Rembrandt's Jews

"Seventeenth-century Amsterdam was home to a remarkable Jewish community unique in all of Europe. Nadler has made this intriguing world his speciality…in this enlightening inquiry into the depiction of Jews in Dutch art.…Rich in compelling detail and surprising disclosures, Nadler's discourse greatly deepens our understanding of the role of art in both Dutch and Jewish history."—Booklist

"What is illuminated by this book, owing to a remarkable feat of historical imagination, is Amsterdam's Jewish society. Nadler is a sympathetic guide to its development, as it takes root and becomes woven into the city's cultural life and material boom.…At times Nadler slips into the narrative, in his accounts of research visits to Amsterdam. Having vividly described the havoc, noise and dust which builders inflicted on Rembrandt at No. 4 Breestraat, he walks us down the same street today. This adds another layering of interest and—sometimes with a touch of irony or paradox—points up the connectedness between past and present."—Frances Spalding Independent

"The book thus becomes, not a quest for Rembrandt, but a kind of Baedeker to seventeenth-century Amsterdam, its remarkable Jewish community, and the artists the community attracted. Nadler makes intelligent use of the literature on the subject; his prose is lively and personal (though occasionally a little self-indulgent); and proves to be a brisk and engaging guide to the context of Rembrandt's art. Except for a strange equating of Park Lane with the Lower East Side, he also offers the most reliable, and readable, introduction to the Amsterdam Jewish society of the time."—Theodore Rabb, Times Literary Supplement

An excerpt from
Rembrandt's Jews
by Steven Nadler

On the Breestraat

Today, as you approach Amsterdam from the northeast—traveling, of course, on a bicycle, perhaps riding down the polders on the Ijmeer after a visit to Alkmaar and Edam to tour the cheese markets—you pass through the newer parts of the city. Surrounded by modern office buildings and high-rise apartment complexes, you wonder (if this is your first trip) what could have happened to the quaint old city shown in tourist brochures. Small streams and drawbridges, some surrounded by lush growth, are on either side as you move briskly along the fietspaden, or bike paths, that are everywhere in Holland. It is a charming ride, but where are the tall, thin, steep-gabled houses and neo-Gothic churches? Where are the red, white, and blue bannered barges moored in canals along improbably narrow streets?

And then you come to the River IJ. The small harbor is the road’s dead-end. There, across the water, is what you were looking for. Brick, not poured concrete; cobblestone, not asphalt; spires, not antennae. Dozens of other bicyclists—in business suits with their briefcases strapped across the center bar, with boyfriends or girlfriends sitting sideways on rear carrier racks, or with small children all but hidden in the wicker body-baskets on the racks—are waiting on the quay for the short ferry ride that will carry them across the river and into the old city. After they load and the boat pulls away, everyone stands on the open deck, holding either a book, a bicycle, or a broodje, the small sandwich roll that counts as Dutch fast food.

The ramp is slowly lowered as the ferry reaches the far bank, more of a sloped loading bay than a true dock. The bikers take the right-of-way, rolling as a group off the boat and straight on through the monumental Centraal Station, the rear of which looms ahead. Built in 1889, it is the central node of a city that, unlike most other European capitals, has not completely surrendered to the automobile. Passenger trains to destinations throughout Europe share the rails with freight cars under the enormous steel roof. The station remains genteel in an Old World way. Its cafés, waiting areas, and book and newspaper kiosks invite even native Amsterdammers to linger before making their way out into the city. In addition to a clock on the front of its magnificent brick facade, there is also a gilded weather vane, a throwback, perhaps, to the days when the city depended on the sailing ships that floated into the wharfs just behind the station. On the front side of the railroad terminal is a huge plaza, with trolley lines, buses, and, above all, bicycles. Thousands of them, many squeezed in together on a three-level parking ramp. This is commuter parking, Dutch style. Some of the fietsen are secured with heavy chains, others with only standard-issue flip-locks. They all have handlebar chimes. In the morning and evening, the ringing of bells and the clicking whirl of bicycle gears drowns out even the motorized traffic.

The city of Amsterdam radiates outward, fanlike, from this plaza. Straight ahead, past the herring sellers and the newspaper stands, lies the Beurs, built in 1903 for the stock exchange but now used mainly for concerts. A left turn out of the station mall off the Damrak and then a right onto the Warmoestraat takes you along a canal. The red-light district begins here. Part tourist attraction, part lure for British toughs from across the North Sea, the neighborhood’s seediness has been relieved somewhat in recent years by the city’s attempts to clean up its image. There are still many sex shops along these narrow streets. The bright and hip-looking Condomerie caters to the needs of the district’s visitors. Even to a well-traveled American, the sight of a lingerie-clad woman standing in a street-level window is still something of a shock.

