Conversion and Settlement in Pre-Mandate British Foreign Policy

Star of David GGNC grave marker engraving

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land[1]

With these words, William Blake captures the missionary zeal that drove the 19th century movement for the conversion of  the Jews and their restoration to Palestine. Both millenarian and imperialist, the evangelical Anglicans of the London Society for the Promotion of Christianity, or London Jews’ Society (LJS) sought to establish among the Jews a messianic age under English rule; the Society was convinced that Jewish recognition of the Messiah and their return to the Holy Land would speed the day.[2] The Society’s activities in the Holy Land coincided with the first British consular presence in Palestine, complementing the British government’s aspirations to gain greater influence in the Tanzimat-era Ottoman Empire through the protection of minority communities. While the LJS could claim several powerful supporters in Parliament and in the consular offices, British foreign policy mandated not only the protection of the Jews, but also the encouragement of Jewish immigration to Palestine. Meanwhile, unresolved questions about Jewish citizenship in England and England’s responsibility for Jews in Palestine remained largely separate issues throughout the 19th century. Still, collaboration between the LJS missionaries and the British government created a strong precedent for aligning British interests with those of Palestine’s Jewish communities. In this way, the British integrated many of the later Zionists’ main goals into their diplomatic strategy long before Theodor Herzl, Ahad Ha’Am, or Leon Pinsker ever dreamed of writing about a Jewish state.

Unique in Europe, the restorationist bent of this particular branch of evangelical thought sprang from a long history of British interaction with Jewish communities, specifically on the part of the Puritans. When Menasseh Ben Israel, a rabbi from Amsterdam, petitioned Oliver Cromwell to allow the Jews to settle in England, he argued that the Jews were ready to become Englishmen, and would present no threat to English social norms and traditions.[3] After the Whitehall Conference of 1655, Cromwell, along with a panel of lawyers and religious authorities, authorized the petition and opened England to Jewish settlement. While their motives were largely economic, Cromwell and his advisors concluded that the Jews must surely be open to conversion as well.[4] This gave rise to widespread “philosemitism,” an attitude of sympathy to the Jews based on their anticipated conversion. The English hope for Jewish conversion was millenarian in nature; when the question of readmission to England was first considered in 1652, the British were convinced that, through exposure to the godliest people on earth, the Jews would quickly convert. This conversion and their subsequent restoration would inaugurate latter-day glory.[5] Thus, from the beginning, the relatively positive British relationship with the Jews hinged on their anticipated conversion to an English form of Christianity as a result of exposure to Englishmen. The resulting messianic age, then, would continue to reflect England’s spiritual dominance. This attitude was rooted in England’s self-image: its rise coincided with its struggle against Catholic powers, most notably in 1588 with the defeat of the Spanish Armada; English historians remembered the event as the “Protestant Wind” that defeated the Spanish fleet. For the British, religion had played a central role in their development as a nation and a world power. Jewish conversion and settlement could serve as instruments in English theological aspirations. Some 200 years after the Puritans made their case, this ideology would help shape Britain’s policies in Palestine.


 In Jerusalem, there still stands a plain Anglican church with a menorah on the altar table. Although it shows almost none of the modest ornamentation that Anglican churches normally allow, its interior design includes Hebrew writing, the Star of David, and other explicitly Jewish symbols. It is not a synagogue; a cross was added to the outside in 1948 in order to mark it as a church and ensure that it was not destroyed.[6] Christ Church, established originally as the private chapel of the British consulate in Jerusalem, has served since 1849 as the center of the London Jews Society’s mission in the East. The mission pursued four goals: preaching the Messiahship of Jesus Christ to both Jews and Christians, returning the Church to its Jewish roots, encouraging the physical restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, and encouraging the success of the Hebrew Christian and the Jewish messianic movements.

The London Jews Society was established in 1808, initially as an auxiliary of the London Missionary Society.[7] Within a year, its leader, Joseph Frey, split off with a smaller group of followers and formed a Society that focused specifically on converting Jews. This was by no means an inconsequential group. As a testament to the widespread popularity of mass conversion, the list of supporters for the newly formed society included some of England’s top evangelical preachers, such as Charles Simeon and William Wilberforce.[8] The Society named their first headquarters ‘Palestine Place’ and established a ‘Jews’ Chapel.’ By 1815, non-Anglican supporters broke with the group over controversy on the form of worship in the Jews’ Chapel; the London Jews’ Society remained exclusively Anglican from this point on, and began pouring its energy into missionary activity. This included reaching out not only to the Jews and officials at home, but also to the international community. Almost a century before Herzl, one LJS sympathizer, Lewis Way, toured the capitals of Europe making speeches advocating the restoration of the Jewish people to Palestine.

