysterical abuse of Bennett in this little book than there is of attempted argument against his "Criticisms." Rintel declares that Bennett is as unsavoury with his literary pen as with his engraving pen (an obvious reference to the Hirschell portrait). "He is a designer of iniquity" ; and, quoting the Scriptures, he hurls at Bennett: " Cursed be your basket" (^Natt inK)3 laden with its foul machinations ! How dare Bennett, who spends his whole life among gentiles utter such slanders against "a Prince of Israel"! I swear by heaven, that the nails of the gentile racks are preferable to the belly of this heretic ! " And so I could continue with much more in the same strain; but I will only quote the final paragraph which suddenly emerges from savage vituperation into pious petition. And as for me this is my prayer, O God ; Turn the stony heart of this man, cure him of the diseases of his soul, cleanse him of the plagues of his heart, make him ashamed of his abomin? ations ; send forth Thy word and heal him and let him return unto the Lord and He will have mercy upon him. And now, dear Reader, accept this, my blessing, which is bestowed upon you; and if I have perhaps erred with my tongue or uttered unlawful words, God knows my intentions have been honourable and He will say *I have forgiven !' Obviously the author is a little ashamed of his own ferocity; and the roaring lion takes his exit as gently as any sucking dove. These Hirschell-Bennett polemics did not confine their battle-area to England. Reinforcements seem to have been called up on the Continent. For in Hamburg there</page><page sequence="14">104 SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRIAST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) appeared in 1817 a small Hebrew brochure published by one Meir Hahn comprising a number of epistles attacking Bennett. It bears the title ]W\&gt; vw9 "The Whip of the Tongue"?and the sub -title "Blows against the heathen fool Yom-Tob Bennett, engraver and designer of evil, who wrote diabolically against the book ''Elements of Faith" and sharpened his tongue as an arrow to shame and revile the good and the upright of heart." In it Salom Cohen, the author of the "Elements," states that two and a half years after he had written the book Bennett made a violent and unprovoked attack upon it to which he did not reply since Rintel had already done so in the "Offering of Vengeance." Cohen's friends however, now take up the cudgels and scourge Bennett with the whip of their own tongues. There are three letters : (1) From the Ab-Beth-Din naK*T.(?) (2) From Yitzchak Itzik Schiff Cohen, Parnass in Altona; and (3) A dialogue between two imagin? ary persons, Hyman and Abiasaph, by David KnKp? (Kargau ?). The object of the writers is to console Cohen and to pronounce judgement in no mild terms against Bennett. Now whether or not Hirschell's own hand was behind this "Offering of Vengeance" he cannot be exonerated from having allowed such an unseemly defence of his authority ever to have seen the daylight. Hirschell tactitiy admits that he was indiscreet in giving his approval to the "Elements of Faith" which contains some teachings of a questionable nature. He would have been wiser if he had followed his usual practice of eschewing public polemics altogether. Certainly Rintel's sickening and sycophantic advocacy of his master's honour does not enhance the Chief Rabbi's prestige. Before concluding his book Rintel warned Bennett that should he reply to the "Offering of Vengeance" he (Rintel) would treat it with silent contempt; in other words : "This correspondence must now cease." But it did not ! In 1818 Bennett published a 66-paged pamphlet, now extremely rare and not even in the British Museum, entitled : "The Present Reign of the Synagogue of Duke's Place displayed" (London 1818). Hitherto Bennett's language had been comparatively mild; but Rintel's work now raised his temperature. He explains his reason for this pamphlet as due to the fact that he cannot take legal action against the libels of Rintel because he has fled the country, nor against Hirschell because of his anonymity. His enemies are out to destroy him in a place where he is isolated and friendless because of his ruthless candour on the conditions in Anglo-Jewry. But he cannot allow this vendetta on the part of people, whose only talents are insolence and pride, to go by default. He must clear himself from the "fetid composition of Duke's Place" by those who cringe under Hirschell's government. He protests vehemently against all the slanderous epithets hurled at him and then asks : "Who is the real author of the 'Offering of Vengeance' ? and what was his real object in