Study Questions, Jews of Europe (42.405/505),

Jonathan I. Israel, European Jewry in the Age of Mercantilism, 1550-1750, 3rd ed. (London, 1998).

Preface to the Third Edition

What is the author’s aim in this book?

Does he consider the difference between Sephardi and Ashkanzi to have grown or decreased during the period 1450-1750?

Does he think that internal or external dynamics were the main force changing Jewish society during this period?

What sort of economic and cultural changes in European society does he see as shaping Jewish life?

What seem to be the main points of Israel’s argument?


How does Israel challenge the usual periodization of Jewish history?

How did restrictions on Jews change from the 1570s?

Did Jewish culture decline or flourish in the 1600s? How does this compare to the period after 1750?

How does he explain the reversal of trends in Jewish history from the 1570s? And how did new developments in Jewish history fit into the larger scheme of developments in European history?

How does he connect the Jewish "re-entry" into European life to early Enlightenment thinking about the state?

What does he mean by "mercantilism"?

In what sense did mercantilism partially emancipate Jews?

According to Israel, who did this emancipation in the 1600s differ from the later emancipation that followed the French Revolution?

What does he mean by the terms "New Christian," "Marrano," and "Crypto-Jew"?

Chapter 1

Where did most of Europe’s Jews live in 1400?

When were Jews expelled from England and France?

There was much anti-Jewish violence in Germany and Spain in the 1300s, and expulsions from the German states in the early 1400s, and forced conversions in Spain—but according to Israel, when did the mass expulsions of Jews begin?

According to Israel, why were the expulsions of the late 1400s different from those in the Middle Ages?

What part did Catholic clerics play in expulsions, and why? Besides local priests, who else was calling for expulsions and why?

Jews were expelled from Iberia, Southern France, and Italy in the late 1400s and early 1500s; when were they expelled from Swiss and German lands?

Who in particular demanded expulsions in the German towns?

Did the Papacy generally promote expulsions in the Papal States?

How did the main base of support for expulsions change during the Reformation and Counter-Reformation?

What did Martin Luther expect from the Jews, and at what point and why did he "give up" on the Jews?

Did Jewish religious authorities passively accept Luther’s charges and the expulsions? Explain.

Was Calvin as hostile toward Jews as Luther was? Explain.

But did Calvinists object to expulsions?

Did studying Hebrew and Jewish religious texts make Christian Humanist scholars (like Erasmus) less anti-Jewish? Explain.

What prevented the complete collapse of Jewish life in the West (outside Italy) in 1470-1570?

Did Jews support Holy Roman Emperor Charles V? Explain.

But was Charles V really a stronger defender of the Jews? Explain.

What was the Papacy’s position regarding Jews up to the 1550s?

When and why did Papal policy change?

What were the aims of Paul IV’s Jewish policies, and in what sense was this hostility towards Jews a "symbol of a new age"?

When and why were Italy’s Jews secluded in ghettos?

Did all Jews passively accept acts of repression and violence, like the 1555 burnings in Acona? Explain.

In general, how did Jewish communities respond to the Papal anti-Jewish campaign?

Did Catholic officials have good reason to worry about crypto-Judaism?

What was the low point for Jews in the Papal states and the rest of Italy? Was Pious V (1566-72) a defender of the Jews? Explain.

How had expulsions, ghettoization, and other restrictions effected the Jewish community (eg, its livelihood?)?

When faced with repression, did most Jews convert to Christianity?

According to Israel, why were crypto-Jews able to keep their Judaism alive in Portugal but not in Spain? Explain (3 reasons).

Where did most Iberian Jews go after the expulsions?

Where did most Italian Jews flee to? What about German Jews?

Why did the Polish kingdom and the Ottoman Empire welcome Jews?

Did Jews remain a tiny minority in Poland in the 1500s? Explain.

Where in Poland did Jews settle, and why? What role did Jews play in the economy of Eastern Poland?

Why did big landowners in Easter Poland need the Jews, and what was the aim of their Jewish settlement policy?

What factors allowed for the rapid growth of the Jewish population in Eastern Poland?

