Friday, January 31, 2014

"An extraordinary breach of promise case"

"An action for breach of promise of marriage, in which both the parties were Jews, and whose evidence had to interpreted to the court, was opened. The plaintiff was Ezra M. Hettena, merchant and agent carrying on business at Port Said..." - Manchester Times

In December 1892, British newspapers were filled with excited reports from a court hearing in Manchester, England. The case of Hettena vs. Joseph involved an unusual marital dispute between Baghdadi Jews that gave Victorian England a titillating peek inside the Jewish bedroom.

The lawsuit had been brought my great-grandfather, Ezra Hettena, and his teenage daughter, Sophia. The defendant was Eliahoo Joseph, a Baghdadi Jew who had been betrothed to marry Sophia. Yet it was only after Sophia promised to Joseph did the Hettenas learn the humiliating truth: her fiance had a wife and three children in Baghdad.

The Hettenas sought £5000 to cover the costs of the dowry Joseph received and their expenses from chasing him across Europe. They also wanted revenge. "We want to break his neck," Sophia told an interpreter for the court.

By 1890, the Hettenas had moved to Port Said, Egypt. Ezra Hettena was a cotton merchant and the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 had opened up new opportunities for merchants like Ezra Hettena. By virtue of his birth in Bombay in British India, Ezra was a British subject. And as a British subject, he was subject to British law. He could bring a case in foreign courts and thus avoid the notoriously corrupt and inefficient Egyptian courts.

So, the case was brought in England and the record survives. What's more, the case was sensational, so the newspapers provided readers with detailed reports.  The Manchester Times and the rival Guardian newspapers each devoted nearly an entire page to the hearing and covered all the appeals. Their accounts were picked up as far away as New Zealand.

From a genealogical point of view, it's a treasure trove of information about my family. I learned things that would have otherwise been lost to time: what languages they spoke, how they acted, and to some degree, who they really were.

The story begins in 1890, when a Mrs. Sassoon passed through Port Said, Egypt on her way back to England from Baghdad. In Port Said, she met the Hettenas, fellow Baghdadi Jews who were newly arrived Egyptian immigrants. Mrs. Sassoon was struck by the eldest daughter, Sophia, then 16. When she returned to Manchester, Mrs. Sassoon told her brother, Eliahoo Joseph, about the young girl she had discovered in Egypt.

In 1891, Ezra Hettena left Port Said and traveled to Manchester where he had some business dealings with Joseph, who proposed to marry his daughter. When Hettena returned to Egypt, Sophia, wrote the following letter to Joseph:

Messrs. E. Joseph and Co.
Dear sirs,--
Please receive these few lines. As you have made proposals to my dear father, I am obedient to my parents. Please excuse that I send you these two lines, because when I sent the first letter my father was not at Port Said and now he has come. I have nothing else to say but Good-bye, good-bye. S. HETTENA

The letter was written in French with a copy in Italian, "no doubt sent by the plaintiff to show off her accomplishments," the Manchester Times correspondent wrote.

Arrangements for a wedding were made. The Torah makes Jewish marriage into a two-stage process. The first step is "kiddushin," and the second step is known as "nisu'in." Kiddushin is commonly translated as betrothal, but actually renders the bride and groom full-fledged husband and wife. After this point, if the couple decided to part ways, a "get" (Jewish divorce) would be required. However, the bride and groom are not permitted to live together as husband and wife until the second stage, the nisu'in, is completed.

On April 24, 1892, a kiddushin was held. Joseph signed a power of attorney and sent it to Port Said along with a diamond ring, fulfilling the custom that a Jewish groom provide something of value to his bride. The chief rabbi of Port Said stood in for Joseph during the ceremony.

Sophia then turned her attention to the forthcoming nisu'in in Paris. While Sophia ordered an elaborate wedding gown, Joseph invited his betrothed to meet him in Paris at the Grand Hotel, reminding her to bring all her jewels with her. Her father sent along two cases of her dowry filled with valuables worth several hundred British pounds.

