top of page
< Back

The Whitehall Conference: Celebration of the 250th Anniversary

<plain_text><page sequence="1">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE CELEBRATION OF THE 250th ANNIVERSARY Under the auspices of the Jewish Historical Society a banquet was given on February 5, 1906, at the Hotel Great Central to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Whitehall Conference, which fell on December 4,1905. Mr. Lucien Wolf was in the Chair, and there were also present:? The Chief Rabbi and Mrs. Adler, the Rev. M. and Mrs. Adler, the Rev. L. and Mrs. Geffen, the Rev. Prof. Dr. H. and Mrs. Gollancz, the Rev. S. Levy (Hon. Secretary) and Miss Levy, the Rev. I. and Mrs. Samuel, the Rev. S. and Mrs. Singer, the Rev. D. and Mrs. Wasserzug, the Revs. S. A. Adler, W. Levin, and M. Rosenbaum, the Earl of Crewe (then Lord President of the Council, now Secretary of State for the Colonies), Lord Rothschild, Sir Israel and Lady Hart, Sir Henry and Lady Prim? rose, Sir Isidore and Lady Spielmann, Sir Edward Sassoon, the Hon. Sir Eric Barrington, K.C.B., the Right Hon. J. Bryce, M.P. (then Chief Secretary for Ireland, now Ambassador to the U.S.A.), Prof. I. Gollancz, Prof. J. K. Laughton, Dr. H. and Mrs. Dutch, Dr. M. and Mrs. Friedeberger, Dr. S. A. and Mrs. Hirsch, Dr. G. W. and Mrs. Prothero, Dr. J. and Mrs. Snowman, Dr. A., Mrs., and Miss Wolff, Drs. G. Schorstein, B. Morris, and C. Singer, Mesdames A. Davis, J. Dreyfus, Edelmann, M. Friedl?nder, A. Gabriel, Goodman, H. Hart, Haysack, Jacobs, Otterbourg, M. Salaman, Schubach, Sebag-Montefiore, L. Wolf, R. Zellner, the Misses Abady, Abrahams, D. Abrahams, N. Adler, M. Benjamin, Benzian, Laura Davis, Franklin, Carmel Gold smid, Gollancz, Goodman, Cecile Hartog, Haysack, M. Haysack, Hyamson, Jacobs, Klingenstein, Dorothea Landau, I. Levy, L. Levy, Lorensa Levy, N. Lloyd, Mendes da Costa, Myers, Phillips, D. S. Phillips, G. I. Phillips, R. Phillips, Rothbarth, R. Tuck, Z. Tuck, Violet, Wein? berg, Wolf, Mr. and Mrs. I. Abrahams, Mr. and Mrs. L. Abrahams, Mr. and Mrs. A. L. Birnstingl, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Cohen, Mr. and</page><page sequence="2">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 277 Mrs. N. L. Cohen, Mr. Harold Cox, M.P., and Mrs. Cox. Mr. and Mrs. Israel Davis, Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Franklin, Mr. and Mrs. E. L. Franklin, Mr. and Mrs. F. S. Franklin, Mr. and Mrs. M. A. Green, Mrs. H. M. Hyams, Mr. and Mrs. S. Japhet, Mr. and Mrs. Moritz Joseph, Mr. and Mrs. A. Levine, Mr. and Mrs. G. Levy, Mr. and Mrs. Harry R. Lewis, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Maizels, Mr. and Mrs. Mendes da Costa, Mr. and Mrs. J. M. Mitchell, Mr. and Mrs. L. S. Montagu, Mr. and Mrs. S. Moses, Mr. and Mrs. P. G. Phillips, Mr. and Mrs. S. J. Phillips, Mr. and Mrs. S. Rosenbaum, Mr. and Mrs. D. Singer, Mr. S. J. Solomon, R.A., and Mrs. Solomon, Mr. and Mrs. M. A. Spielmann, Mr. and Mrs. C. Stettauer, Mr. and Mrs. Hermann Strauss, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Trenner, Mr. and Mrs. A. Tuck, Mr. and Mrs. Gustave Tuck, Mr. and Mrs. H. Tuck, Mr. and Mrs. A. M. Wartski, Mr. and Mrs. J. L. Wartski, Mr. and Mrs. B. B. Weil, Mr. and Mrs. E. Wilner, Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer Woolf, and Mr. and Mrs. I. Zangwill; M?ns. Armand Garreau, M?ns. Adrien Garreau, Messrs. D. H. Aaron, N. H. Aaron, E. N. Adler, M. Bender, A. A. Cahen, B. Chissick, C. Waley Cohen, L. L. Cohen, S. H. Davids, O. E. D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, D. Davis, W. Dreyfus, L. A. Fouques, S. Gabriel, E. M. Gollancz, M. Gollancz, J. Hart, P. J. Hartog, A. M. Hyamson (Hon. Secretary), L. Jacob, A. Josaphat, N. S. Joseph, A. Joseph, A. Kaufmann, B. Kisch, A. Klingenstein, G. Klingenstein, W. Klingenstein, H. Landau, S. Lehmann, H. Levy, J. H. Levy, G. C. Lewis, J. Livingstone, M. Maizels, B. Metz, I. Morris, S. Morris, Horatio Myer, M.P., A. Myers, M. Myers, J. Neuh?fer, A. Newman, E. A. Phillips, Clement I. Salaman, J. E. Salmon, Stuart M. Samuel, M.P., H. Sandheim, C. Sebag-Montefiore, R. M. Sebag Montefiore, L. Simons, I. Solomons, M. Spielmann, E. Sternheim, M. Strauss, H. R. Tedder, L. Tuck, R. Tuck, C. Van Biema, E. Vre? denburg, I. Weinberg, H. Wilenski, L. Wohlgemuth, E. Wolf, C. Wolf, G. Wolf, and M. Wolfish. The Chairman, in proposing the toast of " The King," said: My first privilege is to call upon you to drink to the health of His Most Gracious Majesty the King. At no time is this toast a mere formality in the Anglo-Jewish community, but to-night this great festival of Religious Liberty invests it with special significance. To all English? men, the King is the gracious embodiment of free institutions which are the pride of the nation and the envy of the world; but to us Jews, His</page><page sequence="3">278 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. Majesty is more especially the sympathetic personification of the liberty loving instincts of the British people to which we owe, more than to the letter of any statute, the fair play we have enjoyed in this happy land. I give you the health of His Most Gracious Majesty the King. The Chairman, in giving the second royal toast, said: Our next toast is that of "Her Majesty the Queen, the Prince and Princess of Wales, and other members of the Royal Family." For me to dwell on the virtues of Her Majesty and on the exemplary lives and public spirit of the Princes and Princesses of her kindred would be to translate into very inadequate prose an eloquence which fills all your hearts. This eloquence is touched to-night by a sad emotion?a feeling of profound sympathy with Her Majesty in the severe bereavement she has recently sustained. The full measure of this bereavement she alone can know; but we trust she will find comfort in the abiding and quickened love of the nation of which Her Majesty is the brightest ornament. I give you the health and happiness of Her Majesty Queen Alexandra, the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the other members of their illustrious House. The Chairman, in submitting the toast of the evening, "The Memory of the Whitehall Conference," said that before he proposed the toast he wished to read two letters which he selected from a large number offering congratulations to them on that anniversary, and apologies for not being able to assist in the festivity. The first was from the late Prime Minister and was in the following terms:? 