1590 AD to 1610 AD, Psalm 126: Amsterdam.

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Profile_of_Amsterdam,_seen_from_the_landside_by_Hans_Bol_1589This generation is that of the 1590s and 1600s.

The forced exile of the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula was accompanied by a providential return to the land of Israel that brought about a revival of Talmudic Judaism as esoteric Judaism under the influence of characters like Joseph Caro or Isaac Louria and of their followers in the Holy Land or in the diaspora.

Afbeelding_van_gezicht_op_de_stad_aan_de_IJzijde,_gedeelte_aanzicht,_ca._1600_-_Amsterdam_-_20010805_-_RCEThis renewal is largely perceptible in Jewish practice where new songs enrich the Jewish liturgy. Thus we have already quoted the contribution of Solomon [1] Alkabets Halevi (1505-1584) who composes the liturgical poem Leah Dodi which becomes a fundamental element of the Friday night prayers for the reception of the Sabbath.

The new Jewish community in the Holy Land goes beyond this contribution:
  • With [2] Solomon Alkabets, mysticism finds a poetic expression that makes it popular. This remains true of the second generation of Safed, that of Louria and his followers. Louria himself has left us several poems, one of which is very well known. He is still sung today in the family circle on Shabbat. It is « Yom ze le-Israel » (this Sabbath day is for Israel light and joy). […] To these giants of Jewish thought in Safed, we must add some other religious figures whose works are also adopted by all the communities of the world.
  • « Yedud nefesh » (« The one whose love fills my soul ») (one of the best-known poems of) Eliezer Azikri (1533-1600) is sung in a very large number of communities at the entrance of the Sabbath, and inserted in most prayer rituals. […]
  • « Zemirot Israel », the best-known (collection of poems) of Israel Najara (1555-1625) printed in Safed in 1587, contains the famous poem « Ya Ribbon Olam » (« Master of the World ») sung throughout the world whole Jewish for the sabbatical evening. Another longer poem, « Ketoubba le-Hag Ha-Shavouot », in honor of Shavuot (Pentecost), only spread to Sephardic communities. […]
  • We can not cite here all the names of men, even of great value, who, in one area or another, have contributed to what may be called the golden age of Safed. It would be tedious. But they were there, dozens, maybe hundreds, with their knowledge, their writings, their radiance. In introduction to one of Safed’s written letters, Abraham Yaari writes:
    • It is difficult to find in all of Israel’s history a time when a spiritual force as powerful as Safed in the sixteenth century is concentrated in one place. In the span of a single generation, Safed’s influence has been enormous throughout the entire diaspora, in almost every branch of Jewish spiritual life, halakha, ethics, comment, mysticism.
  • […]
  • The development of printing, precisely in the sixteenth century, greatly contributed to extending the fame of the masters of Safed and to increase their influence. […] The speed with which a poem like Lékah Dodi spread in the Jewish world is certainly due to its diffusion by the printing press. It is printed for the first time in a sidour (prayer book) published in Venice in 1584.
This observation corresponds well to the beginning of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 126 associated to this generation, verses 1 and 2 )

  • A song of ascents. When the Lord returns the returnees to Zion, we shall be like dreamers.
  • Then our mouths will be filled with laughter and our tongues with songs of praise; then they will say among the nations, « The Lord has done great things with these. »
The failure of the invincible Armada opened the way for England to conquer the world. This generation is marked for this country by the prestigious reign of Elizabeth who reigns from 1558 to 1603 is almost half a century. Reign that confirms the emergence of the powers of the North of Europe called to replace those of the South on the world chessboard.

Le_Canada,_ou_Nouvelle_France,_la_Floride,_la_Virginie,_etc_(4071882785)England from this generation is one of the dominant nations, it is the generation of Shakespeare, that of the creation of Virginia, name given in honor of Queen Elizabeth, the Virgin Mary, who announces the conquest of North America by England. Essential milestone in the birth of the United States of America that will mark the modern period.