On the 3rd of May, Sophia wrote Joseph:

My dear fiance,--
I have just received your kind note. I was glad to hear of your good health as I am. As you say you want me to hasten to come over before Passover they have not been able to find a dressmaker because they were all busy for Easter. Now we have given everything for making, and we must wait till they finish. I hope we shall leave by the 1st of June. Many compliments from my dear father and my dear mother and all our family. Receive, my dear fiance, my warmest greetings. S. HETTENA

On the 16th of May, Sophia wrote:

My dear fiance,--
I have received your very honored letter in English. I know how to read it, but I can't understand anything. If you write me in English, you know, I will not answer you. As you say, you will wait for us in Paris. It is very difficult for us to go as far as Paris, because mother and I are coming. My father cannot leave the children and come with us. If you wish to please us, come to Marseilles and take us. S HETTENA"

Sophia, accompanied by her mother, Farha, set out for France on the 15th of June. Upon arrival in Paris, they were met by Joseph who took them to the Grand Hotel and showed them the rooms he had taken for them. According to the Manchester Times' detailed account of hearing, Sophia's mother complained that her room was too small for all of them, whereupon Joseph explained he had booked another room for Sophia and himself.

"You are not married yet," the mother told him.

"But the rabbi has consecrated us," Joseph responded.

"That does not matter," Farha Hettena replied. "You will have to be married according to the law of this country before you can occupy one room."

And then the truth came spilling out. "I can't do that," Joseph explained. "I am a married man."

Joseph said it was the custom in Turkey and France for couples to live together without being married, except by betrothal. But Farha Hettena was no fool. She said she wanted to check this story out with the rabbi or consul in Paris the next morning. Joseph said he would go with them.

But the next morning, Joseph took off. Farha and Sophia spent another night in Paris at a more downrate hotel and then pursued Joseph to Manchester and confronted him in his office. He took them to his house and again tried to consort with Sophia. Mother and daughter locked themselves in for the night. The next day, they left and stayed at the home of a friend, Mr. Laredo. There they met Salom Attal, who helped them get a solicitor to bring suit. Attal would play a huge role in the Hettenas future life by becoming adopted father to one of their children. (More on this in a future post)

The trial was held in the Nisi Prius Court at the Manchester Assizes (a court that no longer exists). Farha and Sophia appeared in court and each gave their testimony in Arabic, as did Joseph, who insisted that the Port Said ceremony was a marriage and he had told Sophia's father about his wife in Baghdad. Ezra Hettena was conspicuously absent from the proceedings.

A key point for the defense was what whether Ezra Hettena, Sophia’s father, knew of Joseph’s family in Baghdad. Joseph claimed he had told the father when the two men met in England in 1891. In cross-examination, Farha Hettena conceded that her husband had arrived in Manchester about two weeks before the trial. He had parted company and Farha said did not know exactly where he was. If Ezra did know of Joseph’s Baghdad family, his wife said he never told her about it.  

The jury found for Sophia Hettena and awarded her £1350, not quite the £5000 the Hettenas were seeking but still quite a sum at that time. The announcement was received with applause. Joseph appealed the case, and lost again. "I have come to the conclusion the defendant was a scamp," the Master of the Rolls (senior judge) declared in dismissing the appeal.

Meanwhile, Joseph’s creditors had been nervously watching the proceedings. After the appeal was dismissed, Joseph’s creditors moved to collect their debts. One immediately filed a petition to collect the £425 owed to him. The Calf Hey Mill Company, which wove fabric with its powerlooms, served a writ seeking £266. 

In June 1893, Joseph offered Sophia a divorce. He also said that Ezra Hettena owed him £575, which Joseph said he would waive. “Without the said compromise,” Joseph wrote, Sophia “will be unable to recover anything.” Sophia assented. Joseph granted her a divorce under Jewish law. Jilting Sophia Hettena would ultimately cost Joseph £3,000, most of it in attorney fees and court costs, which pushed him to the brink of bankruptcy. He managed to stay in business but only for a few years longer.

Given how things turned out, Sophia should have been thankful. She nearly married a complete scoundrel. Joseph declared bankruptcy in 1902, was convicted of libel the following year and sentenced to two years in prison with hard labor for conspiring to blackmail a Manchester merchant. He was convicted of living openly with unmarried women (a veiled reference to prostituion). Sophia was lucky to have escaped with little more than a lightly tarnished reputation.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Jewish Prostitution in England

It is not idle speculation to wonder whether a life of scandal and shame might have been the fate of young Sophia Hettena, had her mother not accompanied her on that fateful voyage to France.