4 Carlton Gardens, S.W. February 5, 1906. Dear Mr. Wolf,?I am sorry that I am not able to attend your banquet to-night and to express orally instead of by writing my sentiments on the interesting occasion which you are engaged in celebrating. Had Continental Europe followed the example set by this country for the last two hundred and fifty years its history would not be stained by many crimes and many injustices which now stand on record as a perpetual reproach to Christian civilisation. That in this country there is no Jewish question, that race prejudices and religious prejudices, which elsewhere play so disastrous a part in the social organisation, are unheard of here, is due in no small measure to the fact that the Jews have shown themselves entirely worthy of the rights and privileges which they enjoy as citizens of this country, and that those rights and privileges have been granted to them in full measure. Long may</page><page sequence="4">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 279 these conditions prevail. Long may they bear all the good fruit which they have so abundantly produced in the past. Yours very truly, Arthur James Balfo?r. They had also received the letter which President Roosevelt had addressed to the sister Society, the Jewish Historical Society of America, which celebrated the 250th of the resettlement of the Jews in America at the proper time, while they had postponed their celebration owing to the mourning for their brethren in Russia.1 Mr. Wolf continued: In the order of ideas to which this toast belongs, the letters I have just read should properly come last, for they bear testimony?a testimony we could not, with propriety, proffer ourselves?to the happy denouement of a story of which the Whitehall Conference was the opening chapter. I need not repeat to you the familiar details of that striking chapter of our history. They live, and I hope they will live for ever in the hearts of the Jewish people. But perhaps you will permit me to dwell for a few moments upon one or two aspects of the famous Conference, which have some bearing on the flattering estimates of our career in this country, which I read to you a moment ago. Historical critics have differed as to the exact legal value of the work performed by the White? hall Conference. I have always regarded the controversy which has raged round this question as meticulous and unessential, for the reason that in what it admittedly did and what it admittedly left undone, the Conference not only gave the Jews a foothold in this country, but even created the favourable conditions in which their subsequent history was developed. It is true that the one thing it did?the opinion it extracted from the judges as to the Jewish right of incoming?was not a con? stitutional act, and that it was even regarded with disappointment by the Jews themselves, who would have preferred a formal parliamentary statute. But it is also beyond question that that opinion was regarded by the Protectorate Government as sufficiently authoritative, and that in virtue of it our forefathers began to settle in the land. It is also un? questionable that it remained a permanent charter of residence for the new community, and the reason of this was precisely because it was not a formal Act of Parliament. We must remember that an Act would 1 See p. 304, below, for President Roosevelt's letter.</page><page sequence="5">280 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. have become void with the Restoration, while the decision of the Con? ference, being merely an interpretation of the law as it then stood, was independent of the political vicissitudes of an exceptionally stormy and insecure age. This is one of the reasons why we must look back upon the Whitehall Conference with gratitude. But there is another reason. The Conference was not only asked to pronounce on the right of in? coming ; it was also invited to suggest terms on which the residence of the Jews should be permitted. On this latter question it arrived at no decision, chiefly because it was dissolved by the Protector as soon as it manifested a disposition to make recommendations of an intolerant and oppressive character. Here is a second reason for our gratitude, and one, perhaps, of greater weight than the first. There can be no question that it saved us from the Ghetto system then in force all over Europe. We consequently owe to it, in a very large measure, the fact that our social assimilation with our non-Jewish fellow-citizens is, and has always been, far more complete in this country than in any other country, and that, as a result, the baleful wave of anti-Semitism which has swept across the Continent, has dashed impotently against our shores. We owe to it, too, the solid foundations on which our rights as British citizens rest, for those rights were not granted to us by political theorists, in homage to some abstract doctrine of human equality, but were won for us by our Christian fellow-countrymen, who, in unimpeded inter? course with our fathers, had insensibly abjured the prejudices and superstitions on which Jewish disabilities rested. Thus, the Whitehall Conference not only opened the way to the resettlement of the Jews in this country, but gave them?unconsciously, it is true?an opportunity of vindicating their race such as has not been enjoyed by any other Jewish communities except, perhaps, those of the South of France and Amsterdam, and then only in a minor degree. These aspects of the famous Conference are, of course, of great moment to the Jewish com? munity and its historians, but, in relation to the present celebration, it must be confessed that they are somewhat narrow. It is not by such a chapter of accidents that the imagination is fired, and it is certainly not on their account alone that we are assembled here to-night. We are here to celebrate the spirit and not the form. What we hail in the Whitehall Conference is the great thought to which it owed its existence, the idea of religious liberty which was then for the first time struggling</page><page sequence="6">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 281 into the domain of practical politics in this country. It was a struggle full of dramatic and momentous interest. We cannot say that the England of the Commonwealth was honestly tolerant. There was much cry of Religious Liberty, but very little real Toleration. "This hath been one of the vanities of our contest/' said Cromwell once with bitter? ness. " Every sect saith, ' Oh, give me liberty/ but give it to him and his power, he will not yield it to anybody else." This was a true picture of the religious strife of the times. Nevertheless, through it all the people were groping for the light, and the lesson of Toleration was gradually forcing itself on the public conscience, if for no other reason than that in the melee of the zealots the persecutors of one day often became the persecuted of the next. Men were beginning to see that not only was Toleration necessary within the limits of the " Instrument of Government," but that even beyond the Christian pale it could not, in justice, be refused. Of this great moral awakening the Whitehall Con? ference was an impressive and memorable manifestation. Forty years before Locke wrote his famous letters " On Toleration," it made an effort to give practical effect, in one direction at least, to Locke's theory of unrestricted Liberty of Conscience. Its purpose, as conceived by Cromwell, was half a century ahead of liberal theory, and anticipated liberal practice by nearly a century and a half. For this reason the Conference was epoch-making, not only in Jewish, but also in English, history. It widened the scope of the struggle for freedom ; it postulated for the first time the true limitations of that struggle, and by the practi? cal contribution it made towards it, in the shape of the Jewish settle? ment, it insured its ultimate triumph. As we look back to-night through the long vista of two and a half centuries which separates us from these momentous happenings, two figures fill the field of our mental vision? Cromwell, the great-hearted Protector, and Menasseh ben Israel, the devoted Jew. They were the authors of the historic Conference whose memory we are now celebrating. It was their spirit of toleration and justice which invested it with all it had of dignity