Saturday, May 27, 2023
HomeStudy AbroadJewish Sephardim in Amsterdam – International Research Weblog

Jewish Sephardim in Amsterdam – International Research Weblog

In 1892, Temple Emanu-el, a Jewish Reform congregation in New York Metropolis, donated a group of uncommon Judaica books and manuscripts to Columbia College. Richard James Horatio Gottheil, the son of Temple Emanu-el’s rabbi and Columbia’s newly established professor of Rabbinical Literature (his title would change many instances over the subsequent few a long time) was instrumental within the donation of the reward, which had been acquired by Temple Emanu-el from a bookdealer in Amsterdam in 1872. The gathering contained 2500 books and 45 manuscripts, lots of which had been produced within the Jewish neighborhood of Amsterdam.

Title page of a book in Portuguese
Title web page, Providencia de dios con israel verdad…by Saul Levi Morteira.

Sephardic (Spanish and Portuguese) Jews had arrived within the Netherlands as early because the 15th century.  There have been shut connections between Spain and the Netherlands, and King Philip II of Spain managed the Netherlands from the mid-16th century.  Nevertheless, by time of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 100 years later, many of the northern Netherlands had achieved independence because the United Provinces.  The United Provinces’ joint historical past with Spain, mixed with its break from Catholicism, meant that these lands had been acquainted to Iberian Jews whereas exhibiting far more tolerance of non-Catholics. Totally different cities within the Netherlands had totally different insurance policies concerning Jewish practices, and Amsterdam was well-known for its comparatively tolerant insurance policies. One other important side of Dutch coverage by the mid-17th century was that its Jews be acknowledged as residents even whereas overseas, and thus restrictions on Dutch Jews in different lands (together with Spain, from which many Jews had fled with a purpose to safely observe Judaism, which was banned in Spain following the 1492 expulsion of the Jews) had been essentially restricted.

Image of a man preaching with a candelabra hanging from the ceiling.
Saul Levi Mortera preaching within the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue

Crypto-Jewish migration to Northern Europe from the Iberian peninsula would enhance from a trickle to a flowing river over the subsequent two centuries. These Jews who had transformed publicly to Christianity to outlive in Spain within the fifteenth century and past realized that journey to Amsterdam meant that they may return to their Jewish practices and communities. These Jews maintained their Iberian connections, nevertheless, talking Portuguese and writing in Spanish for hundreds of years. A set at Columbia of correspondence between the Sephardic communal leaders of Hamburg and Amsterdam starting within the mid-Seventeenth century is written in Spanish, with snippets of Ladino thrown in (the letters shift to Hebrew and Dutch in later centuries). Saul Levi Morteira was an essential rabbi and trainer of Judaism, and his e book Tratado de la verdad de la ley de Moseh y providencia de Dios con su pueblo was a important textual content in instructing Jewish observe to the previous conversos. A picture of Morteira (proper), instructing within the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam, is from one in every of Columbia’s three manuscript copies of the work, and is the one recognized up to date drawing of the rabbi in existence at this time.

Entermientos gustozos, o Dialogos burlescos entre un Judio, Turco, Reformado y Catolico

The arrival of many conversos to Amsterdam led to the creation of numerous polemical works (typically in manuscript, as a result of Jews printing anti-Christian texts would have been a bit an excessive amount of for his or her neighbors even in tolerant Amsterdam). A set of “Dialogues” between a “Reformado” (a Protestant), a “Catholico,” a “Turco” (that’s, a follower of Islam), and a “Judio,” debating which was the true faith, was most likely written in Amsterdam round 1737. The variety of the audio system within the dialogue additionally illustrates the spiritual range that existed within the multicultural Amsterdam of the 18th century. (For extra on the multicultural range of early trendy Amsterdam, see Dr. M. (Maarten) Hell’s presentation within the 2021 Norman E. Alexander Celebration of Collections, starting round 55:30.)

Spanish and Portuguese writing by Jews in Amsterdam wasn’t solely polemical, nevertheless. Sephardic Jews appeared towards Spain for inspiration in their very own writing as effectively.  Thus we now have Rabbi Isaac Aboab de Mattathias writing a play in regards to the Biblical determine of Joseph within the model of Spanish Golden Age Literature in 1685 (though in a distinctly Jewish model, because the play additionally contains parts of Portuguese and Ladino). Aboab’s works have been in contrast in model to these of Miguel de Carvajal’s Tragedia Josephina and Lope de Vaga’s El Caballero de Olmedo, indicating that he would have been accustomed to the works of the good Spanish writers of his time.

Comedia de la Vida y sucesos de Josseph, title web page
Comedia de la Vida y sucesos de Josseph, solid record











Title Page: Ordre van het Joodse Feest gebedt off Hoogh Tyden...
Title web page, prayers for Passover, Shavu’ot, Sukkot (MS X893 J7)

Not all Jews in Amsterdam spoke Iberian languages, in fact. Ashekenazi Jews from Central and Japanese Europe often spoke Yiddish, and there’s even documentation of Judeo-Arabic Jews from North Africa coming to print works at Amsterdam’s famed presses. Dutch was not fully uncared for, nevertheless.  The Libraries have a few examples of Jewish works in Dutch – a translation of the Psalms and the penitential prayers earlier than the Jewish New Yr, created for Sarah de la Farra in 1714; and a translation of prayers for Passover, Shavu’ot, and Sukkot in line with the Sephardic ceremony written by Michael Lopez Pinto (1734).  The streets of early trendy Amsterdam resounded with voices in lots of languages – these within the Jewish neighborhoods coated a broad vary, from Spanish, Portuguese, and Ladino, to Yiddish, Judeo-Arabic, and even a little bit of Dutch!

Psalms and penitential prayers in Dutch, 1714 (MS X893 J71)


For questions on this submit you might contact Michelle Margolis Chesner, the Norman E. Alexander Librarian for Jewish Research, at



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Most Popular

Recent Comments