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9-08-2015, 18:06


Along with persecuting witches, Christian authorities also persecuted Jews. Jewish life in the early modern period was profoundly shaped by repression, restriction, and in some cases expulsion at the hands of Christian society, though also by economic and intellectual innovation. The center of Jewish culture and the majority of the Jewish population in Europe moved eastward. After Ferdinand and Isabella ordered all Jews to leave Spain or convert in 1492, many Sephardic Jews – who took their name from Sepharad , the Hebrew name for Spain – fl ed across the borders to Portugal and Navarre. Those who converted and their descendants (termed conversos or “New Christians”) were frequently targets of the Spanish Inquisition, which investigated and prosecuted converts suspected of secretly engaging in Jewish practices or maintaining Jewish beliefs. Portugal expelled the Jews in 1496 and Navarre in 1498, but the Portuguese Inquisition was not as well established as the Spanish, and it was safer to be a converso in Portugal than in Spain, at least until the Portuguese Inquisition was intensifi ed in 1579 and Portugal united with Spain in 1580. Many Sephardic Jews migrated further, to cities in the Low Countries that were more open, or to Italy, where some city rulers invited Jews in to help expand foreign trade, though placating local Christians by segregating the Jews in walled ghettoes. Between 1555 and 1779, twenty-three ghettoes were established in northern Italy, pulling in populations from Spain, the Spanish-ruled territories in Italy, the Papal States (where Jews were banned in 1569), and elsewhere in Europe. Such bans were not always enforced, but the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw individuals, families, and whole communities moving from one place to another in a diaspora that involved disruption and loss of property, but also created personal and familial connections across broad areas. Jews became important merchants for New World products like tobacco and sugar, whose trade was usually not restricted by guild rules, and in furs and grain. In the middle of the seventeenth century, Jewish fi nanciers became important to many rulers in western and central Europe as military suppliers and bankers. These “court Jews,” as they were known, such as Samuel Oppenheimer ( 1630–1703) and Joseph Süss Oppenheimer (1698–1738 – known as “Jew Süss”), were indispensable to the rulers they served, but also very vulnerable; Samuel was killed by an angry mob in Vienna and Joseph was executed. Many Jews went to the eastern Mediterranean, where the Ottoman sultans welcomed Jewish skills. Within the Ottoman Empire, Jews, like Christians, had their own millet , with the right to maintain their own laws regarding marriage, morals, and religious practices. The Jewish community was linguistically and culturally diverse: Greek Jews spoke Greek, Middle Eastern Jews spoke Arabic, and Sephardic Jews spoke Spanish. This Spanish later evolved into a distinct language called “Judezmo” or “Ladino,” written in Hebrew letters and taking in Greek and Turkish words. Jews were a signifi cant share of the population in Constantinople and an even larger share of that in Salonika, where they set up the fi rst printing presses in the Ottoman Empire. Jewish scholars in Salonika produced scientifi c and legal works, commentaries on the cabala ( alternatively spelled kaballah), and a tri-lingual edition of Hebrew Scripture. Central European Jews – called Ashkenazic from the Hebrew word for the Rhineland area – also migrated eastward, pushed by persecution and pulled by the more welcoming policies of the rulers and nobles of Poland- Lithuania. They were hired by nobles to manage vast estates and the serfs that lived on them, and to populate areas that were thinly settled, including Lithuania and Ukraine. Like Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman Empire, Ashkenazic Jews carried their language with them; they spoke a German that gradually evolved into Yiddish, written in Hebrew letters but sounding quite similar to German. Ashkenazic immigrants opened religious academies in Lublin, Poznán, and Kraków, which became centers of scholarship on the Talmud. In 1648, peasant discontent about oppressive economic conditions combined with Ukrainian Cossack resentment at Polish rule in a violent rebellion led by the Ukrainian Bohdan Khmelnytsky (1595–1657). About a quarter of the Jews – perhaps as many as 40,000 people – were killed, the largest such massacre until the twentieth century, and many more migrated westward, though Poland continued to have the greatest concentration of Jews in Europe. Rulers gave Jewish communities autonomy in many aspects of life, and they developed self-governing institutions from the local to the international level. At the local level, a legitimate Jewish community required a group of ten adult males for obligatory prayers ( minyan ), a cemetery, a kosher slaughterer, and a ritual bath ( mikvah ). Communities elected councils and offi cers, and often hired a rabbi for spiritual leadership, though rabbis did not play an essential role in rituals. They established civil and religious courts, systems of taxation, charities for the poor, and burial societies to provide for funerals and prayer ( hevrahs ). Offi cial positions, public prayers, and formal schooling were generally limited to men, though there were a few women’s hevrahs run by the women themselves. Women developed special voluntary prayers in Yiddish (thkines ) for biological and cultural events particularly important for women, including menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, baking bread, or visiting cemeteries, which transformed folk rituals not mentioned in Jewish law, such as making candles for Yom Kippur, into true religious duties. Local communities sometimes