and usefulness. We dwell upon these figures to-night with pride and gratitude. They are the figures of a Christian and a Jew, standing together in the dawn of English liberty, twin champions of a wronged people, and heralds of a free state. It is a picture on which we do well to dwell, for it typifies our partnership in the noble strivings of a great people?a partnership</page><page sequence="7">282 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. which has happily endured to our own day, and which in its stability and fruitfulness serves as a beacon of toleration and liberty to the dark places that still linger on the face of God's earth. I give you the memory of the Whitehall Conference. The Right Hon. James Bryce, M.P., in proposing " Prosperity to the Anglo-Jewish community," said: I am honoured by having the duty thrown upon me of proposing the toast of "Prosperity to the Anglo Jewish community," and I am very sensible of that honour. I am asked to couple with it three names eminently representative of the community, and well-qualified to answer for it on an occasion like this. The first is the name of your ecclesiastical head, the honoured and respected son of an honoured and venerated father, a man who adds the glory of learning to the respect and regard which the judicious and kindly discharge of his duties has won from all of you. He is known and respected by all Londoners far beyond the limits of his own community. I am also asked to couple the toast with the name of Lord Rothschild. His father fought for you, in days long gone by, the battle of civil and religious liberty, and he himself, by his enlightened philanthropy and energy on behalf of the cause of his co-religionists everywhere, has laid the whole Jewish com? munity under a sense of deep gratitude. As he represents the House of Lords, to which our late Queen called him on the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone, more than twenty years ago, so the third gentleman with whose name I couple this toast, Sir Edward Sassoon, is one of those who represent the Jewish community in the House of Commons, where we have known and liked him for many years. He is to speak for your ancient Sephardic Congregation. This occasion is one of very great interest, not only to yourselves, but to those guests whom you have kindly invited here from the Christian bodies of England. You have fitly asked us to a dinner of an Historical Society, and one feels a significant appropriateness in our coming to an occasion of that kind, because there can be no intelligent Englishman, no intelligent citizen of the modern world, who does not feel an interest in your history. It is the longest history recorded. We peoples of the West are mere mushroom creatures of yesterday compared with you. Our nations appear quite a modern growth com? pared to a nation which dates far back beyond the beginnings of any history in Europe, and the length of its annals is such that we have to go for a parallel to countries like China and Japan. And, as your</page><page sequence="8">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 283 history is the longest, so also it is in many ways the history that has affected the world most. It is not political history that is the true kernel of history. Politicians come and pass, and only a few of the very greatest statesmen and conquerors leave permanent marks behind them. The true history of the world, the history which has governed and ruled the minds of men most is the history of literature and religion. Your literature and the religion of which you were the first depositaries have been the most powerful factors in the life of civilised mankind; they have exercised a most profound and deep influence, especially through their poetry. That so large a part of your literature is cast into a poetical form is one of the factors which make it a world-literature, which make it at home among all peoples, and in every country. It has sunk into the thought of the whole of the civilised world. Greek literature, perhaps, can show a greater range and variety, but it has not the intensity of the Hebrew literature, and has not affected to anything like the same extent the whole mass of mankind. For ten centuries? from the fifth to the fifteenth?the literature written by Jews in the Old and New Testaments was practically the only formative influence which played on the mind of Europe. Is there anything more singular and curious in history than that the ancient war-songs of the Hebrew king, the 68th and the 110th Psalms, written to be sung by martial tribes, who moved to meet their enemies across the craggy hills of Palestine, should have become the war-songs of the Waldenses in Italy and the Covenanters in Scotland in the seventeenth century, and should to-day be chanted by white-robed choristers in the cathedrals of England 1 To a history like that there is no parallel, and the Englishman would be dull and ignorant indeed who did not feel the keenest and deepest interest in the preser? vation and welfare and prosperity of a community like yours here in England. Your Chairman has, with great learning, in some of his writings, and more briefly this evening, brought before us two aspects of that memorable event when the great soul of Oliver Cromwell saw that it was right to give your ancestors permission to settle here in England, moved by his love for the literature of the Old Testament, a puritan feeling which has lived among the Puritans of England ever since. There was mixed with that love a shrewd practical sense*which has been often found among the Puritans in all countries. And when I think of all that has passed within these 250 years, and how your</page><page sequence="9">284 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. community has slowly grown in wealth and prosperity, and how more and more it has won the respect of the great nation in the midst of which it lives, I think we may say that nowhere in the modern world have the Jews found so tranquil and peaceful a home as here in this England of ours. We Englishmen are very proud of that. As it is said that where two people or two nations fall out there are usually faults on both sides, so may it be said that where two races agree and live in peace and amity there are merits on both sides. We English will claim this for our? selves. Sixty years ago, when Alderman Salomons and Baron Lionel de Rothschild were fighting for the admission of the Jews to Parliament, the Liberal Party, led by Lord John Russell, and true to the principles of religious liberty, fought for your admission, and ever since there has been a general feeling of satisfaction and pleasure that that liberty was given to you, and you have been admitted, in all respects, on equal terms with other Englishmen to every right, privilege, office, and emolument in this country. And, on the other hand, you have shown you have appreciated what our people were willing to do. You entered into public life, into local bodies, and into both Houses of Parliament, and you have shown yourselves anxious for the welfare and greatness of England. You have identified yourselves with our national aims, and shown a liberal philanthropy to our charitable objects, as well as your own. You have given us many men of great distinction. You have not, indeed, given us any great philosopher like Spinoza, whom you gave to Holland, nor a musician like Mendelssohn