writing it ?" Answer : "Ha, ha, ha ! Mayer (Rintel) Ha-cohen ! A poultry-slayer ! a member of the Petticoat Lane gentry ! ?appeared as a champion to avenge the exalted station of his Rabbi, Solomon Hirschell." But since it is common knowledge that "the filthy poultry-slayer" is totally incompetent of producing such a work in Hebrew or any other language we must look elsewhere for the true culprit. So again; "Ha, ha, ha ! There is the brightness and wisdom of our learned Grand Rabbi, the Rev. Dr. Solomon Hirschell... in Duke's Place... He always squinted with a vengeful eye on Mr. Bennett for not bowing and kneeling before his throne among all his audiences." But it greatly inflamed him when my 'Basket of Criticisms' appeared. He became enraged like a tiger. "What! shall a layman, an engraver . . . lift up his pen against his sovereign Rabbiship ? An example must be made for such</page><page sequence="15">SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 105 presumption !" Bennett then recounts how, three years previously, when he produced his "Discourse on Sacrifices," Hirschell had tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Haham Meldola to join in pronouncing a Cherem (anathema) against the book. So now he tried a second time. He summoned a jury of three rabbis, Haham Meldola, Rabbi Zalman Bahur, and Rabbi Wolf Lisa, to issue a ban upon the 'Basket of Criticisms' and its author. Again he failed. In fact Meldola, after hearing Hirschell's case for the prose? cution reproached his Ashkenazi colleague for his vindictiveness. What have you ever done, [asked Meldola of Hirschell] by way of literary productions ? Did you ever take pen in hand to-defend Judaism against its enemies, the Missionaries ? Bennett has an established reputation for learning in this metropolis and it would be un? pardonable to disgrace such a man who is held in public respect. It is for you to vindicate yourself and not lightly to thunder papal excommunications. I would add here, in parenthesis, that Meldola was quite justified. As I have already pointed out, Hirschell never published a single treatise of any kind, whether of positive Jewish scholarship or apologetics or polemics. Bennett suggests that the rabbi maintained an imposing library in order to conceal his meagre learning. Well, what was Hirschell to do now ? "Something must be done to make the Bennett sorely smart !" Having failed in the Cherem he must find some other means of punishing his enemy. "So, like a cock, he disguised himself under the feathers of the poultry-slayer, Mayer Rintel." Bennett insists that the "Offering of Vengeance," from its Hebrew style, its rabbinic knowledge and its "pontifical savagery," must have been dictated by Hirschell himself. He goes further and asserts, on positive information, that a Mr. Muday1 of the Sephardi Synagogue was commissioned by Hirschell to search the library of the Medrash for the material necessary to answer Bennett's rabbinic arguments. He deplores the fact that while literary criticism is free everywhere else in England, the Chief Rabbi claims to be sacrosanct and immune from it, and can only reply with anathemas. But, adds Bennett, as his own credit, "thank heaven . . . does not depend on the sanctions of the paltry Rabbis of the Duke's Place Synagogue," he will not conceal his identity nor will he cramp his sentiments or style in the future, as he had done hitherto. And he most decidedly does not ! He insists upon his right and his competence as an educated layman to contest the heresies in such a work as the "Elements of Faith," "O, would to God that our modern Rabbies were better acquainted with languages, the diversity of sciences and literary forms; [then] no doubt they might be of more advantage and add more honour to the House of Israel, than in their present state." This oblique reference to Hirschell's lack of general culture is true enough; for when it came to appointing his successor there was an insistent demand that the new Chief Rabbi should be equipped with sometlung more than mere rabbinic learning. There follows a reasoned critical analysis of the contents of the "Elements of Faith," showing Bennett's sound and extensive Jewish and general learning. And then Bennett asks a very pertinent question :? Why is Hirschell so scrutinous of the supposed conduct of one individual and yet so indifferent to the bulk of his Synagogue, the followers of his standard ??seeing that the Royal Exchange, the Stock-exchange and the coffee-houses are all filled with Jew merchants transacting business on Sabbaths and Holy Days, quite public ! * Elimelech Mudahy, later Day an of the Sephardi Community.