Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History

Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History

by David B. Ruderman
     
 

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Early Modern Jewry boldly offers a new history of the early modern Jewish experience. From Krakow and Venice to Amsterdam and Smyrna, David Ruderman examines the historical and cultural factors unique to Jewish communities throughout Europe, and how these distinctions played out amidst the rest of society. Looking at how Jewish settlements in the early

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Overview

Early Modern Jewry boldly offers a new history of the early modern Jewish experience. From Krakow and Venice to Amsterdam and Smyrna, David Ruderman examines the historical and cultural factors unique to Jewish communities throughout Europe, and how these distinctions played out amidst the rest of society. Looking at how Jewish settlements in the early modern period were linked to one another in fascinating ways, he shows how Jews were communicating with each other and were more aware of their economic, social, and religious connections than ever before.

Ruderman explores five crucial and powerful characteristics uniting Jewish communities: a mobility leading to enhanced contacts between Jews of differing backgrounds, traditions, and languages, as well as between Jews and non-Jews; a heightened sense of communal cohesion throughout all Jewish settlements that revealed the rising power of lay oligarchies; a knowledge explosion brought about by the printing press, the growing interest in Jewish books by Christian readers, an expanded curriculum of Jewish learning, and the entrance of Jewish elites into universities; a crisis of rabbinic authority expressed through active messianism, mystical prophecy, radical enthusiasm, and heresy; and the blurring of religious identities, impacting such groups as conversos, Sabbateans, individual converts to Christianity, and Christian Hebraists.

In describing an early modern Jewish culture, Early Modern Jewry reconstructs a distinct epoch in history and provides essential background for understanding the modern Jewish experience.

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Editorial Reviews

Forward
Ruderman has given readers fascinated by Jewish history much material upon which to ponder.
— Benjamin Ivry
Tablet Magazine
David B. Ruderman plunges into one of the central debates in the writing of Jewish history. . . . When we think of the history of Europe, it is in terms derived from the experience of Christians and Christianity. . . . But does this familiar timeline apply to the history of the Jews? . . . Early Modern Jewry will certainly help to shape future debates over the ways we write and interpret Jewish history.
— Adam Kirsch
Jewish Ideas Daily
Ruderman's learned and fluently written book presents a thought-provoking interpretation of the period beginning with the Spanish expulsion of 1492, which set into motion the extraordinary communities of Iberian Jewry—and much else besides—and stretching forward to the onset of modernity.
— Yehudah Mirsky
Jewish Review of Books
Brave, stimulating, highly erudite, and informative.
— Moshe Rosman
AJL Newsletter
David Ruderman . . . provides a masterful synthesis of the vast scholarship of the past 30 years. . . . This book is an important addition to any university library.
— Harvey Sukenic
Canadian Journal of History
David Ruderman has produced an admirable synthesis of the latest research on early modem Jewish history, while offering a cogent assessment of the historiography of the term 'early modern' and of the role of Jews in European and world history between the medieval and modem eras. The clear structure and approachable writing of Early Modern Jewry make it an excellent resource.
— Gayle K. Brunelle
Sixteenth Century Journal

[T]he book greatly advances scholarship toward a more holistic, multidisciplinary approach to Jewish history during this very dynamic epoch. . . . His work is a great introductory monograph for students and emerging scholars in early modern Jewish studies, providing an excellent foundation of knowledge to build upon for future research.
— Barry Stiefel