and Brahms, whom you gave to Germany, no great classical or historical scholar like Bernays and JafFe, whom, again, you gave to Germany. But you have given us men who have shone and distinguished themselves in practical life. You gave us a famous statesman about whom there may remain some differences of opinion, but whose greatness and brilliance no one denies. You gave us a great mathematician in Sylvester, a great economist in Ricardo, many famous lawyers, of whom I remember several, and one of whom in particular deserves to be ranked among the three or four greatest judges of England in the nineteenth century, Sir George Jessel. And how many more you have given us, who did not always remain in your community, but who were brilliant and striking members of English literary and political life, time would fail me to say. The late Mr. James Russell Lowell asserted</page><page sequence="10">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 285 that nearly all the eminent literary and artistic men of the last two centuries had been of Jewish stock. He was certain about Rousseau, very nearly about Voltaire, and he was positive about Goethe. He adopted a view which has been largely held that two distinguished English poets also belonged to you?Robert Browning and Matthew Arnold, and he added incidentally that he was half a Jew himself. He had several easy means of proving it, first by names, secondly by faces, and thirdly by intellectual characteristics. The last criterion is obviously very elastic, and I may say, in passing, that Lowell included among English statesmen of Jewish descent all the Foxes and all the Russells. We English ought certainly to be the very last people not to welcome the coming of other stocks among ourselves. We are a mixed race, and we have gained by every mixture. We are glad to see you settled among us, to see you happy, contented, prosperous, mingling with us socially, while retaining your own internal life and organisation. I confess I am one of those who cannot avoid the sentimental wish that somewhere in the world, if not in Palestine, there still should be a Jewish nation reorganised as such. But, apart from those aspirations, I hope your community will remain and abide, and flourish among us in England. I hope your prosperity may increase. I hope you may still contribute your share of active work in building up the greatness of our country. I hope also that between you and the great nation which has been glad to receive you there may always remain that good feeling and mutual respect which ever since the days of Cromwell have characterised our relations, and which have been honourable both to the Jews and to the English. I ask you to drink " Prosperity to the Anglo Jewish Community." The Chief Rabbi, in reply, said : I am lost in admiration at the splendid eloquence with which my Right Hon. friend has proposed the toast which is so dear and precious to us. But whilst I followed his stately periods with rapt attention I now painfully feel I am unable to follow him. And yet I dare not hold my peace this evening. I must do justice to one whose humble successor I am, to that great and good rabbi, Menasseh ben Israel, that staunch champion of justice and toleration to whom the readmission of the Jews to these shores is due. Our predominant sentiment this evening must be that of profound gratitude that we have been enabled to settle again within these blessed</page><page sequence="11">286 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. shores. Poets and prose-writers of every age have vied with each other in singing the praises of England. They have extolled England for her natural beauty, her inexhaustible resources, her brilliant achievements on land and by sea, her glorious literature. But it is not these that are the only, not even the primary motives that prompt our love and admiration. They are not the chief elements of England's greatness. The secret of England's moral greatness is that her rule is based upon those eternal principles of justice and toleration first enunciated in our sacred scriptures, that her rule is based on that righteousness which alone exalteth a nation and, therefore, wherever peoples are gathered beneath the British flag they thrive and prosper under its ample folds. Hence justice flourishes, civilisation advances, and humanity is lord of all. It is the land where, girt by friend or foe? " A man may speak the thing he will, A land of settled government, A land of free and old renown, Where freedom slowly broadens down, From precedent to precedent." The great advantage of celebrations such as this is that they make the past live again. There was a good old lady who once said that she could not for the life of her understand why people made such a fuss of history. "Why not let bygones be bygones 1" The Jewish Historical Society of England and my Right Hon. friend, whom we still rejoice to call Professor Bryce, do not hold this view. On an evening like the present there starts before our minds the memory of that small handful of Marranos who assembled together in mortal dread of discovery, huddled in a small oratory in a subterranean cellar in Creechurch Lane in terrible fear of their hostile surroundings, which the Chairman has described with such mastery of research and such great vividness. How wonderful are the strides made by our community since then ! The number of synagogues in the British Empire is above two hundred. I will not speak of those organisations which reflect so much honour on their founders and their managers. I will not speak of the devoted men and women who manage our charities and schools. But we have ever regarded it as our greatest privilege to work with our fellow-countrymen in trying to mitigate every form of human suffering and human need. We rejoice that it has been our privilege to serve our</page><page sequence="12">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 287 country, whether it be in Parliament, at the University, at the Bar, in literature, art and science, though we do not claim all the names which Professor Bryce has brought before us. It is a matter for rejoicing that one of the youngest members of the community should now be helping to bear the burden of the Home Office and that another represents His Majesty in the far-off colony of Hong-kong, and that we have shed our blood for our Sovereign and our country and thus have proved ourselves worthy of our citizenship. But it seems to me that we should be living in a fool's paradise were we not to perceive certain perils that confront us. It needs not much keenness of sight to discern that there are, unhappily, signs of great lack of spirituality and earnest? ness in some quarters, that there is a regrettable want of true enthusiasm for the highest English and the highest Jewish ideals. Time was when we thought that the Karaites formed a great peril to our religion, At the present time I am rather inclined to think that the greatest danger comes to us from those people whom we may term the Don't careites, those who are ashamed of their Judaism, whereas in reality Judaism is ashamed of them. And yet, at no time in our history was there a greater need for strenuous and whole-hearted activity. The clouds which darken the lot of our hapless brethren in Russia, those clouds which prevented the earlier celebration of this anniversary, have not yet passed away. We must work