The memoirs of Joseph Wolff, one of the London Jews Society’s most important figures, reveal the key underpinnings of LJS ideology. While the Society boasted a large number of other significant missionaries and public figures, Joseph Wolff was of particular note because he converted to Anglicanism from Judaism. Born in 1796 in Bavaria, Wolff grew up as the son of a rabbi and received a traditional Jewish education. He first considered conversion after a conversation with a Christian barber who enjoined him to read the Old Testament properly and recognize that Jesus was the Messiah. After conversion to Christianity despite his family’s disapproval, Wolff left home to travel Europe in search of true Christianity. He arrived in England in June 1819.[9] Shortly after, he became a missionary and traveled throughout the Middle East, including Palestine and the Levant, India, and much of the Mediterranean. His memoirs, including his own life story up until his arrival in London, were first published in 1824.[10] That Wolff’s memoirs were published as propaganda for the Society meant that his editors’ worked diligently to attract public interest. In the 1824 edition, an editor ends his preface by appealing to nineteenth century curiosity: “On the whole, the account he now presents to the Public, of Mr. Wolf [sic] and of his missionary exertions, will not be found without interest.”[11] The 1839 memoirs include an even more colorful description to entice the reader – in his summary of the book’s contents, the editor includes not only all of the exotic destinations that Dr. Wolff visited, but also “his adventures with the pirates, &c. &c.” and “his missionary operations and researches after the lost ten tribes.” [12] Finally, In the much later memoirs of the Bishop Michael Solomon Alexander (another convert from Judaism and the first Anglican bishop to Jerusalem), the editor makes a point of mentioning that he presented his fiancée with a copy of Joseph Wolff’s work in an attempt to convert her. Although Wolff and Alexander were contemporaries, the fact that Wolff’s memoirs and journals were mentioned in another missionary work published after the First World War indicates that its impact endured long after his death. Wolff’s memoirs thus provide a valuable lens through which to understand how the London Jews Society approached self-promotion in the public sphere.

The first part of Wolff’s memoirs reiterates the fundamentally pro-British character of the missionary message. He begins with his first contemplation of Christianity, and ends before he even arrives in England. His own conversion process literally lasts years, spanning his travels across the continent in search of true faith. The editor uses this section as an opportunity to criticize the other forms of Christianity practiced in Europe, especially Catholicism, and to assert the superiority of English religion. Wolff’s decision to leave Judaism originates both in conversations with kind Christians and scriptural passages, all in keeping with Protestant tradition. He begins the process of conversion by speaking to the barber, who tells him to read the Old Testament with an open mind. An uncle in Bamberg, a Catholic who taught him Latin and history, later reads him the Gospels.[13] Wolff announces, upon returning home, that he will become a Christian, and must immediately leave his family. From this point, he speaks with, and sometimes studies with, a series of religious authorities all over the continent. First, Wolff arrives in Frankfurt and seeks out a Deist Protestant professor who tells Wolff, “My dear friend, it is not necessary to become a Christian, because Christ was only a great man, such as our Luther: and you can even be a moral man without being a Christian, which is all that is necessary.”[14] Wolff disagrees, and eventually moves on to Halle. He reports being satisfied with the explanation of Christianity of one Professor Knapp, but soon leaves Halle due to harassment from the Jewish community there. He tries to approach the Catholic clergy of Prague and of other cities, but they reject him, claiming prior deceit by Jews seeking conversion.