Did Jews live in big cities in Poland at this time, as they did in the Ottoman Empire? Explain.

In general, what was the economic function of Jews in Poland, and how did this relate to the growth of the European and world economies?

How did the exodus East change Jewish economic life? Were Jews still concentrated primarily in the money-lending trade?

Why does Israel call to exodus to the East a "revolution in Jewish life"?

In the 1600s, Jews economic contacts with Christians increased; did their cultural contacts also increase? Explain.

Why did the exodus East create a more unified Jewish culture?

How did the use of Spanish and German isolate Jews from their Christian neighbors in the East? How did it create greater cohesion between Jewish communities?

Does Israel think that Ashkenazi and Sephardi become more culturally different or more similar as a result of the exodus East? Explain.

How did the move East effect the Jewish role in trade between Europe and the Ottomans (especially in the Balkans)?

Why did the Ragusan Republic reverse its Jewish policy in 1538 and allow Jews to return? (For Israel, this for-shadowed developments in the 1570s.)

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?


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?


Chapter 7

How does Israel explain the timing of the debate over Jewish readmission?  Why did this take place at the end of the 1600s?

Who took the lead in fomenting anti-Jewish violence and opposing readmission  in Central Europe after 1648, and why?

Where all princes (and the Holy Roman Emperor) ready to protect the Jews?   Explain.  Why, for instance, were Jews expelled from Vienna?

Did most princes give in to anti-Jewish popular pressure? Explain.  (Use the example of "The Great Elector" [Fredrick William of Brandenburg-Prussia] to explain this phenomenon.)

What were the general aims of Fredrick William's Jewish policies, and did other rulers have similar aims and follow similar policies?

In Denmark, how was Jewish policy connected to international trade?

Why did Polish kings in the late 1600s pursue policies favorable to Jewish settlement, and what economic functions did Jews have in Polish settlements?

How and why did Jewish life in the Dutch Republic change in the late 1600s?  What forces permitted the growth of Jewish settlements there?

Why did princes in northern Italy invite Jewish resettlement in the late 1600s, who did they invite, and how did they go about issuing these offers?

Why did Cromwell readmit Jews to England, and were Jews simply passive observers in this process?

How does the twisted history of Jewish readmission to France under Louis XIV illustrate Israel's arguments about new political thinking?  And why did Louis change his policy in 1680?

In general, what did Jewish leaders offer to princes in exchange for allowing Jewish settlement and the practice of Judaism?

When Europe's population growth stagnated in the 1600s, did Jewish population growth also stagnate?  Explain,

Where was Jewish population growth greatest?

Explain the relationship between the weakness of Christian guilds and the strength of Jewish population growth in Poland.  Where in Poland did the Jewish population grow most rapidly?

What generalizations can we make about Jewish population growth in the 1600s in Bohemia and Moravia and in the German lands?

How did European Jewish economic activity in the late 1600s differ from that in the late 1500s?

What social classes existed in Jewish communities, and was there much class conflict?   Explain.

Be prepared to explain the importance of East-West and colonial trade to the Jewish economy.

Be prepared to discuss the kinds of economic activities (especially crafts) that Jews participated in during the late 1600s.

What made the growth of the Amsterdam Jewish community possible?


Chapter 8

According to Israel, what characterized Jewish self-government during this period?

Explain the hierarchy of Jewish self-government institutions in Poland.

Explain the hierarchy of Jewish self-government institutions in Habsburg Central Europe.

Explain the hierarchy of Jewish self-government institutions in the German princedoms.

What were the powers of the Council of the Four Lands, and did its influence stop at Poland's borders?  Explain.

What determined which towns or cities would have the most influence in a "land"?

How were individual kehillot usually organized, how were the boards chosen, and what were their responsibilities?

How were German Landjudenschaften organized, how were the boards chosen, and what were their responsibilities?

Why were the constitutions of the Prague, Vienna, and Berlin communities so complex?

How were Italian Jewish communities self-governed, and what factors complicated this?

