08 September 2009

Not Your Average Joe – The Tombstone of Rabbi Judah Monis



Here lies buried the Remains of RABBI
JUDAH MONIS. MA. late HEBREW
Instructer at HARVARD College in
Cambridge in which Office He continued 40
years. He was by Birth and Religion a jew but
embraced the Christian Faith & was publickly
baptizd at Cambridge AD 1722 and
departed this Life April 25 1764. Aged
81 years 2 months and 21 days
A native branch of Jacob see
Which, once from off its olive brok,
Regrafted, from the living tree Rom. XI. 17 24
Of the reviving sap partook.
From teeming Zion's fertile womb, Isa. LXVI. 8
As dewy drops in early morn Psa. CX.3
Or rising bodies from the tomb John V.. 28. 29
At once be Isr'els nation born

I was shown this tombstone a few weeks ago by my historian friend, Harry. Harry is the greatest repository of local history you can imagine. He keeps everything in his enormous skull (illustration by an early psychic artist reproduced above). He's a retired teacher (in deed, not in spirit) and rejoices in bring new knowledge to anyone who is willing. This unusual gravestone is located in the old First Parish Church Burial Ground on Howard Street in Northboro, Mass. It contains the graves and beautifully carved stones of lots of typical British-type colonials. And then we find this startling inscription. An Italian Rabbi who migrated to New York, then to Cambridge, Mass., converted to Christianity and is buried in the sticks of Northborough.

The illustrations on the stone are of the skull and crossbones (death -duh!) and a grafted tree, which refers to his conversion. Just because some people have suffered death to defend their religion doesn't mean everyone did. The squeaky wheel gets written about in history books. I'm sure that masses of quieter people sort of went along with the general population in a kind of false assimilation, while still practicing behind closed doors. After a few generations, no one knew the difference, even family members. Depending upon the source you consult, there are different theories as to why Judah converted. On the Jewish Virtual Library website [http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/biography/monis.html : accessed just now; no sources given for info, so beware] we learn that Judah was himself descended from Portuguese conversos. So maybe knowing that, it wasn't so hard for him to revert. In any case, he vehemently denied accusations that Harvard's restriction on dealing with anyone other than Christians was his reason. He wrote three tomes defending his decision. He went on to teach Hebrew and write the first Hebrew grammar printed in the colonies. Word has it that he was a bore, though.

Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Vol. 52 [books.google.com : accessed today] has a very detailed article in which it is evident that the author consulted numerous original documents. If you are interested in Judah, I'd start here. He states that Judah was a merchant and owned a shop when in New York and Cambridge. He married Mary Marret, whose sister was married to John Martyn, Pastor of the first Church in Northboro. I love to imagine the awkward silences at the dinner table. Worse than that, dinner hour was probably filled with endless discourse on the nature of the Trinity and other lighthearted subjects. I'd rather do dishes.

I'm grateful to Harry for showing me this grave and look forward to another jaunt. He's been telling me for years about some slave graves in Princeton. Luckily, every week has a Tombstone Tuesday!

1 comment:

Tracy said...

This is my favorite Tombstone Tuesday yet. =) I giggled just thinking of the dinner conversation, too... but then, I work at a seminary, so basically every administrative meeting is like that, ha.