Thursday, 7 March, 2024 - 1:42 pm

IMG_6864 Folio 1650b.jpg 


The history of coffee houses in England is intimately connected to the return of the Jews to England 366 years after their expulsion in 1290. The first coffee house in England, and Europe, is recorded by Anthony Wood to have been opened in Oxford by a Jewish merchant from Turkey, most likely Smyrna, in 1650,[1] a few years before the formal readmission of the Jews to England in 1656. Called a Jewish beverage (mashke yisrael), due to its popularity amongst the Jews, or ‘black liquid’ (mei shichur),[2] it provoked major controversies in the Jewish community, as it did in society at large. In this essay, we will explore these controversies in detail.


The opponents of coffee included Muslims and Christians whom prohibited it at different stages, due to it being perceived a ‘sinful drink.’ Some protestant landowners in Germany prohibited dissemination of coffee in 1611, which lasted for around a century in the north and east of Germany, until Frederick II of Prussia decriminalized their consumption and placed a tax on it.[3]  Some catholic priests called coffee ‘a bitter invention of Satan,’ because they saw it as a possible substitute for wine, which had been sanctified for the sacraments. Pope Clement VIII baptised it in 1600 and made it permissible to Catholics. Originally called ‘the wine of Islam,’[4] in 1511, the governor of Mecca, Khair Bey, prohibited the consumption of coffee, and had all coffee shops closed. In 1532, the same happened in Cairo,[5] as a parallel was drawn with wine that is prohibited in the Koran.[6] In Russia, coffee was banned with penalties including torture and mutilation. When the tsarist police found somebody imprisoned for a nervous breakdown, they attributed it to coffee.


In England, in 1674, The Women’s Petition Against Coffee was published.[7] Around the same time, coffee was perceived a political drink, causing Charles II to issue a proclamation on 29 December, 1675, for the suppressions of coffee houses on 10 January, only to be repealed on the 8th January,[8] due to public opposition.[9] Seeing coffee houses as anti-Royallist establishments, where politics of the day was discussed freely, and pamphlets distributed, the edict stated: ‘by occasion of the meetings of such persons therein, diverse False, Malitious and Scandalous Reports are devised and spread abroad, to the Defamation of His Majesties Government, and to the Disturbance of the Peace and Quiet of the Realm.’[10] Earlier, in 1666, Earl of Clarendon proposed to the Privy Council closing down coffee houses, only to be persuaded otherwise, reminded by William Coventry that in ‘Cromwell’s times the King’s friends had used more liberty of Speech in these Places than They durst do in any other.’[11] The negative attitude towards coffee drinking in England, appears much earlier, when it was consumed by a student called Nathaniel Conopius,[12] who ‘did brew his own caffeine in 1637, and did corrupt other inmates.’[13] It was in the private use as a brain stimulant. This was recorded to have taken place at Balliol college, Oxford: ‘the first sinner to drink Coffee, was sent down for his crime of stimulating his cramming.’ The controversy, however, eventually subsided, becoming the second most popular drink after water, drunken by men and women, and people from all religions and nationalities, with as estimated two billion cups of coffee drunk daily worldwide. In this essay, in the context of coffee being a controversial drink, I would like to present three questions related to Jews and coffee: 1. did Jews ban coffee or coffee houses, as other religions and countries?  2. did Jews drink coffee differently, and, 3. did a Jew open the first coffee house in England in the 17th century, as recorded in many accounts of the history of coffee houses in England? As we will see, while the first question is no longer relevant, the latter two questions remain until today, despite the issue of coffee as a controversial drink has long been forgotten.


Jews and coffee


The first connection made between coffee and the Jews is by a French traveller named Du Mont who claimed that the red pottage (e-dom) Jacob served Esau at the time of the sale of his birth right: ‘Esau said to Jacob, “Give me some of that red stuff to gulp down, for I am famished”—which is why he was named Edom’ (Genesis 25:30), refers to coffee berries, which turns red when ripe. Although it later (25:34) refers to lentils (ne-zid a-da-shim), according to the R. Moses Alshich (1508-1593), the ‘red stuff,’ without any description, refers to a separate unknown dish. Du Mont also claimed the roasted grain (ka-li) that Boaz ordered to be given to Ruth (Ruth 2:14) may have been roasted coffee beans. The word used, ‘ka-li,’ generally translated as parched grain, may be found also in Leviticus 23:14: ‘Until that very day, until you have brought the offering of your God, you shall eat no bread or parched grain or fresh ears.’


Did Jews ban coffee?


The premise to the question whether there was a ban on coffee drinking amongst Jews is that, besides wine, due to concern of idolatry practises, there are no prohibitions on other natural drinks. This is the case with beer and other beverages. Beer, when made with malted cereal, yeast, water, and hops, is accepted as kosher. The same should be the case with coffee, made from the coffee plant. The bean or berry is extracted from the coffee plant, roasted, pounded and then mixed with boiling water. There are two considerations regarding its prohibition: a. the roasting of the beans by a non-Jew, and b. the making of a cup of coffee itself by a non-Jew. Both these issues are subject to major disputes amongst the rabbis. Regarding the roasted beans, Maimonides (Mishneh Torah Machalot Asurot 17) maintains that roasted beans themselves do not constitute food ‘worthy for the table of kings’ (o-leh al shul-chan me-la-chim) and is therefore permitted even when roasted by a non-Jew.[14] This is also the view of 16th century legalists, both Sefardic and Ashkenazic, R. Yosef Karo (1488-1575) and R. Moses Isserles (1530-1572), as was widespread custom amongst the sages in Salonica.


Jerusalem born Kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), however, a century before the time of the opening of coffee houses in England prohibits drinking coffee from a non-Jewish run coffee house since roasted beans does constitute ‘food worthy for the table of kings’ and thus prohibited under the prohibition of food cooked by a non-Jew. The subsequent mixing with water does not undo the roasting. R. (Chacham) Yosef Chaim (1832-1909), known as the Ben Ish Chai, writes that while we follow R. Isaac Luria in matters related to prayer, based on teachings of the Kabbalah, we don’t follow him in legal matters.[15]

In Italy, R. Hezekiah da Silva, born in Livorno, author of Jewish legal work Pri Chadash (1656 - 1695), without taking a side about the halachic status of a roasted coffee bean, argues that even following the view that roasted beans does constitute ‘food worthy for the table of kings,’ and thus subject to the prohibition of consuming food cooked by a non-Jew, once the roasted beans enter the cup of water, it becomes ‘nullified one in sixty’ and the cup of coffee is halachicly permitted to drink. The second concern is regarding the brewing of the coffee by a non-Jew. Turkish R. Chaim Benveniste, who lived near Smyrna, writes that he used to drink coffee made by a non-Jew but stopped, as he could not find a reason to permit it.[16] He acknowledges, however, that the wide-spread custom is to permit drinking coffee, whether cooked by Jew or non-Jew, and he is powerless to prohibit it.[17]


Non-Jewish coffee houses


A similar argument exists in the Jewish community regarding visiting coffee houses, unrelated to who roasted the beans. R. Chaim Yosef David Azulai, known as the Chida (1724 –1806), writes[18] that Jews should not visit non-Jewish owned coffee house because of social interaction with gentiles that may lead to intermarriage, similar to the prohibition against taverns. Similarly, Chief Rabbi of Egypt, R. Yaakov de Castro (1525-1610) also prohibited visiting non-Jewish owned coffee houses, like taverns. R. Moses Hagiz (1671 – c. 1750) writes however in Halachot Ketanot (1:9) there is no comparison between taverns and coffee houses, but one should nevertheless refrain from coffee houses due to them being places of scoffers, transgressing Psalms 1:1: ‘do not join the company of the insolent.’[19] Despite the above views, Abigail Green writes in her book Moses Montefiore[20] about Jewish life in Livorno, Italy, in the second half of the 18th century, that ‘Jews were integrated into the life of the town and Jewish merchants thronged the coffeehouses of the elegant Via Ferdinanda, with their gaily painted walls and dazzling display of mirrors.’