France, after a few unsuccessful attempts, also set foot on the American continent by founding New France with the birth of the city of Quebec in 1608. On the domestic front, the reign of King Henry IV (1589- 1610), a Protestant who agrees to convert to Catholicism, initiates at the same time a relative policy of tolerance with the Edict of Nantes in 1598. Since henceforth two religions, Protestantism and Catholicism are authorized in the Kingdom of France, with constraints, but this is a first step taken.

Tour_du_bois,_porte_Neuve,_le_Louvre_et_la_SeineAttached to Paris, he launched the transformations that will make it one of the capitals of the modern world in the same way that London is also taking off for this generation. Jews are still not officially allowed to reside in France although King Henry II has already accepted the presence of « new Christians » in 1550 without ignoring their true belief. As long as these Jews feign Christianity externally while retaining Judaism for the private sphere, they are accepted into the kingdom of France.


Meanwhile, the return to Zion undertaken especially after the Ottoman conquest shows its limits. If the Jewish presence does not stop, the widespread return of the Jews to the land of Israel can only be achieved with Jewish sovereignty on this earth. It’s not for this generation:
  • After [3] (the death of Don Joseph Nassi) comes on stage Salomon Abenaes (1520-1603), a character of the same scale, ex-Portuguese marrano, immensely rich for having been given the diamond mines of a kingdom of the Indies, returned to Judaism in Turkey where he succeeded Nassi’s position at the Court and became Duke of Mytilene, one of the most important islands of the Aegean Sea.
  • Abenaes received from Sultan Murat III (1546-1595) a new concession over Tiberias and built a series of buildings in Jerusalem. The reconstruction plan of the city was, however, quickly abandoned for economic and political reasons. The textile industry collapsed and educational institutions gradually emptied their students despite some glimmers at the beginning of the seventeenth century. All was involved: natural disasters (the famine of 1599, the epidemic of 1602) followed shortly after a recidivism, revolts of local potentates against the central power, two successive invasions of the Druze who ransacked the Jews and plundered the city (1602-1628), then that of Arab tribes. In 1656, the Druze completed the destruction of Safed, then that of Tiberias. The inhabitants of the city fled to settle in other Jewish communities in the country.
This first return to Sion can not be realized for all the Jews in exile, but it prefigures the future definitive return of the Jews to their land. That is why despite this relative failure, the psalmist reaffirms in the psalm of this generation his hope for a definitive return, considering as already miraculous this revival of Jewish life in the land of Israel only a few years after 1492.
It is the object of the sequel of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 126 associated to this generation, verses 3 and 4 )

