Pover­ty and Wel­fare among the Por­tuguese Jews of Ear­ly Mod­ern Amsterdam

Tirt­sah Levie Bernfeld
  • From the Publisher
January 2, 2013

Ear­ly mod­ern Ams­ter­dam was a pros­per­ous city renowned for its rel­a­tive tol­er­ance, and many peo­ple hop­ing for a bet­ter future — away from per­se­cu­tion, wars, and eco­nom­ic malaise — chose to make a new life there. Con­ver­sos and Jews from many coun­tries were among them, attract­ed by the reput­ed wealth and benev­o­lence of the Por­tuguese Jews who had set­tled there. Behind the facade of pros­per­i­ty, how­ev­er, pover­ty was a seri­ous prob­lem. It pre­oc­cu­pied the lead­er­ship of the Por­tuguese Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty and influ­enced its pol­i­cy on admit­ting new­com­ers: the strug­gle to keep pover­ty under con­trol and ensure that finances were avail­able for wel­fare was para­mount. This book looks at pover­ty and wel­fare from the per­spec­tive of both bene­fac­tors and recip­i­ents. It ana­lyzes bene­fac­tors’ motives for phil­an­thropy and charts its dimen­sions. The book also exam­ines the deci­sion-mak­ing process­es of com­mu­nal bod­ies and pri­vate phil­an­thropists, iden­ti­fy­ing the cul­tur­al influ­ences that shaped their com­mit­ment to wel­fare. At the same time, it suc­ceeds in bring­ing the poor to life, exam­in­ing what brought them to Ams­ter­dam; aspects of their dai­ly life in the peti­tions they sent to the dif­fer­ent wel­fare insti­tu­tions; and the sur­vival strate­gies offered by work, edu­ca­tion, and char­i­ty. This ground-break­ing, mul­ti-faceted study of the dynam­ics of the rela­tion­ship between the rich and the poor adds a nuanced new dimen­sion to our under­stand­ing of Jew­ish life in the ear­ly mod­ern period. 

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