Jewish owned coffee houses


The same tension can be found in Prague in the 18th century regarding Jewish owned coffee houses. In the Jewish Museum of Prague, there is a hand-written Pinkas (minute book) of the Rabbinic Court of the Holy Congregation of Prague, recording, in a mix of Yiddish and Hebrew, the decisions of the rabbinic court, from 1755. There are seven discussions about coffee houses between 1757 and 1774. It begins by taking a hard line, stating that ideally the coffee houses in the Jewish ghetto should be closed, and people should instead dedicate their time to Torah study. Since that is impossible, they should open only for an hour in the morning, after morning services at synagogue, and then for an hour following afternoon services. Women should never enter coffee houses.[21] With regard to Shabbat, ‘no man should dare to go to the coffee house and drink coffee there on the holy Sabbath. This is punishable with a large fine!’ In a further paragraph, however, it relaxes this edict, allowing coffee houses to be opened at all hours on weekdays besides during the actual times of prayer, and on Shabbat, for take-out only, for the sake of enjoyment of Shabbat, since not everyone is able to prepare coffee for himself on Shabbat at home. In 1758 and 1761, they ruled that sale of coffee for take out on Shabbat was only allowed until noon, and without milk. In 1764, a ban was placed on coffee houses being open, for neither men or women, after 6pm, during weekdays.[22] The ban of sale of coffee to non-Jews on Shabbat was enforced in 1774, due to the prohibition of performing commerce on the Shabbat.[23]


A distinction may be made between coffee houses in different places. Prof. Abigaill Green writes:[24] ‘An English coffee house has no resemblance to a French or German one. You neither see billiards not backgammon tables; you do not even hear the least noise; everybody speaks in low tone for fear of disturbing the company. They were places not only to read the newspapers but to transact business. Associations, insurances, bets, the trade in foreign bills; all of these things are not only talked of, but executed in these public places.’ The coffee houses were first places for people desiring to escape from an atmosphere of political strife, relaxation from more serious occupations by meeting for friendly and informal discussions, as well as places of learning, as John Houghton, a Cambridge Professor writes: a man might pick up more useful knowledge at these places that he could by application to his books for a whole month, and, in the name of a former member of the Royal Society, ventures to compare these popular resorts to the University itself.[25] In 1661, however, Woods complains bitterly that scholarly topics have ceased, so that ‘nothing but news and the affairs of Christendom is discoursed off and also generally at coffee houses.’ The initiators of this enterprise in England, then, was not merely responding to an opportunity that became available due to the Puritan campaign against the ‘growing evil’ of taverns and ale houses; coffee was seen as a substitute, as it did not make the person drunk and instead made a person feel better and brighter.[26] It appears the idea of the first coffee houses in England, opened by Jacob and others who followed in Oxford, as Arthur Tillyard, to be places for the attainment of knowledge, known as ‘Penny Universities,’ alongside the university that would have been inaccessible to non-Christians and those unable to afford. Such early coffee houses, it would seem, would not have been the kind of places R. Moses Hagiz  referred to as ‘places of insolence.’


In summary, we established that, despite a variety of views, the widespread Jewish custom was not to ban coffee, or visit coffee houses, whether prepared or owned by a Jew or non-Jew. Jacob’s coffee house would have, in any event, been the kind of coffee house described positively above, from the perspective of Jewish law.


Making coffee on Shabbat


A further dispute about coffee that caused a schism amongst the Jews was not about the actual drinking of coffee, but how it was drunk. This relates to drinking coffee on Shabbat. This would have been relevant, both in places where coffee was made in people’s private homes, as recorded in The Sassoon Dynasty,[27] ‘householder permitted fire to be used once more after the Sabbatical rest, and the company was regaled on coffee and narghiles,’ as well as places like the ghetto in Prague, where coffee would be drunk only in a coffee house or as take-out[28] from a coffee house.[29] This led to a major conflict amongst the rabbis: how may coffee be made on Shabbat? This remains a contentious issue until today.


Ground coffee


This subject is found in a responsa on Jewish law by Egyptian Rabbi Abraham ben Mordecai ha-Levi (late 17th century), known as Mahara Ha-Levi.[30] In his responsa Ginnat Veradim (3:2), the following question about cooking on Shabbat is raised:


A Jewish beverage whereby water was boiled and one mixes coffee in it. On occasion, they did not place as much coffee as was needed when it was still boiling on the fire, and when the coffee is being drunk in cups, one adds and places from the ground coffee into the cup to enhance the aroma and improve the coffee. If this happened on Shabbat, when they did not find the coffee prepared properly, is it permitted to add and put coffee in the cups, as it would be done during the week, or is there concern that it violates the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat and it is therefore prohibited?


Reason it should be permitted


The essential question is: does cooking coffee, after it had already been roasted, constitute cooking on Shabbat? Rabbi Abraham ha-Levi argues that it is prohibited to cook the coffee on Shabbat even in a secondary vessel. He gives two principle arguments: firstly, it constitutes straight cooking in the first instance on Shabbat, since the pounding of the coffee after the roasting of the beans, returns the roasted bean to its pre-edible state, as it is no longer edible once powdered, without cooking. The second argument is that Rabbi Eliezer of Metz in the 11th century prohibited ‘cooking after roasting’ on Shabbat even in a secondary vessel.


Despite lengthy and heated arguments, referred to at one point as a ‘war’ amongst the rabbis, no consensus developed and remains inconclusive and contentious until this day. While the first ‘pounding nullifies the roasting’ argument appears to be rebutted, reduced to an argument about personal preference – are pounded roasted coffee beans eaten by themselves, the ‘cooking after roasting’ argument remains contentious. The following is the background and outline of the battle lines of this heated controversy.


Talmud: recooking


The principle text for the issue of recooking on Shabbat is from the Talmud (Shabbat 145b):


Any food item that was placed in hot water, before Shabbat, one may soak it in hot water on Shabbat. And anything that was not placed in hot water before Shabbat, one may rinse it in hot water on Shabbat but may not soak it, with the exception of old salted fish and small salted fish and the kolyas ha’ispanin fish, for which rinsing with hot water itself is completion of the prohibited labor of cooking.[31]


Following this reasoning, coffee beans that had already been roasted before Shabbat should count as a cooked food before Shabbat, and therefore may be recooked on Shabbat, as this does not constitute cooking (if dry). The fact that it was roasted or baked - and not cooked - should not make any difference to this principle, as the Talmud does not differentiate between cooking and roasting: if done before Shabbat, may be recooked on Shabbat.[32]


Medieval dispute: roasting after cooking


In the medieval period, however, a distinction began to be argued, between an item of food that had been cooked before Shabbat, which may be recooked again, and a roasted or baked item that may not be cooked on Shabbat. There are three main views on this subject in the medieval period: 12th century R. Eliezer of Metz (d. 1198), in his legal work Sefer Yere-im, writes that food that had been roasted, its cooking in hot water constitutes cooking (biblically) on Shabbat even in a secondary vessel.[33] The interpretation of his view is however subject to dispute: French Rabbi Moses of Coucy (d, 1260), author of Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, and 13th century German Rabbi Meir Ha-kohen, in his work on Maimonides, Hagahot Maimoniyot, say that this prohibition by R. Eliezer of Metz is only precautionary, due to uncertainty which foods cook even in a secondary vessel. They agree however that it does cook in a primary vessel. French Rabbi Isaac of Corbeil (d. 1280), author of Sefer Mitzvot Katan, argues that R. Eliezer of Metz’s prohibition of ‘cooking after roasting’ pertains to a primary vessel, but not at all to a secondary vessel.[34] A second view is R. Jacob ben Asher (1270-1340), known as the Tur, who rejects the view of R. Eliezer of Metz arguing: there is ‘cooking after roasting’ in a primary vessel, but not in a secondary vessel. A third view is German TosafistR. Eliezer ben Yoel HaLevi (d. 1225), known as Ra’avya, who arguesthere is no concept of ‘cooking after roasting’ at all.


Talmud source: boiled matza


Although there is no clear source in the Talmud in the laws of Shabbat discussing cooking after roasting or baking, R. Eliezer of Metz basis his view on another Talmudic source from the laws of Passover (Pesachim 41a): ‘R. Yosei says: One can fulfill his obligation to eat matza with a wafer that has been soaked in a cooked dish but not with a boiled wafer, even if it has not dissolved.’ R. Yosei invalidates the eating of cooked matzah on the night of Passover, because it no longer constitutes baked matza. This implies that cooking is effective after baking. The same would be true regarding the effect of cooking after roasting. Since the halacha follows the view of R. Yosei, it is forbidden to cook food after baking or roasting on Shabbat. R. Elazar of Bonn, however, rejects the relevance of this Talmudic source to the laws of Shabbat, since matza is disqualified, not because boiling in water constitutes cooking after baking, but rather it dulls the taste of the matza, which is necessary for the mitzvah of eating matza on Passover.[35] Rabbi Joseph Karo (1488-1575) acknowledges this is a strong challenge against the view of R. Eliezer of Metz.


Jewish law in 16th century: cooking after roasting


In the 16th century, R. Joseph Karo (1488-1575) brings two of the above opinions in his code of Jewish law,[36] both recognising the prohibition in principle of ‘cooking after roasting or baking:’ 1. the view of R. Eliezer of Metz, prohibiting even in a secondary vessel. 2. the view that it is permitted, but without elaborating. This left the second, deciding view of R. Joseph Karo open to interpretation: Algiers Rabbi Yehuda Ayash (1688-1760) and R. Joseph ben Meir Teomim (1727–1792) argue that the second and deciding opinion of R. Joseph Karo is that of R.Eliezer ben Yoel HaLevi,disputing the premise that it is prohibited to ‘cook after baking or roasting’ on Shabbat at all, thereby permitting cooking after roasting even in a primary vessel. Others, like Ashkenazic authority, R. Moses Isserles, known as the Rema (c. 1520-1572), argue that the second, deciding[37] view mentioned by R. Joseph Karo is that of R. Jacob ben Asher, permitting only a secondary vessel, but not a primary vessel. According to both views, then, a primary vessel is prohibited according to R. Joseph Karo.


