Both historians of early modern Europe and Jewish historians have largely ignored the experience of German Jews during the Reformation era. German Jews are most frequently mentioned as victims of antisemitism rather than as actors in their own right. Kaplan provides a rich and convincing discussion of how Alsace Jews interacted with Strasbourgers of all classes throughout this period, even though the city’s Jewish community had been expelled from Strasbourg in 1390 and Jews would not be allowed to live there again until 1791. Jews appear in official records and private documents as litigants, correspondents, Hebrew teachers, and merchants. They even interacted socially with Christian burgers to a degree that displeased both their own communal leadership and Strasbourg’s political and church leaders. These Jews lived in the smaller towns and villages of Upper and Lower Alsace, entering Strasbourg during the day to conduct their business.
While Kaplan’s book is comparable in some respects to the works of Rotraud Ries and Sabine Ullmann in its discussion of the economic connections between Jews in the countryside and urban areas such as Braun-schweig and Augsburg, her work differs from theirs since she focuses on how the Reformation and the period of confession building afterwards shaped the experience of the Jews of Alsace and their relationship to the city and its residents. Kaplan argues that the Jewish policies of Strasbourg’s magistrate were based upon the perceived needs of the city’s residents as a Christian republic, and that with the adoption of the Lutheran confession in 1598 the scope for Jewish involvement in urban life decreased sharply. Kaplan’s discussion of the memoirs of Joseph of Rosheim and Asher ha-Levi of Reichshofen, together with the correspondence and court testimony of lesser-known Alsace Jews, provides readers with a window into the mental world of Alsace Jews as they interpreted the religious and political changes brought on by the Reformation and the period of Lutheran confession building that followed it.
The book occasionally suffers from errors and omissions, mainly concerning the religious history of Strasbourg. The Wittenberg Concord had a much broader significance than reconciling Strasbourg’s two conflicting confessions (21). Kaplan rightly stressed Capito’s willingness to seek Jewish help to improve his Hebrew skills, but whether other Christian Hebraists in the city did so on a regular basis remains an open question. Fagius only worked with Elijah Levita for a year in Isny (December 1540 until November [End Page 209] 1541), having learned the rudiments of Hebrew already from Capito while a student in Strasbourg. The book omits mention of Kenneth Austin’s recent biography of Immanuel Tremellius, From Judaism to Calvinism (Ashgate, 2007). Tremellius’s experience of acceptance as a Christian leader while living in Strasbourg qualifies Kaplan’s conclusion of how converts “were not situated clearly in either camp” (166). More broadly, readers will wish that Kaplan had sketched out the religious policies of the cities and towns such as Hagenau, and the religious policies of the Bishop of Strasbourg, which allowed Jewish residence when the city of Strasbourg did not (40–41, 43). Meier of Hagenau’s alleged misdeeds did not take place in Strasbourg itself, but in Hagenau (50–58).
Overall, however, Kaplan’s Beyond Expulsion is an excellent and useful contribution to the Jewish chapters of early modern history. Where the tendency of Jewish historians is to stress the continuity of Jewish experience between late medieval and early modern in German-speaking lands, Kaplan has convincingly argued for significant changes in Jewish community life within Alsace, changes brought about by the Reformation in its chief city Strasbourg and throughout the smaller towns and countryside of the region.