European Legacy
Ruderman also discusses a number of crucial works on early modern Jewish history, making his study more accessible to novice readers. His extensive bibliography may serve as a useful starting point for the reader's own exploration of early modern Jewry
— .Pnina M. Rubesh
Sixteenth-Century Journal
[T]he book greatly advances scholarship toward a more holistic, multidisciplinary approach to Jewish history during this very dynamic epoch. . . . His work is a great introductory monograph for students and emerging scholars in early modern Jewish studies, providing an excellent foundation of knowledge to build upon for future research.
— Barry Stiefel
Jewish Review of Books - Moshe Rosman
Brave, stimulating, highly erudite, and informative.
Forward - Lawrence Grossman
Ruderman's provocative thesis marks a scholarly watershed. It reopens and complicates the question of when modern Jewish history began, and suggests that far-reaching but underappreciated trends analogous to those traced in this book have already inaugurated a postmodern era of Jewish history.
Tablet Magazine - Adam Kirsch
David B. Ruderman plunges into one of the central debates in the writing of Jewish history. . . . When we think of the history of Europe, it is in terms derived from the experience of Christians and Christianity. . . . But does this familiar timeline apply to the history of the Jews? . . . Early Modern Jewry will certainly help to shape future debates over the ways we write and interpret Jewish history.
Jewish Ideas Daily - Yehudah Mirsky
Ruderman's learned and fluently written book presents a thought-provoking interpretation of the period beginning with the Spanish expulsion of 1492, which set into motion the extraordinary communities of Iberian Jewry—and much else besides—and stretching forward to the onset of modernity.
Forward - Benjamin Ivry
Ruderman has given readers fascinated by Jewish history much material upon which to ponder.
AJL Newsletter - Harvey Sukenic
David Ruderman . . . provides a masterful synthesis of the vast scholarship of the past 30 years. . . . This book is an important addition to any university library.
Canadian Journal of History - Gayle K. Brunelle
David Ruderman has produced an admirable synthesis of the latest research on early modem Jewish history, while offering a cogent assessment of the historiography of the term 'early modern' and of the role of Jews in European and world history between the medieval and modem eras. The clear structure and approachable writing of Early Modern Jewry make it an excellent resource.
Sixteenth Century Journal - Barry Stiefel
[T]he book greatly advances scholarship toward a more holistic, multidisciplinary approach to Jewish history during this very dynamic epoch. . . . His work is a great introductory monograph for students and emerging scholars in early modern Jewish studies, providing an excellent foundation of knowledge to build upon for future research.
European Legacy - Pnina M. Rubesh
Ruderman also discusses a number of crucial works on early modern Jewish history, making his study more accessible to novice readers. His extensive bibliography may serve as a useful starting point for the reader's own exploration of early modern Jewry
" H-Net Reviews ekka Voss

Its thought-provoking discussion of the early modern period in Jewish history, the notes and bibliography providing additional information, and the extensive appendix discussing various historiographical interpretations of early modernity make this book indispensable for both students and teachers of early modern and modern Jewish history alike, as well as for those more generally interested in Jewish history. Ruderman's study will decisively shape future discussions about early modern Jewish history and the beginnings of modernity.
European Legacy - .Pnina M. Rubesh

Ruderman also discusses a number of crucial works on early modern Jewish history, making his study more accessible to novice readers. His extensive bibliography may serve as a useful starting point for the reader's own exploration of early modern Jewry
From the Publisher

Winner of the 2010 National Jewish Book Award in History, Jewish Book Council

"Brave, stimulating, highly erudite, and informative."--Moshe Rosman, Jewish Review of Books

"Ruderman's provocative thesis marks a scholarly watershed. It reopens and complicates the question of when modern Jewish history began, and suggests that far-reaching but underappreciated trends analogous to those traced in this book have already inaugurated a postmodern era of Jewish history."--Lawrence Grossman, Forward

"David B. Ruderman plunges into one of the central debates in the writing of Jewish history. . . . When we think of the history of Europe, it is in terms derived from the experience of Christians and Christianity. . . . But does this familiar timeline apply to the history of the Jews? . . . Early Modern Jewry will certainly help to shape future debates over the ways we write and interpret Jewish history."--Adam Kirsch, Tablet Magazine

"Ruderman's learned and fluently written book presents a thought-provoking interpretation of the period beginning with the Spanish expulsion of 1492, which set into motion the extraordinary communities of Iberian Jewry--and much else besides--and stretching forward to the onset of modernity."--Yehudah Mirsky, Jewish Ideas Daily

