in the first few years of the 17th century, the nucleus of Portuguese
merchants who had settled in the city were granted recognition, hedged
by restrictions similar to those imposed in Hamburg. Manuel Rodrigues
Vega, a prosperous Portuguese merchant from Antwerp who settled in Amsterdam
in 1595 became the first Portuguese to receive residential rights, and
it was he who laid the foundations for Jewish life in the city.
How did those
former conversos who had reached the haven of Amsterdam find their way
back to Judaism? They lacked a real knowledge of Jewish Law, and Halakhah
was totally unfamiliar to them. How could they observe Jewish rituals
without knowing the prayers and customs? They were greatly helped by Sephardi
rabbis and scholars who came from the Ottoman Empire, North Africa and
Italy. A particularly important role in consolidating Judaism in Amsterdam
was played by Rabbis Isaac Uziel and Joseph Pardo, and the Ashkenazi rabbi
Saul Levi Mortera, from the old established Jewish communities outside
Holland. They were also supported by R. Moses Uri Halevi an Ashkenazi
Jew from Emden. By the end of the second decade of the 17th century there
were two Sephardi congregations in Amsterdam: "Bet Ya'akov,"
founded at the beginning of the century, and "Neve Shalom,"
apparently founded c1608. The leader of the former was the prosperous
Jacob Tirado, who later immigrated to the Holy Land; and the latter congregation
prayed for a time in the home of R. Samuel Palache, a Moroccan Jew, an
agent and ambassador of the Moroccan Sultan, Mulay Zidan. Toward the end
of the second decade of the century there were three Sephardi congregations
in Amsterdam, as the "Bet Ya'akov" congregation split in 1618,
and "Bet Israel" was founded as a result.
8, 1616, the Amsterdam authorities officially recognized the right of
the Jews to reside in the city, but did not define their status. Shortly
before, the northern Dutch states and western Friesland had approached
two jurists for their views on the right of the Jews to reside there.
The text of Adrian van Pauw's opinion has not been preserved, and only
the views of the renowned jurist and theologian Grotius are extant. Despite
his ambivalent approach to the Jews and Judaism, his views undoubtedly
reflect the beginning of a new attitude toward the Jews.
of the authorities to adopt a stand on Jewish rights did not prevent the
Spanish-Portuguese Jewish community in Amsterdam from prospering and flourishing.
In 1612 it numbered close to 500 souls; the number had doubled by 1620,
and in 1672 it reached slightly more than 2.500. The Jews of Amsterdam
were not confined to certain neighborhoods or streets, but they preferred
to concentrate in one area. On one of the main streets in which they lived,
Breedstraat (known today as Joden Breedestraat), lived the artist Rembrandt.
community in Amsterdam was one of the most established and organized in
the Jewish world, with renowned social, religious and educational institutions.
From 1614 the Jews of Amsterdam buried their dead in a cemetery in Ouderkerk
on the banks of the Amstel river. The cemetery is famous for its lavish
tombstones and the unique symbols decorating them, which clearly reveal
Christian-Catholic influence. In 1615 this congregation established a
special society, based on the Venetian model, to provide financial aid
for poor orphan girls from the western Sephardi world who were about to
marry members of the community. Some time later a Talmud Torah was set
up, which became known as "Ets Haim." The Spanish-Jewish educational
network in Amsterdam was known for its exemplary organization, its focus
on progressive pedagogic methods and its emphasis on the teaching of Hebrew.
The charitable funds set up by the Jews of Amsterdam extended aid to needy
Jews throughout the world. Particularly noteworthy was the Terra Santa
Fund which supported scholars and poor Jews in the Holy Land and the Fund
for Redemption of Captives.
Yosef Kaplan: "The Return to Judaism: "Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the West in the Early Modern Era," in Odyssey of the Exiles: The Sephardi Jews 1492-1992 (Beth Hatefutsoth: Ministry of Defence, 1992), pp. 56-58