</page><page sequence="16">106 SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) The Rabbi must be aware that the counting houses, warehouses and shops of his congregants are open on the Sabbath almost without exception. I have very often seen, myself, Jewish Picture-dealers of pretended piety, furniture and-cloth-sellers attend public sales on the Sabbath-day, all without blushing before the Christian community. What sort of respect can the gentiles have for us when they see such religious degeneracy and such public contempt for everything Jewishly sacred ? And yet our pious Grand Rabbi never rebukes them?either individually or collectively. Of course not; it does not suit his book. These Rabbis live on a lucrative sinecure and cringe before their rich patrons, while tyrannizing over their lesser adherents. But because Bennett had been so brutally candid in his strictures on the London Jewish community he had to be muzzled like a "bawling blasphemer in the Sanctuary." There you behold ... a proud, savage, and tyrannical Pontiff ... in his orthodox piety on the one hand, and his ignorant malice on the other. Of one thing you may be assured, Hirschell could only have known my English publications at second hand because he could not even understand them in the original language, of which his knowledge is so slender. This again is probably true, for though born in England, Hirschell never acquired sufficient English to preach in that medium. Bennett also ridicules Hirschell for using the grandiloquent title of "High Priest." He asserts that in England a rabbi need not be over-stocked with serious learning; and so they import, by favour rather than by merits, petty rabbis from abroad who are unqualified to fill any important ecclesiastical office there. All that was needed to bring him here as Chief Rabbi was the dictatorial sponsorship of the Goldsmids, the Keysers, Samuel Joseph, and others. As for any influence he may have over his congre? gations you may judge for yourself. He is never consulted by them except on the most trivial matters of ritual, while cases of civil disputes are taken into the civil courts; in witness whereof Bennett quotes the Jewish cause-celebre (1818) of Israel v. Simmons of the Wes?ninster Synagogue1 where a claim of ?20 for seat-rental cost over ?400 in the High Court. And in further confirmation of this I would mention that in none of the minute-books of the Beth-Din of the period, so far discovered, is anything to be found but petty domestic or ritual cases. There could have been very little confidence in either the Beth-Din or its august "Presiding Rabbi." They seem to have had no power over either individuals or congregations. Picciotto records that as late as 1825 Bennett was still causing trouble to the ecclesiatical authorities ; for in that year both Hirschell and Meldola united in reprimanding him for solemnizing an irregular marriage. The incident is fully recorded in the Minute Book of the Great Synagogue. (United Synagogue Archives. A.5. p. 420). At a meeting of the Vestry held on July 4th,1825, Hirschell was in attendance and communicated to the Committee that one Aaron son of Baruch, a Cohen, had applied to him some time previously for sanction to marry "Rachel, the daughter of 'Abraham our Father' who was begotten to Jacob Harris by a gentile woman." The prospective bride had become a proselyte; but the bridegroom being of priestly descent, the Chief Rabbi refused to sanction the union as being at variance with Jewish law. He had however been subsequently informed that "Yom-tov Bennett had, in violation thereof, performed the ceremony on 2nd Tammuz for the parties concerned." Hirschell therefore considered it his duty to acquaint the Board with the occurrence, "it being of great importance to our Nation to prevent marriages 1 See H. S. Q. Henriques, "The Jews and English Law," Oxford, p. 32.</page><page sequence="17">SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 107 that are not solemnized in accordance with the Law of Moses and of Israel." Resolved : 'That the report of the Gaon, Ab Beth Din, be entered on the Minutes and thanks be given to him for his kind communication," In the minutes of the 4th August 1825, the sequel is recorded as follows :? 27th July 1825. To the worthy Pious and Respectable, the Elders, and other members of the Great Synagogue; may the Almighty ever preserve them in peace. Amen. Whereas it cannot but be known unto that a certain person designated by the name of Solomon Bennet, an Engraver, together with a coadjutor called Rabb. Jacob Michalki, who signs himself, nrp in?"