A left turn ahead leads to the Oudezijds Voorburgwal. On the right is the imposing Oude Kerk, built in 1306 but already too small for its growing congregation by that century’s end. Its High Gothic nave—brick, not stone—lines up just behind the spire that contains a forty-seven-bell carillon. The basilica is surrounded by chapels, annex buildings, and even houses added over the centuries. Rembrandt’s Saskia is buried here.

Another left turn just past the church takes you over a bridge to the Oudezijds Achterburgwal. The Cannabis Museum is just a block away, a stone’s throw from the old headquarters of the Dutch East Indies Company, now a part of the University of Amsterdam. As you continue along on Zeedijk, once a part of the city’s original fortifications, you pass through Amsterdam’s small Chinatown and enter the Nieuwmarkt. The market plaza is dominated by the castle-like, fifteenth-century Waag (weigh-house). When the weather is decent, the yard in front of the Waag is filled with fishmongers, cheese sellers, vegetable stands, flower stalls, even bakers. This was the scene of fierce rioting in 1975, when the city started demolishing old homes in the neighborhood—including parts of the Jewish Quarter—to make way for a new subway. In the face of such protest, the municipal authorities wisely revised their plans and began serious renovation efforts. Photographs of the demonstrations are on display in the Nieuwmarkt metro station.

The avenue splinters into smaller streets here, and it is easy to get lost as you leave the plaza. If you continue straight through the Nieuwmarkt and out the opposite side, however, you arrive, finally, on Sint-Anthonisbreestraat. In fewer than one hundred meters, the name of the street changes. Beyond the well-preserved Italianate home that belonged to Isaac de Pinto on the left and the simple but stately Zuiderkerk on the right, over the small bridge where the Sint-Anthonisluis still controls the water level of the canal, Saint Anthony’s Broad Street becomes Jews’ Broad Street, Jodenbreestraat. At a steady pedal, the trip since debarkation at Centraal Station takes no more than ten minutes.

Had Rembrandt moved into any other neighborhood of the city, he would have been surrounded by neighbors with such names as de Witt, Graaf, Van den Berg, and Janszoon. As it was, the occupants of the houses around No. 4 Breestraat had names that were, to the Dutch ear, of a somewhat more exotic timbre: Rodrigues, da Costa, Bueno, Nunes, Osario. Rembrandt’s block was the home of Manuel Lopes de Leon, Henrico d’Azevedo, and David Abendana. Daniel Pinto was right next door. On the other side of Rembrandt, at No. 6, lived Salvatore Rodrigues, also a merchant. Across the street lived Salvatore’s brother, Bartolemeo Rodrigues, in No. 3. In Breestraat No. 1, on the corner and opposite Pinto, in the house once occupied by the painter Pieter Isaacszoon, was Isaac Montalto, the son of the late Elias Montalto, who had served as court physician to Maria de Medici, Queen Mother of France. The wealthy Isaac de Pinto owned a large house on the block, taking up Nos. 7 and 9. He lived there until 1651, when he bought an even bigger home, also on Breestraat but on the other side of the lock. Next to him was Abraham Aboab. In No. 23, in a house owned by their father Abraham, resided the brothers Samuel and Jacob Pereira, the same merchants who were renting part of Rembrandt’s basement. At the end of the block was yet another merchant, Bento (or Baruch) Osorio. With over fifty thousand guilders to his account at the Bank of Amsterdam, he was one of Vlooienburg’s richest residents. Across from Osorio, on Rembrandt’s side of the street, was Antonio da Costa Cortissor. In 1639, Cortissor generously (but, no doubt, profitably) sold a piece of his garden so that a synagogue could be built in the neighborhood.

Saul Levi Mortera, a learned rabbi and formerly a secretary to Isaac Montalto’s father, lived just across the Sint-Anthonisluis from Daniel Pinto’s house. Menasseh ben Israel, also a rabbi and possibly the most famous Jew in Europe, lived on Nieuwe Houtmarkt, on the Vlooienburg island. Between them, on the Houtgracht itself and one block from Rembrandt’s house, lived Miguel d’Espinoza (or de Spinoza). His son, Baruch, would become one of the most radical and vilified philosophers of all time, but only after being permanently expelled—with great prejudice—from the Amsterdam Jewish community for his “abominable heresies” and “monstrous deeds.”