R. Moses Isserles, in his gloss to R. Joseph Karo’s code of Jewish law, cites an additional opinion of R. Eliezer ben Yoel HaLevi who permits ‘cooking after roasting or baking’ even in a primary vessel. He concludes, however, that the prevailing custom in his place is not to place bread in boiling hot soup, even in a secondary vessel, as per the view of R. Eliezer of Metz. Turkish R. Chaim Benveniste (1603–1673), author of Knesset ha-gedolah, says that the prevalent custom in his place is to permit ‘cooking after roasting or baking’ in a secondary vessel. Amsterdam R. Abraham Cohen Pimentel (d. 1697), author of Minchat Kohen (Sha-ar sheni, ch, 4) writes, one should follow R. Eliezer of Metz prohibiting recooking in a primary vessel, but need not be stringent in a secondary vessel, stating: ‘I never saw anyone concerned about this.’


17th century Jewish law: Coffee on Shabbat


This major dispute regarding recooking on Shabbat became relevant with the advent of coffee houses in the 17th century. Chief Rabbi of Egypt, R. Avraham ben Mordechai Ha-Levi (1650-1712) argued that the law is one should not scatter coffee powder on a cup of hot water on Shabbat, even in a secondary vessel, and one who does so, should be concerned to bring a sin during the Temple period. Rabbi of Alexandria, R. Jacob Al-Faraji, Salonika born R. Moshe ibn Habib (1654-1696), Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem R. Abraham ben David Yitzhaki (1661-1729), author of Zera Avraham, and R. Moshe Ḥayyun, all argue that it is permitted to place coffee even in a secondary vessel. R. Abraham ben David Yitzhaki mediated, however, that it is fitting to be stringent ab initio, but those who are lenient follow all the great authorities in Jewish law. Amsterdam Rabbi Moses Hagiz (1671 – c. 1750) also writes, in his legal work Etz Chaim, that one should be stringent. Rabbi Yishmael Hacohen, Chief Rabbi of Modena (1786-1796), author of Zera Emet,[38] however, followed the view of R. Jacob Al-Faraji, permitting even in a secondary vessel.


In the 19th century, Turkish Rabbi Haim Palachi (1788–1868), wrote in his work Lev Chaim[39] that it is forbidden to place coffee powder into a cup and pour over it boiling hot water, just as one may not pour boiling water on tea leaves, unless the coffee essence has already been cooked before Shabbat. This dispute continued into the 20th century: Moroccan R. Raphael Baruch Toledano (1890-1982) codified that ‘cooking after baking’ is prohibited even in a secondary vessel, while Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel, R. Ovadiah Yosef (1920-2013), writes in Yabia Omer (6:48) that it is permitted even in a primary vessel, following the view above of R. Yehudah Ayash, that the second decisive opinion of R. Joseph Karo that permits cooking after roasting or baking refers even to a primary vessel. He therefore writes in his work Yechaveh Da-at (2:44) that one may pour boiling hot water directly from the kettle on Shabbat onto the coffee without concern.


R. Moshe Halevi (1961-2001), Sephardic authority of Jewish law in Israel, author of Menuchat Ahava on laws of Shabbat (2:10:26) writes that he follows the view that it is permitted even to pour from a primary vessel. He concludes, however, that Ashkenazim are stringent, while Sephardim are lenient, and such should be the law for the respective communities. Most recently, in 2018, R. Moshe Hadad, author of Yismach Moshe, wrote in an essay, published in halachic journal Rav Brachot, that the latter opinions are incorrect, and the views cited from the 17th century when the coffee houses were first opened were in fact correct that a primary vessel is prohibited according all opinions. Their dispute was only pertaining to the secondary vessel.[40] In conclusion, the dispute about how to make a cup of coffee on Shabbat is a subject that began in the abstract in the 12th century, but became relevant in the 17th century, with the spread of coffee as a drink, and the opening and popularity of coffee houses, that were open, as mentioned, also on Shabbat. With the existence of a small Jewish community in Oxford in the 17th century, as evident from Wood’s diary pertaining to Jacob’s coffee house at the Angel, as well as coffee house owner Cirques Jobson opposite, in 1654, the question about how to prepare a cup of coffee on the Shabbat may have been relevant. As mentioned, this dispute remains a source of tension in the Jewish world until today.


First coffee house in England


Having established that Jews did not ban coffee, and drinking coffee is permitted, the idea that a Jew – not described as a converso or new Christian - opened the first coffee house in England and, indeed Christian Europe is conceivable. The rise of coffee houses in England happened in the mid-1600s, a few years before the readmission of the Jews to England in the 1656. On Oxford's High Street, the present-day Grand Café claims to be the oldest coffee house in England. Opposite, Queen’s Lane Coffee House also claims to be the oldest in Europe, founded in 1654. The source for the claim that the first coffee house in England was opened by a Jew is from the diary of 17th century antiquarian Anthony Wood (17 December, 1632-1695), who was born and passed away in Postmasters' Hall, leased from and directly opposite the forefront of Merton College. He wrote a massive two volume Historia et antiquitates universitatis Oxoniensis, known simply as the Historia, in 1674, translated posthumously into 4 volumes in English in 1786-96, as History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford. In addition, he wrote a two volume Athena Oxonienses and Fasti, known simply as the Athena, consisting of a bio-bibliography of 1500 graduates and persons connected to Oxford University, published in 1691-92. A second edition of the Athena was published in 1721, with a further 500 lives.


In response to severe criticism, consisting of a trial for defamation, after the publication of the Athena, Anthony Woods wrote a number of defences, including The Diarie of the Life of Anthony a Wood Historiographer and Antiquarie of the most famous Universitie of Oxford, which he later retitled Secretum Antonii.[41] The Secretum is work consisting of entries in a diary of events that took place around Anthony Wood in Oxford, pertaining to life, deaths and events in the city and the University of Oxford. The date of the first entry is 17 December 1632, regarding his birth, and final entry is 6 July, 1672, recording receipt and note of thanks for the book sent to him by Elias Ashmole Esquire, entitled, The Institutions, Lawes, and Cereonies of the noble Order of the Garter.


The Secretum was written in twoversions: the first was written in first person, and then revised in third person, to make it more readable, resulting, amongst also the many changes in spelling, abbreviations and punctuations, many hundreds of variations between the two versions (the Life of AW in his own words, N. Kiessling, p. 170). Another difference is the first version reaches the year 1659, while the second continues in 1672. As the second version was still being written a few days before Wood’s death, he writes in third person about his impending passing.  The first version manuscript is held at the British Library, known as British Library, MS Harley 5409. Thesecond version, The Secretum is held at the Bodleian Library, shelf marked Bodleian Library, MS Tanner 102. The Secretum was not published during the author’s lifetime. After Anthony Wood’s passing, the manuscript was given to one of the executors of Wood’s estate, chaplain of All Soul’s college, Thomas Tanner, who allowed Oxford antiquarian Thomas Hearne to publish it for the first time in 1730. Thomas Bodley’s librarian William Huddesford republished Hearne’s edition in 1772, it was re-edited by Philip Bliss in 1813, and again by Andrew Clark in 1891-1900. The first critical edition, with comparisons with the first version, is by Professor Emeritus in the Department of English at Washington State University, Nicolas K. Kiessling, in 2009, published by the Bodleian Library, entitled The Life of Anthony Wood.


Jews in Anthony Wood


The period in British history that the book covers is the most significant in modern history for the Jews of Britain: the readmission of the Jews to England, that was made possible after the Personal Rule by Charles I was implemented, without recourse of parliament, between 1629 and 1640. This led to the Civil War, also known as War of the Three Kingdoms, the defeat of Charles I to the armies of the English and Scottish parliaments, led by Oliver Cromwell, in 1645, his captivity and eventual execution in 1649. This was followed by the establishment of The Protectorate, ruled by Cromwell as Lord Protector from December 1653 until his death in September 1658, and the Restoration of Charles II in 1660. It was during the rule of Cromwell that Menasseh ben Israel successfully petitioned and gained permission for the Jews to be readmitted to England after their expulsion in 1290 under the Edward I. Despite this historic period for the Jewish community, in the 77 entries in the diary, there is not a single mention in The Secretum about the return of the Jews. Five of these entries relate however to coffee, three of which relate to Jews and coffee.