* 3p&gt;?' have joined themselves in an unlawful act, wherein the said S. Bennet has presumed to take upon himself the authority of officiating as Priest at a ceremony of marriage, of which he determined the ordinance, and signed as witness in conjunction with the said Rabbi Jacob, as appears from their joint signatures on the contract; and whereas the same S. Bennet, did after certain enquiries being made respecting such a proceeding cause to be presented before me a Document defending that measure upon reasons which he has fancied correct and legal, and to which he has affixed his signature. Now be it known unto you that both the learned and Reverend Dr. Meldola, Chief Rabbi of the Portuguese Congregation and the pi n&gt;3 as well as myself have duly examined, and find that the same is founded on a miscomprehended or perverted explanation of the law as laid down by the Rambam, the words of which are decidedly contrary to the sense upon which the said marriage was allowed and celebrated, and that such proceedings had the appearance of an intention to gloss over the law by misrepresentation of its meaning, we have therefore thought it necessary to send herewith a copy of the said Document, attested by the Secretary who has compared the same with the original and which carries its own refutation on its face, as may be judged of by anyone acquainted with the writings of the pious and learned Rambam in order to prevent the propagation of the sin contracted by a jna wedding with a female contrary to the regulations of purity made and provided for such cases by our venerable Rabbies as founded on the sacred Law. We therefore think it highly requisite that a publication should be made in every Synagogue respecting this circumstance according to a copy herewith sent, and we do not question but that the religious feeling and good sense that prevails among the leaders of Israel will accord with this measure, and thereby prevent in future any illegal and unauthorized procedure of this kind, and put a stop to the presumption of unlettered and unordained persons ever attempting to act in so sacred a matter as this. Such is the opinion and advice of one who speaks in honour of God and His law, for the respect necessary to the welfare of Israel and particularly of the Congregation whose virtue and happiness are the subjects of the prayers of Gentlemen, your well-wisher .(signed). There then follows in Hebrew a Proclamation (Keruz) to be read in the synagogue on Sabbath, which I give in translation. I append here the English version as it appears in the minutes of the Mahamad of the Spanish and Portuguese Congregation, p. 30, which reproduces also the above 'Letter read from the Rev. Rabbi Sol. Hirschell, Rab. of Asquenasim/1 The President reported that at the request -of the said Haham Heirschel, he had caused a proclamation to be made at Synagogue on Sabat . . . the tenor of which was as follows :? The Revd. Rab. of Asquenasim, jointly with our Revd. Haham make known that a person of the Congregation of Asquenasim had presumed to take upon himself to act in an Eccles? iastical Character and to pass Kidusim with Sibha Berachot between an Individual by name Aron Bar Baruh Cohen, with Rachel Bat Jacob without the consent or permission of either 1 I am indebted to Mr. A. M. Hyamson for drawing my attention to the Mahamad minute. L</page><page sequence="18">108 SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) of the Kehilot or their Rabanim, and it has been admitted that the said Rachel is a daughter of a Christian woman, made a Guiyoret, and consequently prohibited to a Cohen to marry her, it is therefore declared that in conformity with our Holy Law, the said Aron Bar Baruh Cohen has profaned the Sanctity of the Priesthood, in cohabiting with the said woman, and that any children which may be born to him by her are profaned for ever, and it is the duty of the various congregations, to publish the fact so that they may be separated from the Holy Service, and to punish those who have occupied themselves in this transgression,?and the said Aron Bar Baruh Cohen is consequently separated and rendered unfit to be employed in any act of Misva, until he shall have repented of his crime, and performed that penitence which our Holy Law inflicts, under the direction of our Divine Sages. Now, however reprehensible Bennett's action may have been in this matter, it should be noted that he did not enter upon it in a spirit of irresponsibility or of mere provocation. He did claim to have based it upon rabbinical authority. In quoting Maimonides in his support he may have interpreted him mistakenly but he does not appear to have wilfully ignored the Jewish prohibition of such a union. In any case this instance is but one among scores of irregular marriages, as the Beth-Din