Wolff continues traveling and reaches Hungary, where he reports:

I found in Erlan, a town of Hungary, a Jewish boy, six years of age, in a house called the house of converts. 1 asked how this little Jew came there? They answered me he was taken from his parents by force, at the express command of the Bishop. When I heard this, I became indignant, especially when I observed the sorrow of the poor child, who was forced to worship images and not Christ, instead of Jehovah, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob![15]

As he continues his travels, Wolff discovers that even Catholics that oppose the Pope hold an imperfect faith. He writes: “[t]he fact was, that many Catholics of Germany, who were adversaries of the Pope, became afterwards Socinians, or embraced an allegorical system of Christianity. They adulterated the Gospel with the philosophy of Kant, Hume, Jacob Behmen, Plato.”[16] Eventually, Wolff reaches Rome itself – to see whether the evils he has heard about it are true – and begins studying at the Propaganda, under the guidance of one Cardinal Litta. Here, he frequently argues with his teachers, and records his moments of greatest indignation in his memoirs. After one such episode, he complains:

… but when I heard them one day call the Pope God, and heard this title defended by the most learned men of Rome … I could no longer abstain from protesting against such an idolatrous opinion, and exclaimed: ‘The Pope is a man as I am, the Pope is dust of the earth as I am.’[17]

He eventually leaves Rome, and informs the Cardinal that he now believed that all of the negative opinions he had heard of the Vatican and the papacy.

While this lead-up to conversion forms the largest part of his memoirs, Wolff never gives an account of the actual conversion itself; he ends shortly after leaving Rome. After a brief summary note from the editor on Wolff’s arrival in England and his short stint studying at Cambridge under Charles Simeon, the publication moves straight into Wolff’s missionary journal.[18] The most important aspect of Wolff’s memoirs, then, lies in his critique of religion outside England. Furthermore, Wolff’s conversion to Anglicanism is implied through his physical arrival in England. Clearly, his editor anticipates the readers to connect true faith with his or her own geographical location. Finally, Wolff’s embrace of Anglicanism embodies the ideal conversion scenario that the Puritans hoped for in 1655, implicitly linked with British life and culture. In this vein, it is not surprising that the London Jews Society attempted to strengthen its missions through the construction of schools and hospitals—all providing a means of by which to further expose their potential converts to British mores and values.

Wolff’s memoirs also begin to reveal the ideological basis for the Society’s missionary movement. In his near immediate rejection of the Deist professor’s argument that a moral man does not need Christ, Wolff asserts that a belief in Jesus, even before any correct practice or pious action, is the essential precondition for morality. He reiterates this belief in his later rejection of Kant.[19] Kant, who differentiates religion from faith, holds that true religion consists of individual moral perfection. Although Kant nonetheless maintains that Christianity is the only faith through which true religion can be achieved, he fundamentally considers Christianity a means to an end. Wolff and LJS, on the other hand, clearly considered belief in Jesus a prerequisite. He does, like Kant, admit that this belief, and the consequent conversion, must be an act of free will, or it will otherwise have no value. Wolff’s memoirs also highlight the importance of the connection between the Old Testament and contemporary Christianity. While Wolff is still wandering, for example, a Protestant priest hands him a Hebrew Bible.[20]

Wolff’s missionary journals also explain the theological basis for LJS activities. This is evident in his opinions on the Jews he meets. He notes, for example:

… I confess that I prefer, and have more confidence in strict, bigotted [sic] Jews, than in such so called liberal Jews; for with strict Jews one has a foundation on which to build the merits of Christianity, but this is not the case with an Infidel Jew; and so we find that many Pharisees were converted, as Paul, Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathea, but never any Sadducee.[21]

Here, Wolff argues that Judaism is not an obstacle to Christianity, but a building block. He continues along these lines in other parts of his memoirs, in which he specifies the exact parts of the Old Testament that prove that the Messiah has already come. Wolff is always careful to include dialogues of his debates with the Jews, wherever he visits. In one discussion in Palestine, Wolff addresses two Jews who profess to believe in Jesus as the true Messiah, but fear to do so openly. When Wolff reads specific sections of the Old Testament to strengthen their faith, however, both Jews insist that they had never noticed them before. Again, Wolff makes clear that he considers the Jewish heritage a step towards , rather than an obstacle to, Christianity. Wolff also focuses on the significance of the Hebrew language. In a debate with one group of Jews in Gibraltar, Wolff’s entire argument with them rests on the translation of words like “virgin” or “man-child” from Hebrew.[22] Here, it is clear that the London Jews’ Society differentiated in their preference between the Jews of the New Testament, who had rejected Jesus, and the Jews of the Old Testament, who had laid the foundation for his arrival.

