Jewish Politics in Spinoza's Amsterdam

BookJewish Politics in Spinoza's Amsterdam

Jewish Politics in Spinoza's Amsterdam

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


October 1st, 2022





This book untangles a web of ideas about politics, religion, exile, and community that emerged at a key moment in Jewish history and left a lasting mark on Jewish ideas. In the shadow of their former member Baruch Spinoza’s notoriety, and amid the aftermath of the Sabbatian messianic movement, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of seventeenth-century Amsterdam underwent a conceptual shift that led them to treat their self-governed diaspora community as a commonwealth. Preoccupied by the question of why and how Jews should rule themselves in the absence of a biblical or messianic sovereign state or king, they forged a creative synthesis of insights from early modern Christian politics and Jewish law and traditions to assess and argue over their formidable communal government. In so doing they shaped a proud new theopolitical self-understanding of their community as analogous to a Christian state.

Through readings of rarely studied sermons, commentaries, polemics, administrative records, and architecture, Anne Albert shows that a concentrated period of public Jewish political discourse among the community’s leaders and thinkers led to the formation of a strong image of itself as a totalizing, state-like entity—an image that eventually came to define its portrayal by twentieth-century historians. Her study presents a new perspective on a Jewish population that has long fascinated readers, as well as new evidence of Jewish reactions to Spinoza and Sabbatianism, and analyses the first Jewish reckoning with modern western political concepts.

‘The author has very intelligently approached the important question of Dutch Sephardi communal political consciousness in the seventeenth century by examining the community’s constitution in the light of comments by a series of prominent lay leaders. She shows a good knowledge of the community sources and of the Spanish and Portuguese texts and provides a richly detailed analysis which is valuable and of considerable significance also in the context of other major Jewish communities in Western Europe, Italy, and the Ottoman Empire. Her work considerably enriches our perspective.’

Jonathan Israel, Institute of Advanced Studies, Princeton 

‘This work seeks to integrate three arenas that are usually dealt with separately: early modern European political thought, Portuguese-Jewish political and religious self-conceptualization, and Jewish messianism. The author is especially skilful in connecting the seventeenth-century Jewish authors she discusses with the concerns of modern and contemporary Jews.’

Miriam Bodian, University of Texas at Austin

Author Information

Anne Oravetz Albert is the Klatt Family Director for Public Programs at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
1. Community: The Constitution of the Kahal Kadosh
2. Commonwealth: A New Notion of the Jewish Republic
3. Civitas: Consolidation and Strife in the Sabbatian Era
4. Covenant: Social Contract and Constitution in the Cross-Hairs
5. Rabbis: Excommunication and Political Authority
6. Politics: Exile and the Jewish Reason of State
7. History: Narratives of Jewish Democracy and Monarchy