On 4 December 1655, Oliver Cromwell opened a conference summoned 'to consider of proposals in behalf of the JEWS, by Menasseh ben Israel, an agent come to London in behalf of many of them, to live and trade here, and desiring to have free use of their synagogues'. This gathering of politicians, clergymen, lawyers and merchants, which is known to history as the Whitehall Conference, was invited to rescind the expulsion of the Jews by Edward I in 1290. During the next fortnight five meetings were held, the last of them open to the public, before the convention was adjourned. It did not meet again. Menasseh ben Israel, who from his base in Amsterdam had for eight years been mobilising support for the readmission of the Jews to England, was broken by the apparent failure of his mission. Cromwell, too, must have been disappointed. He included the Jews among the 'godly people' for whose 'union and right understanding' he had long prayed, and he told the Whitehall Conference that since the Bible contained 'a promise of their conversion, means must be used to that end, which was the preaching of the Gospel, and that could not be had unless they were permitted to reside where the Gospel was preached.'
LRB 20 May 1982 | PDF Download