Spinoza in de joodse historiografie [5] Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi (vervolg)

Zoals ik aan het eind van het vorige blog al aangaf, was er over “Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi en Spinoza” nog wat te melden. In zijn Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory [New York 1982] had hij het slechts één keer kort over Spinoza [zie vorige blog]. Maar hij had zich méér met Spinoza bezig gehouden. VoorkantIn 1998 verscheen ter ere van hem het boek

Elisheva Carlebach, John M. Efron, David N. Myers (Eds.) Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi [Nummer 29 van The Tauber Institute for the Study of European Jewry series]. UPNE, 1998

Het hoofdstuk van David N. Myers daarin, "Of Marranos and Memory: Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi and the Writing of Jewish History" [ p. 1-24], geeft een inkijkje in teksten die alleen in het Hebreeuws gepubliceerd waren waarin hij een interessante visie op Spinoza toont. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi gold als een van de grote experts op het gebied van de marraanse geschiedenis, zoals o.a. blijkt uit ik de volgende passage die ik hieruit overneem - het gedeelte waarin Spinoza aan de orde komt; (p. 6-8 - voor de eindnoten verwijs ik naar dat boek):

In een lezing voor de Israel Academy of Sciences die Yerushalmi in 1977 gaf en die pas in 1983 werd gepubliceerd in de Proceedings of the Israel Academy of Sciences (Jerusalem, 1983), was zijn onderwerp...

... that notorious son of Portuguese Marranos and bete noire of Amsterdam Jewry, Baruch Spinoza. In this engrossing essay, as yet available only in Hebrew, Yerushalmi sought to explain Spinoza's idiosyncratic understanding of Jewish history and particularly of the survival of the Jews through recourse to his Marano heritage. He did so with a characteristically varied amalgam of approaches, combining his knowledge of Marrano history with careful scrutiny of Spinoza's library holdings on Spanish subjects and a close reading of the Theologico-Political Treatise. On the basis of this mix, Yerushalmi offered a nuanced reconstruction of Spinoza's argument that it was adherence to a lapsed set of legal norms that explained the historic segregation of Jews. This segregation led, in turn, to Gentile hatred, which itself provided a new and important rationale for Jewish identity. For Yerushalmi, Spinoza's assertion of a close link between Gentile hatred and Jewish identity represented a genuinely innovative insight—indeed, a prescient understanding of the negative criterion that undergirds Jewish identity in the modern age."

In addition to their shared concern for anti-Jewish expression in its incipient modern form, the Spinoza and Leo Baeck lectures exhibited Yosef Yerushalmi's skill in considering old historical sources or issues from novel perspectives. This quality is already present in From Spanish Court, where Yerushalmi builds on the work of previous historians to open new gateways of understanding into the Marrano personality. And it is present in his second scholarly monograph dealing with Iberian Jewish history, The Lisbon Massacre of 1506 and the Royal Image in Shebet Yehudah (Cincinnati, 1976). At the heart of this study is Yerushalmi's analysis of a contemporaneous German account describing the mob violence against Portuguese New Christians in April 1506 that culminated in more than one thousand deaths. His close reading of this and other sources provides the most in-depth treatment of the Lisbon massacre produced to date. Typically, though, Yerushalmi's interests are not confined to the unfortunate events in Lisbon. He is fascinated by a recurrent pattern according to which Jews, or New Christians, forged bonds of loyalty with royal authority. It is not merely the model of contractual arrangements regulating Jewish residence in European realms (e.g., charters and privilegia) that intrigues him. Rather, it is the profound internalization and concomitant glorification of the myth of the royal alliance. In the specific case of early-sixteenth-century Portugal, Yerushalmi seeks to understand why Portuguese New Christians, forcibly converted en masse by King Manuel in 1497. would still feel deep allegiance to the Portuguese monarch during and after the massacre in Lisbon. In fact, Yerushalmi demonstrates that this allegiance survived not only the mob violence but the dilatory attitude of King Manuel toward the outbreaks.

