Friday, October 06, 2006


This material relating to Dutch Jewry is excerpted from a very long previous post, and presented here as a convenience for the interested. Please let me know if you have questions.


The First Arrivals in Amsterdam
In 1593, over twenty years after the Netherlands rebelled against the Spanish king Philip (who had inherited the united provinces), ten families fleeing Spain landed in Holland, and learned from Mozes Oerie Asjkenazie (Rabbi Moishe Uri, a Rabbi from Germany) that while the Dutch were suspicious of Spaniards, they were not so about Jews. Upon his advice, they took lodging in Amsterdam, and shortly afterwards all the males underwent Bris Millah, with the oldest of them, Don Jacob Tirado, going first.

Within months, their numbers had been augmented by other Iberian refugees, and that autumn the new community observed Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in a safety that they had not enjoyed in Spain in generations.

Within a decade, in 1602, they built a synagogue which they named Beit Jacob after the man who had taken them up from Spain.

More synagogues followed - Neve Shalom was founded between 1608 and 1612, Beit Israel in 1618. The Grand Synagogue (the ‘Esnoga' or 'Gran' Esnoga') was built between 1671 and 1675.

The Rotterdam Community
A similar pattern occurred in Rotterdam, when Abraham De Pinto (Don Gyl Lopes Pinto, born Lisbon 1588, died Rotterdam 1668) fled from Antwerp with his entire family and his dependents to the north in 1647, and converted back to the faith of his ancestors.

Less than three years later the Yesiba De Los Pintos was inaugurated in Rotterdam, with Chacham Josiau Pardo (son of David Pardo, and grandson of Yoseph Pardo, chief Rabbi of Amsterdam) as Ros Yesiba.

Like Jacob Tirado, Abraham De Pinto was a converso nobleman whose family had fled to Portugal when the heat of the inquisition became too fierce in Spain. And like Jacob Tirado, he brought wealth plus business skills and commercial relationships with him when he came, having prepared his escape over a period of many years.

The Ets Haim Library
In the centuries following, more synagogues were built, printing presses founded, Rabbis educated (among them Menasseh Ben Israel (Manoel Dias Soeiro), 1604 - 1657). At the height of the community there were nearly five thousand Dutch Sefardim, at present a scant eight hundred.
In addition to the Esnoga, one other Sefardic treasure of note remains in the Netherlands, namely the Ets Haim library (which contains also the Livraria Montezinos, being the private library of David Montezinos, donated to Ets Haim in 1889), which is in the Esnoga complex, and was part of Yesiba Ets Haim (Academia Y Yesiba Ets Haim, fundado en 1616). It is one of the world’s great book collections. Six incunabula, five hundred original manuscripts and over thirty-thousand printed books, on many subjects, in over a dozen languages.

In relation to Ets Haim (the tree of life, as the Torah is to all who cleave to her), it is appropriate to quote visitors to Amsterdam who were amazed by the freedom enjoyed by Jews there, and the brazen effrontery represented by so splendid a building as the Esnoga.

Let us start with the Papal Nuncio of Cologne, Lazaro Opizio Palavicino, who wrote: "Fra i nuovi edificii, viddi la synagoga degl’Hebrei, fabrica veramente magnifica e della quale non è degna quella gente vile" (between the new buildings I saw the synagogue of the Jews, truly magnificent, and which so odious a people do not deserve).

A pox on his name.

The next is Rector Johannes Schudt of Frankfurt, who wrote as follows: "Eine allzu grosse Juden Freyheit in Holland is es, dasz man denen Juden verstattet, so gar kostbahre magnifique Synagogen zu bauen, die selbige noch als Gottes Haus lobet" (a too great freedom in Holland is, that they permit the Jews to build a maginificently expensive Synagogue, that even may represent the house of G-d).

He continues "Es setzet uns billig in die gröste verwunderung, is aber auch recht schändlich und unchristlich, dasz gar Christen für die Juden Freyheit gesucht, solche synagog erbauen dürffen" (It easily causes us the greatest wonderment, being however downright scandalous and unchristian, that even Christians should have sought for the Jews the freedom to dare build such a synagogue). It was his opinion that the officials of Amsterdam were a disgrace, and degeneratim for permitting such an affront.

A pox on his name.

On the other hand, an Italian nobleman, Guido De Bovio, who visited Amsterdam in 1677, had nothing but praise for the synagogue, describing it as splendid building, well designed, and full of light, which he delighted in visiting.

His name remains fragrant.

The final word on the Esnoga, deservedly, goes to the engraver Romeyn de Hooghe, who kvelled:
Dits ‘t leerhuys van de Wet, ‘t gebeedenhuys der Jooden,
Een bouwmans meesterstuck, de eer van ‘t nieuwe werck ,
Aan d’Aemstel en het Y; dees Godt gewyede Kerck ,
Vreest geen gewetensdrang, noch pijnigen noch dooden.
Wast eedle Juddaestam en laet uw looten bloeyen ,
Wat doet de kracht van ‘t land als burgers aenwas groeyen.

[‘This is the academy of the Law, the prayer house of the Jews, An architect’s masterpiece, and pride of the new projects At the Amstel and Y (rivers); this sanctified kirk Fears no forced faith, nor torture, nor killings. Wax, noble trunk of Judah’s tribe, and let your new growth flower, That shall strengthen the country as her citizens thrive.’]