"Ruderman has given readers fascinated by Jewish history much material upon which to ponder."--Benjamin Ivry, Forward

"David Ruderman . . . provides a masterful synthesis of the vast scholarship of the past 30 years. . . . This book is an important addition to any university library."--Harvey Sukenic, AJL Newsletter

"Its thought-provoking discussion of the early modern period in Jewish history, the notes and bibliography providing additional information, and the extensive appendix discussing various historiographical interpretations of early modernity make this book indispensable for both students and teachers of early modern and modern Jewish history alike, as well as for those more generally interested in Jewish history. Ruderman's study will decisively shape future discussions about early modern Jewish history and the beginnings of modernity."--Rebekka Voss, H-Net Reviews

"David Ruderman has produced an admirable synthesis of the latest research on early modem Jewish history, while offering a cogent assessment of the historiography of the term 'early modern' and of the role of Jews in European and world history between the medieval and modem eras. The clear structure and approachable writing of Early Modern Jewry make it an excellent resource."--Gayle K. Brunelle, Canadian Journal of History

"[T]he book greatly advances scholarship toward a more holistic, multidisciplinary approach to Jewish history during this very dynamic epoch. . . . His work is a great introductory monograph for students and emerging scholars in early modern Jewish studies, providing an excellent foundation of knowledge to build upon for future research."--Barry Stiefel, Sixteenth Century Journal

"Ruderman also discusses a number of crucial works on early modern Jewish history, making his study more accessible to novice readers. His extensive bibliography may serve as a useful starting point for the reader's own exploration of early modern Jewry"--.Pnina M. Rubesh, European Legacy

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400834693
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
04/12/2010
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
344
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

David B. Ruderman is the Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History and the Ella Darivoff Director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His many books include "Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key" and "Connecting the Covenants".

Read an Excerpt

Early Modern Jewry

A New Cultural History
By David B. Ruderman

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2010 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4008-3469-3


Chapter One

JEWS ON THE MOVE

The forced movements of entire populations by governments both within and beyond national boundaries as well as the voluntary migrations of individuals motivated to improve their economic and social standing are surely significant features of the early modern period in Europe and throughout the world. From the perspective of Jewish history, the expulsions from Spain and Portugal of 1492 and 1497 have long been viewed as watersheds in the physical dislocation and cultural transformation they engendered. Certainly for the large numbers of Jews who exited the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century and throughout the sixteenth, the process of migration, of establishing new roots, of mixing with other resident Jewish populations especially in Italy and the ottoman empire, and the creative tension the new environments engendered are all matters of great consequence for historians of this era. While specialists have long noted Jewish wide-scale migrations elsewhere in Europe, both among Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, they have received less attention than the Iberian exodus. But when considered as a whole, the factor of migration and mobility takes on an even greater and constant significance over several centuries of Jewish life in this era. Furthermore, the possible correlation between motion and cultural production and creativity-the theme of intellectual mobility-emerges as well as a subject worthy of scrutiny in this same period. The mass migration of entire communities compelled to flee for reasons of persecution and economic hardship needs to be considered alongside the migration of individuals-especially carriers of culture and literacy, who migrated for personal and idiosyncratic reasons not necessarily associated with communal upheaval and disruption. When all these elements of Jewish migration are linked together, the cumulative impact of the data is overwhelming: migration was an essential condition of the shaping of Jewish culture in early modern Europe.

The Mobility of Europeans and Other Peoples in the Early Modern Period

Jews were surely not unique in being on the move throughout the early modern period. Human movement was connected to every level of life from the intimacy of individual family economics to the place of colonial and mercantile policies of governments across the globe. In an era permeated by intense warfare, political oppression, and religious persecutions, migrations of individuals and entire communities were constant. The displacement of peoples in the aftermath of the thirty years' War, for example, or the painful migrations of religious minorities such as the Huguenots and Mennonites, Puritans and Quakers, Socianians and Comenians are well known.

