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’This Ambitious Polish Jew’: Rethinking the Conversion and Career of Bishop Isaac Hellmuth

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Publication Date

Fall 2007






Ontario History

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Bishop Isaac Hellmuth is the undisputed father of The University of Western Ontario, and his devotion to Christianity is celebrated as part of its rich history. Hellmuth, however, was born a Jew. Both Anglican and evangelical sources have treated his Judaism and his 1814 conversion to Christianity in a variety of ways, but they are limited. This paper will revisit Hellmuth's conversion and career through a Jewish lens, profiling a Christian missionary movement in which Hellmuth was active as both a prospective apostate and long-time emissary. Hellmuth's conversion has been described as an exclusively religious experience, but amidst European anti-Semitism, it might have been partly motivated by a desire for position and wealth. Certainly, Hellmuth's conversion reaped him rewards, although in London, Ontario, he was never quite able to elude his Jewish past.

Resume: L'eveque Isaac Hellmuth est incontestablement le pere fondateur de l'Universite Western Ontario, et son devouement au christianisme est celebre comme une partie integrale de la riche histoire de cette universite. Et pourtant, Hellmuth etait ne Juif. Les sources anglicanes et evangeliques ont traite son judaisme et sa conversion au christianisme en 1841 de differentes manieres. Dans cet article on reexaminera la conversion et la carriere d'Hellmuth d'une perspective juive, mettant en evidence l'existence d'un mouvement missionnaire chretien dans lequel Hellmuth oeuvrait aussi bien en tant qu'apostat eventuel qu'en tant qu'emissaire de longue date. La conversion d'Hellmuth a ete decrite comme une experience uniquement religieuse; mais, dans le contexte d'anti-semitisme europeen, elle aurait pu etre aussi partiellement motivee par un desir de position sociale et de richesse. La conversion d'Hellmuth lui a certes rapporte de nombreuses recompenses; mais a London, Ontario, il n'a cependant jamais reussi a se derober completement a son passe juif.


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