All these people, with the exception of Rabbi Mortera, were Sephardim: Jews of Iberian extraction. The Spanish and Portuguese names were, to their gentile neighbors, a dead giveaway. The men may have dressed like the Dutch, trimmed their hair and beards like the Dutch, and assumed Dutch aliases for business purposes outside of Holland—thus, Josef de los Rios (Joseph “of the River”) became Michel van der Riveren, while Luis de Mercado (Louis “of the Market”) was known to some of his associates as Louis van der Markt—to protect them from harassment. Their houses were done up in the Dutch style, and they prided themselves on their ability to pass as typical burghers in their new homeland. But there was no mistaking the distinctly foreign cultural flavor they brought to Breestraat.

Vlooienburg was, then, not only the center of Amsterdam’s art market and lumber trade. It was also the heart of Amsterdam’s Jewish world. And Rembrandt settled right at its center. Every house immediately contiguous with or facing his own was owned or occupied by a Jew. And an overwhelming majority of the households on his block, on both sides of the street, were Jewish. From his front stoop he could see into Rabbi Mortera’s windows; from his top floor he had a view of the community’s synagogue. He could not help but hear the sons of Jewish families chattering in Portuguese on their way to school in the morning. On Friday afternoon, he could smell the slow-cooking Iberian foods they prepared for the Sabbath.

Before the Lower East Side of New York, before the Marais district in Paris, even before London’s Park Lane, there was Vlooienburg. And much of what we think about Rembrandt and his art stems, ultimately, from his decision to live there.

Just a few decades earlier, Rembrandt could not have moved into a Jewish neighborhood in Amsterdam. Not because of any residency restrictions, but simply because there were no Jews in Amsterdam at the turn of the century—at least, not officially. Jews had been forbidden in all the Low Countries by the mid-sixteenth century by proclamation of its lord and owner, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Some of the residents of Vlooienburg circa 1600 had the Mediterranean complexions—so strikingly different from the pale, blond Dutch—of the Sephardim. They spoke to one another in Portuguese and read classic works of Spanish literature to their children. They might also have known some Hebrew. But these were, according to official documents, “Portuguese merchants,” and, at least in the eyes of the municipal authorities, Christians. Or so everyone pretended.

Many of the Portuguese in Amsterdam at the turn of the century had moved north from Antwerp, when the city held out much brighter economic prospects than its decimated Catholic cousin. Some, however, had fled directly from Spain and Portugal to escape the Inquisition in those countries. The Church’s officers of the faith were ever-vigilant against insincere “New Christians”: erstwhile Jews or individuals of Jewish descent who were suspected, despite generations of forced conversions, of continuing to practice Judaism in secret. By 1610, two hundred Portuguese lived in Amsterdam, slightly more than one quarter of one percent of the city’s total population of seventy thousand. By the time Rembrandt moved into his own house on Breestraat in 1639, the Portuguese numbered over a thousand. And now they were—openly and proudly—Jews.

Toleration, through a kind of willful and self-serving ignorance, came fairly quickly after the initial settlement of Portuguese and Spanish conversos in Holland. A somewhat more grudging formal acceptance took a bit longer; and full emancipation required almost two more centuries.

The regents of the city of Amsterdam knew, as early as 1606, that they had practicing Jews in their midst. That was the year that an organized Jewish community first asked the municipality for permission to purchase a burial ground within the city limits. The request was denied. Apparently Jews were permitted to live in Amsterdam but had to leave when they died.

By 1614, there were two well-attended congregations in Amsterdam, Beth Jacob (House of Jacob) and Neve Shalom (Dwelling of Peace), as well as a number of smaller communities elsewhere. The question of their legal status could be ignored no longer. The following year, the States General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, the republic’s central governing body, took the first initiative and removed all barriers to Jews practicing their religion openly. It was a magnanimous gesture, but of questionable efficacy. The Netherlands was a highly decentralized federation of provinces, ministates that were themselves decentralized federations of cities and towns. Local regents tended to resent any attempts to usurp their authority, and their laws—both at the municipal and provincial levels—usually trumped decisions from above. Despite the States General’s ruling, Amsterdam (at least for the public record) was adamantly opposed to Jews openly practicing their religion. Obviously, the city’s authorities could do nothing about what went on behind closed doors in private homes. But, at least on the books, the regents continued to forbid Jews living within its limits to worship publicly.