The degree to which Wolff interacts with the British consuls in the areas adds an important political dimension to his journey. As soon as he arrives in Alexandria in 1821, for example, the “Janisary [sic] of the English consul” examines Wolff’s baggage. Later that day, he dines with Consuls Salt and Lee.[23] He even refers to this episode in a letter to the British consul in Cairo, whom he addresses as his “Patron,” a few days later.[24] He was even well enough established at the consulate in Cairo that he returned there one day to find 50 Jews waiting for him.[25]


At the time of Wolff’s travels in Palestine, LJS missionaries enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the consuls. This is not surprising, considering that the origin of British consular activity in Palestine had coincided closely with that of the missionaries. Another factor was certainly the backing of supporters in Parliament, such as Anthony Ashley, the Earl of Shaftesbury. An evangelical Christian himself, Shaftesbury took on a large role in patronizing the fledgling London Jews Society’s early success, and eventually secured the permission of Prime Minister Robert Peel to establish the first Protestant bishopric and church in 1841.[26] He also helped persuade his father-in-law, Lord Palmerston, then Foreign Secretary, of the missionaries’ usefulness. One of Palmerston’s first orders to the newly established consul in Jerusalem instructed him “to afford protection to the Jews generally.”[27] Opposition from the occasional government official at home did not hamper the missionary zeal of the London Jews Society’s supporters. In May 1842, the Earl of Aberdeen wrote to W.T. Young, the vice-consul in Jerusalem, concerning the arrival of Bishop Alexander.[28] He cautioned Young to protect Alexander as he would any other British subject of any other profession, but also to

“…carefully abstain from identifying [himself] in any degree with his mission, and from assisting to promote any scheme of interference with the Jewish Subjects of the Porte, in which Bishop Alexander may possibly engage. You will clearly understand that Her Majesty’s Government will not sanction, either in you or in any other servant of the Crown, any attempts, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the religious tenets of any class of the Sultan’s Subjects.”[29]

Young, however, largely ignored him. A fervent evangelical himself, Young had already founded the Jerusalem branch of the LJS in 1839.[30] Once Palmerston recovered his position as Foreign Secretary from Aberdeen, he ordered the Jerusalem consul to extend British protection to Russian Jews as well.[31] The new consul, James Finn, was another evangelical. A colleague of his, Niven Moore, complained to Palmerston that Finn had been “over-zealous in encouraging the conversion of Jews to Christianity” in spite of having been “strictly ordered by Her Majesty’s Government to abstain from using any power or influence which his character as Consul and protector of Russian Jews may give him for the purpose of swaying in any manner their religious opinions.”[32]

The support of some sympathetic officials, however, did not mean that the British government was prepared to support the entire LJS program. Even before construction on Christ Church was finished, consular officials were acutely aware that their treatment of the Jewish community in Jerusalem could have international repercussions, especially given LJS efforts to achieve the full conversion of the sultan’s subjects. Aberdeen’s concerns were not easily brushed aside, and a strong tension in policy aims persisted between support for a missionary movement that advanced Britain’s policy goals and the desire to maintain the peace between the European powers in the city. In 1842, just after his orders from Aberdeen to desist in supporting the LJS missionary activity, Young reported a conflict with Bishop Alexander over three Jews who had converted to Christianity. According to Young’s correspondence, upon hearing of the conversions, Rabbi Isaiah Bordaki (who held authority over Russian and Austrian Jews in Jerusalem,) requested custody of the three former Jews, and complained to Young that they were hiding in the house of one of the missionaries. Young reports,

I immediately addressed a note to Bishop Alexander acquainting him of the circumstance, and hoping he would take such steps as he might deem requisite to avoid a compromise of Her Majesty’s Government with Foreign Powers. Your Lordship will observe by the Bishop’s reply that he anticipated no difficulty – in the meantime the three Jews continued to be countenanced in their refusal to appear before their Consul.[33]

Here was evidence of an expanded role for the British consular authorities in managing much smaller details of the legal scene in Jerusalem. Jurisdiction over a given Jewish community within the city now reflected the international balance of power. Indeed, this episode reflects a consistent trend in the consul’s increasing involvement in the politics of conversion. Prior to 1839, the office’s correspondence included broad issues, such as “Urging on Sultan encouragement of Jewish immigration”[34] or “Position of Jews in Palestine.”[35] By the middle of the 1840’s, the correspondence between the consulate and the Government regularly included very specific situations; for example, when a consular official “Declines to intervene, at request of Chief Rabbi, in the case of another convert”[36] or the “Wife of [a] convert withholds the children.”[37] Whatever his personal feelings toward LJS, Young clearly understood his own role in Jerusalem to be first and foremost that of an official of the British Government. In his complaint to Aberdeen, he continues:

