In September 1893 at least two British newspapers (the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Aberdeen Journal), having noted that on 20 August Switzerland had passed a law banning shechita, commented identically: “The situation is full of irony. That the Societies for the Protection of Animals should claim to take Jews to task for the manner in which they prepare their food would be amusing if it were not so serious a matter. It was a Jew, Lewis Gompertz, who practically founded the movement in Europe for the prevention of cruelty to animals!”
In 1944, at London’s celebrated Brook Street Gallery, an exhibition on the theme “What the Jews have done for civilisation” was opened by the humanitarian peer and former politician Lord Sankey. Reported one of the country’s most prominent and respected provincial newspapers, the Yorkshire Post (22 February 1944): “It is lined from floor to ceiling with nearly 900 miniature portraits of Jews past and present, eminent in science, medicine, philosophy, art, music, literature and many other fields. Their names are legion … Animal lovers may note the name of Lewis Gompertz, who founded the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.”
On 6 May 1949 the Leamington Spa Courier carried a letter from the then chairman of the Shechita Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Elsley Zeitlyn, objecting to the paper’s statement “We hesitate to charge the sons of Israel with deliberate barbarity. Religious conviction dating from Old Testament times, is the basis of the practices they employ.”
In defence of shechita, Zeitlyn cited the support for it of 400 eminent non-Jewish authorities, and quoted London University physiologist Professor (Sir) Charles Lovatt Evans: “I should be happy to think my own end was likely to be as swift and painless as the end of those cattle killed in the Jewish way undoubtedly is.” Zeitlyn also gave examples of the obligation Judaism places on its adherents to treat animals with consideration and decency: ‘For many centuries Jewish teaching has inculcated the utmost concern for the exercise of kindness to animals. It is regarded as the mark of a righteous man, and finds expression in the laws governing the daily life of the Jew. It was the Jew who first taught “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn”, “Thou shalt not yoke an ox and an ass together.” Indeed, until the end of the 19th century cruelty to animals was nowhere illegal except under Jewish law. It is ironical to recollect that the RSPCA itself was founded by, amongst others, a Jew, Lewis Gompertz …’
If you think that the famous, controversial, Australian-born moral philosopher Professor Peter Singer, who authored Animal Liberation in 1975, is the Jewish pioneer of animal rights, think again.
On 1 May 1830 the following appeared in the correspondence columns of an English provincial newspaper, the Bucks Gazette:
“…. Let those who are satisfied that they commit no active cruelty, see whether they partake in a dish produced by unnecessary or excessive torture, eat lobsters, &c, which have been boiled alive … or eels skinned alive, or whether they countenance butchers who skin sheep or cut open and singe pigs before life is extinct, or run a hook through the nose and tail of calves. Let them go still farther – descend into their cellars and see whether they have any cats which are starving; whether any arsenic has been laid to poison, with excruciating torture, the unfortunate rats created there or any steel traps to mutilate them; and let them ask themselves if they had their own deaths to chuse [sic], if they think they could not find one more mild. Let them say whether they ever sit at ease in their carriages and unconcernedly hear the lash unmercifully applied on horses, – and here again we recommend the test of pain to be taken from their own bodies …. [A]nd farther be it known, that the link between man and brute is as strong as many others of nature’s chain, the ape and monkey being evidently man’s next of kin; while if report speak true, an offspring has arisen between them, half monkey and half man. Has, then, such offspring been granted only half a soul?”
Seems remarkably modern, doesn’t it, well ahead of its time?
The writer was Lewis Gompertz, born about 1783, the youngest of the large brood (including five sons) of a London couple, Solomon Barent Gompertz and his second wife Leah (née Cohen). Solomon Gompertz was a wealthy diamond merchant of Dutch Ashkenazi background and Leah was Dutch-born. The family was active within the Hambro Synagogue. In 1771, though, Solomon had the name of his newborn son Barent (his principal heir) recorded in the baptismal register of the church of St Olave, in the City of London, without, it seems, actually having him christened. The relevant entry reads thus: “Barent, the son of Solomon and Lea [sic] Gompertz, was born in the parish April 13 1771 which is here noted at the request of his father, as it may be of service to him hereafter, tho’ a Jew, to know his parish.”
