Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger and Warder Cresson
by Yirmiya Milevsky
Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger (1798 –1871) was a German rabbi and author, and one of the great leaders of Orthodox Judaism. He was born at Karlsruhe and died in Altona. He studied under Rabbi Abraham Bing in Würzburg, where he also attended the university. Because of his well-known greatness as a Torah scholar, questions were sent to him from across the globe. The following question relates to a story that occurred in Jerusalem.
According to Jewish Law, there is a list of activities that are prohibited on the Jewish Sabbath. Although resting on the Sabbath is one of the most important commandments for a Jew, the Talmud tells us that a Gentile is actually forbidden from resting on the Sabbath, and must perform one of the “prohibited” actions to be considered a righteous gentile. The following is the question presented to Rabbi Ettlinger with regard to this issue. (Responsa Binyan Tzion 91)
שו"ת בנין ציון סימן צא
ב"ה אלטאנא, יום ו' כ"ו אייר תר"ט לפ"ק. להרה"ג וכו' מ"ה אשר לעמיל נ"י הגאב"ד דק"ק גאלין וכעת משכן כבודו בירושלם עיה"ק תוב"ב.
כתב מעכ"ת נ"י וז"ל - ילמדנו רבינו בעובדא דאתא לידן פעה"ק ירושלם ת"ו יום ג' כ"ג לירח אדר שני שנת תר"ח העבר לפ"ק נימול א"י אחד שבא הנה ממדינת מאראקא לשם גירות בפנינו בד"צ דקהל אשכנזים הי"ו וקיבל עליו המצות כדין וכדתה"ק ובש"ק שלאחריו עדן /עדין/ לא היה נתרפא ממילתו ולא טבל עודנה הגידו לי לאמר מזריזתו במצות איך הוא נזהר בשביתת שבת הגם שהוא עודנה /עודנו/ בכלל חולה שאב"ס =שאין בו סכנה= אינו מניח לגוי להבעיר אש בביתו והשבתי להם לדעתי לא מבעי' שמותר לו לעשות מלאכה בשבת אלא אפילו מחויב ומוזהר על יום ולילה לא ישבותו וחייב לעשות מלאכה בשבת כ"ז שלא טבל לשם גירות וכה עשו השומעים למשמעתי והלכו אצל הגר והגידו לו בשמי כן בש"ק לאחר תפלת המנחה וכן עשה כי כתב איזה אותיות ויהי ביום המחרת כאשר נשמע הדבר בעה"ק ת"ו פה צווחו עלי חכמי ספרד וחכמי אשכנזים הי"ו על דבר חדש הלזו אשר לא נשמע מעולם אחרי שכבר קבל עליו כל המצות בשעת מילה וכבר נימול ועומד ומצפה בכל יום לטבול לכשיתרפא שיהי' מותר לו לחלל וכש"כ שיהי' עליו חיובא ומצוה לחלל ש"ק והמה זוכרים כמה גרים שנימולו פעה"ק ת"ו ולא נשמע כזאת ומנין לי לחדש דבר אשר לא שערום הראשונים והשבתי להם אולי מקום הניחו לי להתגדר בו
“Here in Jerusalem on Tuesday the twenty third day of the month of Adar Sheni of the year (5)608, a non Jew came from Morocco and was circumcised for the sake of conversion, and accepted all the mitzvoth. On the following Shabbat, he had not fully recovered from the circumcision and thus not entered the Mikvah (ritual bath to finalize the conversion). A rabbi was informed that the convert is very careful in his observance of the Sabbath. However another rabbi claimed that due to the fact that he did not yet enter the Mikvah he must not observe the Sabbath and must perform one of the prohibited acts. It was late in the day and the convert was told what he must do. Consequently he violated the Sabbath by writing a few letters. After the Sabbath when the Rabbis in town heard of the ruling they disagreed claiming that after circumcision he is considered a Jew and must not violate the Sabbath.”
While reading about this out of the ordinary situation, that produce a vast amount of Halachic literature, a question may arise in our minds: What brought this Moroccan to Jerusalem and what prevented him from converting in his homeland where a very significant Jewish population and rabbinic court was present?
Some time ago I came across an article by Frank Fox, entitled "Quaker, Shaker, Rabbi: Warder Cresson, the Story of a Philadelphia Mystic." Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 95, no. 2 (April 1971): 147-194 Philadelphia.(Unless otherwise indicated all information and quotes are from the article.)
