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Amsterdam from an international perspective: tolerance and Kehillah in the portuguese diaspora

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Chapter Summary

In the Jewish historical narrative, early modern Amsterdam is known for two things: first, the great measure of religious tolerance the city fathers displayed towards Portuguese converso refugees, allowing them to settle, revert to Judaism, and prosper; and second, the authoritarian Jewish community that those refugees subsequently created, a community that famously had the power to excommunicate and expel the philosopher Baruch Spinoza in July of 1656. The nexus between these two phenomena-tolerance and autonomy-is neither obvious nor necessary. The complexity of Dutch policy has been presented in static and polarized terms of good and evil, thus obscuring the slow, decades-long process by which the Portuguese gradually transformed themselves into a Jewish community. The unevenness of toleration policy may be ascribed in part to the fact that the authority to legislate was highly decentralized in the Low Countries.

Keywords: Dutch policy; early modern Amsterdam; Jewish community; Portuguese

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