The Bishop seems to have regarded the matter in a religious, rather than in a Civil point of view. It appeared to me to be a purely Civil Case … and I have little doubt the parties themselves were encouraged with the idea that they were entitled to British Protection, which I felt it my duty not only to decline recognising, but I urged every argument to induce the Bishop to see the responsibility he was incurring by Sheltering Foreign Subjects who had refused to answer the Summons of their Consul.[38]

Britain’s increased interest in the Jews of Palestine revolved around the Tanzimat Reforms of 1839, a series of changes in Ottoman foreign and domestic policy that significantly altered how the British chose to interact with both the Jewish population and their own missionary presence in Palestine. In the wake of European help in expelling Muhammad Ali from Syria, the Tanzimat Reforms included several provisions that reflected pressure from Western nations. One of these included maintaining the special status of both foreign consuls and Christian churches that Muhammad Ali had granted the European powers in Palestine during his occupation. The consuls could enhance their influence by claiming to represent the interests of parts of the population; Britain, France and Russia each claimed a group of minorities to represent. For Russia, this was simple—by 1846, Russians formed the majority of the 20,000 pilgrims that visited the city in a typical year.[39] France, in the meantime, worked to develop its own mission to protect the Catholics, although there were far fewer of them. Britain, however, faced a significant obstacle in pursuing this strategy: there was no indigenous Anglican community in Jerusalem, and the missionary presence hardly approached that of the flood of Russian pilgrims. Instead, the British opted to protect the Jews, even those from outside Palestine. This further aligned their approach with LJS. W.T. Young cleverly combined his own evangelical convictions with this new policy concern in his correspondence to Palmerston on 14 March 1839:

There are two parties here, who will doubtless have some voice in the future disposition of affairs – ‘The one is the Jew – unto whom God originally gave this land for a possession, and the other, the Protestant Christian, his legitimate offspring.’ Of both these Great Britain seems the natural Guardian, and they are now beginning to take their position among the other claimants.[40]

Most significantly, the British government’s interest in the Jews of Jerusalem became further intertwined with the missionaries’ interest in Jewish restoration. On 11 August 1840, for instance, Palmerston himself urged the Sultan to consider the benefits of allowing increased Jewish immigration to Palestine.[41] Although Palmerston justified this idea in largely economic terms, it is likely that Palmerston sought to further British influence in the region by growing and empowering a community over which the government already held sway.

British concern for the Jews of Jerusalem also stemmed from their preoccupation with Russia. As early as 1839, the British consul reports concern over the activities if the Russian consul to “secure the allegiance of all European Jews.”[42] Again, Young shrewdly took the opportunity to champion the missionary cause in light of these concerns. On 28 April 1840, he complained to Palmerston:

When I first took up my residence in this Country – The European Jews invariably consulted me in their difficulties, and in conformity with Your Lordship’s instructions contained in Mr. Bidwell’s despatch [sic] No. 2 of last year, I considered it my duty to render them such assistance and advice as I was able to do … but in consequence of the instructions which I have received from Her Majesty’s Consuls General in Egypt, discouraging my interfering on behalf of these people – I have relinquished all official interference on behalf of Foreign Jews – They on finding this to be the case, have cased to apply to me, and have readily accepted the protection which the Russian Consul has shewn himself willing to afford them.[43]

In 1844, the British consul warned London that “the Russians could in one night during Easter arm 10,000 pilgrims within the walls of Jerusalem” and take the city.[44] After this point, the consular records indicate an acute preoccupation with the protection of Russian Jews in particular – a preoccupation highly exacerbated by the tensions preceding the Crimean War in 1853.  From 1847 on, the consul corresponds frequently on the topic of British protection of Russian Jews. British influence among the Jews was especially important, since British authorities also considered Jews an independently powerful interest group. This opinion was clearly widespread at home; one pamphlet, published in 1850, asked rhetorically: “Does not the fate of Christendom – using the decretal [sic] word in its spiritual sense, seem to rest on the ‘Aye of the Jew?’ Do not the destinies of Europe, and therewith of half the globe, often hang suspended on the pivot of Jewish monetary power?”[45] Although some officials, like Young, undoubtedly made it their personal goal to push the missionary agenda, the British administration clearly adopted similar goals only so far as to promote their own imperialist policy.