The narrative follows the unorthodox journey of Cresson. Born in 1798 and grew up following the habits of the Quaker elders.
Warder displayed a mind immersed in Scriptures. In 1829, Cresson wrote a condemnation on the "Babylon" of Pennsylvania, attacking wealth and social distinction. "It will certainly be admitted," he began, "that all the misery and troubles that afflict the human family arise aspiring from ...selfishness." The lack of true religion, he wrote, a faith that ought to be expressed through self-denial and universal love, had brought about tyrannies and caused slavery and bloodshed.
Cresson became familiar with a Jewish leader in Philadelphia, Rabbi Isaac Leeser, a pioneer of the Jewish pulpit in the United States. Leeser, the minister of Congregation Mikveh Israel since 1829, was using his pulpit to educate and to revive the deteriorating communal and religious organizations.
Another contemporary, whose views affected Cresson, was Mordecai M. Noah, who addressed Christian and Jewish audiences in New York and Philadelphia in the early 1840s and urged a return to Zion as the only solution to the Jewish problem of persecution. In 1825, he attempted to establish “Ararat", a city of refuge for the Jewish people on Grand Island in the Niagara River.
In 1844, Cresson decided to go to Washington and to apply for the position of the first American Consul to Jerusalem. by May 17, was officially notified of his appointment. His appointment was rescinded within a short time. Nevertheless Cresson made his way to Jerusalem.
After his arrival Cresson wrote critically of the high salaries paid to the missionaries who lived "in the very best houses, bought most splendid Arabian horses and dressed in the most luxurious and stylish manner." As for their practical work, he wrote that, "To further their imposing and enterprising object they built a church which has cost them more than $150,000; then a hospital and Dispensary, sent physicians from England, set up an institution of Industry and also a college and schools, all to entrap and instruct the poor, dirty, oily, greasy, starving Jews and to tempt and provide them with good livings, fine English clothing, upon the only one condition that they will give their names and use all their influence to support and promote the interest of their Society for introducing and establishing Sawdust instead of Good Old Cheese, amongst the poor Jews in Jerusalem and Palestine." According to Cresson, the missionaries failed to get a single Jew to apostatize.
In 1847, Cresson began writing, “The Key of David the True Messiah”, in which he began his journey towards Judaism. Finally, after denying the divinity of Jesus, Cresson was ready for the final step of his spiritual journey. He writes, "I remained in Jerusalem in my former faith until the 28th day of March, 1848," he wrote, "when I became fully satisfied that I could never obtain Strength and Rest, but by doing as Ruth did, and saying to her Mother-in-Law, or Naomi 'Entreat me not to leave thee for whither thou goest I will go'... In short, upon the 28th day of March, 1848, I was circumcised, entered the Holy Covenant and became a Jew.”
Cresson- or Michoel Boaz Yisroel ben Avraham- returned to the United States for a few years. Upon his return to Jerusalem in 1852 he married a Sephardic woman named Rachel Moledano. Cresson died in 1865 and was buried on Mount Olives.
Many aspects of his life are quite intriguing and fascinating. However one detail provides the answer for the mystery regarding the “Moroccan” convert in Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger’s response. Cresson identifies the date of his conversion, The 28th of March 1848 - the day Warder Cresson became Michael Boaz Yisrael - corresponds to the 23rd of Adar Sheini in the Jewish year (5)608. In other words, the conversions occurred on the same day! The response indicates that conversions in Jerusalem were pretty unusual,(והמה זוכרים כמה גרים שנימולו פעה"ק ת"ו- And they recall conversions from the past…) making it difficult to believe that there were two conversions on that specific day.
Consequently, I believe that the non Jew in Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger’s response did not come from Morocco but rather from America. In Hebrew, the spelling of America can be easily mistaken for Morocco ("מאראקא"). Cresson indeed came to Jerusalem "for the sake of conversion”.
 The question is addressed by several Halachak authorities; See
Divrei Yosef Rabbi Yosef Schwartz 24(First hand knowledge of the incident) : Rabbi Abraham Bornstein; Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah 351: Rabbi Yeshua Shimon Chaim Ovadyah; Yismach Levav, Yoreh Deah 33: Aryeh Leib Frumkin in his Toldot Chachmei Yerushalayim mentioned as well the Halachik dispute regarding the Ger from “Morocco.”