  • « The Lord has done great things with us; we were happy. »
  • Return, O Lord, our captivity like rivulets in arid land.
The Cabalists of Safed have had the time to give Jews around the world the arguments to survive the shock of the end of Iberian Judaism as well as the other misfortunes that will inevitably befall the Jews to the next generations.
In this new Europe, the Jews who fled Spain and then Portugal are trying new communities in this northern Europe which is opening up as it is the case in the Netherlands:
  • The arrival [4] of the first groups of Iberian marranos (in Amsterdam) wishing to return to Judaism is surrounded by legends. It is said, for example, that Manuel Lopez Pereira and his sister Maria Nuñez had embarked in Portugal to escape the Inquisition and that, imprisoned by the English, they lasted their life and their freedom to the extraordinary beauty of the young lady Nuñez. Queen Elizabeth herself, fascinated, would have offered to visit London in an open carriage. Still resistant to temptations, the beautiful Nuñez would have asked to be able to continue her trip towards Amsterdam where, a few years later, she would have married in the Hebrew rite a marranos, companion of travel. Another tradition reports that new Christians, who came by sea from Portugal to the Netherlands, were wrecked in 1601 at Emdem. There, it seems that they met the German rabbi Moses Uri Ha-Levi. Some sources claim that these fugitives, finally touching Amsterdam thanks to him, were discovered in a house celebrating the feast of the atonement, the Kippur, for some in 1596, for others in 1603. Convinced at first that it was a clandestine meeting of Spanish Christians, the magistrates arrested them all. The spokesman of the Portuguese Marranos, Jacob Tirado, of his Spanish name James Lopes da Costa, explained in Latin that they were not Christians, but many Jewish proscribed. Assured of the good faith of Tirado, the burgomaster of Amsterdam would then have authorized the constitution of the Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam, a novelty for a city that had never had Jewish inhabitants.
  • VocModern historiography has done justice to the legends: the notarial archives have shown the presence in the city, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, of many Marranos traders who traded with relatives and friends who remained in the Iberian Peninsula and in France. From 1602, they participated in the founding of the East India Company and here are their names: Manuel Carvalho, Melchior Mendes, Diego Dias Querido, Manuel Thomas. Then they fought for the right to a synagogue and a cemetery. As early as 1604 they obtained a first result at Alkmaar at the gates of the city and in 1605 they drew up in Haarlem a charter which concretized the rules of the Nation in the election of parnasim, the chiefs of the community.
The expulsion of the Jews from Spain followed by the forced conversion of the Portuguese Jews should have been a catastrophe for Judaism. But as the Spanish and Portuguese powers are closing their golden age, which will result in the erasure of the Iberian powers to the nascent powers of Northern Europe, Judaism finds a new way of expansion :
  • synagogue curacao 2 annote shutterstock_190087619(1)The fall [5] of Spanish Judaism turned into a veritable apotheosis. The Iberian diaspora did not only move east, south, west, but also to the north: Amsterdam, then England, as well as Poland and the deep Balkans saw the arrival of Sephardic Jews. New Jewish cities appeared: Amsterdam, Livorno, Constantinople, Salonica, Curacao, etc. It was the first time that a world Jewish system was constituted. We must emphasize here its Jewish dimension, because this system was based solely on the Sephardic communities, transcending empires and civilizations, and not on a global political framework, existing outside the Jewish society and encompassing it, as was the case with the Roman Empire in the Hellenistic period, then the unified Islamic Empire of the origins. The « Jewish nation » was the global framework for this dispersal.
To the tears shed since the expulsion from Spain succeeds the joy of a revival of Judaism in a new world. Of course, many are lost to Judaism; either dead or having definitively abandoned the religion of their fathers. When sowing seeds, many are lost, but this loss is largely offset by those that germinate. It is the same for the Jewish people who regenerate and improve themselves constantly whatever the sacrifices.
This reversal of history is expressed in the conclusion of the psalm of this generation:

(extract of the psalm 126 associated to this generation, verses 5 and 6 )

  • Those who sow with tears will reap with song.
  • He will go along weeping, carrying the valuable seeds; he will come back with song, carrying his sheaves.


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[1] Renée Neher-Bernheim: « Jewish Life in the Holy Land, 1517-1918 ». Chapter: « The sixteenth century ». (French: «La vie juive en Terre sainte, 1517-1918». Chapitre : « Le XVIe siècle ». (p. 60) ).

[2] Renée Neher-Bernheim: « Jewish Life in the Holy Land, 1517-1918 ». Chapter: « The sixteenth century ». (French: «La vie juive en Terre sainte, 1517-1918». Chapitre : « Le XVIe siècle ». (p. 57 à 66) ).

[3] (directed by) Shmuel Trigano: « The Sephardic World, I – History ». Chapter of Shmuel Trigano: « The Duchy of Galilee ». (French: « Le monde sépharade, I – Histoire ». Chapitre de Shmuel Trigano : « Le duché de Galilée». (p. 336,337) )

[4] Riccardo Calimani: « The Jewish wandering ». Chapter: « The Age of Ghettos ». (French: « L’errance juive ». Chapitre : « L’ère des ghettos ». (p. 273,274) ).

[5] (directed by) Shmuel Trigano: « The Sephardic World, I – History ». Chapter of Shmuel Trigano: « The Sephardic Invention of Jewish Modernity ». (French: Shmuel Trigano : « Le monde sépharade, I – Histoire ». Chapitre de Shmuel Trigano : « L’invention sépharade de la modernité juive ». (p. 252) ).