Jews of Europe Syllabus

Discussion Questions, Week 2 PART B

Israel, Chapter 2

How does Israel describe the relationship between Jews' readmission to Central and Western Europe after 1570 and more general historical developments?

What major intellectual change occurred in Europe at this time, and how does Israel explain its origins?

According to Israel, how did religious deadlock lead to new political thinking?

What was the aim of the new political thinking of people like Bodin and of leaders like Henri IV of France?

How did this new thinking about philosophy and politics affect thinking about Judaism?  

What was the first city to readmit Jews and experience a Jewish revival in the 1500s?   Why did this happen?

Explain how the policies of Rudolph II fits into the argument that Israel makes on pp. 28-31.  How did this affect Jewish economic life in Prague?

What was a "Court Jew," and what was the function of "Court Jews"?

When did Jewish life revive in Germany?  What city became the center of German Jewish life, and why?

Who actually invited Jews to settle in German towns and why?  What sort of economic functions did Jews have in these towns?

How did German-Jewish communities organize themselves in the late 1500s?

When were Jews readmitted to Italian cities?  Had mercantilist ideas affected Jewish life in Italy before the 1570s?  Explain why?

Explain why David Rodriguez's 1573 proposals to the Venetian senate were so significant and how they illustrate Israel's point in this chapter.

How did conditions for Jews in Pisa and Livorno differ from those in Venice and Florence?

What impact did the expansion of Jewish trade have on Jewish population growth in the late 1500s?

When and why were Jews able to return to the Netherlands?  To France?

What is Israel's main point in this chapter?



1) A Christian Hebraist: John Reuchlin (handout, from Edwards, The Jews of Western Europe)

Israel discusses the work of Humanist Christian scholars who gave great attention to the study of Hebrew and to Jewish religious texts at the same time in history when Jews were being expelled from Western and Central Europe.  Reuchlin (1455-1522) was one of these scholars (and he is mentioned on pp. 11-12 and 59). Reuchlin was eventually condemned by the Papacy for (supposedly) challenging the accepted translation of the Bible, the Vulgate (there is some debate about this among historians).

a) The first portion of this document is a prayer by Erasmus praising Reuchlin.   For what does Erasmus say Reuchlin deserves praise?

b) In the second portion of this document, Erasmus writes to a Papal official in 1515 in support of Reuchlin's work.  Again, what has Reuchlin done that Erasmus considers important?

c) In this section, Reuchlin explains why he has studied Hebrew and Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism).  What does he claim to have been his aim?

d) This section is an extract from one of Reuchlin's most famous books (circa 1516), in which he explains the Kabbalah.  To this end, he uses a fictional conversation between a Jew, a Greek philosopher, and a Muslim.

Based upon Reuchlin's depiction, what is the purpose of Kabbalah?  How does he define Kabbalah?

Why would a topic like Kabbalah have interested a Christian scholar?

e) In 1506, Reuchlin published a Hebrew grammar and dictionary, which made him the target of criticism both from those whose interpretations of the Hebrew Bible he had challenged, and from those who considered such a product threatening to Christianity.   How did Reuchlin defend himself from these charges? 


2) Martin Luther: Letter to George Spalatin, Wittenberg, January or February, 1514. (   (Read only the first letter, from 1514)

Martin Luther, whose direct challenge Papal authority would be based upon his own "re-reading" of the Bible, wrote this letter in 1514 referring to the Reuchlin case.  What is Luther's view of Jews in this letter?

Was Luther calling for coexistence with Jews?  What did he have to say at this point about conversion of the Jews?


3) Martin Luther: The Jews and Their Lies (1543) (

By 1543, why did Luther consider Jews dangerous?

What sort of accusations does Luther make against Jews?  How does he "support" his position?

What does Luther call on Christian Princes to do in regard to the Jews?

What does he call on the Christian community as a whole to do in regard to the Jews?

According to Luther, if you burn down Jews' houses, prayer houses, and holy books, if you ban them from practicing their faith, would that make it safe for Christians to have Jews among them?  Explain. 


4) The Jew and the Renaissance: Italy, 1571-1600 (handout, from Edwards, The Jews of Western Europe)

This is a selection from the autobiography of Leon Modena, a rabbi in Venice in the 1600s.  It describes his family life as a child during the Counter-Reformation.

What does Modena tell us about his lineage?  What trade did the family take up when they (like other Jews) were expelled from France and moved to Italy in the late 1300s?

His family's business was pawn brokerage, but what else do we learn about their activities and professions? 

What kinds of interactions with Christians does Modena discuss?

How did the Jewish policies of Pope Pius V (see Israel, pp. 17-18) effect Modena's family?

How would you describe the position/situation confronting Jews in Italy during the Counter-Reformation?  Explain.

Jews of Europe Syllabus