New advances in maritime technology profoundly affected the European discovery and subsequent colonization of Africa, Asia, and the New World. Through enhanced overseas trade and economic exchange spanning the oceans, aristocrats, merchants, clergy, sailors, soldiers, servants, slaves, immigrants and transmigrants, students and scholars, vagrants and beggars were motivated and sometimes compelled to travel long distances to improve their economic and social conditions.

While less dramatic and colorful than the voyages of discovery and conquest, migration within the European continent was a significant factor of economic and social life. Besides religious refugees, economic migrants were well noticed in every European city, small or large. Especially for the young, single, and childless, migration was a common means of enhancing their economic situation, either permanently or temporarily. Whether migrating to the rural countryside in search of work in seasonal agriculture or being drawn into urban environments where skilled or unskilled laborers were in greater demand, young people had reason to leave home. They were motivated, no doubt, by parents and families who tolerated and encouraged their movement; by social networks that facilitated their mobility such as people who spoke their native language and shared their same cultural habits in the new environments to which they were drawn; and by state and local governments that offered economic incentives that outweighed the pangs of separation and upheaval that such migrations surely generated. And despite the risks and discomforts of travel, their movement became a common activity even spurring governments and employers to improve roads, carriage services, guest services, and information media to make their migrations even more practical and desirable.

The early modern city ultimately became a node of movement while migration became the most effective means of populating neighborhoods with high death rates. Port cities especially served as magnets in attracting the very poor, sailors, servants, and other temporary laborers, as well as petty merchants and more affluent economic agents. Foreigners became a vital and conspicuous presence within the natural landscape of every urban community. Cities offered refuge from political and religious oppression as well as enclaves for the perpetuation of the cultural practices of immigrant groups dislocated from their homelands. They also served as centers for the circulation of news and ideas through oral and printed exchanges. Students and professors moved regularly from city to city in search of better educational and professional opportunities. Cities with major universities housed large numbers of foreign students for temporary and seasonal intervals. The notion of the peregrinatio academica, an odyssey made in quest of learning, justified and even romanticized the movement of these young intellectuals through almost all European cities. Artists, musicians, architects, courtiers, and clerical officials rounded out the "desirable" foreigners inhabiting every large metropolitan area. For Jewish migrants, whether forced or voluntary, whether traveling long or short distances, whether crossing political boundaries or moving to an adjacent neighborhood, their adaptation to the cultural practices of an increasingly peripatetic and cosmopolitan Europe was rapid, successful, and ultimately highly transformative.

Jewish Migration to Italy and the Ottoman Empire

Jewish migrations long preceded the end of the fifteenth century in both western and eastern Europe. From as early as 1348, large numbers of Jews moved eastward to Poland and Lithuania and southward to Italy. They arrived in Italy and primarily settled in the regions of Piedmont and the Veneto. They were followed by Jewish immigrants from southern France at the end of the fourteenth century, by Italian Jews moving into central and northern Italian cities from the South, and eventually by the exiles from Spain and Portugal, from the papal territories in 1569 and from the duchy of Milan in 1597. Given the instability of Jewish economic life in northern and central Italy, internal migrations of usurers and other Jews were commonplace, thus creating a relatively mobile Jewish population long before the establishment of the ghetto system throughout the Italian Peninsula in the second half of the sixteenth century.

Jewish settlement in the ottoman empire came in surges. The first Jewish immigrants came from Romaniot and Karaite communities who settled in pre-Ottoman communities in Anatolia and the Balkans. They were followed by Ashkenazic Jews traveling from central Europe. With the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, sultan Mehmet II turned his new capital istanbul into a newly rebuilt and repopulated city, transferring entire populations to the city, among them Jews from Greece, Macedonia, Albania, and Bulgaria, as well as other regions in Turkey. Sephardic Jews and later conversos came to Istanbul, Salonika, Aleppo, Safed, and Jerusalem beginning in the mid-fifteenth century, but larger waves of immigrants followed after the expulsions of 1492 and 1497. Some came through North Africa, others through Italy and Sicily. Later flows arrived from Portugal after 1506 and again after 1536.

