Edelstein, (Eli) Joseph (1886–1939), writer and public speaker, was born 30 August 1886 at 31 Warren Street, Portobello, Dublin, son of Abraham Maurice Edelstein, a commercial traveller who later went into business as a picture-frame maker and gilder, and his wife Jane (née Moisel); both parents were born in Russia. Joseph was probably the eldest of at least eight children (five sons and three daughters). Around 1902 he emigrated to South Africa, where he was a political activist and public speaker. By 1907 Edelstein had returned to Dublin, where he became an active supporter of home rule and the Gaelic League; (‘They as Jews knew the value of a national language’ – Irish Weekly Independent). In 1908 he became secretary of the Judaeo-Irish home rule association which Jacob Elyan established. The society marked the increasing tendency for Dublin Jews, predominantly unionist in the 1890s, to support home rule; Edelstein was subsequently active in the United Irish League. He spoke several languages and worked as a commercial translator, helping to mediate personal disputes within the Jewish community.
Edelstein published The moneylender (1911), an emotive melodrama in uncertain English, possibly the first novel written by an Irish Jew. The central character escapes from persecution in the Russian pale of settlement and brings his family to Dublin, where he revenges himself on the gentiles by becoming a ruthless moneylender. Although the novel reflects internal disputes within the Dublin Jewish community over the moral legitimacy of moneylending, its partial acceptance of some anti-Semitic stereotypes, exacerbated by tasteless illustrations, makes it an unsettling document. The author's co-religionists can hardly have welcomed the praise its ‘courageous’ criticisms received from journals such as the Catholic Bulletin. The novel suggests a degree of instability that may explain Edelstein's single status, unusual in a pious Jew.
An August 1912 incident, when he delivered a pro-suffragist speech in the Phoenix Park some distance from an official suffragette meeting and experienced anti-Semitic taunts from members of the crowd, also suggests a certain emotional instability. This can only have increased after the 1916 rising, when at the inquiry into the murders committed by Captain John Bowen-Colthurst (qv), Edelstein was accused of collaborating with Councillor J. J. Kelly in relation to the scandal sheet, The Eye-Opener. He was also accused of giving false information to the authorities about the use of Kelly's premises by rebels, leading to the arrest of two men, Dickson and McIntyre, who were found there during a raid and were subsequently murdered by Bowen-Colthurst. Edelstein denied these accusations and insisted on giving evidence in rebuttal at the tribunal; he claimed his life had been threatened as a result of the allegations and that his only contact with the military during Easter week had been an attempt to negotiate the safe passage of bread supplies for the civilian population. The allegations, regularly repeated, haunted Edelstein for the rest of his life and in 1933 he reprinted the Irish Independent's account of the inquiry as a pamphlet in order to defend himself against the charge.
Edelstein's erratic behaviour during the 1920s suggests a tendency to paranoid schizophrenia. He appeared in court in 1920 after an altercation with the doorman at the Kildare Street Club, where he was to meet Lord Castletown (qv). During the proceedings (which ended in his acquittal) he complained he was the victim of anti-Semitic prejudice and asked that Jews be excluded from the jury because his denunciations of moneylending would prejudice them against him. Some years later he was convicted of gaining entrance to a Dublin dancehall by posing as a Scotland Yard detective, and he served a brief prison sentence after being convicted of knocking down a boy in the street for no apparent reason. However, he continued to write newspaper articles on Jewish faith and customs, and in the 1930s he worked on behalf of Jewish refugees.
Edelstein died in a Dublin nursing home 1 December 1939. His torments derived primarily from his own mental problems but how far these had an organic source or reflected a sensitive mind's response to the cultural traumas of immigration and the experience of anti-Semitic prejudice can never be known. He was buried with Jewish rites at the Dublin community cemetery in Dolphin's Barn.