Yerushalmi's efforts to make sense of this phenomenon bear the traces of his teacher, Salo Baron. One of the most important insights stemming from Baron's celebrated opposition to the "lachrymose conception" of Jewish history was that medieval and early modern Jews often developed closer and more dependent relationships with political sovereigns than did other groups in European society. Yerushalmi continued Baron's work on medieval Jewish political allegiances in his study of the Lisbon massacre. At the same time, he integrated into his work the penetrating criticisms of Jewish political behavior offered by Hannah Arendt in The Origins of Totalitarianism. Yerushalmi was particularly interested in two features of Arendts work: first, her analysis of the Jews' "uncritical faith in the capacity and willingness of the state to protect them"; and second, her understanding of the vulnerability in which such uncritical faith placed Jews vis-a-vis groups "radically disaffected with the state itself." These two concerns helped shape his own treatment of the events of 1506. The dissonance between actual historical events and New Christian perceptions of them was a function of a deeply rooted article of faith: indeed, even before the Expulsion, "the royal alliance flowered beyond its obvious mundane realities into a guiding myth which gripped many of the Hispano-Jewish elite."

This guiding "myth of the royal alliance" withstood the disruption of Expulsion. As hinted above, it continued to inform those Jews who fled Spain and were converted against their will by King Manuel in Portugal in 1497. Yerushalmi probes this bewildering persistence in a Hebrew text that has engaged his attention for many years, Solomon ibn Verga’s Shevet Yehudah. In this exemplary work of sixteenth-century Jewish historiography, ibn Verga makes reference to the Lisbon massacre, noting that King Manuel was a "gracious king" who "wept and cried out against the evil event." How, Yerushalmi asks, could such generous praise be showered on the man responsible for the mass conversion of 1497? It was impossible that ibn Verga did not know of 1497. "Undeterred by facts of which ... he was surely cognizant," ibn Verga can only be understood against the backdrop of the myth of the royal alliance. That is, his distorted, at times "blatantly fictional" depiction of royal behavior in Shevet Yehudah, in which Manuel was not only exonerated but celebrated, reflected the very "uncritical faith" that Jews had repeatedly invested in political rulers. For Yerushalmi, ibn Verga was a link in a chain of Jewish political tradition extending from antiquity to the modern age.


Apart from the lingering question of Jewish political behavior, Yerushalmi is chiefly concerned in The Lisbon Massacre with the manner in which Jews, as exemplified by ibn Verga, refashioned their past to suit contemporary sensibilities. Not without warrant, Harold Bloom has suggested that this study may signal Yerushalmi’s first grappling with the problematic that would later animate Zakhor —namely, "how Jewish memory and Jewish history fail to inform each other." One sees further evidence of the tension-filled relationship between history and memory in Yerushalmi’s Spinoza lecture. There Yerushalmi analyzes a curious historical inversion made by Spinoza in the third chapter of the Theologico-Political Treatise: it was in Portugal, Spinoza insists, that conversos encountered widespread social opposition that eventually took the form of protoracial discrimination (through purity of blood statutes). In fact, Yerushalmi clarifies, Portuguese New Christians gained access to the highest strata of Portuguese society for nearly a half-century after their conversion. Moreover, it was in Spain, not Portugal, that blood standards were first introduced to segregate New from Old Christians.

Yerushalmi speculates that Spinoza may have been influenced in his historical thesis by a Portuguese Jesuit, Antonio Vieira, whose mission was to eradicate discrimination against conversos so as to realize the larger goal of eradicating Judaism. Proceeding on this assumption, Yerushalmi wondered whether Spinoza might have derived his views on Jewish survival from Vieira's claim that it was discrimination that invigorated the Jewish identity of New Christians. Without conclusively proving the Vieira connection, Yerushalmi was certain that Spinoza deliberately manipulated the history of Iberian New Christians in order to advance his central point. The articulation of that point—that it was antisemitism, not Divine Providence, that sustained Jewish identity— heralded a momentous shift in Jewish consciousness. Indeed, this idea constituted, according to Yerushalmi, "an important station on the path to the secularization of Jewish history, as well as to the historicization of Judaism."

[David N. Myers]