records of the period amply testify. An interesting result of this episode was the decision to adopt in future the ancient practice of the Church of publicly "proclaiming the Banns" prior to all impending weddings. Thereafter there were prominently displayed on the walls of the Great Synagogue the names of the prospective parties to a marriage for a week or so before the ceremony so that any impediment might be notified to the eccles? iastical authority. Notwithstanding this, irregular marriages remained a serious problem. The Beth-Din might question their validity 'after the fact'; but they could do little to prevent them taking place. There is no record of Bennett having undergone any penance and he most certainly was not debarred of his rights in the Western Synagogue. Finally Bennett derides the Chief Rabbi's solemn claim to direct descent from the Royal House of David, which Hirschell went so far as to publish in the European Magazine for March 1811. If this ancient lineage be authentic, Bennett satirically remarks, then the eminence of his pedigree must compensate for the deficiency of his attainments. "But all Jews and Christians, alike, should now hail him as their Messiah !" And so, Bennett concludes :?LECTOR BENEVOLE ECCE HOMO ! With this same phrase I must now take leave of Solomon Bennett himself: "Benevolent Reader, 'There is the man' !"?so far as I have been able to portray him in the time at my disposal. But before summing up this remarkable character I would advert to one more sample of his caustic tongue which came to light after this paper was first prepared. It was discovered by the Rev. Michael Elton, Librarian of Jews' College, tucked away within the covers of one of the volumes of the Library.1 I deem it worth reproducing the small item in extenso. "A copy of a Letter addressed to the Rev. Dr. Solomon Hirschell by the Author." To Solomon I Woe to thee, fool and ruthlessly wicked man ! Woe to thee, who pollutest the wicked who wear the mantle of false prophecy for purposes of deceit; and woe unto the generation that thou maintainest ! Now you have declared and testified to Mr. Nathan ()k?&gt;?3) (who is known as R. Manass Polack (pK^ks 0K3k?) that you have been acquainted with Mr. Bennett these forty years and you have gone about maligning him who is well-known to the public 1 It was printed in Hebrew and was probably circulated with Bennett's "Present Reign of the Synagogue of Duke's Place. (Jews' College Library, 2237-a).</page><page sequence="19">SOLOMON BENNETT : ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 109 (as is evident from my documents from the Academy in the attested papers from the King of Berlin). And in this your evil purpose is to discredit me and to bring me into contempt in the eyes of the said Mr. Nathan and his household. Moreover I am not unaware of the blasphemies and revilings and unwarrantable epithets, such as 'thief, murderer, and adulterer' and many similar expressions in your book "Minchath Kenaoth" (though you have concealed your identity and expunged your own name from the book) in order to cheapen my honour in this great community and to make me an outcast from the Jewish pale with your edict of outlawry and excommunication. Nevertheless, praise be to God, many more are with me than with you ! And all your words are mere mutterings of vanity and futility, though you 'set your face as a flint' to slander me publicly. But this time I will declare my hand in the eyes of all and unmask your lies in the eyes of your friends?wicked and deceitful men like yourself?that they may know, from young to old, Jew and Christian alike, the presumption of your heart and your iniquitous designs. And as for R. Shelomoh, there is no 'Shalom' (peace) in his intimidations and the double portion of his spirit are evil design and wicked utterance, and his whole aim is but to aggrandize himself in the eyes of his community, the ignorant people in Duke's Place : and it is but a trifling thing in his eyes to seek his own glory through another's disgrace, because he himself is without honour and integrity or any particular virtue. From the publicly known Yom-tob Bennett 5th Heshvan 5578-1818. London." "ADDENDA" Woe to thee, fool and ignoramus! You have recently rebuked Mister Nathan (the aforesaid) for being a talebearer and disclosing secrets, although his intention was but the search of truth. But it has not occurred to you that 'Thou art the man' ! ! Begone, you liar, you im? pudent from birth, who spreads false rumours about me and utters calumnies and has become loathsome so that the ears tingle of all who hear of it. Surely the arrogance of your heart has beguiled you?and your own evil will chastise you so that you will fall in the net spread for the simpletons and will become a by-word in the mouth of the multitude, even among your own friends who bow in obeisance before you. From the above, 28th Kislev as above" L. Alexander, Printer, 40, Whitechapel Rd. Who Mr. Nathan (or newton ?)