Whether the same was done for Lewis and other siblings I do not know, but on 12 December 1809 Lewis married a non-Jewish wife, Ann Hollaman, at St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch, and set up home in Kennington, a London district south of the Thames. Lewis believed strongly in the equality of women and like John Stuart Mill deplored their subjugation. The childless marriage proved a happy one. His brother Benjamin, who in 1810 at the Hambro Synagogue married Sir Moses Montefiore’s daughter Abigail, was a gifted mathematician, and Lewis was similarly accomplished. He had a gift for mechanical engineering, and over the ensuing years devised a number of inventions, many of them intended to alleviate the suffering of animals, or to abolish the use of animals as beasts of burden altogether, for instance in the invention of a type of velocipede in 1821.
In fact, the welfare of animals was his consuming passion. What he must have inculcated of the Jewish teaching on kindness to animals morphed into vegetarianism, even veganism. He abstained from eggs and meat, would not ride in carriages out of sympathy for the horses that pulled them, and avoided leather products. Resolutely opposed for killing animals for their flesh or by-products, he did concede that animals who had died of natural causes might be consumed or otherwise used. His essential attitudes are contained in his book, Moral Inquiries on the Situation of Man and of Brutes (1824), as outlined by himself in a letter to the Morning Advertiser (12 February 1830):
“That man possesses no other right over dumb animals than that of the strong over the weak, not even … to use them for his food and labour, much less to sacrifice for sport. That the chief mental superiority of man over other animals consists in his greater power of communication, and that, individually, or divested of this advantage, he is, at least in many principal respects, inferior to some brutes. That with regard to prior and future states, man and brutes seem precisely similar. That in each of them consciousness may be suspended by death for an indefinite times, but never destroyed, the possibility of re-animation always remaining. That life can never exist by sport alone, but it must be suspended after death until a new body be formed, and that then all recollection of this life will cease….”
Yes, in many ways incomprehensible stuff. Imagine how that must have been received by the average reader, especially in an era when badger-, bear-, bull- and otter-baiting, as well as cock-fighting, dog-fighting and of course fox-hunting were tolerated pastimes!
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA; the prefix Royal came later, thanks to the patronage of Queen Victoria) was founded in 1824 by such good and compassionate men as the parliamentarian Richard Martin and clergyman Reverend Arthur Broome. Gompertz was on its committee from the start, becoming its manager in 1826 and its hon. secretary in 1828. He also acted as de facto treasurer and out of his own pocket (he had private means) rescued it from financial difficulties. His zeal for its work is exemplified by the prosecution he brought in 1828 against a man called Turner, whom he had seen in his own neighbourhood, Kennington, beating “in a very scandalous manner” a heavily-laden donkey (“ass” in the Times report) about the head and shoulders with “a long thick stick, more resembling a bludgeon than the proper instrument for quickening its pace” and for no discernible reason than the “gratification” of doing so. And also in his prosecution in 1830 of a butcher for transporting calves in a cart with their heads hanging over the sides resulting in serious injury to many and even death. The magistrate dismissed the case on the grounds that the butcher had no alternative means of conveying the livestock and had not been deliberately cruel, but the upshot was that, with the magistrate’s encouragement, Gompertz devised a more satisfactory means of transport for such animals.
His noble endeavours ensured that in 1832 he was awarded a silver medal by the SPCA, but in 1833, following its merger with the rival Association for the Promotion of Rational Humanity to the Animal
Creation (whose journal had accused Gompertz of anti-Christian and Pythagorean views), he was, being a Jew, effectively marginalised when the resultant new committee declared itself founded on Christian principles. He consequently resigned, and with the support of a number of sympathisers including subscribers, founding patrons, and the neo-Pythagorean Thomas Forster MB, FRAS, FLS – whose Philozia; or Moral Reflections on the actual condition of the Animal Kingdom (published 1839) would be dedicated to Gompertz – he founded the Animals' Friend Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It carried on the work of prosecuting animal abusers and of distributing tracts that the revamped original organisation had suspended.