Does Israel consider Jewish self-government during this period to be democratic?   Explain.  What were the communal boards most worried about?

Why did communal boards exercise such strict control over personal behaviors, censor Jewish publications, control people's dress, seclude women, regulate sexual conduct, etc.?

Does Israel consider Jewish self rule as only an "instrument of social repression"?  Explain.

What sort of benevolent functions did communal boards handle, and were there other forms of Jewish charity besides those provided by the community board?  (What, for instance, about health care, education, raising funds for emergency relief and for Jews in the Holy Land?)

Why did Israel call this chapter "A Republic Apart"?


Chapter 9

How does Israel explain the growing messianic expectations of Jews in the late 1600s?

Who was Shabbatai Zevi?  How does Israel explain Shabbatai's self-proclamation as the Messiah?

How did word of the "Messiah" spread, and what was the response among Jews?

What do we know about those who welcomed Shabbatai?

How did Christians respond?

What quelled the Shabbatain movement, and what was its impact?

Who as Spinoza?  Was he the only Sephardi in Amsterdam challenging the divine origin of the Torah?

What were the basic philosophical positions taken by Spinoza, and what does Israel see as "new" in the "Spinozist revolt"?

According to Israel, how did reaction to Spinoza shape Enlightenment thinking about Jews?

How does Israel explain the trend towards Jewish apologetics in the late 1600s?   What connection does he see between Jewish polemics after 1666 and the foundations of the Enlightenment?  (In particular, explain the arguments of people like Isaac Orobio and how he may have influenced non-Jewish skeptical thinkers.)

How  does Israel explain the origins of Christian philosemitism in the late 1600s?

How does the example of Antonio Vieira demonstrate the connection between philosemitism and mercantilism?

Explain this statement on p. 187:  "the roots of philosemitism...lay in conflict with official Christianity..."

In what kinds of ways did Christian scholars become engaged with Judaic-Hebraic studies?

Did this intellectual philosemitism mean an end to anti-Semitism?

What new intellectual element was added to anti-Semitism at this time, and how would it influence the Enlightenment?

What influences were promoting popular anti-Semitism during this period?

What do you see as Israel's main point in this chapter?


Chapter 10

How did Jewish demographic patterns in the 1700s differ from those in the 1600s?   And how does Israel Explain this?

Was population stagnation limited to one region, or was it more general?

Explain how the following factors influenced Jewish population stagnation in the 1700s:   changing trade routes; restrictive laws limiting the size of Jewish   communities and limiting Jewish occupations; changes in state trade policy.

What impact peace after 1713 have on Court Jews generally?  And how did Ashkenazi Court Jews respond culturally to these changes?

How did changing state policies affect the status of wealthy Sephardi?

What specific aspects of new state trade policies had the most impact on Jewish economic life?

Did new tariff, etc., completely destroy Jewish trade networks?  Explain.   What was the impact, and why was this a problem?

What were the numerus clausus, and what impact did they have on Jewish life in Germany and Bohemia-Moravia?

What types of Jewish policies did Russia implement between 1725 and 1762 (between the reigns of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great)?

Why did Jewish poverty increase in the 1700s?  was this limited only to Germany?

Besides poverty, what other 18th century social trends disturbed rabbinical and communal leaders?

How did rabbis in the West respond to new cultural trends?

How did rabbis in the East respond to the new cultural trends?  (For instance, Elijah of Vilna and Besht [Israel Baal Shem Tov].)

What were the basic principles of Hasidism, and how did it effect the kehillot?

According to Israel, what was happening to Jewish communal hierarchies by the 1780s?

So according to Israel, was it Emancipation after the French Revolution that undermined "traditional" Jewish life and institutions in Europe, or were they already in advanced decline before 1789?


Chapter 11

How is Israel challenging traditional Jewish historiography on the 1700s?

Does Israel approve of recent historical interpretations that de-emphasize the anti-Jewish impact of European Christian [Catholic and Protestant] Jewish policies in the late 1400s-1600s?  Explain.

What does Israel see as the main Jewish contribution(s) to 17th century European civilization?  Explain.