DUTCH SEPHARDIC JEWRY IN THE AGE OF
REMBRANT AND SPINOZA
Did you know that the first book about the workings of a stock market was written in Spanish by a Dutch Sephardic Jew,  Joseph de la Vega, and was entitled Confucion de los Confucions  (Confusion of the Confusions)?  Did you know that in 17th Century the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam had rules against carrying a gun, wearing spurs or raising one's voice during the services.  (to this day it is rare to see someone carrying a gun or wearing spurs in our synagogue,  we have to work on the third admonition.)?  Did you know that the leaders of the Dutch Sephardic community advised against giving alms to Ashkenazi beggars and that Sephardics who had married Ashkenazis could not be buried in the Sephardic Cemetery?  One man was forced to apologize because he had bought a chicken from an Ashkenazi butcher.
    If you had attended the UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies colloquium, you would have learned about all of the above and much more.  The colloquium is an annual affair sponsored by the Maurice Amado Foundation.  This year the topic was:  Dutch Sephardic Jewry in the Age of Rembrandt and Spinoza.     The speakers were:  Johathan Israel, the Amado Visiting Professor of Sephardic Studies at UCLA; Mariam Bodian of the University of Michigan; and Daniel Swetschinski .
Those who attended the event learned that Baruch Spinoza (or Bento Espinoza) came from a family of Portuguese Jews who ran a small trading business involving cargoes of fruits and olive oil from Portugal and North Africa.  After major business losses to wars and piracy, Spinoza turned more and more to his philosophical writings.  He eventually abandoned the commercial world.  He was a leader in the movement towards rationalism.  He would not accept the view that the bible was to be taken literally.  Because of this "heresy" he was excommunicated by the Jewish leaders.
The Portuguese began moving to Holland several generations after the mid to late 1500s. They integrated with and adapted the forms of the Dutch commercial class.  Prof. Bodian show pictures of their dress and architecture which were very similar to that of the Dutch.  However, for several centuries most Jews continued to speak Portuguese.
    Jews were admonished not to congest streets during weddings and funerals so as not to annoy Christians.  Gambling was denounced and commerce was regulated. For the most part the Jewish leaders who made rules for the Sephardic community were restrained  and level headed.  The excommunication of Spinoza was extreme and an exception.  Most penalties were minor, involving small fines or apologies.