Early Modern Jewry

Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History

David B. Ruderman
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Early Modern Jewry
    Book Description:

    Early Modern Jewryboldly 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 Jewryreconstructs a distinct epoch in history and provides essential background for understanding the modern Jewish experience.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3469-3
    Subjects: History, Religion, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-ix)
  3. Maps
    (pp. x-xvi)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    Since my first college course in European history some forty-five years ago, the historical period usually called “early modern” (roughly comprising the late fifteenth to late eighteenth centuries) has held a special fascination for me. It displays so conspicuously the trends and processes historians delight in studying: radical change, social and cultural crises, and the complex and often unexpected mingling of the old and new. One is hard-pressed to understand how such developments as the new geographic and scientific discoveries, the invention of print, the emergence of new national political structures and policies, protracted and devastating famines and wars, economic...

    (pp. 23-56)

    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.¹ 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...

    (pp. 57-98)

    For more than a century, scholars have well noted the prominent growth of relatively powerful Jewish communal organizations during the early modern period. In the Netherlands, in Italy, in Germany, in the Ottoman Empire, and especially in eastern Europe, these more elaborate and complex institutions functioned most effectively in representing their Jewish constituencies before local governments and in providing religious, educational, and social services to their individual members. The pinnacle of this remarkable development was realized in eastern Europe, where a vast federation of local and regional Jewish communities banded together to create the so-called Council of the four Lands....

    (pp. 99-132)

    The impact of the printed book is a critical dimension in understanding the emergence of an early modern Jewish culture.¹ I open this chapter with a profound illustration of this point: the story of one of the most important Hebrew books ever published, theShulḥan Arukh(Ordered Table), that monumental code of Jewish law composed by the Sephardic rabbi Joseph Karo (c. 1488–1575), accompanied by the glosses of the Ashkenazic Moses Isserles (1525 or 1530–1572) called theMappah(Table Cloth).² The code was first published in Venice in 1565 and then republished in Krakow in 1578–80, appearing...

    (pp. 133-158)

    Scholars have often relied too heavily on the notion of crisis to explain a wide array of historical events affecting Jewish history, making them susceptible to imprecision and overstatement, and even to the danger of identifying too readily with what Salo W. Baron long ago labeled as “the lachrymose conception of Jewish history.” When “crisis” is summoned on more than one occasion to explain such events in the seventeenth century as the Chmielnicki massacres, the messianic debacle of Shabbetai Ẓevi, or the Spinozist assault on religious tradition, or in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Hasidic schism, theHaskalah, or...

    (pp. 159-190)

    On many grounds the rabbis of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries had reason to feel anxious. Along with the unmanageable explosion of knowledge triggered by printed books, the curtailment of their authority by lay leaders and governmental officials, and the Sabbatean threat described in chapter 4, they also witnessed with horror another troubling phenomenon: the recurrent and conspicuous boundary crossings between Judaism and Christianity (and sometimes, as in the case of the Dönmeh, between Judaism and Islam) on the part of a small but conspicuous number of Jews and Christians. When Jewish identity became a matter of personal...

    (pp. 191-206)

    By presenting what I consider to be the five most salient features of Jewish cultural formation during the early modern period, I have tried to offer a meaningful response to the challenges posed at the beginning of this work. The first, the reader will recall, was the challenge offered by the single most influential reconstruction of early modern Jewish history, especially the notion that the history of Jewish culture is primarily derivative of general trends located in non-Jewish society. The second was that offered by Jewish historians who prefer to speak about the early modern period exclusively from the vantage...

  11. Appendix Historiographical Reflections
    (pp. 207-226)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 227-230)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 231-286)
  14. Bibliography of Secondary Works
    (pp. 287-318)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 319-326)