Morris (Moshe) Lissack was born in Schwerin in Germany in 1814 to a relatively prosperous family. His father was a corn merchant and he received a traditional Talmudic education. In 1835, after his father had died, he emigrated to England and travelled the country as an itinerant hawker. In 1839 settled in the town of Bedford, where he married a Jewish girl, Hannah Joseph, who was born in Bedford in 1814. Her father, Michael Joseph, had founded the Jewish community in 1787. There was a Synagogue by 1803.
The community was small and there was a scandal when the Rabbi, Nathan Joseph, who was the son of Michael Joseph, converted to Christianity resulting in the temporary closure of the Synagogue.
There was an important legal battle waged by the Jews of Bedford which is discussed in Morris Lissack’s book. The children of Bedford were provided with a free education, financed by a long established charity called the Harpur Trust. The Trust refused to allow Jewish children to benefit.
Morris Lissack became a key figure in the Bedford community. He started as a teacher of German, then traded in jewellery and finally became a wine and spirits merchant. He was a very public and confident Jew who fought to secure the reality of Jewish emancipation in his own community. He fervently believed that England was a country of liberty and opportunity and decided that Jewish citizens had every right to enjoy their freedoms. He was also active in local issues of general social welfare (though especially education) and was actively involved with Liberal politics and particularly the campaign to permit Jewish M.P.s.
He became a very forthright campaigner as well as the natural leader of the Bedford community. He succeeded in gaining Jewish children religious equality in the Harpur trust in 1847, which was in its own way significant, in gaining Jewish rights to equal education. In 1850 Lissack took anti-Semitic bullies of his sons at the local Commercial School to court and won. He reasoned that England was a land of fairness and liberty and that his children should be able to “…go about in and open and fearless manner, and not be insulted by individuals who cannot know the principals of their religion.”
In 1851 Lissack published this autobiography in Bedford. There is an extensive and interesting subscription list at the beginning of his book, starting with the Chief Rabbi, Dr. Nathan Adler and including non-Jewish notables, such as the Duke of Bedford.
The book is about his life, although biographic details and names are limited. He describes the ups and downs of his life, and how Jewish values had ensured his own success against many set-backs and obstacles. The book sought to better inform its largely Christian readers about Judaism and Jewish life using his own life an example. The book is a strong attack on the integrity of Jewish missionaries and of their converts and argues that once a Jew, a Jews should always remain a Jew.
The Jewish community declined in Bedford and Morris Lissack retired to London in the 1880s.