Three press items during 1836 illustrate the Animals’ Friend’s Society’s effectiveness, for, aided by his wife Ann as “Honorary Inspector”, Gompertz applied himself it its work with all the energy and enthusiasm that had characterised his involvement with the SPCA (which for a time his organisation eclipsed as a result):
Bell’s Weekly Messenger (30 October 1836) “The Animals’ Friend Society. The Hon. Secretary [Gompertz] and officers of this necessary society, last week called John Haines, a drover, to be fined 13 s[hillings] by the Court of Aldermen, and John Lambert’s drover 5s 6d by Mr Trail, for having ill-treated their cattle.”
Morning Advertiser (2 November 1836) “The Animals’ Friend Society has recently met with the most flattering testimonials of gratitude from the respectable inhabitants of Birmingham, Bilston, Sedgeley, Darlastan and other places, for the great good it has effected towards the suppression of bull-baiting in those districts; no less than forty-eight bull-baiters having been severely punished by the society last year [bull- and bear-baiting were outlawed in 1835], and this society being again engaged in directing its energies and means in the same laudable work, and having also, we understand, this year repeated its efforts towards abolishing the barbarous Stamford bull-running. We also learn that Lewis Gompertz, Esq. (its Hon. Secretary), has reason to believe that its previous interference will present that sport from again taking place. We hope our humane readers will bear in their minds the great expenses of these operations, and aid the society to continue its efforts.”
ell’s Weekly Messenger (13 November 1836) “Proceedings of the Animals’ Friend Society at West Bromwich and London. Last Sunday having been the day appointed for the commencement of the wake of bull-baiting, a bull which had been baited every year for the last 10 years, was got ready by a fellow called John Hancox, to be again baited (and on that sacred day). But upon his having discovered that the society was watching him, he concealed the bull in his own pantry, when his wife, on her having entered the pantry the next morning, little suspecting such a visitor, was terribly alarmed, and let the bull escape. Hancox then having been severely admonished by the Rev. Dr Spry, became truly penitent, and no baiting is now expected to take place. The agents next having notice that a badger was being baited, went to the spot and rescued it; after which they proceeded with nine constables to stop some dog fights, and took two offenders into custody, one of which was unfortunately rescued by the mob.”
To quote an advertisement for its organ, The Animal’s Friend (in Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 17 June 1838): “The Animal’s Friend No. VI just published for the Animal’s Friend Society (not the Society usually called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), 60 pages octavo and a copper plate, price 6d, containing its Sixth Report with its Prosecutions, 280 by this Society during the last six years, for Cruelty to Dumb Animals. Also, much miscellaneous matter connected with the subject, in which the crimes of Field Sports and vivisections perpetrated by the Rich; and Bull-baiting and other enormities by the poor are alike impartially exposed. Lewis Gompertz, Hon. Sec., Oval Kennington.”
Gompertz’s wife Ann died in April 1847. He felt her loss keenly. His own health was in decline and to make matters worse the Animal’s Friend Society had been experiencing difficulties. In 1843, for instance, three disaffected members spread a false report that it had disbanded, and kept its takings for themselves. In 1849 Gompertz appeared as a witness in a court case, a spiteful reporter describing him as “a miserably dressed decrepid [sic; archaic; i.e. decrepit] old Jew’. He died at his Kennington home on 2 December 1861 and was buried beside his wife in the local churchyard. Described in his Last Will and Testament as “Lewis Gompertz, gentleman” (and in the 1861 Census as a “fundholder”) he left around £14,000 (the equivalent of £1.5 million today). Had he flaunted his wealth, we can imagine what that spiteful reporter would have written.
We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.