Not that things were particularly unpleasant for the Amsterdam-based members of the “Portuguese Nation,” or La Nação, as they liked to call themselves. While they may not have yet enjoyed legal protection and official acceptance, they were allowed to go about their business unmolested, and even to hold services “in private,” with a considerable wink from the authorities. Rabbi Isaac Uziel, for one, felt that things were free enough in the city. Impressed by the level of toleration he finds there, he writes in 1616 that “people live peaceably in Amsterdam. The inhabitants of this city, mindful of the increase in population, make laws and ordinances whereby the freedom of religions may be upheld.…Each may follow his own belief, but may not openly show that he is a different faith from the inhabitants of the city.” Worship your God in your own way; just do not flaunt it.

Amsterdam’s policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell” may have been a fine compromise for the time being, but everyone realized that eventually the issue would have to be confronted, especially because many of the more conservative and intolerant leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church were widening the scope of their concern beyond the ever-despised Catholics and starting to look menacingly at the Jews. They demanded the expulsion of both groups. The province within which Amsterdam lay, Holland—the richest and most powerful province in the republic—ignored these prejudiced fulminations and took the first steps toward official acceptance. In 1616, the States of Holland set up a commission to advise them on the problem of Jewish residency and worship. One of the members of the commission was Hugo Grotius (Hugo de Groot), a highly regarded jurist and one of the most important political thinkers of his day. Grotius was clearly torn. On the one hand, he was reluctant to admit Jews into the volatile theological and political environment of the Netherlands. Not only was the Calvinist republic still fighting for its very life against the powerful forces of Catholic Spain, but it was also battling what was perceived as a rear-guard action from within—heretics, radicals, and rebels within the Dutch Reformed Church itself, as well as (if the demagogic preachers were to be believed) Catholic traitors. How, then, could its citizens possibly be asked to accept Jews in their midst? These are, after all, the people who deny that Jesus Christ was the Messiah, who refuse to recognize that the Law of Moses has been surpassed by a new covenant, who fail to see the salvational truth of the Christian faith. Grotius knew that even Erasmus, the great promoter of religious toleration, refused to allow Jews into his irenic circle. Judaism, the sage of Rotterdam had noted, was “the most pernicious plague and the most bitter enemy of the doctrine of Christ.” Grotius believed that admitting the Jews into the republic and allowing them to practice their religion would threaten the confessional and even the political unity of the state, not to mention the devotion of those already unsteady in their religious faith. He thought it unfortunate that things had come to this point. In the famous Remonstrance Concerning the Regulations to be Imposed Upon the Jews in Holland and West Friesland, his final set of recommendations to Holland’s leaders, he noted that

it is a matter of bad insight that the Jews … were allowed to settle in this country in great numbers. It is also wrong that they were made welcome in the towns with promises of a great degree of freedom and extensive privileges, all this only with a view to private gain and trade, but not to the glory of God and the public weal.

Despite all this, it is clear that Grotius was well aware of the practical—that is, economic—advantages of having a thriving Jewish population in Holland. The Portuguese were successful merchants, with wide and profitable business networks. Far be it from the Netherlands, and especially Holland, to make the same mistake that Spain made in 1492 when it expelled its Jews. Moreover, Grotius—to all appearances a pious and principled man—was not completely without compassion and even goodwill toward them. While he devotes a long chapter in his work On the Truth of the Christian Religion to a “refutation of Judaism,” he graciously concedes that, after all, these people are not all that different from Christians. The Jews represent “a part and beginning of truth,” their religion having appeared long ago “out of the thick darkness of heathenism…like twilight to a person advancing out of a very dark cave.” They are “the stock onto which we [Christians] were grafted.” God chose them to receive his Law, and “when the veil that now covers their faces is taken off, they may clearly perceive the fulfilling of the law.”

In the Remonstrance, Grotius decides that Christian charity, love, and forgiveness recommend that Christians take in the Jews and allow them to worship in their own misguided but historically venerable way. What else is there to do? “Plainly, God desires them to live somewhere. Why then not here rather than elsewhere?” There is even a benefit to be hoped for: “Besides, the scholars among them may be of some service to us by teaching us the Hebrew language.” Above all, he claims, it is for their own good that the Jews be allowed to settle among the Reformed Christians of Holland, as it can only hasten their ultimate conversion. Grotius does insist, however, that certain precautions be taken to mitigate the dangers that the Jews represent to civil society: they must register with the authorities, declare their faith openly, swear an oath of allegiance to the country, and promise to live strictly by the Law of Moses. He also recommends some restrictions on their activities: they may not carry arms, intermarry with Christians, or print any editions of the Talmud, which was believed to contain blasphemies. In spite of his misgivings, however, Grotius rejected the idea of confining the Jews to a ghetto, or of compelling them to wear special clothing or marks, such as the infamous yellow badges that some European monarchs ordered the Jews in their realms to wear.