heart and soul to render the state of our brethren in hapless Russia at least tolerable. We must above all seek to find resting-places for the poor, wretched fugitive. How many are the problems that confront us ! We look forward with considerable misgivings to the inevitable modification of the Education Act. I do not presume to speak in the name of the community, but I think I am voicing the opinion of the majority, when I say that the great bulk of us would regard the compulsory secularisation of the schools as a great peril threatening our dear land. We ardently hope our denominational schools will be preserved?those schools which have been reared, endowed, and maintained for the sake of principles very sacred and very dear to us. We do hope that in the Council Schools the same facilities which have hitherto been granted to us, and which we have surely not abused, may be preserved to us. We shall, of course, acquiesce in whatever may be the decision of Parliament. We do not intend becoming passive-resisters. It is not my intention to seek</page><page sequence="13">288 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. temporary hospitality in one of His Majesty's prisons. I would say this in conclusion. If we would preserve our religious prosperity and our spiritual and material well-being, the one thing needful for us is that we may cherish the high ideals of England?toleration, civil and religious liberty?we must ever preserve with unalterable fidelity those high, those inspiring principles laid down by our Judaism. Nought shall make us rue if England?if Anglo-Jewry?to itself do rest but true. Lord Rothschild said: It is always very difficult to address such a large assemblage as the present one. It is more difficult, on this occasion, because I have to speak after the delivery of two very eloquent speeches. I do not intend to take up much of your time, and I hope Mr. Wolf will not think it ungracious of me if I venture to remark that I should have preferred that the toast so eloquently given by Mr. Bryce had not been the prosperity of the Anglo-Jewish community, but that of civil and religious liberty throughout the world. The readmission of those of the Jewish faith to England was a very important event for Jews, but it was only a very small episode in that great struggle for civil and religious liberty which began with the refusal to pay Ship Money and ended with the trial of the bishops and the flight of James. From that time forward the cause of civil and religious liberty was omnipotent in this country. It may appear strange to many of you that although Jews were admitted to England 250 years ago, a long period of history elapsed before any of Jewish name and faith were associated with English public life. That was not owing to any hostility, as far as I can make out, to those of the Jewish faith; but with the expulsion of the Stuart monarchs from these islands, Acts were passed against civil and religious liberty which were supposed to be in favour of religious liberty, and tests were imposed on all those who took part in public life. Many not of the Protestant religion served the throne, and the Government had to get an annual act of indemnity passed. It was only in 1826 that that great statesman Lord John Russell, whose whole life was a fight for religious liberty, got the Test and Corporation Acts repealed. It is a very curious fact that the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, which allowed all those not of the Protestant faith to serve the State, imposed a fresh obstacle on those of the Jewish faith, because it was only in 1826 that the House of</page><page sequence="14">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 289 Lords added the words " On the true faith of a Christian " to the oath of allegiance, and it was not until forty years after that that Jews were enabled to take their seats in Parliament. I have gone into the historical part of this question, not because I thought it would interest you par? ticularly, but because I acknowledge that the Jews who have lived in England and become Englishmen have long enjoyed civil and religious liberty to the full, and having enjoyed that liberty have become good Englishmen, fond of their adopted country, and anxious to serve the State, both in a private and public capacity. The reason why I said I wished this toast had been that of civil and religious liberty all over the world is because I feel that if those of our faith who live in distant countries could enjoy the privilege of civil and religious liberty they would likewise become good citizens of their country, delighted to live there, and to serve the State as faithfully as we desire to do. If they enjoyed civil and religious liberty in their lands, we here should be spared the sorrow and anguish which we experience when we hear of their sufferings and misfortunes. I thank Mr. Bryce for the kindly way in which he proposed the toast, and you for so cordially responding to it. Sir Edward Sassoon, M.P., said: I should like to be allowed to add my humble meed of gratitude, and to indorse those sentiments of praise and high and well-deserved admiration bestowed on my Bight Hon. friend for that splendid, brilliant, and incisive speech with which he has favoured us this evening. I am all the more grateful for that utterance, and for the sentiments incorporated in it, because we know in the House of Commons that Professor Bryce is looked upon as a shining light, as one deeply versed in constitutional law, and con? spicuously erudite in political matters. It has been well said that what Mr. Bryce does not know is not worth knowing. It almost seems a task of redundancy and supererogation to thank Mr. Bryce for these excellent sentiments, after the delivery of speeches by the Chief Babbi and Lord Rothschild, both of whom have spoken with an authority which is unchallenged, with an experience both ripe and vigorous to which I make no pretension to lay any sort of claim. But it may not altogether be inappropriate that that section of our com? munity which rejoices in the generic title of Sephardim should have some vocal and organic representation at this memorable banquet. For, as you must be very well aware, this is a privilege which I VOL. V. T</page><page sequence="15">290 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. very highly prize?to be enabled to voice the feelings of that time honoured, but, I fear, somewhat attenuated, sister congregation, to speak at this commemoration of the remarkable event which occurred 250 years ago, when, under the leadership of that enterprising and progressive rabbi, Menasseh ben Israel, we received our first charter of resettlement and freedom. Menasseh was the right sort of man, a stout-hearted clergyman, who did not allow himself to be hindered by disheartening counsels of despair, but plodded along and had the gratification of receiving, at the hands of that sagacious and far-seeing statesman, Cromwell, the early and initial stages of that ordered emancipation of religious tolerance to which reference has been made. We of the Anglo-Jewish brotherhood have now nothing to envy our Christian fellow-citizens for, except to hope that wre may go one better than they in furthering the aims of humanity, benevolence, and civil progress. Surrounded by so many of our Christian fellow-citizens, who have come to offer evidence of their goodwill, we only