sent representatives to regional councils or rabbinic synods, and in 1581 the Polish crown established the Council of the Four Lands, a parliamentary body of rabbis and lay offi cials that met annually or biannually to set general policies for Jews in all the territory it ruled. This lasted until it was dissolved by the Polish parliament in 1764, and shortly afterwards Jewish life, like everything else in Poland, came under Prussian, Russian, and Austrian rule when Poland disappeared with the partitions. Jewish life centered on the observance of Jewish law ( halakhah ), which was fundamentally based on Mosaic law and also on the Talmud, a large work of legal commentary and rabbinic interpretation compiled in the sixth century ce in Babylonia. Talmudic principles were further expanded, interpreted, and adapted to specifi c circumstances in responsa literature, which were answers from leading scholars to questions from local rabbis or communities about the proper application of legal principles. The disruptions, migrations, and resettlements of the early modern period provided plenty of issues to be discussed, and some Jewish legal authorities sought to codify the increasingly large body of Jewish law in a way that would provide more helpful practical guidance. (This was at exactly the same time as Christian jurists and legal scholars in western Europe were advocating the adoption of the more organized Roman law instead of a jumble of local law codes.) First Sephardic and then Ashkenazic rabbis systematized legal commentary, though they also tried to retain fl exibility in its application to specifi c local situations. Along with halakhah , many rabbis and ordinary Jews increasingly celebrated the cabala, Jewish mystical texts that originated in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in Spain and southern France, but looked back to much older traditions. Cabalistic writings and practices spread throughout the Mediterranean and into Europe with the diaspora of Spanish Jews, and were among the earliest printed works in Hebrew. The cabala offers mystical understandings of the nature of God, the origins of evil, the meaning of religious texts and ceremonies, the parts of the human soul, and a range of other topics. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, cabalists such as Isaac Luria (1534–72 ) developed systems of spiritual practices, mystical ceremonies, and guides to behavior based on the cabala. Groups studying and practicing cabala were organized in many Jewish communities devoted to intense prayer, moral behavior, interior individual piety, and the study of sacred texts; they were thus very similar to pietist groups that were emerging at the same time within Christianity. Jewish scholars and ordinary people sometimes interpreted the events, upheavals, and persecutions of the early modern period as signs that the redemption of the Jews and the coming of a Messiah (from the Hebrew for “anointed”) as prophesied in biblical texts was near. Charismatic individuals emerged as messianic leaders, of whom the most important was Shabbetai Tzevi (1626–76 ), a rabbi born in Smyrna in southern Turkey. Tzevi studied Jewish law and mysticism, and came to believe that he was the Messiah foretold in Scripture. He traveled around the Ottoman Empire gaining adherents, and rumors of his miracles and his message spread throughout Europe among both Jews and Christians, feeding on apocalyptic predictions centering on the year 1666. He publicly declared he was the Messiah in 1665, and masses of people fl ocked to the area near Istanbul where he was living, while others waited for his signal to journey to the Holy Land. Leaders from Jewish communities all over Europe took him very seriously, offering prayers for him and sending him money. The sultan grew increasingly worried about what could happen and imprisoned Tzevi; in 1666 Tzevi agreed to convert to Islam instead of being executed. This split his followers; some argued that this was all part of his plan and converted to Islam as well, while others denounced him. Even after he died, his followers kept the Shabbetai movement alive with predictions that he would return, worshipping as a secret group that seems to have blended Jewish and Muslim teachings. In the eighteenth century, a Polish merchant named Jacob Frank (1726–91) claimed to be the reincarnation of Shabbetai Tzevi, and acquired hundreds of followers, adding Christian teachings to the Shabbetai blend. He was eventually baptized as a Christian and gained the favor of Maria Theresa, who thought he could spread Christianity among Jews. The Frankist sect disappeared quickly and had little long-term impact, though the Shabbetai movement itself split Jewish communities in both Ottoman and Christian Europe for centuries. In the eighteenth century, Judaism developed in different directions. Haskalah ( from the Hebrew word for intellect or enlightenment), an intellectual and religious movement centered on Germany and Poland, advocated the critical study of religious texts and history, expanded secular education, and more integration into non-Jewish society. This modernization of traditional Jewish beliefs and practices led to both more assimilation and more intense interest in Jewish identity; the latter gradually grew into Zionism, the Jewish nationalist movement, and greatly infl uenced the founders of the state of Israel. At roughly the same time in Ukraine, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer (1700–60), also known as the Baal Shem Tov or Besht, developed a more emotional form of piety that centered on prayer, singing, movement, and joyful worship as well as mysticism to achieve communion with God. His movement, called Hasidism from the Hebrew word for “loving kindness,” emphasized sincere faith in the omnipresent power of God, and eventually spread to the majority of Jews in eastern Europe.

