Jews of Europe (42.405/505) Questions on Assigned Documents:


WEEK 2 documents


1) Synod of Castilian Jews, 1432 (

As you read this rather long document, I want you to make a list of the kinds of powers that the Communal organization had and the kinds of institutions it established.   Also, was there a clear division between the Community's secular and religious functions?


2) The Expulsion from Spain, 1492 CE (a first-hand account) (

As you read this document, which explains the Expulsion from a contemporary Jewish perspective, I want you to note a few things in particular:

On whom does the author blame the Jews' misfortune?

How did Spain's Jewish community at first respond to the expulsion order?

Where did Spain's Jews  go when expelled?


3) The Expulsion Edict, 1492 (from Edwards, The Jews in Western Europe, 1400-1600)

I will give you this document as a hand-out.  As you read it, I want you to give particular attention to how Spain's King and Queen justify their decision to expel the Jews.  Did they consider it possible for Jews and Christians to live in the same land?  Explain!



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?


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.


WEEK 3 documents:

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?


WEEK 4 documents:

1) Declaration Protecting the Interests of Jews Residing in Holland (1657) (from Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, The Jew in the Modern World) (handout)

Explain the main intent (and justification) of this declaration, and explain how it illustrates points argued by Israel.


2) Emperor Leopold, Appointment of Samson Wertheimer as Imperial Court Factor (1703) (from Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, The Jew in the Modern World) (handout)

Explain the main intent (and justification) of this declaration, and explain how it illustrates points argued by Israel.


Week 6 Document:

The Assembly of Jewish Notables: Answers to Napoleon (

How would you describe the tone of the Assembly's description of Napoleon in the preface to this document?

Read over the list of questions that Napoleon asked the Assembly--What was Napoleon "getting at" with these questions?  Explain.

Read over the Assembly's answers to Napoleon's questions--What was the Assembly "getting at" in the way it answered?  Explain.  Did the Assembly intend that Jews be treated as "separate" from the French nation?  Explain.


Week 7 Document set:

Anti-Semitic Legends (translated and/or edited D. L. Ashliman), that appeared in early 19th century Germany (

Examine the German legends reproduced at this site--"The Jews' Stone," "The Girl Who Was Killed By  Jews," "Pfefferkorn the Jew at Halle," "The Expulsion of the Jews From Prussia," "The Bloody Children of the Jews," "The Imprisoned Jew at Magdeburg," "The Chapel of the Holy Body at Magdeburg," and "The Lost Jew."  When were these published?  Note also that the non-German tales were collected and published in Germany at the same time and by the same people.

What might publication of these legends at this time by leading figures in the Romantic German national culture movement tell you about  a) popular attitudes towards Jews in early nineteenth century Germany; b) whether nationalists like the Brothers Grimm considered Jews part of the German nation?