There is mention in Wood’s Athena about secret Jews living in England at the time. One can be found on p. 141-3: Johan Ludovic Vives (1492-1540), who, according to Oxford Bibliographies, was born into a Jewish converso family in Valenza, Spain, studied logic in Paris, and then became noted for his study of humanities, first in the University of Lovain, and on 15 July, 1517, was made one of the first fellows of Corpus Christi college, Oxford, by the founder himself. He was first invited by Cardinal Wolsey to Oxford in 1523, arriving in August or September, and Katherine of Oregon had great respect for him. Before coming to Oxford, he published, contra Pseeudo-Dialectus, and, while in Oxford, De ratione studii puerilis, and De consultation. He retired in Bruges in Flanders. In around 1524, his father, grandmother and great-grandfather, as well as members of their wider family, were executed as Judaizers at the behest of the Spanish Inquisition, after his uncle was accused of having a secret synagogue in his house.[42] No mention of him being a Jew is mentioned, however, by Anthony Wood in the Athena.


Another secret Jew is mentioned in The Secretum, without indicating his religion: Jacob Bobart the elder (c. 1599 - 1680), who arrived in Oxford from Brunswick, Germany, in 1641, and become the first Keeper of the Physic Garden, later known as Botanic Garden. It records in the Secretum on 6 July, 1669, that when Elias Ashmole Esquire visited Oxford for seven days, he was often together with Anthony Wood ‘in the Physick Garden with Jacob Bobart the Keeper (an old acquaintance of Mr. Ashmole) who shewd them many choice plants, Herbs, Grafts, and other Curiosities to Mr. Ashmoles great content.’[43]


Jews and coffee in Anthony Wood


The Diarie


In addition to the above-mentioned, there are three entries overtly related to Jews in Wood’s diaries, all in connection with coffee in Oxford. In the earlier version of The Secretum, known as The Diarie, British Library MS Harley 5409 (fol. 42), it states that coffee was drunk in private in Oxford since 1650, but in 1654, was publicly sold by a Jew at or near the Angel. This entry is recorded between August 10 and April 25, 1654, corresponding to the 6th year of Charles II (counting from when he became of Scotland in 1649) and half a year from the Protectorate Oliver (Cromwell). The text states:[44]


Coffey, which had been drank by

some persons in Oxon. 1650, was this

yeare publickly sold at or neare the

Angel within the East Gate of Oxon,

as also Chocolate by an outlander

or a Jew.


The Secretum


Inthe revisededition, The Secretum, Bodleian Library, MS Tanner 102 (fol. 16v), it has a modified entry recorded on an earlier date: after the entry for January 22, 1650 (according to the Julian calendar that ended 24 March; 1651 according the Gregorian calendar), corresponding to the second year of Charles II. The text states:[45]


This yeare Jacob a Jew opened a Coffey house at

the Angel in the parish of S. Peter in the East, Oxon,

and there it was by some, who delighted in Noveltie, drank

When he left Oxon he sold it in Old Southampton

buildings in Holborne neare London, and was living

there 1671 - See in 1654.


This revised version serves as the basis for the fact that the earliest coffee house in England and Christendom was opened by Jacob a Jew in Oxford in 1650.


The Angel


The Angel was a small inn called the Tabard in 1391. In 1510, it was enlarged by Magdalen college and its name was changed to the Angel, becoming Oxford’s largest hotel (before the Randolph hotel opened on Beaumont Street in 1866) and coaching station. It was enlarged again and rebuilt around 1663, so that its eventual frontage measured 110 feet, and 326 feet in depth, extending from High Street to Coach and Horses Lane, currently known as Merton Street. The location was on the corner of High Street and Merton Street.[46] Behind the inn, extending to Merton Street, were workshops, offices, thirteen cottages, granaries, coach-houses, and very extensive stabling. Horses were grazed overnight on the land beyond Magdalen deer park, still known as Angel and Greyhound Meadow. Most of the land was held as a leasehold under Magdalen College, while the remainder, under University and Oriel Colleges. The inn eventually declined, following the opening of the railways to Oxford in the 1840s, and in March, 1855, the Angel, as a whole, or as individual lots, were put up for sale. In 1865, the inn was sold by itself in an auction to Oxford University for £1,800. In 1869, the rear of the inn was demolished, including four front facing buildings on High Street (80, 81 and 82 High Street, plus one other), and in 1876, the Angel (let as shops at that time) was demolished to make way for the Examination Schools, completed in 1882.[47] The adjacent properties at 83 and 84 High Street were sold separately to the grocer Francis Cooper for £2,350. The use of a part of the Angel, at 83 and 84 High St, as a coffee house becomes apparent at the time of the proposed selling of the site in parts in 1855, where a patrt of the site was still described a Coffee Room. In the auction notice, in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 24 March, 1855, it records:


Lot 1 will comprise the splendid Coffee Room (now 83/84 High Street), 43 feet by 29 feet, 6 sitting rooms, 17 sleeping apartments, 2 water closets, china closet, kitchen, larder, extensive cellars, coach houses and garden.[48]


According to the above, the exact site of Jacob’s coffee house was not part of the original Angel hotel, but adjacent, that became party of the larger site, thus explaining Anthony Wood’s approximate description of Jacob’s coffee house: ‘at or neare the Angel.’ David Haron similarly writes: ‘attached to the Angel Inn.’[49] As the Coffee Room in the 19th century consisted of both properties, 83 and 84 High Street, combined, the same would have been the case with Jacob’s coffee house. One may conclude, therefore, Jacob’s coffee house comprised of the site that is now the Grand Café at 84 High Street, and also the adjacent Oxford Bus Company, at 83 High Street, currently used as a rest for its drivers.


1654 entry


In The Secretum, Bodleian Library MS Tanner 102 (fol. 20v),[50] it further states after August 10, 1654, corresponding to the 6th year of Charles II and half a year to Oliver Cromwell:


Cirques Jobson a Jew and Jacobite, borne neare

Mount-Libanus sold Coffey in Oxon in an House between

Edmund hall and Queens coll. corner - See in the

yeare 1650 and 1655.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The location of Cirques Jobson’s coffee house is the site of today’s Queen’s Lane coffee house. Following the first coffee house in Oxford, in 1650, the first coffee house in London was opened by Pasqua Rosée, a Greek servant of wealthy Levant merchant Daniel Edwards after he returned to London from Smyrna, Turkey. Rosee served Edwards coffee, but after attracting many people to their house, Rosee opened a coffee house near the Royal Exchange in 1654, or possibly as early as 1652.[51] Thus, the coffee house, opened by Jacob in 1650, makes it the first public coffee house in England,[52] a claim accepted by many historians, as can be found in Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (London, 1896) by Israel Abrahams (1858-1925), stating: ‘coffee was introduced into England by Jews;’ The Penny Universities: A History of Coffee Houses, by Aytoun Ellis (1956); The Social Life of Coffee The emergence of the British coffeehouse by Brian Cowan (Yale, 2005);[53] and Oxford: A Cultural and Literary Companion byDavid Horan,[54]as well as a display at the Museum of Oxford.[55]




The significance of this is, as historian Dr. Matthew Green argues, that coffee, taking over from ale as the drink of choice, triggered a dawn of sobriety that laid the foundations for Britain’s spectacular economic growth in the late seventeenth century.[56] This was facilitated not through drinking coffee per se but the creation of the coffee house, enabling the creation of a public space for social, intellectual and, importantly for modern Britain, economic activity. This included the first trading of stocks and shares that took place at Jonathan’s coffee house in Change Alley, around 1680, eventually becoming the London Stock Exchange; the insurance market Lloyd’s of London in 1688, evolved from merchants, ship owners and their captains, who gathered at Lloyd’s coffee house in Lombard Street,[57] named after its owner, Edward Lloyd; as well as the Royal Society and Sotheby’s and Christie’s, all started at coffee houses.[58]


Return of the Jews to England


Despite the significance of the opening of the first coffee houses in England, we are told very little about the person, who brough coffee houses to Britain, besides the fact that he was a Jew, living in Oxford in 1650, who opened a coffee house near or at the Angel. For this reason, perhaps, some questioned whether Jacob even existed,[59] or he is completely ignored. The fact that Anthony Wood would have, however, known the details of this coffee house owner is plausible, despite omitting his name in the first version, considering the proximity of the Angel to the Postmasters house, opposite Merton college, where Anthony Wood lived. Despite Oxford being a busy city, Jacob would have been a nearby neighbour with Wood.