For the Master of the Rolls’ judgment of Eliahoo Joseph as a “scamp” would soon be proved correct. In 1898, he was found guilty of adultery with a Manchester woman, Ada Newsham (nee Cardus), whose husband was away in America. While she was living with Joseph, Ada had a young son by her previous marriage, a boy who became Sir John Frederick Neville Cardus, a famous cricket and music correspondent for the Manchester Guardian. In his autobiography, Neville Cardus describes his mother as a “genteel prostitute.” Joseph may have been her pimp.

Joseph’s courtship of Sophia Hettena – a betrothal, then luring the girl to England – was part of a trend of “irregular marriages” that bothered the Anglo-Jewish community. According to Lloyd P. Gartner's excellent paper "Anglo-Jewry and the Jewish International Traffic in Prostitution, 1885-1914" [pdf link], the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the official voice of the Anglo-Jewish community reported in 1892 that a “great many” irregular marriages were taking place in England. “Such marriages, being known to those who conduct them to be unlawful, are performed in a secret and sinister manner, and every possible means is adopted to prevent the actors being traced.” In one egregious case, a man married nine women in turn “each of these nine marriages being mere idle forms of enabling the conscious perpetrator of the villainy to discard at his pleasure his innocent and unhappy victims.”

It is also possible that Joseph may have his hand in a dirty side business: white slavery. Sophia’s betrothal or kiddushin “marriage” to Joseph was one of the ways that white slave traders ensnared their victims. In Eastern Europe, this was known as the “shtile khupe,” a clandestine, unregistered form of Jewish, but not civil marriage. This betrothal left the girl at the mercy of her would-be husband, who could use his leverage to force her into prostitution and live off her earnings.

The white slave was in full swing in 1890, and Jewish women fetched high prices in brothels overseas, usually in Argentina. Constance Rothschild Lady Battersea, whose father was scion of the Rothschild banking family, founded the Jewish Association for the Protection of Girls and Women in 1885 to rescue Jewish women from the white slave trade. The East End of London also saw many poor Jewish women prostituting themselves.

The main reservoir out of which thousands of Jewish women were drawn into prostitution was Eastern European, where there were legions of poor Jewish women desperate to leave behind the shtetl for the New World. The white slave trade preyed on girls from poor communities yearning for a better life and Sophia, fleeing dusty Port Said, would have made an excellent target.

Not coincidentally, the Jewish community in Egypt tightened the rules relating to marriage and ended the practice of kiddushins in 1901. The chief rabbis of Cairo and Alexandria promulgated a “haskama” or communal ordinance to all Jewish communities in Egypt. The rabbis required a ketoubah or marriage contract in all Jewish weddings. Prior authorization was also required from the head of the local Jewish community and no marriage could be performed without a minyan, a quorum of 10 Jewish males.

When we next hear of Joseph it is in yet another breach of promise of marriage case in Manchester. This case was brought by Ada Newsham’s 22-year-old sister, Beatrice Cardus. It became known in local papers as “the case of the lustful Turk.” Beatrice sued the Turkish Consul General, Mustahpha Karsa, a married father of eight, for breaching his promise to marry her. Evidence at the trial in 1902 revealed that Joseph had introduced Karsa to Beatrice. In his autobiography, Neville Cardus reveals that his aunt Beatrice, like his mother, was also a prostitute.

By 1903, Joseph’s creditors forced him into bankruptcy. Joseph owed more than £10,000, but liquidating his estate yielded one-tenth of that sum. A few months later, he was sentenced to two years’ hard labour for spreading lies about a competitor. Sometime before October 1907, he fled home to Baghdad. The few friends he had left behind were brought up on charges of lying in Joseph’s application for British citizenship.

Joseph probably left England with some regret. He had lived a profligate life in Manchester, one that would in all likelihood been out of his reach in Baghdad. During the bankruptcy hearing, Joseph protested more than once that he felt it was a privilege to be considered

He told the court he had "a Jewish face, but an English heart."

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Uncle Isaac

While they tried to sort out the marriage to Eliahoo Joseph, Sophia Hettena and her mother, Farha, spent 18 months in England. And when they finally returned to Egypt, Farha and Sophia left something precious behind.

Members of Manchester’s burgeoning Sephardic Jewish community had taken pity on Farha and Sophia and come to their aid. Salom Attal, a Moroccan Jew by birth and a naturalized British citizen, helped them find an apartment and paid their expenses in Manchester.

