Judah Monis’ Conversion
Judah Monis was born on February 4, 1683, in Italy. His family was Portuguese conversos, which meant the family was Jewish in private but Catholic in public. Judah received his education in Jewish academies. He came to New York in the early 1700s and started reading to Jewish congregations. In 1715, Judah opened a small store in the city of New York where he started teaching Hebrew to Jews, Christians, and really anyone who wanted to learn. It was at this moment that Judah realized he loved teaching.
Judah also felt education was very important and wanted to continue. Therefore, he moved to Massachusetts and obtained his Master’s degree at Harvard in 1720. However, in American history, this degree means more than just Judah continuing his education. Once Judah received his Master’s, he became the first Jew in American history to do so. As part of his graduation requirement, Judah needed to write and submit an essay. This is when he submitted his A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue and gave a copy to Harvard.
Judah loved teaching and now, with his new degree, he could become a professor. And as luck had it, Harvard was looking for a Hebrew Professor. However, there was one problem for Judah. Harvard required that all professors be practicing Christians. While Judah grew up practicing Christianity in public, he was technically Jewish. Judah had a very little problem converting to Christianity, however, not everyone agreed with Judah’s decision. In fact, Judah received criticism from both Jews and Christians for different reasons.
Christians did not fully believe that Judah was 100 percent into Christianity. On the other side of the debate, the Jewish community felt betrayed. The controversy became so bad for Judah that he ended up writing about three books in order to defend his conversion. Even with his books, Judah still dealt with the controversy and passive aggressiveness from the church and Harvard. Both entities would often cite Judah as the “converted Jew” or the “Christianized Jew.” Judah did receive the job as a professor at Harvard, but his struggles still continued.
The book Judah wrote would require students to copy it word for word, which often took about a month. Furthermore, while Harvard felt he did a good job as a professor, Judah had trouble convincing Harvard to purchase a copy of the Hebrew Grammar book from London. Furthermore, throughout his time at Harvard, his responsibilities slowly diminished. They diminished so much that by 1760, Judah was only teaching one class per week. This lack of work, his declining health, and his wife’s death all contributed to his retirement that same year. Judah would live four years in retirement, dying in April of 1764.