What was a Jew doing in England in 1650, before Jews were officially allowed to return in 1656? A brief history of Jews in England, from the period of the expulsion until the resettlement, will help explain the context of Jacob, an identified Jew, not secret, opening the first coffee house in England, before the readmission, in 1650. Despite having been invited and of great benefit to Norman kings, centuries of intolerance and exclusion of Jews began in 1275, with the Statute of Jewry, which forbade Jews from lending on interest, forcing them to live only in the king’s own cities and boroughs, where the Chests of Chirographs of the Jewry were located, over seven-year-olds must wear a yellow felt badge with the tablets, earn a living only by merchandise and labour, pay an Easter tax, and Christians not allowed to mix with Jews, besides for buying and selling. This led to the edict of expulsion on 17 July, 1290, expelling ‘faithless Jews’ from Britain by 1 November. Intolerance of Jews in England continued unabated until the 17th century. In the 16th century, Lord William Cecil Burghley (1520-1598), chief adviser of Queen Elizabeth I, twice Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer,[60] declared: ‘That state could never be in safety where there was a toleration of two religions. For there is no enmity so great as that for religion; and therefore they that differ in the service of their G-d can never agree in the service of their country.’[61] Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), wrote in 1608, that between Christians and all infidels, including Jews, there is a perpetual hostility, and can be no peace.[62]


The only presence of Jews in England during this period were clandestine Jews, living as Christians, in London and Bristol. Even this was supressed, as reflected in a report from London on 20 August, 1609, by the Venetian Ambassador Marcantonio Correr: ‘many Portuguese merchants in this city have been discovered to be living secretly as Jews. Some have already left and others have had a little grace granted to allow them to wind up their business in spite of the laws, which are very severe on this subject. These men are such scoundrels that, I am told, the better to hide themselves they have not only frequently attended Mass at some one or other of the Embassies, but have actually received the Holy Eucharist.’ Strong police action was taken against the ‘New Christian’ community that caused many to leave England. [63] The same intolerance towards Jews in the beginning of the 17th century was also evident in Oxford. Jacob Wolfgang had to convert to Christianity to became reader at the Bodleian Library on 22 May, 1608.[64]


At the same time, there was a combination of scholarly curiosity and restraint towards the Jewish religion by James I, as reflected by the fact that he welcomed information about Jewish rituals supplied by the work of Leon de Modena (1571–1648). In Oxford, in particular, Christians were attracted by Jewish mysticism, to deepen their own understanding of Christianity. English intellectuals, as John Seldon (1584-1654), John Lightfoot (1602-1675), Edward Pococke (1604-1691), and John Milton (1608-1674) also had considerable interest in rabbinic works. The founder of the Bodleian Library, Sir Thomas Bodley (1545-1613), accumulated a great Hebrew collection of books.[65] In December 1607, Thomas Bodley instructed his assistant Thomas James 'to gette the helpe of a Jewe, for the Hebrewe catalogue.


This period was an intermediate stage, whereby forced conversion was no longer an ideal, or seen as effective, but England was still not ready to allow Jews to live openly in the realm. Composer of Church music, Robert Parsons (1535-1572), on a visit to England in 1580, objected to forcing a Jew to swear that there was a blessed Trinity. In 1613, a learned Italian scholar, Jacob Barnett, a secretary for Huguenot (humanist) scholar Isaac Casaubon (1559–1614), was incarcerated and taunted by professors at Oxford’s Bocardo prison for not turning up to be baptised, in order to get a position at the university. He was subsequently released on the grounds that there was no law in England that Jews had to convert to Christianity. He was nevertheless banished from England by James I.[66]


England, however, subsequently began turning towards the idea that Jews should be welcomed back, even if it was for the reason of conversion to Christianity and commerce. Puritan Thomas Draxe published in 1608 The World’s Resurrection, or the Generall Calling of the Jews, in which he emphasised the historic achievement of the dispersed Jews in having, despite all persecutions and wanderings, preserved the authentic Hebrew Bible for posterity and declared: ‘we must nor roightly either contemne, must less condemne the Jews, nor expel them out of our coasts and countries, but hope well of them, pray for them, [67]and labour to win the by our Holy zeal and Christian example.’ In 1614, distinguished Baptist Leonard Busher presented to James I the memorandum Religious Peace; or, a Plea for Liberty of Conscience, arguing that Jews should be readmitted to England as they would ‘inhabit and dwell under his majesty’s dominion to the great profit of his realms, and to their furtherance in the faith; the which we are bound to seek in all love and peace, as well as others, to our utmost endeavours, for Christ hath commanded to teach all nations.’ He also argued conversion by force is usually inefficacious. This memorandum was republished in 1646 and was widely publicised, especially among the religious dissenters. Sir Henry Finch (1558-1625), in a famous treatise, published in 1621, went even further envisaging the messianic era would be ushered in trough the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land, where all the tribes shall be united.[68] Although, Finch was censured for the consideration of such ideas, by Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University John Prideaux, and William Laud,  who later became Archbishop of Canterbury, in Parliament, it was echoed by Christian Hebraist John Weemes in 1636, arguing that Jews who wish to come to England and hold onto their old religion should be allowed to do so, including performing circumcision and erecting synagogues, but ought to be subject to certain disabilities, such as the prohibition against employing Christian servants.[69] These pro-Jewish sentiments came to the fore during the Civil War of the 1640s, after the execution of Charles I in 1649 and Cromwell’s rise to power. The subject of toleration of all religious dissenters, including Jews, became an issue of paramount importance during those years. Chaplain in Cromwell’s revolutionary army, Hugh Peters, suggested in 1647 that ‘strangers even Jews, admitted to trade and live with us.’  Samuel Richardson wrote in the same year that one may attribute many of England’s troubles to G-d retribution for the country’s general religious intolerance, for banishing the people of G-d into so many wildernesses.’ Similarly, Roger Williams wrote in The Bloody Tenent of Persecution for Cause of Conscience, Discussed in a Conference between Truth and Peace, published in 1644, demanded that Jews be given the opportunity of proving that they could be good and faithful citizens. In a pamphlet in 1652, he argued that for their ‘hard measure, I fear, the nations and England hath yet a score to pay.’ In 1648, Edward Nicholas gave a keynote speech, entitled: ‘Apology for the Honourable Nation of the Jews, and All the Sons of Israel,’ concluding with an appeal: ‘that the same Authority that proceeded against them formerly, that now the same power and authority will repeal those Laws made against them. That our receiving them again, and giving them all possible satisfaction, and restoring them to commerce in this kingdom, may be exemplary to other Nations that have done them, and continue to do them wrong; till which time (G-d putting their tears into his bottle) G-d will charge their sufferings upon us, and will avenge them on their persecutors.’


With this newfound tolerance in England, arose the petition in 1649 to the English parliament, for the Repealing of the Act of Parliament for the Banishment of the Jews out of England and for their readmission. It was presented from English widow, Baptist Joanna and her son Ebenezer Cartwright, living in Amsterdam, which marked the beginning of an active movement and formal recognition of the resettlement of Jews in the British Isles.[70]  A further letter, dated 24 March, 1655, came from Menasseh ben Israel who came from Amsterdam to England to petition Cromwell to readmit Jews and allow them to worship. In 1656, Cromwell formally gave Jews permission ‘to meet privately in their houses for prayer’ and to lease a cemetery. In 1657, about thirty Sephardi families, including Antonio Fernandez (Abraham Israel) Carvajal and family members, were granted permission to establish a synagogue in Creechurch Lane, London.[71] The first purpose-built synagogue was opened in 1701, known as Bevis Marks Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in the United Kingdom.


The first Jew to become a British citizen after the readmission was Antonio Fernandez Carvajal. He had settled in London in 1630 and was joined in London by other New Christian refugees from Rouen. This small group openly professed Catholicism, but held ‘Jewish Divine services’ in Carvajal’s residence. In 1645, when Carvajal was denounced under the Act of Conformity, even his competitors joined in petitioning parliament on his behalf, and the House of Lords quashed the proceedings,[72] paving the way for the eventual reversal of the centuries old policy of intolerance.


Based on this brief history, while the formal readmission of the Jews to England took place only in 1656, the struggle for religious tolerance took place gradually over a century, during which time Jews lived in England in clandestine communities. Despite the harsh measures against the community in 1609, towards the 1640s, a growing tolerance had developed, allowing even Jewish prayer services to being held in private homes. This culminated with petitions for the formal readmittance. It is in the context of this newfound tolerance, we find Jacob, perhaps the first openly identified Jew, living in Oxford in 1650.


The brief history may also explain why Anthony Wood, in his first version, omitted the mention of Jacob a Jew. When he wrote the first version, the environment in England may have been such that it was not yet acceptable to be identified openly as a Jew in England. When writing the second version, however, after the great changes in England and its newfound tolerance, it was perfectly acceptable.


Who is Jacob?


Having giving the context of a Jew openly living in Oxford in 1650, and the historic significance of opening England’s first coffee house in England in 1650, we have little information about who this Jacob was. We are aware, however, of a number of Jews called Jacob in 17th century England, some of whom may be a candidate for Jacob the coffee house owner. As mentioned, Jacob Wolfgang converted to Christianity to become a member of Oxford University in 1608. A learned Italian Jew, called Jacob Barnett, arrived in Oxford in 1613, together with Isaac Causabon, before being banished for not willing to undergo baptism at the university church. In addition, in 1641, Botanist Jacob Bobart the Elder (1599-1680) came to Oxford from Germany to be the first director of the Physic Garden, later known as Botanic Garden,[73] and his eldest son, born in Oxford in 1641, was also called Jacob Bobart the Younger (d. 1719).


