(Leslie is out of town, Steve Olson is guest blogger. Photos by Eve-Lynn Siegel)
As the Milwaukee and Madison groups met together for a joint session, Professor Steven Nadler shared some of the insights he gained while researching his book Rembrandt’s Jews .
Because many Portuguese Jews successfully settled in Amsterdam after fleeing the Inquisition, they provided a unique model of interaction with a 17th Century Calvinist culture.
The two communities lived in close proximity, and Jews invited curious Dutch to observe services at their magnificent Sephardic synagogue. Some Dutch artists began to normalize Jews in visual terms (they look just like us!) rather than depicting them as anti-Semitic stereotypes, as was common in European culture.
Rembrandt was a neighbor of important Amsterdam Jews and seems to have had an especially close relationship with Menasseh ben Israel, one of its chief rabbis. In a well-known painting, “Belshazzar’s Feast,” Rembrandt pictured the puzzling and mysterious Aramaic “writing on the wall” accurately in a form which was very likely given to him by the rabbi. (The writing was vertical and moved right to left.)
The dual Insider/Outsider status of Jews in Amsterdam provoked a good deal of discussion and many questions.
The evening proved to be a session rich in knowledge and shared ideas.