In the course of one generation or two, the Sephardic immigrants overwhelmed the local Jewish populations and dominated communal, religious, and cultural life. While in Istanbul, Romaniot Jews and Sephardim persisted in maintaining communal boundaries and cultural identities between each other, in Salonika, Aleppo, and Safed, the Sephardim soon predominated. They were especially adept at adjusting to a new land and socioeconomic order by blending into the imperial system the ottoman government was creating. Despite the fact that the Ottomans did little to accommodate the needs of these Jewish immigrants, the latter quickly became part of and flourished within the ottoman economy-more so than other groups. The process of Jewish adaptation to the economic and political needs of the state was quite rapid and successful. Jews quickly became prominent in the textile industry; in medicine; in winemaking, in banking and international commerce; in tax farming; and in purveying large quantities of foodstuffs, clothing, and arms, thus bringing profit to themselves and their ottoman overlords alike. In the textile industry, for example, Jews displaced Italians because of ottoman distrust for Christian merchants and because of Jewish commercial links with other Jewish communities in the West. Jews also pioneered a homegrown Jewish textile industry based on technologies imported from Spain and Italy. The ingenuity of Jews crossing cultural and political boundaries to compete in all spheres of economic endeavor went hand in hand with a dynamic intellectual and cultural rebirth in each of the economic centers in which Jews settled. Safed especially became a cultural center of the Jewish diaspora, attracting creative rabbinic and kabbalistic scholars who in turn stimulated the course of Jewish intellectual and spiritual creativity for centuries. As one scholar has put it, "These communities rode the wave of Ottoman expansion, flourished during the celebrated Ottoman heyday, and more devotedly than other socio-religious groups, accompanied the Ottoman Empire into old age and ill health."

The one Ottoman Jewish community whose trajectory of development was different from the rest was Izmir. Jews migrated to the city in the early seventeenth century not as a refuge from persecution and expulsion but because of its economic vitality stemming from a global realignment in commerce from pepper, cinnamon, silks and porcelains to bulkier goods such as woolens, cottons, and fruit. Izmir's location on the western Anatolian coast attracted merchants seeking these products. Despite Ottoman governmental opposition to this development and because of the government's inability to control this surge of trade, the city witnessed the creeping penetration of Dutch, English, French, and Venetian merchants, including the influx of Portuguese conversos. Jews initially controlled the collection of customs to their great advantage but eventually lost their monopoly in this area and declined economically as a new global commerce emerged that was dominated by Italians, Armenians, and Greeks. With their diminished economic fortunes, a concomitant institutional decline set in-a loss of cultural élan and a growing insularity in contrast to the dynamic multicultural environment of previous decades.

Jewish Migration to Eastern Europe

In some fascinating ways, the history of Jewish migration to Poland and Lithuania displays remarkable similarities to its ottoman counterpart. As in the case of Jewish migration to the Ottoman Empire, the high point of immigration emerged only at the beginning of the sixteenth century. Waves of Ashkenazim had reached Eastern Europe as early as the second half of the thirteenth century, and in previous centuries some Jews had migrated to this region from eastern Byzantine and Muslim regions, especially from the former Khazar territories. But as in the case of domination by the Sephardic element that swallowed up all other local traditions of Ottoman Jewry, the German element quickly left the most salient cultural and social imprint on the character of the eastern European Jewish community. With the worsening situation of Jewish life in the German cities, the subsequent instability of Jewish life in Bohemia and Moravia, and the decline of Hungary, Jewish migrants were prepared to start afresh in eastern Europe given the receptive attitude of Polish kings and landowning magnates to their settlement and economic integration. Thus, on the eastern and southern boundaries of Europe, the largest concentration of world Jewry emerged in the sixteenth century whose ethnic composition and cultural character were largely determined by immigrants who had come from the West. And both communities flourished under governments that became the most tolerant sites for cross-confessional exchange in Europe. Only the United Netherlands in the seventeenth century-also a primary site for Jewish immigration, as we shall soon see-offered similar conditions for its minorities, including the Jews, to practice their own religion and to create their own semiautonomous political structures without the interference of the ruling class.