Other people called Jacob in 17th century England were Haham R. Jacob Sasportas (1610-1698), who joined Menasseh ben Israel when he came from Amsterdam to England to petition Cromwell to readmit the Jews. He subsequently served as the third rabbi of the Sephardi Community in London from 1664 to 1665. Finally, there is Haham Rabbi Jacob Abendana (1630-1685), who served as the fifth rabbi of the Sephardi Community in London from 1681 to 1685. His younger brother was Isaac Abendana, who arrived in Oxford in 1676, and in 1689 took a teaching position at Magdalen College, Oxford.


From the above, it is interesting to speculate whether the Jacob, who opened the coffee house in 1650 may have been the same as Jacob Bobart the Elder who came to Oxford in 1641, and is also mentioned by Anthony Wood in the Secretum on 6 July, 1669: when Elias Ashmole Esquire visited Oxford for seven days, he was often together with Anthony Wood ‘in the Physick Garden with Jacob Bobart the Keeper (an old acquaintance of Mr. Ashmole) who shewd them many choice plants, Herbs, Grafts, and other Curiosities to Mr. Ashmoles great content.’[74] His fascination with plants may have included also the coffee plant. The problem with this identification is that Anthony Wood writes that Jacob left Oxford and sold coffee in Old Southampton buildings in Holborne, near London, in 1671. Jacob Bobart, however, died in Oxford on 4 February 1680, and buried in the churchyard of St Peter-in-the-East.[75]




Despite the mention in Wood’s diary that the first coffee house in England was opened in Oxford in 1650 by Jacob a Jew, and the plausibility of this, based on everything we have discussed so far, the narrative is contested. It first becomes undermined by Daniel Edwards putting out adverts for Pasqua Rosée’s first coffee house in England: ‘The Vertue of the Coffee drink. First publiquely made and sold in England by Pasqua Rosée.’[76] In Essential Guide to Coffee (2019) by J. Garcia Curado, it states: ‘In the south and west of Europe, a greater tolerance of coffee was observed. In the 1650s, it began to be imported and consumed in England, and coffee shops were opened in both London and Oxford. The first coffee shop in London opened in 1652.’ In The philosophy of coffee[77] (2018) by Brian Williams, it states: ‘Not long after London’s first coffee house opened in 1652, local taverns tried to have the coffeehouses banned, fearful of the competition they provided.’ In How to drink coffee (2023) by Sarah Ford, it merely states: ‘By the 17th century, coffee, tea and chocolate were all popular in England, when the first coffeehouse had opened in 1652.’ In The world atlas of coffee (2014) by James Hoffman, it states: ‘the first coffee house in London opened in 1652 and began a hundred-year love affair between the drink and the city.’ In all the above, no mention of England’s first coffee house in Oxford in 1650. In The curious Barista’s Guide to Coffee (2015) by Tristan Stephenson, it places Oxford’s first coffee house over a decade later:


By the early 1600s, the coffee bean had made its way to British shores and in 1652 the first European coffee house opened in London. Pasqua Rosee’s coffee house was actually more of a stall, located in the churchyard of St Michael’s, just off London’s bustling Cornhill. A shrewd businessman, he teamed up with Christopher Bowman, a freeman of the City of London, in order to appease the resistance of local alehouse owners to an outsider. The store was a big hit, the stall soon became a large house, as it relocated across the road. Coffee shops popped up in London like toadstalls in the night. A mere ten years after Rosee’s shop served its first cup, there were thought to be nearly 100 ‘coffee men’ in London, with coffee houses also opening in Oxford and Cambridge. By the turn of the 18th century, some estimated at more than 1,000.


In Coffee: A Global History (2018)[78] by Jonathan Morris, it leaves it ambiguous. It first ignores the Oxford coffee house: ‘London was home to Europe’s first coffee houses, yet the British were among the last and the least active of the European coffee producers.’ In a chart, entitled: ‘Diffusion of Coffee Houses in Europe, on the same page, he cites Oxford’s coffee house but with a question mark. The chart records by countries three lists: First Record of Coffee in Territory, First Commercial Shipment Received, and First Coffee House Opened. For England, it records: ‘First Record of Coffee in Territory - 1637 Oxford; First Commercial Shipment Received - 1657 London; and First Coffee House Opened - 1650 Oxford? 1652 London.’ Further in the book, Morris questions where Jacob even existed. He writes:[79] ‘A Jewish manservant from the Levant named Jacob has sometimes been credited with opening a coffee house in the same city (Oxford) in 1650, but if he existed, he probably served, rather than sold, coffee to his master’s companions. There is no doubt however, that Pasqua Rosee, an ethnic Armenian from the Ottoman city of Smyrna (now Izmir) opened London’s, and Europe’s, first documented coffee house sometime between 1652 and 1654. Such was the new institution’s swift take-off, there were 82 coffee-house keepers registered in 1663 with the City of London authorities.’ When discussing Oxford’s coffee houses, further in the book, Morris, in fact, omits Jacob’s existence entirely:[80] ‘That was true in Oxford, where the first documented coffee house outside the capital was opened by apothecary Arthur Tillyard in 1656. Tillyard was encouraged to do so by some royalists, now living in Oxon, and by others who esteemed themselves either virtuosi or wits.’


This dispute, whether the opening of the coffee house by Jacob at the Angel in 1650 is a true fact, can be seen today in Oxford, by the contradictory adverts, displayed publicly at the two historic coffee houses in Oxford on the High Street. Queens Lane Coffee House, which Wood’s mentioned was opened by Cirques Jobson in 1654, advertises itself: ‘Established in 1654. The oldest coffee house in Europe.’ Opposite, in the window of the Grand Café – the site of Jacob’s coffee house, opened in 1650, it advertises itself: The Grand Cafe stands on the site of the oldest coffee house in England established c. 1650.’


Ambiguity in Wood


The reason for this contest, obfuscation and confusion is due to an ambiguity in Wood’s diaries, as argued by Professor Markman Ellis in his book, The Coffee-House: A Cultural History (2004).[81] The problem is as follows: In the earlier version of the diary (British Library MS Harley 5409), it references the coffee house at the Angel in the year 1654, stating in August: ‘Coffey, which had been drank by some persons in Oxon. 1650,’ suggesting only private drinking of coffee took place in 1650, with no mention of Jacob a Jew opening a coffee house in that year. It only writes that coffee was ‘publickly sold at or neare the Angel by an outlander or a Jew near or at the Angel’ in 1654. This implies, the coffee house at the Angel only opened in 1654. In the revised version of the diary by Wood, The Secretum (Oxford MS Tanner 102), the entry is inserted in 1650 and includes the details about the opening of a public coffee house at the Angel by Jacob, a Jew. In addition, in The Secretum, there is no specific date for this record: it appears between 22 January and 7 April, 1650, but has no specific date for the entry, unlike many other entries. It would seem then there had been a lifting of a part of the entry from the first version, recorded in 1654, to the earlier year in the revised version. This may be alluded to from the phrase: ‘this yeare’ in The Secretum. Whereas in the first version, the phrase: ‘this yeare’ clearly refers to 1654, where the entry is found, in the second version, now discussing exclusively about the opening of a public coffee house, omitting the beginning about private drinking of coffee, it nevertheless retains the phrase ‘this yeare,’ but is now referring to the earlier year 1650, where the entry has now been placed.


A reason this occurred is self-evident: the diary of Anthony Wood is not a daily recording of events in his life, like other diaries, for example, the diary of Samuel Pepys, but rather a writing of events from memory after or indeed before events have happened. This is evident from the fact that it records an entry about the day of his birth and christening. It’s possible that entries, therefore, may have been recorded in proximity to certain dates, but not necessarily insisting the event definitely occurred on that particular date, since it being written from memory, in some cases, many years after the event.


One may argue, also, in the case of the coffee house, since there is the mention of 1650 in the entry about coffee, in the first version, even though, in the first version, it is referring only to private drinking of coffee, not the opening of a public coffee house, in the revised version, it is sufficient for it to be lifted as a relevant date to be included in the diary in the year 1650, despite the fact the public coffee house opened only in 1654.