The Society’s cultural imperialism is especially visible in its establishment of civic institutions, such as missionary schools and hospitals. British evangelicals were convinced that exposure to the English way of life would help promote conversion. The Jews of Jerusalem also held this belief, which prompted a boycott of missionary institutions in 1846, after the Rabbis of Jerusalem forbade a Jew who had died in the missionary hospital to be buried in the Jewish burial ground.[46] Several months later, the consul complained of anti-missionary riots in the city, again largely centered around the hospital.[47] The Jews of Jerusalem felt harassed, a sentiment that prompted Sir Moses Montefiore to intervene. Montefiore, himself a wealthy British Jew, had gained international fame in his role in the Damascus affair of 1840. After seven Jews in Damascus were accused of killing a Christian servant and using his blood for their ritual, Montefiore traveled to Alexandria and secured a decree from Mehmet Ali that categorically denied the truth of blood libel.[48] He also enjoyed a cozy relationship with British consuls; he apparently passed through the offices often during his travels to discuss British policy. In one letter to Palmerston, Niven Moore recalls that Montefiore “repeatedly expressed his gratitude for what had been done in regard to the transfer of the Russian Jews to British protection.”[49] In the wake of aggressive conversion attempts on the part of Finn, however, Montefiore complained to the British consul over the Jews’ treatment, and made a point of founding parallel institutions for the Jews as an alternative to the conversion-driven spaces of LJS. Montefiore offered his own hospital as a potential alternative. The Jews of Jerusalem, however, ultimately rejected Montefiore’s contributions. Although they welcomed him sincerely, Consul Finn reported in 1849 that the Jews of Jerusalem had strongly resisted his attempts to take a census of them, and to provide secular schooling:

A more determined opposition, however, was made to the establishment of schools for teaching European languages, Geography, Arithmetic, &c. They denied their need of such things, especially of the Gentile languages, which would only expose them the more to the seductive arguments of the Christian missionaries.[50]

This assessment likely contains a bias; this is Finn writing, after all. But it is significant that the Jews of Jerusalem apparently took issue with the introduction of English cultural norms just as much as attempts to convert them. They trusted neither the LJS nor Montefiore, while the consulate supported both. It is clear that, while the consular officials may not have been uniformly keen on the prospect of converting the Ottoman Jews, they supported the projects of both the London Jews Society and Montefiore on the basis of the cultural imperialism that they brought to Palestine.

The separation between the treatment of the ‘Jewish question’ at home and in the international sphere also points to the government’s support for the missionaries as purely a tool of foreign policy for expanding their influence. While the London Jews Society established Christ Church in Jerusalem, and the consuls worked to build British influence in the Ottoman Empire through their protection of the Jewish communities in Palestine, Baron Lionel de Rothschild fought for a seat in the House of Commons, sparking a debate on Jewish citizenship in Britain. Indeed, the debate on Jewish emancipation in Britain runs along strikingly similar lines to that of Joseph Wolff in his missionary journals. In one pamphlet from 1849, titled ‘A Plea for the Removal of Jewish Disabilities,’ the author, Rev. Henry Street, challenges the ban on Jews entering parliament on the grounds that religion has absolutely nothing to do with statecraft. In an echo of Mendelssohn’s answer to the question of whether to give to God or Caesar (“Give to Caesar, and give to God too! To each his own, since the unity of interests is now destroyed!”[51]), Rev. Street urges both British citizens and government to “separate religion from politics, that the things of Caesar and the things of God (long intermingled to their common injury,) may be handled by their respective professors according to their intrinsic merits.”[52] He argues:

… as no act of the State could force a man into the National Church, so none can drive him out of it; neither could an arbitrary act of parliament, constructed by members hostile to the Church, close a pulpit or a pew, – any violation of the rights of conscience, in this respect, is beyond all possibility, and would call down a storm of national wrath.[53]

Although Street concedes that “the Jew … hugs his errors contrary to all proof and argument,”[54] he also defends Jews’ capacity to safeguard British morals in a political context. He argues:

