An 18th century eccentric, social justice minded, British nobleman AND a righteous convert to Judaism… that is the description of Lord George Gordon otherwise known as Yisrael bar Avraham Gordon.
So who is this oft heard of Lord Gordon and how did he come to be included in Rabbi Pini Dunner’s new novel Mavericks, Mystics, and False Messiahs (Toby Press, 2018)?
After graduating from the Eton Academy, the young Lord Gordon became a commissioned British Naval Officer and set sails for American soil. While on Naval duty in America, Gordon became increasingly disturbed by the white colonists’ treatment of their black slaves and became a vocal advocate against mistreatment of slaves. At the age of 22, he left the Navy and decided his interest in social justice would be best served in the British Parliament.
After a lost election, Gordon became head of the Protestant Association in order to stop the repeal of the Anti-Catholic Laws. Not that he was Anti-Catholic; rather he correctly saw that King George III just wanted to send Catholics to fight on England’s behalf against the Americans.
The King refused to repeal the repeal and Gordon amassed 58,000 people to rally on his behalf. Unfortunately for Gordon, his mob had been made up of many people that were in fact against Catholics and not just the conscription into the American War of Independence. The rallies started peacefully but eventually broke out into violence and chaos and Gordon was blamed for incitement. He was arrested a week later and set to the Tower of London and eventually released after a heated trial.
At some point he had become weary of Christian teachings rejecting the Hebrew Bible and was introduced to the Jewish community of London. Initially he was rejected by the Chief Rabbi David Tevele Schiff as Gordon was too notorious and was feared to bring a bad name onto London Jews. The hazan from the breakaway Hambro Synagogue, Aaron Burnett, found him to be a sincere convert and sent him to Birmingham where he underwent a ritual circumcision and immersion in the mikveh at age 36. It was after his conversion that he chose the Hebrew name Yisrael bar Avraham.
His conversion remained a secret as there was fear of what his association might bring to the British Jews. Not even his family or political allies knew of his new life. He sat donning tefillin and learning mishnayot throughout his days.
The good times were not to last, however. He was soon found out to be the author of treasonous pamphlets and was arrested again but this time as a visibly Orthodox Jew. He was mocked widely throughout England and given a 5 year sentence.
In prison he became a known for his lavish parties and drew many visitors. He kept his prison cell strictly kosher and even had a minyan on Shabbat on holidays
After his sentence he was kept in jail due to his inability to pay the fine imposed on him and he eventually contracted typhus in prison and died. He is buried, against his wishes, in the St. James Cemetery.
Rabbi Pini Dunner hails from a prominent German rabbinic dynasty that miraculously survived the Holocaust and reestablished itself in London, England. He is an acknowledged expert on antiquarian Hebrew books and manuscripts and is frequently consulted by libraries, academics, dealers, and private collectors. Rabbi Dunner currently serves as the Senior Rabbi at Beverly Hills Synagogue and resides in Beverly Hills, California, together with his wife and children.
For a more in-depth look at the life of Lord Gordon and many other fascinating Jewish figures check out Mavericks, Mystics, and False Messiahs by Rabbi Pini Dunner now!