?alias Manass Polack?was, I do not know. But this epistle, I feel sure, is again connected with the ill-fated Hirschell engraving and Bennett's imprisonment. It was written in 1818, the same year that saw the publication of Bennett's "Present Reign, etc." What then shall be our final verdict on this enfant terrible, who a hundred and fifty years ago, descended upon the House of Israel in London, disturbing its smug self-complacency and rufiling the smooth tenour of its easy virtue ? Was he just a peeved polemicist venting his personal spleen, as he is so regarded by Margoliouth, Picciotto, Elkan Adler, and Duschinsky ? My judgement is quite otherwise. Here was a man of culture and sensibilities in an environment where they were singularly lacking. He had lighted upon an Anglo-Jewry that was so busy with its political emancipation that it had no time to attend to its own spiritual and social needs. It was a rapidly expanding community, fed by constant streams of penurious refugees from the Jewish oppressions in Europe. These newcomers, shut out from all decent means of subsistence, unwanted and totally abandoned by their anglicised brethren, became a running sore on the com? munal body-politic. There was no religious leadership?for Hirschell was quite</page><page sequence="20">110 SOLOMON BENNETT: ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) ineffectual?and no attempt at their social absorption. Ignorance, indigence and indol? ence were the general conditions of these new accretions to the community while utter incompetence, indifference and intolerance were not rarely the characteristics of their hosts. It is surprising then that a man like Solomon Bennett should find himself in bitter conflict with such surroundings ? In my view his life-activities were an heroic challenge to the pathetic laissez-faire of communal policy. Nor were they altogether ineffective. It is no accident that following hard upon the period of his internal polemics came the rise of a number of new philanthropic and educational institutions. The community was being goaded out of its shameful spiritual lethargy and a distinct tide of improvement set in. For this Anglo-Jewish historians give not one iota of credit to Bennett. Surely historic justice demands that his prodigious and prolific energies as a defender of the Jewish faith should at last be recognized and his life's purpose and character vindicated. Out of all the bitter, and often unedifying, polemics in which he and Hirschell engaged how does the final balance emerge ? Was Hirschell the all-virtuous saint that he is generally depicted and Bennett the wicked renegade that his adversaries would have us believe ? Where does the unbiassed judgement lie ? As to Hirschell's real place in Anglo-Jewish history, I find the answer not in the flamboyant obituary notices that record his life, but rather in the public recital of his deficiencies that appeared soon after his death. When the appointment of his successor was under consideration what do we find ? The Anglo-Jewish press of the day leaves us in no doubt about the complete barrenness of his influence in the shaping of the Community. His extreme piety is universally agreed; but it seems to have been matched only by his extreme impotence with his rapidly growing flock. In 1842 the Voice of Jacob (11th Nov) refers (very gently) to his lack of general culture, his intellectual obscurantism, his neglect of opportunities, his complete inactivity in the face of urgent communal problems, his monastic aloofness from the spirit of his age and indeed his own awareness of his inability to meet the spiritual emergencies of the hour. In the issue of that same journal a month later (9th Nov. 1842) there is an article on "The Future Spiritual Guidance of our Congregations." It demands that the new Chief Rabbi "shall be a man of . . . established reputation, so that his former career shall in some wise be a guarantee for his future course;?he must be thoroughly acquainted with the various branches that properly constitute Jewish Theology;?he must be a classical scholar, in the accepted sense of the term;?he must possess ability to express himself with effect, both with the pen, and orally;?he must have a practical knowledge of the world from personal observation;?not only must he not be a passive spectator of what may transpire around him, but he must be endowed with that