Evidently some deal was struck between the Hettenas and the Attals. For when Farha and Sophia returned home to Egypt, with Sophia free from her obligation to Eliahoo Joseph, one member of the family remained behind.

Uncle Isaac
Isaac Hettena, the 3-year-old boy who had accompanied his mother and sister, would spend the rest of his childhood and his early adult years in Manchester. He attended the Manchester Jewish School and served in the British Army during World War I. The city would be his home for much of his life and is today his final resting place.

My father was never told why uncle Isaac had been separated from his five brothers and three sisters back in Egypt. Some said that it was a business deal, and the Attals were unable to have children.

Young Isaac filled a void in the Attals life. The Attals were longing for a son of their own. When the Hettenas entered their lives in 1891, Attal and his wife, Simha, were mourning the death of their son, Joseph, who had died in infancy the previous year. For reasons that are not clear, Isaac would take his place.

Whatever the case, the agreement had been reached between the Hettenas and the Attals quickly unravelled.

In 1897, while Isaac was living with the Attals, Farha Hettena sued Salom Attal in the British Courts of the Mixed Tribunals in Alexandria, Egypt and won a judgement of £740. The precise nature of the dispute is unclear, as the records have proved difficult to locate. Attal appealed and lost.

Attal countersued Farha Hettena in 1900, and the records of this case did survive. The Hettenas had now moved to the more cultured city of Alexandria, home to the largest Jewish community in Egypt.

Attal states that Farha Hettena has been pressing him to hand over the award, threatening him with a court order if he did not pay up. He describes Farha as “a pauper, or nearly so.

In his claim, Attal says that Farha Hettena owed him the even greater sum of £850 for the care he had provided to Isaac over the past few years and other expenses he covered from Farha’s and Sophia’s time in Manchester:

(a) Account rendered to Mr. Hettena as per my books now in the hands of the English Consul at Alexandria about £130
(b) Board pocket money and extras for Farha Hettena and daughter for 18 months supplied at the request of Farha Hettena: £170
(c) Fares to Alexandria Mrs. Hettena and daughter. £40.
(d) Nurse for the son [Isaac] for 2 years £150
(e) Board clothes and school for the son for 6 years. £360

The court was not moved by this argument and ordered him to pay Farha what she was owed. On October 16, 1900, Attal signed over to Farha 10 shares of Egyptian Sugar & Land, a Scottish company. The company went into liquidation a few years later.

Despite the lawsuit, young Isaac Attal grew up very much an Englishman. He remained up in the Attal home in Manchester at 237 Cheetham Hill Road. The 1901 Census of England lists 11-year-old Isaac as Attal’s son. The 1911 Census shows Isaac still living in Manchester with Simha Attal, his adopted mother, who was recently widowed. That same year, the 20-year-old Isaac married an Englishwoman, Ethel Cummins, and listed Salom Attal as his father on the marriage license. Isaac and two Englishmen formed business together called Issac Attal & Company and traded Egyptian cotton.

At some point in his mid-20s, after he joined the British Army during World War I, Isaac Attal became Isaac Hettena again. He remarried and returned to Cairo, but his new wife, a native of England, did not approve. She hated life in Egypt and returned to England with her daughter.

Isaac, a man with two sets of parents, was now torn between his wife and his family. Somehow he managed. When his wife left for England, Isaac remained in Cairo to be with the Hettenas.

Issac was the favorite uncle of my father and his sister.  When the Hettena Brothers were about to cut off support to my dad, his sister and their widowed mother, it was Isaac who stepped in to help.

Isaac was an early riser and had a habit of visiting my father and aunt at seven in the morning for breakfast. He would ring the bell in rhythm as the signal for the household to get up and greet him.

Although he became a Hettena again, Isaac remained loyal to the Attals for the rest of his life. He named his first son, Salom Victor, in his honor of his adopted father. Simha Attal, Salom’s wife, came to Egypt with him and remained part of his family. Issac’s nieces and nephews called her “Granny Attal.”