This style of diary that allows details to be added in a related year, but not necessarily meant to be precise, is found to have happened in the further editing of the diary by Andrew Clark in 1890, where he adds a specific date ‘March 1650’ for the entry of the opening of the public coffee house by Jacob at the Angel. This date of ‘March’ is certainly not in the later version, Oxford MS Tanner 102, and unlikely intended to give an accurate date of when the coffee shop actually opened. The date that the entry about Jacob’s coffee house is placed in The Secretum (the second version of the diary) is a continuation, but separate paragraph of the an entry, recorded under the date heading: 22 January, 1650. The reason why Clark recorded March as the month the coffee house opened in 1650, is due to its juxtaposition with another entry, related in subject and proximity in date, taken from Anthony Wood’s collection of other writings, inserted in the 19th century in The Secretum by Andrew Clark alone. In the editing of The Secretum in 1890, nearly two hundred after Wood’s passing, under the title: The Life and Times of Anthony Wood, antiquary, of Oxford, 1632-1695, described by himself, collected from his Diaries and other papers by Andrew Clark MA, Clark extracts pieces from other papers of Anthony Wood, and inserts them as diary notes in the place and date where they appear to belong in The Secretum. This is decided based on a date merely mentioned in the particular note. This occurs with an entry added by Clark just before the entry about Jacob’s coffee house in The Secretum in the date 1650. The additional entry is about the beheading of Royallist Sir Henry Hyde by Parliamentarian soldiers on 4th March 1650:[82]


March. – (Sir Henry Hyde, brother to Dr. Alexander Hide, afterwards bishop of Salisbury, behaded, T., 4 Mar. 1650. His crime was the receiving, and acting by virtue of, a commission from Charles Stuart as ‘King of Great Britaine France and Ireland, being qualified by him as his agent to the court of the Great Mogul Turk with intent to destroy the trade of the Turkey company and the parliament’s interest, not only in Constantinople but also in Mytylene, Anatolia, and Smyrna (in which he has a commission to be consul). His aime being likewise to seize upon the English merchants’ goods for the use of the said Charles Stuart. For the effecting of which designe he presume’s to discharge Sir Thomas Bendish of the embassie, being leiger there for the state of England’ he procured audience of the Great Visier and raised great feares and uproars among the merchants, etc.


As the date of this note relates to 4 March, 1650, Clark inserted it into his published 19th century version of The Secretum inMarch, 1650. Since the subject of the note is about Henry Hyde being executed for being an ambassador for Charles I to Turkey with the aim of destroying the trade of the Turkey company, which most likely included coffee, and the date March 1650, Clark decided that the entry belongs after the entry of 22 January and before 7 April, 1650. This necessarily places it just before the undated entry about Jacob’s coffee house, forcing a narrower date for the opening of Jacob’s coffee house: between 4 March and 7 April, 1650. It should be noted, however, that, contrary to Ellis’ view, Clark does not explicitly write the date ‘March’ above the entry of Jacob’s coffee house: the ‘March’ date is found only above the new entry about Henry Hyde’s execution. It does however give no room for any other month for the opening of Jacob’s coffee house, contrary to the original text in The Secretum. Conceivably, prior to Clark’s additional entry, the opening of Jacob’s coffee house, as recorded in The Secretum, could have been any other date between 22 January and 25 March.


The reason for the end date: 25 March is due to the recording of the beginning of the Julian new year: ‘1651’ above the diary entry that appears after Jacob’s coffee house, where it stetaes the new year: ‘1651.’ This necessarily makes the entry about Jacob’s coffee house to have taken place during 1650 (Julian year). The heading ‘March’ for the new entry about Henry Hyde, therefore forces the date for Jacob’s house opening to be between 5 and 24 March, 1650. As Ellis argues, the precise dating of the opening of Jacob’s coffee house, by Clark, as ‘March’ is then indeed conjectural, as there is no basis for this accuracy of dating in The Secretum, and certainly not in the earlier version of the diary, that appears to have it in a completely different year (1654).


In summary, the Julian year 1650 (Gregorian year 1651) as the date for the opening of Jacob’s coffee house at the Angel, as recorded in The Secretum, is not supported by the earlier version of the diary and thus unreliable. The dating of March for the opening of Jacob’s coffee house, lifted from Wood’s other papers, further produces an impression of a possible corruption of the entry about this historical fact about Jewish history of England.




The counter argument, however, supporting the earlier date for the opening of Jacob’s house is nevertheless, equally, and perhaps even more compelling. As a general observation: when an author has an earlier version of a text and then revises, with a great number of variations, some whole paragraphs, as with the addition of the second coffee house, opened by Cirques Jobson, a Jew from Mount-Lebanus, in 1654, and hundreds of minor changes, including spelling of words, punctuations, and abbreviations, the second version should be considered more reliable, even if aspects of the textual history seem confusing.



In addition, it seems the first version is not as precise from a number of entries, where phrases like ‘I think’ and ‘as I remember’ is found, for example, in 1654. In the first version, Wood writes:[83] ‘after dinner wee were entertain’d by some of the neighbours, who danced (as I remember) in the green.’ Then it continues: ‘Afterwards wee went (I think) to Kidlington.’ Similarly, regarding the dating of years, Wood writes:[84] ‘I believe in 1654, in the beginning of the yeare, the first Quakers came…and I think they came to Oxford that yeare and had a solemn meeting there in an old stone-house against New (Inn), see my pamphlets of their abuses by scholars among ‘Oxford papers.’ Omitting phrases that reflect doubt in the second version points to accuracy in the second version.


The same argument can be made regarding the entry about the coffee houses between the two versions: 1. The fact that the first version writes ambiguously ‘some persons’ regarding the drinking of coffee in 1650, shows a limited knowledge, similar to the above language reflecting doubt. The second version omits the ambiguous phrase ‘some persons’ and adds a name, Jacob a Jew. 2. The first version further shows limited knowledge of the facts, by writing doubtfully: ‘an outlander or a Jew.’ The second version clarifies that the person who opened the coffee house at the Angel was in fact ‘Jacob a Jew.’ 3. The additional paragraph about Cirques Jobson, with his name explicitly mentioned, describing him in such detail as a Jew and a Jacobite, omitted in the first version, shows the second version was written after researching the topic more thoroughly. 4. Written after being accused of defamation in his earlier work, accuracy of details would have been important, thus the reason for the diary’s editing and revision. This all suggests the first version, written from memory, with limited knowledge of facts in some cases, was meant to be revised and more thoroughly researched for a second version. In the case of the coffee houses, in the first version, Woods evidently confused and combined Jacob’s and Cirques’ coffee houses together, and was unaware that there was selling coffee publicly at the Angel as early as 1650. This was corrected in the second version, where the two accounts with their details and names of persons are placed in the corrects years and places in the diary, thus concurring with Clark’s view in the 19th century that the first coffee house in Oxford opened in 1650, and the second coffee house by Cirques Jobson in 1654.[85]




We presented a detailed study about the issues surrounding Jews and coffee in 17th century England and other places. While Jews never banned coffee as a drink, unlike other religions and countries, other aspects of coffee proved highly controversial, some dividing Jewish communities until today. This includes: entering a coffee house, drinking coffee roasted by a non-Jew, and the correct way to make a cup of coffee on Shabbat. While the widespread custom is to permit the first two, considering the fact the early coffee house a mini-academic institution, the latter issue, regarding preparing coffee on Shabbat, remains a dispute until today. In addition, we outlined an extensive discussion about the reliability of the historical fact that the first coffee houses in England was opened by a Jew in Oxford in 1650. If this is the case, which we argued should be seen as reliable, it would mean that a Jewish immigrant trader, even before Jews were officially live in England, was involved in triggering England’s enormous economic growth in the 17th century, which helped make England a world centre for finance and academia until today.   






[2] Ginat Veradim ch. 3. Sha-a lot u-teshuvot Bei chayei by R. Chaim ben Israel Benvenisti (1603-1673), Yoreh Deah 155.

[3] Essential Guide to Coffee, editors.

[4] Coffee: A Global History by Jonathan Morris, p. 8.

[5] The world atlas of coffee by James Hoffman.

[6] Essential Guide to Coffee, editors.

[7] The philosophy of coffee, Brian Williams, p. 31-32.

[8] Oxford: A Cultural and Literary Companion, David Horan, p. 67.

[9] The philosophy of coffee, Brian Williams, p. 32.

[10] Accessed 1 March, 2024.

[11] Coffee: A Global History (p. 69), Jonathan Morris, p. 71.

[12] Oxford: A Cultural and Literary Companion, David Horan, p. 67.


[14] Avodah Zara 37b.

[15] Sha-a lot Teshuvot R. Yosef Karo, citing a responsa of his uncle R. Yitzchak Karo: The rule regarding Kabbalists conflicting with Jewish law, as recorded in the Talmud, is as follows: R. David ben Zimra, known as Radbaz (1479-1573) writes in his responsa (4:2214): if Kabbalists contradict a decided law in the Talmud, the view in the Kabbalah is not followed. If the dispute in the Talmud is undecided, and Kabbalah decides one view, this may be followed. This is the case with the undecided dispute about wearing tefillin on Chol Ha-moed and the preference of levirate marriage over chalitzah. See also Radbaz 4:1051.

[16] Sha-a lot u-teshuvot Bei chayei by R. Chaim ben Israel Benveniste (1603-1673), Yoreh Deah 155.

