The University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Amsterdam and the Menasseh ben Israel Institute (an academic collaboration between the Jewish Museum Amsterdam, the University of Amsterdam and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) present:

The Rabbis of Early Modern Amsterdam: Challenges, Achievements and Legacies

watch back May 15th

In this symposium we will consider the individuals who made up the rabbinate of Amsterdam in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the particular challenges (and successes) they had in building and preserving Jewish communities in the Dutch Republic.

These rabbis faced formidable new challenges to their authority, unlike what their medieval predecessors encountered. Among these were building a religiously, intellectually, socially, and economically thriving community on the banks of the Amstel while integrating immigrants from the Iberian Peninsula and Central and Eastern Europe; the reintegration of former conversos into normative Judaism; the greater separation of administrative and religious leadership, with lay leaders taking over communal responsibilities and prerogatives formerly held by rabbis; new organization of rabbinic training; and changes in titles. The early modern rabbi was thus, in very interesting ways, quite distinct not only from his medieval predecessors, but also from his modern successors, and Amsterdam was one site where the institution of the rabbinate found its rearticulation.

The symposium will be held May 15th and 16th at the Jewish Museum in Amsterdam.  For more information and inquiries about tickets and other matters contact

Tickets: €95, -, university students and friends (donateurs) of the Menasseh ben Israel Institute donateurs €65,- Prices include lunch* for both days. Order tickets here.

Day One, May 15th

9:30   Opening

Creating Amsterdam’s Early Modern Rabbinate (chair Prof. Emile Schrijver)

9:45   Dr. David Sclar (Princeton University) “Inventing Tradition and (Re)Forming Identity: the Development of Western Sephardic Religious Culture in Early Modern Amsterdam”

10:30   Prof. Sina Rauschenbach (University of Potsdam) “Christian Hebraism and Jewish Perceptions of Denominational Difference: The Rabbis of Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam”

11:15    coffee break

11:30   Prof. Bart Wallet (University of Amsterdam) The Early Rabbinate of the Ashkenazic Community in Amsterdam

12:15   lunch

Between Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (chair prof. Bart Wallet)

13:15  Mirjam Knotter (Jewish Museum Amsterdam) Artistic Legacy and Everyday Life: Exploring the Material Culture of Seventeenth-Century Rabbis and their Communities in Amsterdam

14:00   Prof. Steven Nadler (University of Wisconsin-Madison) “Menasseh ben Israel and Maimonides on Human Freedom”

14:45   coffee break

15:05   Prof. Moises Orfali (Bar-Ilan University) “Isaac Aboab da Fonseca: Leadership between the Spinozist and Sabbatean Storms”

15:50   Prof. Matt Goldish (Ohio State University) “Hakham Solomon Ayllon: Amsterdam’s Sabbatean Rabbi, 1700-1728”

16:35   end Day OneR

Day Two, May 16th 

The Economics of Knowledge (chair prof. Irene Zwiep)

9:30   Dr. Jacob Adler (University of Arkansas-Fayetteville) “The Intended Audience of Menasseh ben Israel’s Nishmat Ḥayyim”

10:15   Heide Warncke (Ets Haim – Livraria Montezinos library) “Printing and Manuscript Production in the Amsterdam Sephardic Congregation in the Seventeenth Century”

11:00   coffee break

11:15   Prof. Yaacob Dweck (Princeton University) “Wealth, Social Standing, and Knowledge: Hezekiah da Silva in Amsterdam”

12:00   lunch

Lay Leaders, Women and the Colonies (chair prof. Steven Nadler)

13:30   Dr. Tirtsah Levie Bernfeld (independent scholar) “Sephardi Women and Spiritual Leadership in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam”

14:15  Dr. Anne Oravetz Albert (University of Pennsylvania) “Rabbis and Lay Leaders: The Case of Herem”

15:00   Prof. Jessica Vance Roitman (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) “Caribbean Connections and Continuities”

15:45   drinks