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Another Hettena Court Case

This is a ruling from a 1899 hearing in Alexandria. Original is in French. The case shows the continuing breakdown in the Attal-Hettena relationship, even as the Attals continued raising the Hettenas' son, Isaac. It also reveals a bit of skulduggery by Farha and Ezra Hettena to avoid creditors. They seem to have been in a constant state of indebtedness and it's amazing that they managed to survive as they did. 

farha bent rahel emeno


On the dispute regarding the register of creditors of Mrs. Farha bent (Arabic for daughter) Emeno, the wife of Ezra Hettena:

Whereas it is undisputed that, by a contract of 27 June 1889, Etienne Lombardo was acknowledged to be indebted to Th. Jourdan for 16,000 francs and to guarantee his debt he gave a mortgage on land with two houses, situated in Port Said;

That, under an agreement of 30 November 1889, Lombardo sold the mortgaged property to Ezra Hettena;

That, by a deed of 13 July 1892, Mrs. Farha bought out Jourdain who subrogated her in all his rights arising out of the contract of 27 June 1889.

That by virtue of this deed of subrogation Mrs. Farha proved as an interim creditor;

Whereas the appellants Youssef Waich and others, mortgage creditors of Ezra Hettena for 2100 Pounds under a mortgage imposed following a judgment of the Alexandria Commercial Court dated 23 February 1895, contested Mrs. Farha’s status of creditor in impugning the deed of 13 July 1892 as an avoidance, maintaining that the 16,000 Francs had been paid by Biriotti, on behalf of Farha, to the account of her husband Hettena, and in other words, that it is the latter in reality who bought out Jourdan.

Whereas it is not, within the scope of a Paulian action, admissible for creditors subsequent to the act impugned to contest its validity ;

That it consists simply of an avoidance;

Whereas it has always been the legal doctrine and case law that creditors can strike down acts of avoidance by their debtors, provided that they have an interest in the matter and that it is not essential that their rights be prior to the act of avoidance nor that the act was fraudulent, it being sufficient to establish that the act was prejudicial to their rights;

Whereas the appellants invoked the following two fundamental arguments in order to establish that the contract dated 11 July 1892 was an avoidance:

  1. That Hettena ensured, in order better to lead the third parties astray, that his wife was named in the deed only by her maiden name and not by her married name.
  2. That in 1892 Mrs. Farha lived in Manchester and that she was unable to say how she would have sent the 16,000 Francs to Biriotti who proceeded on her behalf to buy out Jourdan, nor where, in Port Said, she would have had the funds or where the agreement of 13 July 1892 was made;

That additionally the appellants maintain that Mrs. Farha never had monetary resources and put her to proof;

Whereas the arguments put forward by Youssef Waich and others are insufficient in themselves to prove that the act impugned was an avoidance;

That it therefore appropriate to admit their testamentary evidence, the facts to be established being pertinent and avoidance inter parentes being a presumption of fact.

Concerning the proof as a creditor by Cassa di Sconto di Risparmio, transferred by an order subject to appeal by Didia Baruch and four other assignees, Moïsé Gaan, Adolphe Schaifr, Israël and Zondanos:

Whereas the proof as a creditor by the Caisse d’Epargne on behalf of Didia Baruch arises from a mortgage imposed pursuant to a judgment of 27 October 1894, against the debtor Ezra Hettena, subscriber to the two aforementioned notes, endorsed in favour of the Caisse d’Epargne;

Whereas Youssef Waich and others the notes as equally being avoidance, and submit in evidence:
  1. That Baruch has never had monetary assets and has never been in a position to support the amount of the instruments endorsed by him to the Cassa di Sconto e di Risparmio.
  2. That the same Baruch in 1896 applied for survival aid to the Jewish Community of Alexandria.
Whereas witness evidence is admissible in proving avoidance.

That this evidence is warranted in the circumstances of the case, that is:

That the notes were subscribed some time after the formation of the alliance between Hettena, Chalom and Attal;

That disagreements arose between the associates;

That proceedings took place before the British Consul in Alexendria;

That among other transactions, Hettena arranged for John Hop in Manchester to obtain a loan of 2100 Pounds to give to Attal on Hettena’s behalf, and that John Hop assigned his debt to Bachi and Waich who, having issued a summons against Hettena, obtained judgment against him on 23 February 1895 for 2100 pounds in the Alexandria Commercial Court.

That finally none of the four creditors of Baruch of which he spoke, proceeded or were represented;


Interlocutory order
Alexandria, 8 March 1899.
Presiding Judge Bellet.

(2) See order of 5 February 1891 (Bull., III, 175)
(3) See order of 15 November 1803 (Bull., VI, 15)