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CHAPTER 6 European Jewry Moves East: The Early Modern Period (1492-1750) OVERVIEW The Growth of Eastern European Jewry Murder, expulsion, or forced conversions were prominent components of Jewish life in western Europe throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries . This was the time when England, France, and parts of Germany "witnessed the near-destruction of Jewish religion, learning, and life."l From 1470 to 1570, most of the remaining Jewish communities in the West, including the Sephardic community, were destroyed. Even in Germany and parts of Italy, where the last remnants persisted, Jewish life suffered a drastic contraction.2 Such unrest had major effects on family life and often meant that women took on new roles, either as substitutes for men or alongside them to help deal with impending or existing crises. As the politics and policies of Europe changed, more Jews began migrating eastward, especially into Poland and Lithuania. Although after 1570 they were readmitted into Germany, Austria, and Bohemia/ their status remained uncertain. Caught in the middle of a religious struggle between the established Catholic Church and the new Protestants, the Jews were considered suspect by both groups. They had to seek specific permission to live in most German, Austrian, and Bohemian cities and everywhere were confined to ghettos. Nevertheless, their numbers grew. The Jewish settlements in Vienna and Prague increased in size and importance . Jews also migrated to the smaller towns of Bohemia and Moravia, and scattered centers appeared in western Poland and Silesia.4 The culture of Ashkenaz, previously predominant in France and Germany, now spread through central and eastern Europe, and Jewish communities flourished. 129 130 The JPS Guide to Jewish Women Court Jews Most Ashkenazic Jews lived quiet lives, making a modest living in the money trades (as lenders, tax collectors, or agents of local lords), as merchants , or through work inside the Jewish community. A small number, however, offered financial services to the rulers of the many independent duchies and principalities of central and eastern Europe. In return, they obtained some privileges from the ruling Christian powers. They were called court Jews. Court Jews functioned as creditors and provisioners. They offered credit or cash advances to the ruler, provisioned his army, supplied metal for the mint, found luxury goods for his household, and developed opportunities for trade and industry. In return, the court Jew usually obtained the privilege of living outside the ghetto and he (or she) was recognized as an official of the state.s This put him in the unique position of being able to ask for favors for his family or for the Jewish community. The person who held this unofficial position was called a shtadlan. Although the shtadlan was almost always a man, it could be a woman as well. Esther Liebmann held this post in Berlin in the seventeenth century. War and Persecution The Thirty Years' War began in 1618, and until 1648 central Europe saw continuous fighting. This war opened with a Protestant rebellion in Prague against Ferdinand, the new Catholic king of Bohemia and heir to the Holy Roman Empire (see map on page 131). The rebellion quickly spread and drew in all the tiny city-states and duchies of the Holy Roman Empire, as well as France, Denmark, and Sweden.6 At one time or another, all of these areas were involved either directly or indirectly in the war. When the Thirty Years' War finally ended in 1648, the long, drawn-out battle had solved very little. The middle European lands of the Holy Roman Empire were still divided among feuding factions of Catholics, Lutherans, and Calvinists. The Treaty of Westphalia allowed the ruler of each land to choose the religion of its own people. But everywhere, the Jews still remained the outsiders. In Poland, where Jews had prospered since the fifteenth century, 1648 was a time of disaster. During that year, a dissatisfied member of the lower aristocracy named Bogdan Chmielnicki revolted and fled from the Polish authorities to the Cossack center below the Dnieper River. Here, he organized the Cossacks and fought against Polish rule in the Ukraine, launching an orgy of killing, raping, and looting that destroyed Poles and Jews indiscriminately . Many Jews were murdered during this rebellion, but many more succeeded in fleeing across the borders. Streams of Jewish refugees turned north and west, moving back into the fortified German cities.7 European Jewry Moves East 131 Mediterranean Sea FIG. 12. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the borders of central...


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