Manasseh, Ben-joseph Ben-israel
Manasseh, Ben-Joseph Ben-Israel one of the most distinguished Jewish theologians of the 17th century, was born at Lisbon, Portugal, in 1604, at a time when the Iberian peninsula was a place of torture for all non-Roman Catholic believers, but more particularly the Jews. Joseph, his father, a rich merchant, feared the power of the inquisitors, and, like many religiously persecuted, turned towards hospitable Holland for an asylum for himself and his family. The household found a safe home in Amsterdam, and when yet a youth ben-Joseph was placed under the instruction of the celebrated Isaac Uzziel, then rabbi at the Dutch capital. So rapid was his progress and so unbounded the confidence of the Jews of Amsterdam in Manasseh ben-Israel, as he is commonly called, that on the death of Uzziel, when only eighteen years old (1622), he was deemed a worthy successor of the departed rabbi. In 1626, in need of means to meet the expenses of his father's family, largely dependent upon him for support, he established the celebrated "Amsterdam Hebrew printing-office." Two years later he printed his own maiden production, and in 1632 finally came before the public with the first volume of his great and justly celebrated Conciliator, or Harmony of the Pentateuch (see below), in which upwards of two hundred and ten Hebrew works, and fifty-four Greek, Latin, Spanish, and Portuguese authors, both sacred and profane, are quoted. His fame was now established in all Europe, and his authority accepted not only by the Jews, but even Christian scholars acknowledged his scholarship, and wrote to him from far and wide, requesting explanations of difficulties which they encountered in the Hebrew Scriptures and Jewish history. The celebrated Vossius, Dionysius, Hugo Grotius, Huet, Episcopus, Sobierre, Frankenberg, Thomas Fuller, Nathaniel Homesius, etc., were among his correspondents. He solicited their influence in behalf of his suffering brethren, and was thereby enabled to petition the Long Parliament (1650) to readmit the Jews into England, whence they had been expelled ever since 1290. Shortly after, he dedicated The Hope of Israel to the English Parliament, which was gratefully acknowledged in a letter written by lord Middlesex, addressed To my dear brother M. B. I., the Hebrew philosopher.Encouraged thereby, Manasseh came over to England in1655; presented "A Humble Address" in behalf of hiscnreligionists to Cromwell; published in London, 1656, his Vindication of Jews, in answer to those Christians who opposed the readmission of Jews into that country; and though Cromwell, with all his power, could not carry through the measure permitting Jews to settle in England (see JEWS), he granted to Manasseh ben-Israel a pension of £100 per annum, payable quarterly, and commencing Feb. 20,1656 (comp. Carlyle, 2:163). Manasseh, however, did not long enjoy this generous gift, for he died in Middleburg in 1657, on his way back to Amsterdam. Grätz (Gesch. d. Juden , 10, 184-86) rather belittles Manasseh's literary ability. He regards him as "a man of much information, but of little thought," and yet his acquaintance with Manasseh is founded mainly on Kayserling's biography. An encyclopadical knowledge was displayed by Manasseh in his writings; this should certainly not stand against him. His most important works are
(1.) פני רבה, in Hebrew, being an index to all the passages of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Midrash Rabboth on the Pentateuch and the Five Megilloth (Amsterdam, 1628);
(2.) Conciliator, sive de convenientia locorum S. Scripturae, quae pugnare inter se videntur, etc. (in Spanish, Amst. 1632-1651, 4 vols.; vol.
1 was translated into Latin by Vossius, Amst. 1633, and the whole into English by Lindo, London, 1842);
(3.) De Creatione Problemata (in Spanish, Amsterd. 1635);
(4.) De Resurrectione Mortuorum, Libri tres (in Spanish, Amsterd. 1636);
(5.) צרור החיים, De Termino Vitae (in Latin, Amsterd. 1639; translated into English by Thomas Pococke, Lond. 1699);
(6.) נשמת חיים: four books on the immortality of the soul (written in Hebrew, Amst. 1651; new ed. Leips. 1862. These are valuable contributions to Biblical literature, inasmuch as Manasseh gives in them all the passages from the Hebrew Scriptures which, according to the explanations of the ancient rabbins, teach the immortality of the soul and the resurrection);
(7.) אבן יקרה, Piedra Gloriosa o de la Estatua de Nebuchadnesar (Amst. 1655), an exposition of Daniel's dream, written in Spanish, which the immortal Rembrandt did not think it below his dignity to adorn with four engravings. He also carried through his own press several beautiful and correctly printed editions of the Hebrew Scriptures; wrote a Hebrew grammar, entitled שפה ברורה, Grammatica Hebrea, dividida en quatuor libros, which has not as yet been published; and left us over four hundred well-written sermons in Portuguese. See Fürst, Biblioth. Jud. 2:354-358; Steinschneider, Catalogus Libr. Hebr. in Bibliotheca Bodleiana, col. 1645-1652; and especially the valuable biographies by Kayserling, Jahrbuch fur die Geschichte der Juden (Leipz. 1861), 2:85 sq.; and by Carmoly, in the Revue Orientale (Bruxelles, 1842), p. 299348; C. D. Ginsburg, in Kitto, 3, s.v.; Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. Generale, 33:145 sq.