ask that we may be allowed to continue to share in their civic duties, to further the consolidation of our great Empire, and to participate in our common privileges. I have alluded to the different sections of our community. Owing to some disparity of ritual and differences in pronunciation, which in themselves may be insignificant, but to which I myself attach the utmost importance, we are technically apart, and we Sephardim have not yet been submerged by the advancing billows of the German Ocean. But we stand together as one man in every matter that conduces to the social and moral welfare of our Jewish race, and in everything that concerns and practically affects the prestige and fair name of Judaism. We have several institutions, the aim and object of which is to manumit the oppression of our brethren abroad, to raise them in the scale of civilisa? tion, and assist them to a higher level. The Chief Rabbi has referred to the dark and lowering clouds of confessional bigotry, and to the per? petually recurring periods of unreasoning fanaticism which unfortunately are so rife in many portions of Europe, but which leave us unscathed. We have even remained untouched by the aftermath of persecution, which, under the cloak and guise of religious fervour, produces effects utterly repulsive and repellent to the best doctrines, the inspirations, the precepts of Christianity. Therefore, I think, a community and religious confraternity which has been able successfully to repel all</page><page sequence="16">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 291 the attacks made against it; which owes allegiance and fealty to a sceptre wielded by a peaceful and peace-loving Sovereign like ours, to whom an enlightened and absolutely unrestrained religious toleration is as the breath of his nostrils; and which has the gratification of living in this great Christian community, where long ago was pro? claimed an inviolable attachment to the principle of liberty of con? science ;?I think we may, without misgiving, attest to the prosperity of the Anglo-Jewish community, and, with equal courage and confidence, augur for its welfare in a still more useful future, and a still more brilliant destiny. The Kev. Professor Dr. Hermann Gollancz (President), in pro? posing the toast of " The Visitors," said : The theme, or, as the Germans would say, the leitmotif, underlying the various speeches to which we have listened, has necessarily been to this effect: that 250 years ago this country, in which it is our happy lot to dwell, extended its hospitality and offered its welcome to our ancestors, professing the Jewish faith. There is a give-and-take in the social world, as there is in the realm of nature. What more eloquent testimony to the effect and power of the quality of mercy which is doubly blessed, blessing him that gives, and him that takes, than this circumstance, that this evening here, at a glorious celebration of primary significance for us Jews, our fellow citizens of other faiths have made common cause with us in our rejoicing, and are helping to enhance the value of our celebration. As their forefathers welcomed our forefathers to these hospitable shores after an absence of 350 years, so it is my pride and privilege and un? feigned pleasure, as President of the Jewish Historical Society, under whose auspices this celebration is being held, to extend on behalf of the Society to our distinguished visitors a hearty and warm welcome to this festive gathering. For the nonce the swords and spears of racial and religious differences, the swords and spears of party strife and political struggles are laid aside, and turned into the ploughshares and pruning-hooks of the Messianic days, and here we to-night, men and women professing different beliefs religiously, and holding diverse political opinions, are seated together engaged in sweet converse under the shadow of something more substantial than the proverbial vine or fig-tree, under the substantial roof of this brilliant banqueting-hall, in order to commemorate an event not only of Jewish interest, but of</page><page sequence="17">292 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. national far-reaching historical importance. We are grateful for the presence of the many distinguished visitors who have come forward to grace our proceedings this evening, some at great personal inconvenience, busy with the affairs of the State, or with other works of public utility. It is impossible to refer to all by name, but I shall be making no invidious distinction if I single out a few names for special mention. In the first place we are honoured with the presence of two Cabinet Ministers. It is with no ordinary pleasure and delight that we greet the Right Hon. the Earl of Crewe, the Lord President of the Council. Apart from his splendid record in public life, there is another reason of special interest for us which makes him doubly welcome. He is a direct descendant of one of the most distinguished Marrano families that settled in England in the seventeenth century, and helped to found the Anglo-Jewish com? munity. We are delighted to see the Right Hon. James Rryce, Chief Secretary for Ireland. He is a man of many activities. He is the historian of the Holy Roman Empire, as well as of the American Commonwealth, and has done splendid services to the cause of educa? tion in particular, and humanity in general. As members of the Jewish Historical Society, it is but meet that we should extend the hand of fellowship to Dr. Prothero, for several years President of the Royal Historical Society, Professor, at one time, at the University of Edin? burgh, now editor of the Quarterly Revieiu, in which he has from time to time published striking studies on Jewish subjects. What would England be without her navy, and without the inspiration afforded by the lives of her naval heroes ? In this connection we also bid a hearty welcome to Professor Laughton, Professor of Modern History at King's College, the successor of the great historian of the Cromwellian period, Professor Gardiner. Professor Laughton having been identified with the British Navy ever since the year 1853, when he served in the Baltic during the Russian war, it is no wonder that he introduces into the study of history something of the refreshing breeze of the briny ocean. It is with great pleasure, too, that we welcome Sir Henry and Lady Primrose, Sir Henry being one of those public men who zealously and well serve their country, both at home and abroad. And last, but not least, I would refer to Mr. Harold Cox, M.P. for Preston, a distinguished economist, and one who is closely identified with those fiscal problems which have of late so convulsed the country. But to-night we have</page><page sequence="18">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 293 nothing to do with fiscal policies, we shall not allow ourselves to be divided as to the relative merits of Free Trade, fair trade, or Protection, but we are rather held together by the silken ties of freedom, friendship, and fellowship. The Earl of Crewe said : In thanking you in a very few words for the kind reception you have given to the toast so pleasantly proposed by Professor Gollancz, I venture to advance a twofold claim to the privilege of replying for your visitors. The first part of that claim rests on my relationship by marriage to the family of which my noble friend Lord Rothschild