The compassionate and generous jurist was already in danger of being left behind by the momentum of toleration, not to mention the practical realities in the street. In 1619, the province of Holland accepted Grotius’s general recommendations in favor of public Jewish worship, and even rejected some of the restrictions he suggested placing on Jewish economic and social activities. Jews would henceforth be permitted to settle and practice their religion in the province. Holland’s leaders, however, did not want to impose their will on individual cities. So they decreed that each municipality within the province was free to decide for itself whether and under what conditions Jews should be allowed to dwell within its limits. They also stipulated that while a city could compel Jews to live in a certain quarter of town, they could not order them to wear any distinguishing signs.

Amsterdam, at least in practice (if not in statute), kept pace with the provincial authorities. Perhaps the city’s regents, upstanding but relatively liberal members of the Dutch Reformed Church, were moved by Calvin’s own sentiments expressed a century earlier. Speaking of the Jews who lived before the Christian era, he remarked that “it ought to be known that to whatever places Jews had been expelled, there also was diffused with them some seed of piety and the odor of a purer doctrine.” More likely, though, Amsterdam’s civic leaders were expecting something slightly more tangible to be diffused by their Jewish residents, and their motives might have had less to do with Christian charity than with the material boom the city was currently experiencing, thanks in no small part to the increased trade brought by its Portuguese merchants.

The city council never formally declared in writing that the Jews of Amsterdam were free to live openly as Jews and to practice their religion in a public manner. Its approach was more ad hoc and laissez-faire, as private services were allowed to slip into public worship without too much trouble. A number of restrictions were imposed on Jewish life in the city, however, including occupational limitations. Jews were not permitted to engage in most of the trades that were governed by guilds; this is why Daniel Pinto had to hire Dutch contractors to raise his house. There were also strict rules governing social relationships with Christians. Mixed marriages and sexual liaisons between Jews and gentiles were forbidden. The Jews could not employ Christians as domestic servants, and their children were not permitted to attend the city’s schools. Naturally, Jews were also refused many of the political prerogatives of Dutch citizens—they could not hold public office, for example—although they enjoyed some of the protections granted to all “subjects and residents” of the republic. They were allowed to purchase burgher or citizen rights (poorterschapen), but in their case these were of limited scope and could not be passed on to their children. The city council also demanded that the Jews keep to a strict observance of their own orthodoxy. They were ordered to adhere scrupulously to the Law of Moses and never to tolerate deviations from the belief that, as Grotius put it, there is “an omnipotent God the creator…[and] that Moses and the prophets revealed the truth under divine inspiration, and that there is another life after death in which good people will receive their recompense and wicked people their punishment.”

What seems to have worried the Dutch more than anything else, however, was the possibility that Jews might try to convert gentiles. The Jewish community, well aware of this fear, expressly forbade its members to proselytize or to circumcise “anyone not of our Hebrew Nation.” Jacob Chamis fell afoul of this rule in 1640, when he circumcised a Polish man. In his defense, he claimed that he did not know that the man was not a Jew, but his judges were unmoved. Moreover, he had acted without first seeking the permission of the community’s lay governing board, the all-powerful ma’amad, As a consequence, Chamis was put under a ban, or cherem, for several weeks. This punishment of ostracism was not uncommon among Amsterdam’s Jews. A person under a ban was forbidden from participating in a variety of religious and social activities for a period of time, depending on the seriousness of the offense. Someone under a cherem, for example, was not permitted to be called to the Torah in the synagogue, and might even be excluded from carrying on ordinary business with members of the community. A monetary penalty was also usually attached to the ban. Chamis was fined only a nominal sum of four guilders, “because he is poor.”

Despite vigilance on both sides, a number of incidents were very troubling to Dutch eyes—for example, the case of Jan Cardoso, himself an erstwhile Christian, and the woman who “became Jewish” so that she could marry him. The Jews feared that this was just the kind of thing that would “threaten the peace that we enjoy.” The Dutch, for their part, took pains on several occasions, and in a very public manner, to remind the Jews that “nothing should be spoken or written that could be taken as expressing disdain for our Christian religion, [or] to cause anyone to convert from our Christian religion or to be circumcised.”