… the Hebrew appeals as a test of rectitude to the same moral code which the Christian holds as his governing principle, which code is equally operative in both, as a rule of public and private virtue, it appears unreasonable that these moral qualifications for a public career should be counted only as ‘dust in the balance’ when weighed against the depressing counterpoise of his religious delusion.[55]

In fact, Street begins his pamphlet with the justification that “[t]he Jew is by religious affinity an half-brother of all Christian people … both profess to walk by the same moral law of the Ten Commandments, and to partake of the promises of Divine favour [sic] existing in the pages of the Old Testament …”[56] He does not even consider it necessary to mention the question of the Law in his pamphlet; far from a seditious practice, adherence to Jewish law simply safeguards a moral foundation common to both Christians and Jews. Clearly, Rev. Street sees the acceptance of a common moral code, rather than religious dogma, as the prerequisite for British citizenship. The Rev. Street also did not represent an isolated, marginalized opinion; his pamphlet was only one in a flurry of similar pieces published in the 1840’s and ’50’s. In another pamphlet, titled ‘Ought Baron de Rothschild to Sit in Parliament?’ two hypothetical men, Amicus Nobilis and  Judaeus, hold a conversation.’[57] Judaeus at once addresses his friend’s concerns over Rothschild’s election by asserting:

There is no such thing as the Jewish nation. It is long since the Jews have ceased to be a nation … Born in England of English parents, I acknowledge no other land as my country; no other nation as my nation … and in this I express the feelings and sentiments of all persons professing the Jewish religion, who have had the good fortune to be born Britons.[58]

Van Oven also includes the question of return to Palestine, and Judaeus admits that “the Jews do, in accordance with their religion, look forward to their restoration to the Holy Land, and that they do pray for that event,”[59] but ultimately asserts that “they alike regard this as an event not dependant [sic] on human agency, but as an effort of Almighty power … It is almost blasphemy, and certainly a monstrous absurdity … to consider a subject so far beyond human reach.”[60]

The scriptural basis of these arguments, that Jews and Christians ultimately share a common moral foundation, is exactly in line with that of LJS. It was this breed of millenarian dispensationalism, however, that differentiated the LJS from the mainstream political debate on Jewish citizenship in England. Whereas the civic debate concerned itself with the question of full emancipation and integration in British society and governance, LJS was not concerned with British Jews, but all Jews in the world. Conversion was necessary, but only so that the Jews could soon return to Palestine and usher in the messianic age under English leadership. The millenarian focus of the LJS thus made it an implicitly imperialist movement; the Jews were not a part of British society and were not meant to be, but were instead a means to an end.

It is significant that British debates over the future of the domestic and international Jewry did not coalesce in the context of England’s changing political landscape. Especially under Canning and Palmerston, British politicians began to focus more on attracting domestic support for their international policies. Throughout the course of the 19th century, British Prime Ministers and MP’s pushed Britain’s advantage in the international arena with an increasing concern for public opinion, reflecting the massive increase in the British electorate that came with voting reform in 1867; in that year alone, the number of eligible voters nearly doubled to about two million,.[61] Throughout this period, questions about Jewish citizenship in England and British jurisdiction over Jews in Palestine remained separate. Clearly, both the government and the larger populace considered the question of Jewish restoration in Palestine a foreign policy topic, and unconnected to the status of the Jews at home.

It is clear that the British government by no means based its policy on the agenda of the London Jews Society; rather, the missionaries provided useful partners in achieving objectives determined by the political realities of the post-Tanzimat Ottoman Empire. Yet they did work towards common objectives to such an extent that, years before Theodor Herzl began writing The Jewish State, the British government, hand in hand with an evangelical missionary movement, advocated the settlement of the Jews in Palestine and their protection upon arrival. The often-parallel work of the London Jews Society and the British consulates established a strong precedent for the augmentation of British political influence in Palestine through the Jewish community. When the London Jews Society finally did react at the tail end of the nineteenth century, they heartily expressed their full support for the Zionists:

Zionism is a new power in the world and has come to stay. Its object is the arrangement of the national future of the Jews. Consciously, or unconsciously, the Zionists are working out God’s purposes for His ancient people, namely, their return to the land of their forefathers.[62]

Only several decades later, with the skillful lobbying of Chaim Weizmann, the British government would follow.