is the honoured head in this country. The second part of that claim rests on the fact mentioned by the proposer that I can my? self claim some share of Jewish descent. Somewhere about two hundred years ago, I think, my great-great-grandfather married a Portuguese lady of the Jewish race. But the most interesting fact in connection with the alliance is that it enables me to claim, possibly a somewhat remote, but quite authentic, kinship with the most distinguished Englishman of the Jewish race who has lived since the Whitehall Con? ference?I mean Lord Beaconsfield. I do not know whether the illustrious shade of that statesman ever in these times visits the precincts of Downing Street and Whitehall. If so, he may see some things of which he would not entirely approve, but I hope that he will, for the sake of the reason I have named, cast an indulgent glance over the room occupied by the President of the Privy Council. That fact leads me to make a suggestion. Many of you are, no doubt, aware that books are published indicating the descent of various people in this country from the royal family. Honest citizens study these volumes, and find they are descended from a Plantagenet or even from a Tudor monarch, and their satisfaction at the discovery is only tempered by the fact that hundreds of thousands can boast the same distinction. But my sugges? tion is this: Some person of leisure with a taste for genealogy should attempt to trace the Jewish descent of what I may call the titled and untitled nobility in this country. Without going quite so far as Mr. Lowell?for it must be admitted that there are men of tolerable intellect and good character with no Jewish blood in their veins?yet that inquiry would come as a revelation to some people of the extent to which English families have been allied with those of the Jewish race. And who shall say?I certainly shall not?that these alliances have been</page><page sequence="19">294 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. anything but an intellectual gain, and, I have no doubt, of moral benefit, to the people of this country ? Whether we are of Jewish descent or not, all we visitors admit that this is an occasion of the highest historical interest. Looking back at that memorable Whitehall Conference, one is struck by the pre-eminence of two figures?of the man pleading for his injured race and the great Protector presiding over the Council. It is perfectly true, as Mr. Bryce told us, in the mind of Oliver Cromwell two totally distinct motives were at work when he desired the readmission of the Jews. Oliver Cromwell, like every one of the greatest rulers of men, from Julius Caesar to Napoleon, was no doubt part idealist and part man of business. As a man of business, he saw the advantage which must come to England by admitting to the capital of England a race of that shrewdness and capacity which have contributed so much in these times to make London the first place of business in the world. And as an idealist he must have remembered that what was, so to speak, the Puritan terminology, was the language of the Hebrew scriptures. He must have remembered that the troopers who charged behind him at Naseby or Marston Moor regarded him as a sort of Joshua or Gideon lead? ing them against the hosts of Canaan. But Oliver Cromwell, like many other progressive statesmen, found that he had to proceed slowly and step by step, and so it was that the complete admission of the Jewish race to citizenship in this country became a matter of many years. But liberty was at last given in full. That was the gift of England to the Jewish race, and I think we must all admit that in return the Jewish race has given so much of service that it has paid over and over again for these privileges of citizenship. Mr. Bryce has enumerated many of the names of the men, whether on the bench, at the bar, or in the realms of art and literature, who have adorned the history of England. We are grateful to you for having invited us on so significant an occasion. The Chief Babbi has touched in no controversial spirit on a subject which may be regarded as controversial?I mean the changes which are fore? shadowed in the system of education in this country. As I happen to be one of the Ministers specially engaged in framing that measure, it would not be right for me to pass by his allusion to the subject. I need hardly tell you I have no intention of foreshadowing any of the pro? visions of any measure which His Majesty's Government is bringing in. You may assume that they have not yet reached their final form, or you</page><page sequence="20">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 295 may equally assume that if they have I am not in a position to indicate any of them to you. But the Chief Rabbi may be assured that His Majesty's Government are not blind to the claims of religious teaching in this country. And we have no intention whatever of binding down the education of this country to an iron system of secularism. That, I think, is as much as I can venture to say on the present occasion, and I will conclude by thanking you once more for the hearty reception given to this toast. Mr. Harold Cox, M.P., said: I have very few words to add to the extremely graceful, though, in some respects, tantalising speech of Lord Crewe. I cannot claim descent from any ancient Jewish family, nor have I any Jewish connections. I have indulged in that delightful pastime of attempting to trace my family descent, but I never got beyond my great-great-grandfather, who, I found, was the owner of a pew in the parish church of Northampton. Having satisfied my claim to respectability, I thought it better to look no further. I am very grateful for the privilege of having been asked by my friend Mr. WTolf to be here to-night, and I am very glad to give myself the pleasure of joining in a banquet over which he has so brilliantly presided. I am also glad, because, though claiming no Jewish descent, nor any Jewish kinship, I have, as far as in me lay as a journalist, tried to help to secure to Jews of whatever rank in life coming to this country full liberty of entry and full rights of citizenship. I was pleased to hear the suggestion made by Lord Rothschild that what we are really celebrating to-night is the claim we, as Englishmen, put forward for civil and religious liberty throughout the world. We achieved a great victory for civil and religious liberty 250 years ago, and I do not think we can do better, whether we are members of the Jewish com? munity or other Englishmen like myself, than to resolve to go forward to fresh victories. The whole battle has not yet been won. There are races other than the Jewish race who do not yet enjoy the full rights of civil and religious liberty, and I think we cannot better honour the memory of the great man who won this victory 250 years ago than to determine that we will take our part in the struggle of other races who do not yet enjoy the blessing of civil and religious liberty. Prof. Dr. G. W. Prothero, in proposing the toast of 4i The Chairman,'7</page><page sequence="21">296 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. said: It is my pleasing duty to propose to you the last toast of the evening, one which I am sure you will drink with enthusiasm?the health of your Chairman. At this period of the evening, it will not be expected that I should delay you long. After a feast of oratory