Sefardim from Spain (and Portugal and Livorno, where many of the Sefardim had originally sought refuge) were not the main, just the first Jewish population in the Netherlands.Shortly after the Sefardim established themselves in Mokum Alef (Amsterdam), Ashkenazim from Germany flocked in, primarily to get away from the sumptuary laws, residential restrictions, and vile treatment that was traditional in Germany as regards Jews. The first Ashkenazic synagogue in Amsterdam was founded in 1635.

Even so, real equality had to wait till the Napoleonic era, though the House of Orange (ancient princely family of the Netherlands, hereditary stadtholders from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century, monarchs since 1815) consistently over-ruled local government when some city fathers sought to keep Jews out (which did not prevent certain cities whose legal ties to the Princes of Orange was 'ally' rather than 'subject' from restricting them). The States General had generally legislated tolerance, but left it up to the cities and states to 'enforce' same.

By the end of the seventeenth century most Jews in the Netherlands were Ashkenazim, in proportions that, roughly speaking, have been maintained ever since – over 90 percent Ashkenazim, scarcely 3 percent Sephardim. The remainder? Mixtures of differing Jewish background, plus mixtures of Jew and Gentile.

Most Jews lived in the Amsterdam - Rotterdam axis (about 80%), with the largest block outside being in Groningen and Drenthe provinces. A noteworthy development in many places was the gradual take-over of Jewish institutions by Ashkenazim, especially as the easterners rose in social class, and the Sefardim faded in proportion and prominence. In some areas, synagogues were fought over for three or four generations or more.

In Naarden, for instance, the Ashkenazim formed their own 'illegal' synagogue (the Sefardim had the only permit, and were the officially acknowledged leaders of the community there), and by the time the last absentee keepers of the keys (Joseph Teixeira de Mattos Henriques de Castro, David Henriques de Castro, Rachel Henriques de Castro, and Hanna Henriques de Castro, having succeeded Abraham van David Teixeira de Mattos) yielded their authority over the main synagogue (Beit Shalom) in 1885 it was nearly two centuries later, the ceiling had partially caved in, the walls were mildewed, the Ark had many years since been removed for safekeeping, and there were only about half a dozen resident members of the Sefardic kehilla left.

Another odd development were the so-called marginal or bog-Jews (similar to the hedge-Christians during the Spanish oppression): unregistered to any kehal (and so not paying any fees or dues), who, to the local Gentiles, were often just ‘those folks who don't go to our church'. Some of these were so utterly unconnected with any officially constituted Jewish bodies that a fair number were 'under the radar' during the war years. An old friend of the family named Chaim was birth-registered as Harry, because local officials did not know what a 'Chaim' was... Same situation with uncle Henry, also Chaim, who like Harry also survived those years under Gentile colours.

The middle class provincial Jews, however, who formed the link between the bog-Jews and the wider Jewish Oilam, were largely extinguished during the Shoah, and with their disappearance, many of the surviving marginal Jews disappeared from Jewish radar entirely.

Post-War Remnant
In 1945, barely twenty percent of the Jewish population of the Netherlands (over 140 thousand in the nineteen-thirties, approximately thirty-thousand in 1945) had survived the war; they returned to communities which did not recognize them, and which were not particularly happy to see them back (as their betrayers often had survived the war unscathed, and many people at all levels of society had profited from the destruction that befell the Jews). There are now approximately 45 thousand Jews in the Netherlands, of whom 35 thousand can be said to be unquestionably Jewish, with the remaining ten thousand being mixed, mostly vader joods (father-Jewish).

On September 29th, 2005, the Dutch Railway Company officially apologized for having fully co-operated with the Germans in the deportation Dutch Jews. It was because of their efficiency, professionalism, and sheer dedication that the Germans could boast that the destruction of Dutch Jewry happened with greater ease than was the case anywhere else. It couldn’t have been done without them.

Thanks for the apology, dudes.

It’s a little late.

Ma’ase shehaya, kach haya (a tale that happened, as follows): Many years ago, on a wintry Friday evening, a family in Den Haag has one of the kids keep an eye out for a passerby to ask to stoke the stove for them (though it is beastly cold, shabbes-melacha is out of the question). A very dignified looking gentleman comes strolling down the street, is asked in, the situation explained, and the request made. Of course he will light the stove for them, with pleasure! When he has done so, they thank him, and as was customary give him an apple for his 'labour', asking his name at the same time.

He introduces himself, and hands them his card, on which can be read that their shabbes goy is a chief justice - and, coincidentally, a fellow Jew!


Catholicism = An all-embracing and yet all-excluding religion known by Ollandim as the tofel emunah (the ‘old religion’), because so many of the first Yidden in the Netherlands were refugees from Spain and Portugal, where they had been forced to convert. It is a religion with some bizarre rituals – white smoke means "we have another pontiff", black smoke means "we’re burning down the Gran’ Esnoga, again". Pax vobiscum.

Jacob Tirado = Original name: Guimes Lopes Da Costa. He is described in correspondence as "Al muy illustre senyor Jacob Tyrado, parnas de la naçion Portuguese que reside en esta muy noble y opulenta villa de Amstradama" (The greatly illustrious gentleman Jacob Tirado, administrator of the Portugese nation, residing in the very noble and rich city Amsterdam). It should be remembered that ‘nation’ in those days did not have the connotation it has today, but referred to ethnic or national group, often residing among other such groups, much like tongue (lingua) could mean the speakers of a particular language in the armies of kings.

Ollandim = Netherlandish Jews.


Phillip Minden said...

white smoke means "we have another pontiff"

No that means habemus pipam. It is customarily said when you finally made up your mind between the Savinelli and the Castello in Ye Olde Vatican Pype Shoppe.

The back of the hill said...

Style AND good-smoking: Caminetto.

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