Page 57 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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HERBERT C. ZAFREN
msterdam: Center o f Hebrew Printing
in the Seventeenth Century
*
W
h a t
an
e xc it in g
place Amsterdam must have been in the
seventeenth century!
Amsterdam, already the commercial capital o f Holland, came
into even greater prominence after 1585 when much of the
world trade that had been Antwerp ’s moved to Amsterdam be­
cause Antwerp was conquered by the Spanish who closed the
Scheldt River. Jews who had earlier been expelled from Portugal
and others from German cities and even Eastern Europe came
to this newly expanding center of trade. The first Sephardi
congregation (Bet Ya’akov) was established about 1607, another
(Neveh Shalom) in 1608, and the first Ashkenazi formal services
began in 1636. In 1648, the Eighty Years’ W a r between Spain
and the Netherlands was over, and liberal Amsterdam was the
trading, financial, and cultural center of the world. Marranos
had already been attracted to this haven o f religious freedom
and the Chmielnicki massacres in 1648-49 swelled the numbers
o f Polish Jews who sought a peaceful existence in the West.
It was an age of New W o rld colonization, prosperity at home,
major developments in banking, the stock market, science, the
arts. It was the age of Rembrandt!
Though Jews came to number almost 24,000 by the end of
the eighteenth century, at the end of the seventeenth century
they must have been far fewer. Yet, by the year 1700, the
Amsterdam Jewish community was the most important in Western
Europe and the wealthiest in the world. It is not unnatural that
a Jew would write probably the first book ever on the stock
market (Confusion de Confusiones by Joseph Penso de la Vega,
Amsterdam, 1688) . It is not surprising that Rembrandt and
Menasseh ben Israel were friends. It was to be expected that
synagogues would flourish, that Jewish learning would develop
* With thanks to Ms. Barbara Pomerantz for bibliographic assistance. Back­
ground research was supported in part by a grant from the Penrose Fund
Fund of the American Philosophical Society.
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