By Sheila A. Spector
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Extra info for Byron and the Jews
Akham being the Talmudic scholar, the gaon the head of the academies established in the middle of the sixth century, and the illuy the young prodigy who was groomed for a position of intellectual leadership in the community. Throughout Jewish history, the genius was used as the cultural instrument for maintaining the centrality of religion in the Jewish national identity, his intellectual prowess being defined in terms of his ability to master the Bible and Talmud. Given his importance to Jewish survival, the community frequently supported the illuy so that he could mature into a gaon.
In the seventeenth century, the term was inverted so that it no longer signified the ethos that unified the group, but referred to the particular characteristic that distinguished the individual from the general population: “Natural ability or capacity; quality of mind; the special endowments which fit a man for his peculiar work. . ” This meaning led eventually to the concept’s being associated with the Romantic imagination: “Native intellectual power of an exalted type, such as is attributed to those who are esteemed greatest in any department of art, speculation, or practice; instinctive and extraordinary capacity for imaginative creation, original thought, invention, or discovery.
It should not be surprising, therefore, that later Jews were able to find in Byron echoes of their own culture. 2 He was born in London on May 11, 1766, but was raised in Middlesex, outside the range of the Anglo-Jewish community, by a mother who regretted being Jewish and a father who wanted him to go into business. As a Jew, D’Israeli was never really comfortable attending English schools, which were Christian, so eventually, in 1780–81, his father sent him to Amsterdam, where he attended what was supposed to have been a superior academy, but was not.
Byron and the Jews by Sheila A. Spector