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Manoel Dias Soeiro (1604 – November 20, 1657), better known by his Hebrew name Menasseh Ben Israel (also, Menasheh ben Yossef ben Yisrael, also known with the Hebrew acronym, MB"Y), was a Portuguese rabbi, kabbalist, scholar, writer, diplomat, printer and publisher, founder of the first Hebrew printing press (named Emeth Meerets Titsma`h) in Amsterdammarker in 1626.


Rabbi Menasseh was born on Madeira Islandmarker in 1604, with the name Manoel Dias Soeiro, a year after his parents had left mainland Portugalmarker because of the Inquisition. The family moved to the Netherlandsmarker in 1610. The Netherlands was in the middle of a process of religious revolt throughout the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648). The family's arrival in 1610 was during the truce mediated by Francemarker and Englandmarker at The Haguemarker.

Menasseh rose to eminence not only as a rabbi and an author, but also as a printer. He established the first Hebrew press in Holland. One of his earliest works, El Conciliador, won immediate reputation; it was an attempt at reconciliation between apparent discrepancies in various parts of the Old Testament. Among his correspondents were Gerhard Johann Vossius, Hugo Grotius, and Pierre Daniel Huet. In 1638, he decided to settle in Brazilmarker, as he still found it difficult to provide for his wife and family in Amsterdam. Even though he may have visited the Dutch colony's capital of Recifemarker, he in the end appears to not have moved there. One of the reasons his financial situation improved in Amsterdam was the arrival there in the meantime of the Portuguese Jewish entrepreneurs, the brothers Abraham and Isaac Pereyra. Rabbi Manasseh was then employed by them to direct a small college or academy (in fact a Yeshibah in Spanish Portuguese parlance of the time) they had founded in the city.."
Disputed portrait of Menasseh Ben Israel by Rembrandt
In 1644, Menasseh met Antonio de Montesinos, who convinced him that the South America Andes' Indians were the descendants of the lost ten tribes of Israel. This supposed discovery gave a new impulse to Menasseh's Messianic hopes. But he was convinced that the Messianic age needed as its certain precursor the settlement of Jews in all parts of the known world. Filled with this idea, he turned his attention to England, whence the Jews had been expelled since 1290. He found much Christian support in England. During the Commonwealth the question of the readmission of the Jews was often mooted under the growing desire for religious liberty. Besides this, Messianic and other mystic hopes were current in England. In 1650, there appeared an English version of the Hope of Israel, a tract which deeply impressed public opinion. Oliver Cromwell had been moved to sympathy with the Jewish cause partly by his tolerant leanings, but chiefly because he foresaw the importance for English commerce of the presence of the Jewish merchant princes, some of whom had already found their way to London. At this juncture, Jews received full rights in the colony of Surinammarker, which had been English since 1650.
In 1655, Menasseh arrived in Londonmarker. During his absence, the Amsterdam rabbis excommunicated his student, Spinoza. One of his first acts on reaching London was the issue of his Humble Addresses to the Lord Protector, but its effect was weakened by the issue of William Prynne's able, but unfair Short Demurrer. Cromwell summoned the Whitehall Conference in December of the same year. Some of the most notable statesmen, lawyers, and theologians of the day were summoned to this conference. The chief practical result was the declaration of judges Glynne and Steele that "there was no law which forbade the Jews' return to England." Though nothing was done to regularize the position of the Jews, the door was opened to their gradual return. John Evelyn was able to enter in his diary under the date Dec. 14, 1655, "Now were the Jews admitted." But the attack on the Jews by Prynne and others could not go unanswered. Menasseh replied in the finest of his works, Vindiciae judaeorum (1656).

Soon after Menasseh left London Cromwell granted him a pension, but he died before he could enjoy it. Death overtook him at Middleburgmarker in the Netherlands in the winter of 1657 (14 Kislev 5418), as he was conveying the body of his son Samuel home for burial. His tomb is in the Beth Haim of Ouderkerk aan de Amstelmarker.


Menasseh ben Israel was the author of many works. His major work Nishmat Hayim is a treatise in Hebrew on the Jewish concept of reincarnation of souls, published by his son Samuel six years before they both died. Some are of the opinion that he studied kabbalah with Abraham Cohen de Herrera, a disciple of Israel Saruk. This would explain his amazing familiarity with the method of Isaac Luria. Among his other works, his De termino vitae was translated into English by Pococke, and his Conciliator by G. H. Lindo; we also find a ritual compendium Thesouro dos dinim. He was a friend of Rembrandt, who painted his portrait and engraved four etchings to illustrate his Piedra gloriosa. These are preserved in the British Museummarker. Other works can be found in the Biblioteca Nacional – Rio De Janeiro/Brazil per example: Orden de las oraciones del mes, con lo mes necessario y obligatorio de las tres fiestas del año. Como tambien lo que toca a los ayunos, Hanucah, y Purim: con sus advertencias y notas para mas facilidad, y clareza. Industria y despeza de Menasseh ben Israel


His son, Yossef, died at age 20. Descendent of the Abarbanel, Menasseh was also the father of Samuel Abarbanel Soeiro, also known as Samuel Ben Israel.


  1. For the economic ties binding Manasseh Ben Israel's intellectual activities to the mercantile activities of the brothers Pereyra throughout the entire period see for example Roth, op. cit., pp. 62–63, and pp. 316–317; Méchoulan and Nahon, op. cit., p. 70

See also


  • Méchoulan, Henry, and Nahon, Gérard (eds.), Menasseh Ben Israel. The Hope of Israel, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1987 - ISBN 0-19710054-6.

  • Roth, Cecil, A Life of Manasseh Ben Israel, Rabbi, Printer, and Diplomat, Philadelphia, The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1934.

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