Places of Encounter - Jews and Non-Jews in the Low Countries between 1500 and 1800

March 14th, 2013
International conference
University of Antwerp, Hof van Liere, Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerp

With the support of Universiteit en Samenleving and the department of literature of the University of Antwerp

In Early Modern Jewry: a New Cultural History (Princeton 2010) David Ruderman built on a lifetime of studying and teaching Jewish history in an attempt to formulate a new, panoramic account of Jewish life in the early modern world. Among the factors that Ruderman identifies as critical to Jewish history in this period are accelerated mobility, a steep acceleration in the production and dissemination of knowledge and the blurring of religious identities. Central to these changes in Jewish life, both contributing to them and resulting from them, was the exposure to other groups, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

The Low Countries (1500-1800) offer rich cases to explore, within a specific local context, Ruderman’s understanding of early modern Jewish history. It was an age of stark contrasts and of turbulent changes – of large-scale religious bloodshed and suffering, and of extraordinary economic and cultural prosperity. A region that began as the Burgundian Netherlands of Charles V broke apart into a Catholic South and a majority-Protestant Dutch Republic in the North. The cosmopolitan harbours of 16th-century Antwerp and 17th-century Amsterdam formed the hearts of vast international networks of commerce and information, while the universities at Louvain, Leiden, and soon Utrecht, Groningen and Franeker attracted and produced some of the leading scholars in all of Europe.

Several generations of social, economic and cultural historians have studied the New Christians who arrived first in Antwerp and then in Amsterdam, many of whom eventually converted to the Jewish religion of their persecuted ancestors. Early modern Jewish history in the Low Countries, from Western Sephardic trade networks to the flourishing Hebrew and Yiddish press to the intellectual encounters between humanists, theologians and rabbis tell stories simultaneously European, even global, and very local. The interaction, confrontation and collaboration in the Low Countries between Sephardim and Ashkenazim, between New Christians and New Jews, and between Jews and non-Jews, was unprecedented, presenting all involved with new religious, intellectual, legal and economic challenges.

The character of these encounters, often troubled and always complex, was shaped, determined, facilitated and/or symbolized by the space in which they occurred: the harbour, the stock exchange, the bookstore, the printing house, the theatre, the collector’s cabinet, the literary academy, the court of law, the notary’s office, the private library, the university, the musical salon, the artist’s workshop, the surgeon’s practice, the warehouse, the merchant vessel, the guild house, the brothel. The (new) spaces of the early modern era made new kinds of economic, religious, artistic, political and scholarly encounters possible. Each space had its own written or unwritten rules, dangers, challenges and possibilities, its own mechanisms of interaction between Jew and non-Jew. Rather than a period of mere transition, the early modern era was transformative, for the Low Countries generally, and for its Jewish communities.

Organizing committee

  • Dr. Timothy De Paepe (Institute for the Study of Literature in the Low Countries, University of Antwerp)
  • Dr. Theodor Dunkelgrün (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cambridge)

Scientific committee

  • Prof. dr. Vivian Liska (Institute of Jewish Studies, University of Antwerp)
  • Prof. dr. David Ruderman (Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania)
  • Prof. dr. Shlomo Berger (University of Amsterdam)
  • Prof. dr. Guido Marnef (Centre for Urban History, University of Antwerp)


09:15      Registration
09:50      Welcome

10:00-11:25  Session I (Chair: Timothy De Paepe (University of Antwerp))

10:00 Theodor Dunkelgrün (University of Cambridge), The Hebrew Bible as Place of Encounter and Collision: The Leusden-Athias Biblia Hebraica Accuratissima (Amsterdam, 1667) and its Detractors
10:20 Anna Augustyniak (University of Wroclaw), Antonio Vieira’s idea how the position of Jews in the Low Countries can heal the Portuguese Commonwealth
10:40 Wijnand Mijnhardt (Utrecht University), Science, travel, engraving, and the invention of the idea of religion: the Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the All the Peoples of the World of the two Bernards
11:00 Questions & discussion

11:25-11:45  Coffee break

11:45-12:45  Session II (Chair: Shlomo Berger (University of Amsterdam))

11:45 Bart Wallet (University of Amsterdam), Dutch Jews, Orangists and Patriots. The Politicization of Jews in the Dutch Republic
12.05 Timothy De Paepe (University of Antwerp),“Oh my! Jews on the stage?” Opera, politics, and the theatre impresario Jacob Dessauer (Amsterdam, c.1795) 
12:25 Questions & discussion

12:45-14:15  Lunch break (only speakers)

14:15-15:45  Session III (Chair: Guido Marnef (University of Antwerp))

14:15 Luc Dequeker (KU Leuven), Resurgence of Judaism in Antwerp in the seventeenth century ? The reaction of the Catholic Church
14:35 Cátia Antunes (Leiden University), & Jessica Vance Roitman (Leiden University), Juggling Jurisdictions: Amsterdam’s Courts as a Zone of Encounter in the Early Modern Age
15:00 Tsila Rädecker (University of Groningen), “Why do you speak Dutch with me? We’re not in the synagogue, are we? (AK 16)”: Construction of the Jewish identity and the Other in the Diskursn of the Alte Kille
15:20 Questions & discussion

15:50-16:10  Coffee break

16:10-17:10  Session IV (Chair: Theodor Dunkelgrün (University of Cambridge))

16:10 Alexander van der Haven (Webster University), Allowing Apostasy: Toleration of Gentile Conversion to Judaism in the Dutch Republic
16:30 Deborah Hamer (Columbia University), Dutch Regulation of Jewish Marriage and Sex in Amsterdam and Brazil in the seventeenth Century
16:50 Questions & discussion


20:00-21:15  Pawel Maciejko (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem), An inquiry concerning the reading habits of Count Joseph Karl Immanuel von Waldstein and some other related matters
Followed by a first response by Prof. dr. David B. Ruderman (Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania)

The point of departure for this lecture is an analysis of a portrait of Count Joseph Karl Emmanuel Waldstein, an important Bohemian nobleman and the patron of the famous adventurer, Giacomo Casanova. The portrait shows Waldstein holding an identifiable book in Hebrew script. Pawel Maciejko will discuss Waldstein's contacts with Jews and will describe the circle of Jewish-Christian kabbalists that surrounded him.


Call for papers

On 14 March 2013 the Institute of Jewish Studies will host the conference Places of encounter: Jews and non-Jews in the Low Countries between 1500 and 1800. This conference will coincide with the return of David Ruderman to Antwerp as the visiting chair of Jewish-Christian relations at the Institute of Jewish Studies (IJS) and the University Center Saint-Ignatius (UCSIA).

The organizers invite paper proposals around the theme of ‘places of encounter’. We are eager for papers that test Ruderman’s new early modern Jewish history by exploring places of intellectual, artistic, scholarly, economic, religious or political encounter between Jews and non-Jews, in the Low Countries (i.e. both the Southern and Northern Netherlands) between 1500 and 1800.

Senior and junior scholars as well as graduate students are welcome to apply. Proposals should be no longer than 400 words in length and should be accompanied by a short CV. Proposals and questions should be sent to Timothy De Paepe ( The deadline for submission is 1 October 2012.

The conference will take place at the University of Antwerp.
The conference language is English.

More details in the attached PDF.