In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Sephardic Amsterdam and the Myths of Jewish Modernity
  • Adam Sutcliffe (bio)
Steven Nadler . Rembrandt's Jews. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Pp. xii +250.
David Liss . The Coffee Trader. New York: Random House, 2003. Pp. 389.
Willi Goetschel . Spinoza's Modernity: Mendelssohn, Lessing, and Heine. Studies in German Jewish Cultural History and Literature. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. Pp. x + 351.
Rebecca Goldstein . Betraying Spinoza: The Renegade Jew Who Gave Us Modernity. New York: Schocken, 2006. Pp. 287.
Steven Nadler, Manfred Walther, and Elhanan Yakira, eds. Spinoza and Jewish Identity. Studia Spinozana13 (1997) (thematic issue, published 2003).
Heidi M. Ravven and Lenn E. Goodman, eds. Jewish Themes in Spinoza's Philosophy. SUNY Series in Jewish Philosophy. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2002. Pp. x + 290.
Chaya Brasz and Yoseph Kaplan, eds. Dutch Jews as Perceived by Themselves and by Others: Proceedings of the Eighth International Symposium on the History of the Jews in the Netherlands. Brill's Series in Jewish Studies24. Boston, Leiden, and Cologne: Brill Academic Publishers, 2001. Pp. xiv + 457.
Jonathan Israel and Reinier Salverda, eds. Dutch Jewry: Its History and Secular Culture (1500–2000). Brill's Series in Jewish Studies29. Boston, Leiden, and Cologne: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002. Pp. vi + 335.
Jonathan Israel . Diasporas within a Diaspora: Jews, Crypto-Jews and theWorld Maritime Empires (1540–1740). Brill's Series in Jewish Studies30. Boston, Leiden, and Cologne: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002. Pp. vi + 613.

Amsterdam's Sephardic Community during the Dutch Golden Age has long attracted particularly avid attention. Per capita, indeed, the [End Page 417]seventeenth-century Amsterdam Sephardim may well rank among the most intensively studied Jews in history. Generally thought to have numbered only about three thousand souls by the end of the seventeenth century (although Hubert Nusteling, in one of the volumes here under review, suggests this estimate should be revised significantly upward to approximately 4,500 1), it almost seems as if they will eventually be outnumbered by the accumulated conference papers and essays devoted to them.

In the nineteenth century this community figured prominently in the identificatory genealogy of many newly bourgeois Ashkenazim, for whom the imagined connection between their own era and the "Sephardic mystique" of medieval Andalusia passed via Amsterdam in the age of Spinoza. 2In our own era, lamentably perhaps, this lineage has lost much of its appeal. Few cultural spheres are today imagined as so starkly separate as the "Arab" and the "Western," and it is therefore not surprising that Sephardic Amsterdam is now seldom evoked as a bridge between the Moorish and the modern. Nonetheless, a mystique of sorts continues to shroud this community. The fascination that draws contemporary scholars and general readers to this chapter in Jewish history looks forward rather than backward: it is not so much a Sephardic mystique that fascinates today but rather a "mystique of modernity." The tolerance, ethnic diversity, and economic dynamism of seventeenth-century Amsterdam readily appear to herald the emergence of the modern urban experience, while the dilemmas faced by the city's Sephardim, seduced but also challenged by the possibilities and temptations of this almost unprecedentedly free environment, seem to resonate particularly strongly with the preoccupations of contemporary North American Jewry. Predominantly Portuguese by origin, the Sephardim arrived in Holland as direct or indirect refugees from the Iberian Inquisitions. Their reconstruction of the structures of normative Judaism, after generations of sustaining a covert, hybrid, or minimal Jewish identity, readily finds sentimental echo when refracted through the ordeals and dislocations of twentieth-century Jewish history. The early modern Sephardim of Amsterdam have been well [End Page 418]served by specialist historians. Beyond the indispensable work of Yoseph Kaplan, indisputably the leading historian in this field, two important and relatively recent monographs by Miriam Bodian and Daniel Swetschinski each offer a distinctive interpretive survey of the internal cultural and institutional dynamics of this community. 3Additionally, many other scholars have been drawn to Amsterdam's Sephardim in order to elucidate broader themes. For philosophers the spotlight falls here above all because of Spinoza, whose relationship to his community of origin—and to "Jewish philosophy" more generally—remains as intensively disputed...


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