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Manual for Faculty
Unit 5: The Search for Deliverance
(1492 to 1789)
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Program Overview

The Jews who were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula settled throughout the Mediterranean world: in North Africa, Italy, and later in the Ottoman Empire. The Jews returned in numbers to the Holy Land where a thriving community was created in Safed and new mystical concepts were developed. In Italy there was much economic and intellectual change and the ideas of the Renaissance influenced many Jews. New forms of religious thought emerged at this time, and Luther set the groundwork for the rise of Protestantism. The Church at Rome, threatened by these developments, attacked those who held different religious ideas, mainly Protestants and Jews. The Jews were separated from Christian society and in some cities forced to live in ghettos. In the Netherlands the Spanish yoke, with its dreaded Inquisition, was overthrown. The Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had converted to Catholicism but retained their Jewish identity migrated there. New ideas circulating in Holland also prompted the Jews, Spinoza among them, to challenge traditionally held beliefs.

The Ashkenazim, the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, developed a more inward religious cultural tradition and played an important economic role in their society. Employed as middlemen by the Polish nobility and standing between the nobility and the peasants, they incurred the wrath of the people. Many Jews were killed in the Chmelnitzki revolt of 1648.

Meanwhile in the Ottoman Empire, a man named Shabbetai Zevi declared himself the messiah and many Jews were attracted to his banner. Later on, he converted to Islam and Jewry was demoralized. In Eastern Europe, though, an itinerant miracle worker, Rabbi Israel, called the Ba'al Shem Tov, preached of the joy to be found in the observance of Judaism and in attempting to become closer to God. Rabbi Israel brought much-needed moral and religious support to a beleaguered populace.

In Western Europe the Jews contributed to the growing economy, and ideas slowly circulated that all people were to be treated equally. Some Jews looked forward to their integration into European society and began, as did Moses Mendelssohn, to study the philosophy and science propounded by the Enlightenment. These ideas were translated into politically revolutionary movements, such as the French and American revolutions, and a new age appeared to be drawing near for the Jews.

Learning Objectives
  • Understand how Spanish Jews reacted to the trauma of their expulsion.
  • Consider the impact of the radical population shifts of Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews on the transformation of Jewish culture in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
  • Examine the mutual impact of enhanced Jewish-Christian encounters on Jewish and Christian societies in the Renaissance and post-Renaissance periods.
  • Explore the mystical theories of Isaac Luria and how they were used to explain Shabbetai Zevi's apostasy.
  • Trace the development of Hasidism and understand the reasons for its success.

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