Even with the various restrictions and warnings, the Jews found in Amsterdam and other Dutch cities more freedom, peace, and security than they were granted in any other society of the time. This did not go unremarked by Jacques Basnage. In his 1716 Histoire des Juifs depuis Jesus-Christ jusqu’à présent, he notes that “of all the states of Europe, there is not one where the Jews live more peacefully than in Holland. They get rich there through commerce and, because of the gentle attitude of the government, they are secure in their possessions.” The Jews of Amsterdam enjoyed the protection of the law and religious, social, and economic autonomy—provided they adhered to Dutch standards. The city was willing to let the Jewish community set up its own regulations and codes of behavior—covering marriage and divorce, worship, education, trade, publishing, business disputes, gambling, fighting, and other matters—and deal with transgressions in their own way. In most of these domains, the community’s leaders looked for their model not to Dutch law but to both Jewish law and—just as important—the community’s own eclectic traditions. Naturally, they had to exercise some caution. The lay figures who represented the community before the city magistrates were responsible for ensuring that their fellow congregants observed the ordinances issued by the city council. And the Dutch claimed jurisdiction in criminal matters and on most legal questions that went beyond the management of social, liturgical and ethical mores. Although the rabbis, for example, were free to perform marriages, all non-Reformed nuptials had to be legalized before the municipal authorities. Still, it was a remarkable degree of toleration, practically without precedent in the history of Jewish-Christian relations.

Of course, not everyone agreed with the official policy—or, in some cases, with the authorities’ refusal to institute an official policy. Calvinist preachers continued to rail against the Jewish threat. The infamous firebrand Gibertus Voetius, rector of the University of Utrecht and one of the more extreme representatives of the Dutch Reformed Church’s right wing, never let pass an opportunity to inveigh against these “unbelievers.” In 1636, he even presided over a debate as to whether it would be best to deport the Jews or simply kill them. A few cities and towns in the republic continued to forbid Jews to settle within their domains; some even refused to allow them to lodge in local inns or to visit for business purposes. Haarlem would not allow a public synagogue until 1765, despite having tried in 1605 to entice the Jews away from Amsterdam by offering them a burial ground and even stipulating that “Jews may go about dressed as they wish and need not wear any external mark distinguishing them from Christians.”

Ordinary Dutch citizens were not usually overly concerned about their Jewish neighbors. To be sure, toleration was not to everyone’s taste, and from certain quarters the Jews received a less than warm welcome, if not outright hostility. But in general the Jews were accepted. Nevertheless, it seemed to them that it would be a good idea to keep a generally low profile in religious matters. During weddings and funerals, members of the congregation were asked by its leaders not to form celebratory or mournful processions, “to avoid the problems that can occur with crowds and to avoid being noticed by the inhabitants of the city.” Purim festivities, when costumes, masks, and dancing are the norm, were also required to be muted, “since some of our enemies use this masquerading to demonstrate their ill intent toward us.”

Hostile voices in the Dutch political arena, however, appear to have been a minority, and while they may have found a sympathetic hearing in some parts cof the general populace, they were never of great consequence. People may have taken offense at what they considered ostentatious displays of celebration, such as the public parading of the Torah on the Simchat Torah holiday. But beyond lodging a complaint about the disturbance of the peace, there was nothing they could do about it. Even when, as happened from time to time, the power of the liberal regents was eclipsed by the politically, socially, and religiously more conservative Orangist faction—which favored a strong centralized government under the prince of Orange and well-defined limits to the autonomy of individual cities and provinces—there was never any serious consideration given to expelling or even further restricting the activities of Hollands resident Jews. It was, on the whole, a good situation, pleasant enough for Rabbi Uziel to proclaim that life for the Jews in Amsterdam was “tranquil and secure.” Many years later, one of the city’s Jews was moved to compose a brief berachah,or blessing, for the refuge that they had found on the banks of the Amstel: “Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, who has shown us your wonderful mercy in the city of Amsterdam, the praiseworthy.”

Copyright notice: Excerpted from pages 12-25 of Rembrandt's Jews by Steven Nadler, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2003 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press.

Steven Nadler
Rembrandt's Jews
©2003, 262 pages, 32 halftones, 18 color plates.
Cloth $25.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-56736-5
Paper $18.00 ISBN: 978-0-226-56737-2

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online—please go to the webpage for Rembrandt's Jews.

See also: