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Jewish Sanctuary in the Atlantic World

A Social and Architectural History

Barry L. Stiefel

Publication Year: 2014

Jewish Sanctuary in the Atlantic World is a blend of cultural and architectural history that examines Jewish heritage as it expanded among the continents and islands linked by the Atlantic Ocean between the mid fifteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Barry L. Stiefel achieves a powerful synthesis of material culture research and traditional historical research in his examination of the early modern Jewish diaspora in the New World. Through this illustrated work, Stiefel examines forty-six synagogues built in Europe, South America, the Caribbean Islands, colonial and antebellum North America, and Gibraltar to discover what liturgies, construction methods, and architectural styles were transported from the Old World to the New World. Some are famous—Touro in Newport, Rhode Island; Bevis Marks in London; and Mikve Israel in Curaçao—while others had short-lived congregations whose buildings were lost. The two great traditions of Judaism—Sephardic and Ashkenazic—found homes in the Atlantic World. Examining buildings and congregations that survive, Stiefel offers valuable insights on their connections and commonalities. If both the congregations and buildings are gone, the author re-creates them by using modern heritage preservation tools that have enriched our understanding of the past, tools from such diverse sources as architectural studies, archaeology, computer modeling and rendering, and geographic information systems—all of which, when combined, can bring an even richer understanding of the past than incomplete, uncertain traditional historical resources. Buildings figure as key indicators in Stiefel’s analysis of Jewish life and social experience, but the author’s immersion in the faith and practice of Judaism invigorates every aspect of his work.

Published by: University of South Carolina Press

Series: The Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii


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pp. viii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

In April 2007 I joined scores of people to attend a special service at the Snoa—the venerable synagogue of Curaço, built in 1732, home to Congregation Mikvé Israel-Emanuel, the oldest surviving synagogue in the Americas, where no Sabbath or major holiday has gone uncelebrated in 278 years. Inside...

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pp. xv-xviii

Jewish Sanctuary in the Atlantic World was a labor of love that took me on adventures to its geographic four corners. Nonetheless, I could not have done it without some very special people and institutions. To begin with is David Rittenberg. His editorial assistance and fact checking was solid in an area...

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pp. 1-9

Sanctuary from expulsion, torture, extortion, and riot: this was the haven offered by the New World for the crypto-Jews and New Christians fleeing repression as Iberian Catholic monarchs endorsed persecution.1 Beginning in the seventeenth century, however, more tolerant Protestant societies of...

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Chapter 1: The Origin of the Atlantic World Synagogue

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pp. 10-50

Buildings, like people, contain multitudes: so too the Atlantic World synagogues built between the early seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries. Like people these houses of worship can also be understood as telling distinct, though at times synchronous, narratives: of Jews as they left Europe and settled...

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Chapter 2 Jews and Conversos during the Age of Discovery

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pp. 51-94

A geographer would look at the terra firma of the Atlantic World—whether continental, coastal, peninsular, or island—and observe that the land, always bounded by the ocean, strides the hemispheres between Canada (Montreal) in the north and Brazil (Recife) in the south. Yet in this vastness, I have placed...

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Chapter 3: Jews under Protestant Dominion before 1675: Brave New World

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pp. 95-119

During the sixteenth century, as rapid-fire exploration and imperial conquest followed in the wake of Columbus and Cabral, we have seen conversos seek out New Spain, Brazil, and Peru. Hoping to escape the Inquisition’s tentacles, these New Christians deliberately pursued lives of obscurity far away from...

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Chapter 4: Jewish Prosperity in the Protestant Atlantic World, 1675–1775

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pp. 120-153

On 11 March 1669, the eight Lords Proprietors of Carolina—a province then encompassing a great swathe of land between Virginia and Florida—published The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina. The chief Lord Proprietor, Anthony Ashley Cooper (1621–83), wrote it with the assistance of no less...

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Chapter 5: Jewish Enfranchisement in the Protestant Atlantic World after 1775

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pp. 154-190

Caught up in the American and French Revolutions, then the Napoleonic Wars, the Jews of Europe and the New World rapidly encountered a condition they had not known before—enfranchisement as equal citizens. This status followed from the recognition of freedom of conscience as inalienably...

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Chapter 6: Jews and Non-Caucasians in the Atlantic World

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pp. 191-201

The history of Jews in the Atlantic World has unfolded thus far as the experience of a religious minority. From this perspective, very small Jewish populations were sometimes persecuted, often penalized, and occasionally tolerated by Christian majorities. But from 1500 until 1800, the exploration and imperial...

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pp. 202-218

In retrospect there is an almost uncanny homogeneity governing Atlantic World synagogue-communities during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.1 So vast a geographic space, such embryonic settlements touching “new” continents, seas, or islands, so small a number of Sephardic colonists—and...

Appendix: Survey of Atlantic World Synagogues

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pp. 219-272


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pp. 273-276


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pp. 277-312


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pp. 339-362


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pp. 339-362

About the Authors

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p. 363-363

E-ISBN-13: 9781611173215
E-ISBN-10: 1611173213
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611173208

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: The Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World