SOURCE 32 The ethical will of Rabbi Naphtali Ha-Kohen Katz

R. Naphtali Ha-Kohen Katz (c. 1640–1719) came from a long line of scholars and rabbis, and became one of the most prominent religious leaders in the Jewish community of his day. He was born in Stepan in what is now Ukraine, and became a rabbi in Poznan in Poland and later in Frankfurt am Main in Germany. Toward the end of his life, he wrote what historians term an “ethical will,” dividing his possessions among his wife and children as in most wills, but also setting out their obligations to him and to God. Most of the text concerns religious rituals they were to perform after his death, but some of it sets out ways he wanted them to behave, providing insight into Jewish ideals of piety and morality. This was printed in 1729, and then many more times in various editions, clearly fi nding an audience among pious Jewish husbands and parents who hoped their family members would behave as Katz recommended. “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and evermore” [Job 1: 21]. It is written: “Man knows not his time” [Eccles. 9: 12] and it is [also] written: “That he will command his children and his household after him” etc. [Gen. 18: 19]. These seem like two contradictory verses, because the time might come suddenly, God forbid, “for the days of man are like a shadow that passes away” [Ps. 144: 4]. And you should fear a sudden death, God forbid, or dying without being able to speak… You must reproach yourself and mend your ways before death, as was the case with Jacob, Moses, and David, who reproached themselves near their death. But where is all this if one dies suddenly, God forbid? A third verse can decide between the two, in saying: “And the living will lay it to his heart” [Eccls. 7: 2], refraining to matters of death. You should prepare a will while you are still in good health, and have your strength. So it occurred to me to do, and so indeed I did… Now, I will charge regarding my wife and my sons, in matters of this world. You, my beloved wife Esther Sheindel, once from our great love we shook hands [usually signaling a legal commitment] together that when either of us should die, the other would pray to die, so that we might quit the world together. I, however, have reconsidered – what have we to do with the secrets of the Merciful One? Certainly, if we live long; additionally, God’s decree is fi ne and acceptable, and a person should not himself spoil [the divine decree], especially if we should not live a long life, Heaven forbid. You hereby have my pardon, and may you live a hundred years, and lay by good deeds your entire life. I completely undo [our compact], as if it had never been. If, Heaven forbid, the opposite is decreed [i.e. that you die fi rst], you should do the same [i.e. pardon me, as I have to you]; “and the Lord will do what He deems right” [I Chron. 19: 13]… [To his sons] Now, the Lord, “in whose ways my fathers walked” [from the wording of Jacob’s deathbed blessing to Joseph, Gen. 48: 15], and who nourishes the entire world, “from the horns of oxen to the eggs of vermin” [BT Shabbat 107b], He will send His angels before you to show you the way in which to walk, and the deeds that you shall do. He will raise your esteem with honor, and He will provide for you from His holy hand, that is full, open, and broad, so that you will not need the gifts [i.e. charity] of fl esh-and-blood, nor their loans… As regards what you will need from one another, each should help his brothers, including my son-in-law – with good things, words of solace one to each other. Write a letter one to the other, and let each write Torah novellae [commentaries] to his brothers. For you all are great sages. Let each one make known to his fellow his affairs, nature, quality, and standing, [i.e. tell each other] whatever is new with each one, whether good [news] or bad, Heaven forbid, and let not grumbling sunder you apart. I decree, by nidui, herem, and shamta [three types of severe social ostracism, that form the acronym nahash, serpent], that one should not hate his brother, his sister, or his brother-in-law, as you were brethren and loving friends in my lifetime. I especially caution my worthy daughters-in-law who were not raised in my house and did not see our behavior, that they attire themselves in the fear of Heaven and cast off the attribute of pride, and be loving, too, without enmity, to each other, and always speak with one another, the men with the men, and the women with the women. And if anyone were to hinder this, so that one woman would not talk to another, and one man, not to another, because of hatred or bearing a grudge, I will judge and you will be found liable. (The entire text can be found at: www.earlymodern.org/ workshops/2011/bar-levav/text01/intro.php?tid=179 . This excellent website also has a large number of other sources about Jewish life in the early modern period, all with English translations and explanatory notes from the scholars who translated them.) For additional chapter resources see the companion website www.cambridge.org/wiesnerhanks . Extending civil rights to Jews became a matter of public discussion and political debate in the later eighteenth century. Prohibitions banishing Jews were overlooked, and Jews began to move back into western Europe. In Britain, Parliament passed the Jew Bill of 1753, which allowed foreign-born Jews to become naturalized citizens. This led to a huge public outcry, however, and the measure was repealed the following year; Jews in Britain did not gain full civil rights until the nineteenth century. In 1782, Joseph II issued a “ Patent of Toleration for the Jews of Lower Austria,” granting Jews civic equality, though much Habsburg territory remained offi cially closed to them and they continued to pay heavy taxes. Jews were given permission to settle in all parts of France in 1784 , and were granted rights as citizens during the French Revolution.