Jews of Europe Syllabus

Study Questions, Week 3


Israel, Chapters 3-6

Chapter 3

Explain what was new and important about the political ideas of Bodin, Montaigne, Grotius, etc.

What does raison d'état mean?  What is meant by "natural law"?

How did new political and scientific thinking affect attitudes towards readmitting Jews to Western and Central Europe?

Was the new Philo-Semitic scholarship limited to one country?

Were mercantilist and  raison d'état thinkers necessarily pro-Jewish? Explain.

So just why was mercantilist and new political thinking so important to Jews' fate?

From where did the Jews come who returned to Western Europe?  Why is that important?

Why was Philip III, for instance, so tolerant of returned Portuguese Marranos?

What roles did Jews play in Italian state economies in the 1600s?  How about in the Dutch provinces?

Why enabled Jews in Amsterdam to move into the diamond trades?

Did economic reintegration mean social acceptance?  Explain Grotius' argument about Jews in 1614-15 (p. 53)

What kinds of restrictions were imposed on Jews in German cities?

In what sense was the change in state policies toward Jews a product of Absolutist rule?

Did the general town population welcome Jews?  Explain.  Why did the 1614-15 Fettmilch rising in Frankfurt turn into a general assault on Jews? 


Chapter 4

How does Israel characterize the "new" Jewish culture of 1550-1650?

What had been the center of Medieval Jewish intellectual life, and how did that change after 1550?

What caused these changes?  Were they "eastern" or "western"?   Sephardi or Ashkanazi?

How did movement from East to West affect Jewish culture?  And how did ghettoization and other restrictions affect Jewish culture?

What was the aim of ghettoization, and what were the ghettos like?

How did Jews in this period make sense of their own history?  For instance, how did David Gans understand the history of the 1500s?  Was he optimistic about the future?  Explain.

Was all of Jewish culture still bond to religion?  Explain.  (Music, for instance? Philosophy?  Science?)

According to Israel, did Jewish scientists and religious thinkers ignore each other?   Explain,

What was Cabbalism, and what effect did mysticism have on Jewish culture? 

Explain Isaac Luria's ideas about redemption.  Why did these ideas have such appeal?

Explain the main ideas of Judah Loew (the Maharal) about the relationship between Jews and other nations.

What struck you as interesting about theological debates and relations between Jews and Christians in the late 1500s?

What sort of Jewish religious polemics sparked the most vigorous Christian response, and why?  Why is that important?

So what seems to be Israel's main point about Jewish culture in this period?


Chapter 5

How in general did the 30 Years War change the status of Jews?

What made Jews valuable to Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II, and why were Jews willing to make him loans?  How were they rewarded for their support?

Why was there so much anti-Semitic violence in German and Austrian lands in the 1620s?

Did Jewish communities as a whole suffer or gain under Catholic military occupation?

How did the advance of the armies of Swedish King Gustavus Adolphus in the 1630s effect Jews in German lands?  Why wasn't there a more dramatic reaction against Jews in Lutheran-controlled territories? Explain.

Were Jews treated better or worse than Christians during the war?

As a whole, how did the war  effect Jewish communities and the distribution of Jews in Central Europe?

Did later Dutch and French invasions have a similar or different impact on Jews than had the Swedish invasion?  Explain.

When imperial forces won back territories from the Swedes, did Jews suffer retribution?   Explain.

Were Jews persecuted by either side during the 1648 siege of Prague?

How did the war effect Dutch Jews and why?

In sum. how did the treatment of Jews during the 30 Years War relate to the new political thinking discussed in chapter 3?  Did the war strengthen or weaken "philo-Semitism" (e.g., in Spain)?

What effect did the war have on Jewish communities in Italy? 

Did the expansion of Jewish settlement and economic activity mean an end to ghettoization?  Explain.

What about France--did the war and "new political thinking" effect the status of Jews in France?  Explain.

What about Poland-Lithuania?  How did Jewish life there change in the 1600s, and why?  What kinds of economic roles did Jews have in eastern Polish territories (like Ukraine)?

What was the Chmielnicki uprising, and why did it result in mass killings of Jews?


Chapter 6

What were the functions of "Court Jews"?  Who were they, and what sort of contacts made their services possible?

For instance, explain the career of Samuel Oppenheimer of Heidelburg.  What does Oppenheilmer's career show us about the importance of international ties between Jewish communities and families?

What happened to Oppenheimer when the Austrian Emperor no longer needed him, and what is the lesson here?

What role did Dutch Sephardi play in the very important 1672-1713 was between France and most of Europe?  Again, in what sense were international community and family ties useful to Dutch Jews involved in military provisioning during this war?

What kinds of rumors spread in elite circles about Jewish provisions contracts?   Did Jews rely on bribes to get these contracts?

Besides army contracts, what other financial services did Court Jews provide?  Why were Jews able to play such an important role in state finances (4 reasons)?

How was the business of Court Jews linked to that of poor Jewish peddlers?

Was the career of Samson Wertheimer (1658-1728) unique among Court Jews?  Explain what made Wertheimer successful.

Did providing financial services ever translate into a political role for Court Jews?   Explain.  (For instance, in diplomacy, providing information, running state finances, managing colonial trade, providing diamonds, or tax farming?)

Where Court Jews only active in Central Europe?  Explain.

What was the "cultural strategy" of Sephardic Court Jews?  Compare this to the cultural strategy of Ashkanazi Court Jews.

What seems to be Israel's main point in this chapter?



The first two documents are from the late 16th century, but illustrate points that Israel makes in chapters 2 and 3.


1) Giorgio Dati in Antwerp makes elaborate plans for inducing rich Portuguese Jews to settle in Tuscany (1545) (

Be sure to read the English translation of this document, which begins on page 6!

Why were the Medicis so interested in attracting the Mendes family to Florence, and how does this document illustrate points made by Israel?  What matters seemed to concern representatives of the Mendes family and other Sephardi who were considering moving to Florence?

In the second post-script to this letter, Dati mentions that the Inquisition was about to begin in Portugal--how did he think this would effect the willingness of Sephardi to move to Florence?


2) Francesco I seeks permission from Philip II of Spain to allow Levantine Jews to transship goods (1576) (

Again, be sure to read the English translation, which begins on page 3.  Also, be sure to read the notes at the end of the document, on page 4.

Israel discusses the importance of Jews to the trade between Livorno and the Levant.   Based upon this document, what did the Duke of Tuscany's agents see as the advantage of working out agreements with Levantine Jews?  Was the advantage soley commercial?  Was the advantage solely the provision of intelligence information?


3) Cosimo II permits…a Jewish actor…to travel…without an identifying badge (1611) (

English translation begins on p. 2, also read the notes on pp. 2-3!

What does this document tell you about the restrictions normally placed on Jews in Italian cities?

Jews of Europe Syllabus