energy of purpose which may give effect to his own zeal, while it guides others in a channel conducive to the interests which he represents and, moreover, he must have acquired a general insight into the wants and peculiarities of the various bodies among which he has to maintain a good understanding and a bond of sacred union." Two years later the first issue of The Jewish Chronicle and Working Man's Friend (18th Oct. 1844) says of Hirschell that "the extent of his power and authority, . . . though of advantage to him personally, was by no means of equal advantage to the cause of Judaism in England." De mortuis nil nisi bene [it goes on] we will not stop to inquire how much of the blame due [for the present state of apathy and indifference] must be shared by the late Chief Rabbi. That he was a well-intentioned and honourable man ... no one will deny : that he was equal</page><page sequence="21">SOLOMON BENNETT: ARTIST, HEBRAIST AND CONTROVERSIALIST (1761-1838) 111 to the exigencies of the times, that his was that high and holy mind which lives but for God, and scorns this world and all that it can offer, no one will assert. He presided for forty years ... over the numerous Congregations of Britain ; but he left no works of learning, no charitable foundation, no public institution to perpetuate his name. . . . His parting reflection must have been a bitter but vain regret that the truth which results from knowledge had not increased by his means or in his days ... If his long administration is not exactly the model . . . which his successor should follow, it nevertheless abounds in lessons most useful to us. When we look around and see the state in which he left us the question will naturally arise : what can or ought a Chief Rabbi to do for us ? Where are we to find the man who has the will and the power to do what ought to be done. Now what is all this, I would ask, but a violent indictment of HirschelTs total inadequacies for this high office ? But we do need to rely on the contemporary Jewish press for such a judgement ? Surely his whole life reveals its own futility. New movements were stirring on the Continent; the clamour for a more enlightened and dignified presentation of Jewish life and creed had reached these shores and was becoming daily more agitated; the inroads of missionary activities were growing continually more intensive. What was Hirschell's contribution to the solution of these problems ? He made but one answer :?the supine pontifical anathema ! Who can say what might have happened to the incipient Reform Movement in England had there been a Chief Rabbi who could have adequately diagnosed and prescribed for its symptoms of acute spiritual malaise ? Hirschell's whole life was exhausted on the all-consuming problems of Proselyte, Divorce and Shechitah-licence. For the rest he sat in his study sublimely oblivious, if not wilfully unconcerned, with what was going on outside. No wonder then that he once wrote to his son in Warsaw i1 "Would that I were able to go into retirement and have enough to live on from my own assets, and could cast off the burden of my rabbinic office, well-nigh intolerable by reason of its servitude and aggravations no less than the bitterness I experience in the dissensions and the shamelessness of our times." Or again, in 1827, writing to his children : "I had never the intention to become a Rabbi, I wanted to be a wine-merchant . . . but destiny willed otherwise? and so I became a Rabbi." He adds that he would still prefer to give up his office and live on his income.2 How could a Chief Rabbi in such a frame of mind be equal to his task ? And now to put Bennett in the other scale of the balance. Need I add to what has already been said here about him ? He was a man with very little income; but he impoverished himself still further by devoting so much of his time, energy and money to cultural and scholarly undertakings. He might easily have become a professional rabbi had he so chosen and probably would have found security and comfort instead of a career of unceasing struggle. But he was too honest to purchase these things at the cost of conscience. Bennett has left behind him no obituary notice; for the Anglo Jewish Press had not yet been founded. But his own works remain his monument for all who may be interested enough to inspect them. The final verdict therefore, I would confidently leave with the reader. At least I hope to have persuaded you that whether as Artist, Scholar or Controversialist, Solomon Bennett deserves to be remembered. 1 Duschinsky "The Rabbinate of the Great Synagogue," Oxford. 2 Ibid. p. 153.</page></plain_text>

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