The Chosen Peoples

Oliver Cromwell’s desire to bring about the readmission of Jews to England was met with prejudice and opposition. But he succeeded, with help from powerful friends.

Menasseh  ben Israel,  by Rembrandt  van Rijn, 1636.
Menasseh ben Israel, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1636 © akg-images.

Members of the Anglo-Jewish Historical Society gathered in London in February 1906 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the readmission of Jews into England, which took place during the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell. The historian Lucien Wolf, the society’s founder, remarked that the gathering, which climaxed in a lavish banquet, honoured not just Cromwell, the ‘great-hearted Protector’, but also Menasseh ben Israel, the ‘devoted Jew’. These ‘twin champions of a wronged people’ had formed an unlikely partnership, but one of profound historical importance and lasting consequence, though little known today, despite the work of historians such as Barbara Coulton and Kenneth Austin.

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