Israel Halpern long ago noted the commonalities between German and Polish Jewry: a common Yiddish language diverging over time from its German origins; a common core of religious practice and liturgy called Minhag Ashkenaz; and a similar communal structure and rabbinic style of leadership. The situation was not radically different in the Ottoman Empire. The sephardim brought their own Castilian dialect of the Spanish Language with them, later to flourish through the Ladino press. They also carried their own ritual and customs, their own forms of self-government and rabbinical authority that they adapted to the conditions of their new surroundings. What was profoundly different in both new lands from their places of origin but nevertheless strikingly similar in comparison with each other was the economic activity of the Jewish immigrants. In Poland they shifted from money lending to lease management, tax farming, and customs supervision, roles that surely paralleled to a great extent the economic roles of the Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire. In both settings, Jews assumed a colonizing function, taking part in governmental projects of large-scale settlement, military funding, and serving the interests of monarchy and nobility alike. And simultaneously, both immigrant communities assumed a high degree of religious and cultural self-sufficiency, managing their own internal affairs, shaping their own cultural practices, and speaking and writing in a language that set them apart from their host cultures.

The Ashkenazic mass migration of the sixteenth century was primarily from the West to the East and the southeast. At the beginning of the century, Jews expelled from Germany, Bohemia, and Austria settled primarily in the western parts of Poland such as Krakow and Poznan, and in Lwów. But as the century progressed, Jews moved constantly eastward, spurred by persecutions or economic opportunities offered in the less developed mainly agricultural regions in Lithuania. They assumed the vital roles of tax and revenue farmers, innkeepers, agents, and middlemen, serving as agents for the Polish colonizers. Jews moved steadily eastward to the Ukraine region after its annexation by Poland in 1569. At the same time, some Sephardic and Italian Jews and former conversos invaded the space of the relatively insulated eastern European community. Other Ashkenazim moved eastward, fleeing the impact of the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) in west central Europe. Despite the political upheaval and atrocities of the Chmielnicki revolt of 1648, the movement of Jews to the East continued throughout the seventeenth century. And by the middle of the eighteenth century, more than two-thirds of the Jewish population of Poland and Lithuania was living in the eastern districts of the Ukraine, Lithuania, and what was then known as White Russia.

By the second half of the seventeenth century, however, migratory patterns of Ashkenazic Jews had also shifted from an eastward direction to a westward one. After 1648, and especially in the course of the next decade, Amsterdam became a primary center for the absorption of eastern European Jews, despite the ambivalence on the part of previously settled Sephardim in the city who now faced a major financial burden in supporting the new arrivals. For many of the Ashkenazic vagrants and mendicants, Amsterdam represented only a way station as they moved through European cities, even returning to Germany, Bohemia, and Poland. By the 1650s, hundreds of Jewish refugees from Lithuania arrived in Amsterdam; but many moved on to Hamburg and Frankfurt am Main, to various parts of Italy, to London, and to the land of Israel, while some were sent on to Danzig in the hope they would eventually return to Poland and Lithuania. Similar surges of eastern European migration to the West continued into the eighteenth century; most of the new immigrants were absorbed in Germany-most notably, Polish rabbis. Other Ashkenazim migrated to Hungary, Romania, and the northern Balkans, to the Ottoman Empire and especially to the land of Israel throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Some rabbis from Poland and Lithuania even settled in southern France, in the region of Comtat Venaissin, serving as book dealers, and performing ritual and other religious tasks, while either on their way to the land of Israel or returning from the Holy Land.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Early Modern Jewry by David B. Ruderman Copyright © 2010 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
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