“Yes, I am a Jew, and when the ancestors of the right honourable gentleman were brutal savages in an unknown island, mine were priests in the temple of Solomon.”
Miss Sands told me that Queen Victoria, who was latterly éprise with Disraeli, one day asked him what was his real religion. “Madam,” he replied, “I am the blank page between the Old Testament and the New.”
“I don’t wish to go down to posterity talking bad grammar.”
Bernstein claims of Disraeli:
Disraeli, Benjamin, Earl of Beaconsfield, born in London, December 21, 1804, died there April 19, 1881. Of this preeminently distinguished man in the nineteenth century there are many biographies and lasting monuments. We need only record very briefly here that he was one of England’s greatest sons and statesmen, and the greatest ornament of the Jewish people in modern times. An ardent lover of his nation, a genuine English patriot, a friend of his great Queen, a thorough Protestant Churchman, yet with liberal tendencies, and a true believer in Christianity, which he regarded as completed Judaism. His works are these: “Vivian Grey,” 1817; “The Infernal Marriage;” “Ixion in Heaven,” and “Popanilla,” 1828; “Contarini Fleming,” and “The Wondrous Tale of Alroy,” 1832; “The Young Duke,” about that time; “What is he?” 1833; “Revolutionary Epic,” 1834; “Coningsby,” 1844; “Tancred,” 1847; “Sybil,” 1845;“The rise of Iskander,” “Vindication of the British Constitution,” “Venetia,” “Henrietta Temple,” “The Tragedy of Count Alarcos,” and “Lothair,” were all productions of his great intellect at different seasons. Benjamin’s mother, his sister Sarah, born 1802, his brother Ralph, 1809, and his brother James, 1813, were all Hebrew Christians.
Bernstein also notes of Isaac Disraeli, Benjamin’s father:
Disraeli, Isaac, left the synagogue in 1817. Though we have no definite information about his baptism, we may reasonably assume that he was a member of the Church of England. This appears from his having his children baptized, from his pamphlet, “The Spirit of Judaism,” in which he vindicated himself for the step he had taken, from his articles on “The Talmud,” “Psalm Singing,” the Pearl Bibles and six thousand errata in his “Curiosities of literature,” &c., all shewing that he was an earnest student of religious subjects and of the Scriptures, and that he endeavoured to spread the light of truth.
Isaac D’Israeli had never taken religion very seriously, but had remained a conforming member of the Bevis Marks Synagogue. His father, the elder Benjamin, was a prominent and devout member; it was probably from respect for him that Isaac did not leave when he fell out with the synagogue authorities in 1813. After Benjamin senior died in 1816 Isaac felt free to leave the congregation following a second dispute. His friend Sharon Turner, a solicitor, convinced him that although he could comfortably remain unattached to any formal religion it would be disadvantageous to the children if they did so. Turner stood as godfather when Benjamin was baptised, aged twelve, on 31 July 1817.
A short post cannot do justice to this political giant, a complex personality and imposing presence, who continues to leave his mark on British political life and is claimed as a member of the Jewish community despite, perhaps even because, of what he was able to achieve because of his ‘conversion’. He was an ambitious socialite, a prolific writer and novelist, a political maverick and turncoat, a companion and favourite of Queen Victoria, a shrewd but flawed politician. Whatever his real faith, he is claimed as both Jewish and Christian, one of the best-known examples of Homi Bhaba’s model of hybridity and heteroglossic identity in his “location of culture”. But my favourite assessment of his is that of Randolph Churchill, who described his career progressing through as a series of stages:
“Failure, failure, failure, partial success, renewed failure, ultimate and complete victory.”
Prayer: Lord, you order the nations and assign their leaders, both potentates and politicians. In this multifaceted character whose ambition, integrity and purpose we still ponder with fascination we see one of the greatest achieving members of Israel in modern times. Help us to learn from his example, but also to be wise as to the inner workings of his heart and faith.