Lord George Gordon: the most unexpected story I may have ever read


Gordon while head of the Protestant Association.


Lord George Gordon after his conversion to Judaism.

Lord George Gordon from Wikipedia which the text below is taken from.

In 1787, at the age of 36, Lord George Gordon converted to Judaism in Birmingham,[dubious – discuss] and underwent brit milah (ritual circumcision; circumcision was rare in the England of his day) at the synagogue in Severn Street now next door to Singers Hill Synagogue. He took the name of Yisrael bar Avraham Gordon (“Israel son of Abraham” Gordon—since Judaism regards a convert as the spiritual “son” of the Biblical Abraham). Gordon thus became what Judaism regards as, and Jews call, a Ger Tsedek—a righteous convert.

Not much is known about his life as a Jew in Birmingham, but the Bristol Journal of 15 December 1787 reported that Gordon had been living in Birmingham since August 1786:

Unknown to every class of man but those of the Jewish religion, among whom he has passed his time in the greatest cordiality and friendship… he appears with a beard of extraordinary length, and the usual raiment of a Jew… his observance of the culinary (kashrut) laws preparation is remarkable.

He lived with a Jewish woman in the Froggery, a marshy area now under New Street station.

He was surrounded by a number of Jews, who affirmed that his Lordship was Moses risen from the dead in order to instruct them and enlighten the whole world… It appears that (he) has officiated as a chief of the Levitical Order…

While in prison, Gordon lived the life of an Orthodox Jew, and he adjusted his prison life to his circumstances. He put on his tzitzit and tefillin daily. He fasted when the halakha (Jewish law) prescribed it, and likewise celebrated the Jewish holidays. He was supplied kosher meat and wine, and Shabbat challos by prison authorities. The prison authorities permitted him to have a minyan on the Jewish Sabbath and to affix a mezuza on the door of his cell. The Ten Commandments were also hung on his wall for Shabbat to transform the room into a synagogue.The Birmingham Moses (1787), a satirical print by William Dent

Gordon associated only with pious Jews; in his passionate enthusiasm for his new faith, he refused to deal with any Jew who compromised the Torah‘s commandments. Although any non-Jew who desired to visit Gordon in prison (and there were many) was welcome, he requested that the prison guards admit Jews only if they had beards and wore head coverings.

He would often, in keeping with Jewish chesed (laws of mercy and charity), go into other parts of the prison to comfort prisoners by speaking with them and playing the violin. In keeping with tzedaka (charity) laws, he gave what little money he could to those in need.

Charles Dickens, in his novel Barnaby Rudge, which centres around the Gordon Riots, describes Gordon as a true tzadik (pious man) among the prisoners:

The prisoners bemoaned his loss, and missed him; for though his means were not large his charity was great, and in bestowing alms among them he considered the necessities of all alike, and knew no distinction of sect or creed …

On 28 January 1793, Lord George Gordon’s sentence expired and he had to appear to give claim to his future good behaviour. When appearing in court he was ordered to remove his hat, which he was using as a kippah, but he refused to do so. The hat was then taken from him by force, but he covered his head with a night cap and bound it with a handkerchief. He defended his behaviour by saying “in support of the propriety of the creature having his head covered in reverence to the Creator.” Before the court, he read a written statement in which he claimed that “he had been imprisoned for five years among murderers, thieves, etc., and that all the consolation he had arose from his trust in God.”

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