[17] The drinking of coffee by nobility, making it subject, according to some opinions, to the prohibition against eating food cooked by a non-Jew, if ‘served at the table of kings,’ is evident from The Sassoon Dynasty by Cecil Roth, p. 161: ‘This style of life could not long persist in members of the Marlborough House set. It was difficult for even the most devoted of traditionalists to be scrupulous about the dietetic observances when he was invited to dine with the Heir Apparent to the Throne of England, or to refuse to serve milk with the after-dinner coffee when he entertained the nobility.’

[18] Birkei Yosef, kuntres shi-yurei brachah yoreh de-ah 113:3.

[19] Chavot Ya-ir 4:42.

[20] Moses Montefiore: Jewish liberator, Imperial hero, p. 12.

[21] This was the case also in England, where women were excluded from coffee houses. The philosophy of coffee, Brian Williams, p. 31.

[22] It stated: ‘due to the travails of war and other concerns, many have protested that we cannot be so stringent on this matter… the way to distance from sin will be that on the holy Sabbath, no one should go to the coffee houses to drink coffee, but anyone who wishes to drink should bring it to his home. And on weekdays, any time they are praying in the Old New Synagogue (Altneuschul), no man should dare go drink in the coffee house.’

[23] Maoz Kahana:

[24] Moses Montefiore: Jewish liberator, Imperial hero, p. 27.

[25] Early History of Coffee Houses in England, p. 79.

[26] The first English Coffee House, p. 29-30.

[27] P. 56.

[28] According to Dayan David, of the Sephardic Beit Din in London, in Burma in the 20th century, Jews would drink coffee on Shabbat, by a non-Jew visiting the coffee house and pouring it for people in cups in the town. In Bombay, it seems that Jews did not drink coffee on Shabbat, as recorded in The Sassoon Dynasty (p. 56): ‘At sundown, the evening service would be mellifluously recited; after which the pious householder permitted fire to be used once more after the Sabbatical rest, and the company was regaled on coffee and narghiles.’

[29] It is for this reason that drinking of tea eventually took over the popularity of coffee in the 18th century.

[30] In 1684 Abraham succeeded his father as head of the Egyptian rabbinate. His son-in-law, the physician Ḥayyim b. Moses Tawil, published a collection of Abraham's responsa (arranged in the order of the four Turim) and a treatise on divorce entitled Ginat Veradim (Constantinople, 1716–17) and Ya’ir Netiv (1718), respectively. In Venice, Abraham printed his father's responsa Darkhei No'am (1697–98), adding to it his own treatise on circumcision which involved him in a halakhic controversy with his contemporaries.

[31] There are four interpretations offered to this principle: a. Tosafists (Shabbat 39a) and R. Jacob b. Asher (Tur, Orach Chaim 318) say that food that has been fully cooked before Shabbat may be reheated on Shabbat. b. Rashi interprets the principle pertaining not to cooked food, but salted food that had been soaked before Shabbat. c. Rabbi Vidal of Tolosa, author of Maggid Mishneh, states that it is referring to food that has been partially cooked before Shabbat. d. Maimonides states: ‘When food has been cooked before the Sabbath or soaked in hot water before the Sabbath, one is permitted to soak it in hot water on the Sabbath even though it is presently cold.’ R. Joseph Karo interprets Maimonides as referring to any – salted or unsalted - food that may have been soaked in boiling hot water, as sufficient to be considered cooked before Shabbat so that it may be cooked on Shabbat.

[32] Maimonides, in his legal work Mishneh Torah, Laws of Shabbat, chapters 9 and 22, also does not make any distinction.

[33] This view is brought in Mordechai, Shabbat 320.

[34] He may have had a variant in the manuscript.

[35] He supports this challenge – that cooking after baking does not constitute cooking on Shabbat, as opposed to matza on Passover – from the decisive view in the Talmud that cooked vegetables still require the blessing over the fruit from the ground (boreh pri ha-adamah), despite it having been altered in the process of their stewing, as this doesn’t fundamentally change their constitution. The same is the case with cooking after baking: it doesn’t constitute a fundamental change and thus one is not liable.

[36] Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 318:5.

[37] Sefer Hazichronot says the opposite: halacha follows the first view in Shulchan Aruch, when the first view prohibits.

[38] Zera Emet ch. 39.

[39] Lev Chaim 2:55.

[40] This was based on the way they read the view of R. Joseph Karo’s second decisive opinion that it is permitted, pertaining only to a secondary vessel, but a primary vessel remains in fact prohibited.

[41] The Life of Anthony Wood in his own words, N. Kiessling, p. viii.


[43] The Life of Anthony Wood, p. 115.

[44] The Life of Anthony Wood, p. 192.

[45] The Life of Anthony Wood, p. 36.

[46] Oxford: A Cultural and Literary Companion, p. 67.

[47] Accessed 11 March, 2024.

[48] Accessed 11 March, 2024.

[49] Oxford: A Cultural and Literary Companion, p. 67.

[50] The Life of Anthony Wood, p. 44.

[51] The year Edwards married Mary, the eldest daughter of merchant Thomas Hodges, which facilitated Rosée to open the coffee house, in partnership with Edwards’ father in law’s former apprentice, Christopher Bowman - a freeman of the City.

[52] The connection of Jews to the spread of coffee houses round the world is mentioned by Ottoman chronicler İbrahim Peçevi, who reports in his writings (1642–49) about the opening of the first coffeehouse in Istanbul: ‘Until the year 962 [1555], in the High, G-d-Guarded city of Constantinople, as well as in Ottoman lands generally, coffee and coffeehouses did not exist. About that year, a fellow called Hakam from Aleppo and a wag called Shams from Damascus came to the city; they each opened a large shop in the district called Tahtakale, and began to purvey coffee.’ Outside the Ottoman Empire, the first coffee house is said to have appeared in 1632 in Livorno by a Jewish merchant, or later in 1640, in Venice.

[53] P. 90.

[54] P. 67. Accessed 10 March, 2024.


[56] The philosophy of coffee, Brian Williams, p. 45.

[57] The philosophy of coffee, Brian Williams, p. 46.


[59] Jonathan Morris, Coffee: A Global History.


[61] A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, vol. 15, p. 138.

[62] A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, vol. 15, p. 140.

[63] A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, vol. 15, p. 139.


[65] A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, vol. 15, p. 143.

[66] A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, vol. 15, p. 144.

[67] A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, vol. 15, p. 145.

[68] Psalms 122.

[69] A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, vol. 15, p. 147.

[70] A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, vol. 15, p. 151.


[72] A social and religious history of the Jews, Salo Wittmayer Baron, vol. 15, p. 150-151.

[73] The problem with this idea is that

[74] The Life of Anthony Wood, p. 115.


[76] Coffee: A Global History (p. 69), Jonathan Morris

[77] P. 45.

[78] P. 65-66.

[79] P. 69.

[80] P. 71-72.

[81] P. 30.

[82], p. 168.

[83] Woods life and times, p. 190.

[84] Wood MS. F. 1, p. 1082 / Woods life and times, p. 191.

[85] The opening of the coffee houses by Jacob and Cirques was followed by Arthur Tillyard in 1656 who sold coffee publicly in his house against All Souls. Tillyard's coffee house would continue trading after 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne. Woods writes in the Secretum for March 1656:[85] ‘In this yeare Arthur Tillyard an Apothecary and great Royallist sold coffey publickly in his House against All-Soules Coll - He was encouraged so to do by som Royallists now living in Oxon, and by others who esteem’d themselves either Virtuosi or Witts. There were others also, as John Lamphire a Physitian lately ejected from New College, who was sometimes the natural Droll of the Company, the two Wrens, Sojournours in Oxon, Mathew and Thomas sons of Dr Bishop of Ely &c. This coffey house continued till his Majesties Returne and after, and then they became more frequent, and had an Excise set upon Coffey. encouraged by the society of young students, an apothecary and Royallist named Arthur Tillyard began to sell ‘coffey publickly in his house against All Souls College.’’ The veracity of the account about Jacob’s coffee house, may be deduced from the unquestioning veracity of other coffee houses and drinking in Oxford: the first use of the bean in England was also in Oxford: the private use as a brain stimulant, recorded to have taken place at Balliol college, Oxford ‘the first sinner to drink Coffee, and was sent down for his crime of stimulating his cramming.’ In 1650, in the house of Daniel Edwards, after returning from Smyrna, Anatolia, it we’re told he drank two or three dishes at a time of coffee, twice or thrice a day’ (The First English Coffee House, p. 29-30). The same may be said regarding the beginning of Jacob’s coffee house, as indicated in the Harley manuscript entry: ‘Coffey, which had been drank by some persons in Oxon. 1650,’ implying that it was drunken in private first, followed by coffee drinking in a publicly setting: ‘was this yeare publickly sold at or neare the Angel within the East Gate of Oxon. as also Chocolate by an outlander or a Jew.’ After the first opening of a coffee house in Oxford, the growth and popularity of coffee houses is evident by the fact that in 1663 there were already 83 coffee houses in London (Inglis, Lucy (2014). Georgian London: Into the Streets. London: Penguin).


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