such as that which we have enjoyed, there are few crumbs left for a speaker in my position to gather up. But, in spite of so many admirable things said, there are one or two points which I should like to call to your attention. The event we have met to celebrate to-night was, indeed, I think, a great event in the history of the world, in the history of this country, and in the history of the Jewish community. It was great in the first place because it marked for this country the beginning of the principle of toleration?of religious toleration and civil liberty. It has been well said that that was not granted at once nor for nearly 200 years, but it was Cromwell who laid the first foundation of it. And, I think, if there were nothing else, we should honour him for that among the very greatest of our rulers, or the rulers of any country. But there is another point which makes that event a great event in our history.. I suppose no one will deny that the greatness of this country is largely due to the fact that our nation is composed of different races, and varied elements which it combines. What we are in politics, in commerce, in literature, we owe largely to the fervid temperament of the Celt, to the doggedness of the Saxon, to the political genius of the Norman, and to the daring of the Dane. That was the fourfold woof out of which our nation existed before the time of Oliver Cromwell. To that fourfold woof he added a fifth thread, one more subtle, more capable, more competent than any other?that thread of Jewish origin tracing its descent to the remotest past, which brought here its own traditions, its own ancient poetry, and has willingly placed its great services and great abilities at the service of the State. It was fitting, I think, that Oliver Cromwell should have been the agent who brought in this new principle, and who added this fifth strand to the warp of the body corporate of this nation, for Cromwell took descent from the most amazingly different stocks?part Celt, part Dane, part Welshman, and part Englishman. He was a man of action, a man of ideas, a man of business, a man of war, a man who had begun by being a peaceful citizen in a country district and ended as the head of the State, a man who, as Voltaire said, went through the world with the Bible in one hand and with the sword in the other, and,</page><page sequence="22">THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. 297 like the Israelites of old, went into battle with the name of Jehovah on his lips. Such a man was well-fitted to make this great change in our body-politic, and introduce this new principle in the politics of this country. From his time the nation has reaped the benefits of what he did. Mr. Bryce has eloquently remarked on the great men who have distinguished the Jewish community in this country. To one of them he hardly did full justice. There have been great names in literature, science, or in law, but one name we shall be agreed overshadows them all?the name of Benjamin Disraeli. If we can imagine Cromwell knowing what passes in this world in which he played so great a part, we may imagine him smiling a grim smile of personal satisfaction and natural pride that the head of that community which he admitted to full fellowship and the head of the State was carrying out those aims and that policy which made the name of Cromwell so great. He who laid the foundation of our power in the West Indies, who sent our ships to the Mediterranean, who broke the power of the Spaniard, and defied the power of the Pope, might have been proud that the chief descendant of those he admitted had laid the foundations of our present feelings towards our Colonies, or, at least, stemmed the anti-Colonial feeling which previously existed, enabled us to obtain a foothold in Egypt by the purchase of those shares on which the Chairman has thrown so much light, grasped the idea of true imperialism, and set our late Gracious Queen on the throne of the Great Mogul. Such a man Cromwell might have been proud to see govern this country, and he, too, might have rejoiced to have known how Jewish soldiers fought side by side with their British comrades on the veldt in South Africa, some of them dying for the country of their adoption. Some such thoughts as these must have been present in the mind of Mr. Wolf, as a historian, when he and his friends of the Jewish Historical Society conceived the happy idea of celebrating this occasion. It is history which has taught Mr. Wolf and which must teach us all what the Jewish community has done here and elsewhere, and what it still can do. Mr. Wolf studied history to good purpose, and besides his study of history he has been able to apply it to present politics. He has attained a high position as a historian and as a publicist, as a writer on matters of the greatest interest at the present day. We know him as the editor of Disraeli's novels, as the co-editor of the Bibliotheca Anglo- Judaica, as the biographer of Sir Moses Montefiore,</page><page sequence="23">298 THE WHITEHALL CONFERENCE. as the historian of Menasseh ben Israel. We know him as the brilliant essayist who reveals the secrets of foreign courts, and we know him as the Chairman who has done so much to make this evening a success. I give you the toast of "The Chairman." The Chairman, in reply, said : It is difficult for me to find words to express to you my thanks for the honour and the kindness shown me to-night. I shall always remember with pride that you asked me to preside over this historic festival, and I am exceedingly grateful to you for your assurance that you have overlooked all my shortcomings in the occupancy of this Chair. It is particularly gratifying to me that you voiced your compliments by Dr. Prothero, whose good opinion I value most highly. Not only is he a fine character and a distinguished historian, but he is also a great editor. I can only now thank you once more for your kindness to me. I should like to transfer some of your compliments to shoulders which deserve them better than I. I desire to thank, on your behalf and on my own, the real organisers of victory, the Rev. S. Levy and Mr. Albert H yam son, to whose indefatigable exertions, as Hon. Secretaries, the great success of this festival is chiefly due. Each guest at the dinner was presented with a souvenir hooklet, compiled by the Rev. S. Levy, and most artistically produced by Messrs. Raphael Tuck &amp; Sons, Ltd. It contains portraits of Menasseh ben Israel and Oliver Cromwell, facsimiles of the petition of the crypto-Jews to Cromwell, and of the arms of Menasseh ben Israel and the Protector. Heer J. M. Hillesum, Amsterdam, wrote :? " In reply to your esteemed invitation of January 1906, I regret to inform you that I cannot take advantage of the opportunity to join with you in the celebration which you will hold on February 5th, of the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Whitehall Conference. Nevertheless, I rejoice in offering you, from Amsterdam, the town where Menasseh ben Israel lived the greater part of his fertile life, from Holland, the classic land of religious liberty, my most cordial congratulations. May you, noble disciples of the immortal champions of toleration and justice, go from strength to strength. May the sun of civil and religious liberty still in your days rise over the lands where mankind is in oppression."</page></plain_text>

bottom of page