Thursday, September 11, 2008

Discrimination Against Blacks Practiced by Jews in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam

Here is an interesting example of what one might see as Jewish “racism” within the Amsterdam Sephardic Jewish community in the seventeenth-century. According to Adam Sutcliffe:

The exclusion of non-whites from participation in the life of the Sefardic community took many forms. An ordinance of 1644 asserted, in protection of the “reputation and good government” of the community, that circumcised Black Jews could not be called to the Torah. In 1647, the Mahamad marked apart a separate, less prestigious area of the cemetery for the burial of Blacks and mulattos. In 1658, mulatto boys, as well as all other non-Sefardim, were excluded from study at the Amsterdam yeshivah, Ets Haim. An unmistakable strain of color-conscious racial prejudice is evident in these ordinances. (Adam Sutcliffe, “Regulating Sociability: Rabbinical Authority and Jewish-Christian Interaction in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam.” Rabbinic Culture and Its Critics Ed. Daniel Frank and Matt Goldish pg. 306.)

Sutcliffe goes on to put this into context. It was not just Blacks that the Sephardic Jewish community looked down upon. They also had absolute contempt for Ashkenazic Jews (Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe). One wonders as to what extent this attitude toward Blacks and mulattos was a reflection of the Spanish and Portuguese cultures that these Jews had fled from. The Spanish created the most elaborate race code of any pre-nineteenth European culture and are the premier example of pre-modern racism. The Sephardic community in the Netherlands was made up conversos, people raised as Christians, and their descendents. We see many examples where, while they may have rejected Catholicism as a religion, they remained good Spanish Catholics to the core. This might be one of them.

I must say, this whole attempt to keep Blacks as lesser members of the Jewish community actually reminds me a lot of the Mormons. The Mormon Church, until the 1970s, did not allow Blacks into the priesthood. In theory they could be baptized but would always remain as outsiders to the group.


Anonymous said...

I have often wondered about Jewish discrimination against other races/ethnicities. It's strange that when I searched for info about this particular topic,the only constructive article was yours.

Miss S. said...

Oh, how did I miss this post???

This is not surprising. In many cultures, Black people were not seen as quite human. In fact, there are some that say that the word "negro" has remained in English not because it is simply the Spanish translation of black; but rather that its Latin root word is "necro" which means "empty" as in "the absence of". In the case of color, the absence is of light; in the case of people, the absence is of a soul. Jews were not oblivious from these prevelant ideas. I am not sure why this fact needs to be hidden.

Izgad said...

"I am not sure why this fact needs to be hidden."

Because people feel the need to turn Jewish history into Jewish apologetics. As such Jews need to come across as open minded and tolerant unlike those bigoted Christians Christians. This basically what Graetz was all about.
I few years ago there was a frum novel published about a Jewish slave owner and his black slave.