Deirdre Dlugoleski (’13) is a History major in Ezra Stiles College.



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Wolff, Joseph. Missionary Journal and Memoir of the Rev. Joseph Wolf, Missionary to the Jews. New York: E. Bliss & E. White, 1824. Electronic.

Wolff, Joseph. Journal of the Rev. Joseph Wolff. London, 1839. Print.

[1]   William Blake, “And did those feet in ancient time,” 1808.

[2]   Commonly known as the London Jews Society (LJS).

[3]  Manasseh Ben Israel, The Hope of Israel, Amsterdam 1651, Yale Internet Resource.

[4]   N.I. Matar, “The Idea of the Restoration of the Jews in English Protestant Thought, 1661-1701.” The Harvard Theological Review 78.1/2 (1985): 115-48. JSTOR, accessed 29 Mar. 2012.

[5]   Peter Toon, Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel: Puritan Eschatology 1600-1660 (London: James Clark, 1970), 117.

[6]    Kelvin Crombie, For the Love of Zion: Christian Witness and the Restoration of Israel (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1991), 2.

[7]   Crombie, For the Love of Zion, 13.

[8]   Ibid.

[9]   Joseph Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir of the Rev. Joseph Wolf, Missionary to the Jews (New York: E. Bliss & E. White, 1824), 51.

[10] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, [Page number?]

[11] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, 3.

[12] Joseph Wolff, Journal of the Rev. Joseph Wolff, (London: 1839). Interior cover summary.

[13] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, 8.

[14] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, 8.

[15] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, 16.

[16] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, 41.

[17] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, 26.

[18] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, 51.

[19] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, 41.

[20] Wolff, Missionary Journal and Memoir, 18.

[21] Wolff, Journal of the Rev. Joseph Wolff, 31.

[22] Wolff, Missionary Journals and Memoir, 72.

[23] Wolff, Missionary Journals and Memoir, 100.

[24] Wolff, Missionary Journals and Memoir, 122.

[25] Wolff, Missionary Journals and Memoir, 146.

[26] Montefiore Simon Sebag, Jerusalem: The Biography,  (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 350.

[27] Albert M. Hyamson, ed., The British Consulate in Jerusalem: 1838-1861 Vol. 1, (London: Jewish Historical Society of England, 1939), 2.

[28] Shaftesbury’s 1841 achievement of this post, and Alexander’s appointment, were both enormous victories for the London Jews Society, since Alexander was himself a converted Jew.

[29] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 46-47.

[30] Sebag, Jerusalem: The Biography, 350.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 141.

[33] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 47.

[34] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 21.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 22.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 49.

[39] Sebag, Jerusalem: The Biography, 356.

[40] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 4.

[41] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 33.

[42] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 25.

[43] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 29.

[44] Sebag, Jerusalem: The Biography, 357.

[45] Phoenix, Scriptural Reasonings in Support of the Jewish Claims to Sit in the Commons House of Parliament (London: Partridge and Oakey, 1850), 15.

[46] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 82.

[47] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 86.

[48] Sebag, Jerusalem: The Biography, 349.

[49] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 141.

[50] Hyamson, The British Consulate in Jerusalem, 133.

[51]Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, Or, On Religious Power and Judaism (Hanover: Brandeis University Press & University Press of New England, 1983), 133.

[52] Henry Street, A Plea for the Removal of Jewish Disabilities (London: J. Ridgeway, 1849), 10.

[53] Street, A Plea for the Removal of Jewish Disabilities, 11.

[54] Street, A Plea for the Removal of Jewish Disabilities, 23.

[55] Ibid.

[56] Street, A Plea for the Removal of Jewish Disabilities, 1.

[57] Barnard Van Oven, Ought Baron De Rothschild to Sit in Parliament? (London: Effingham Wilson, 1847).

[58] Van Oven, Ought Baron De Rothschild to Sit in Parliament?, 8.

[59] Van Oven, Ought Baron De Rothschild to Sit in Parliament?,11.

[60] Van Oven, Ought Baron De Rothschild to Sit in Parliament?,12.

[61] Marvin Swartz, The Politics of British Foreign Policy in the Era of Disraeli and Gladstone (New York: St. Martin’s, 1985), 4.

[62] Crombie, For the Love of Zion, 140.


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