Europe/Near East/North Africa
1492 to 1789
Spain expelled its Jewish population in 1492 ostensibly to isolate
conversos (Christian converts from Judaism) from contact with
Jews. Many of the Jewish refugees found new homes in the Ottoman
Empire, establishing roots in Constantinople; Cairo; Salonika,
where rabbinical scholarship achieved new heights; and Safed,
which was the home of a spiritual revival centered on kabbalah,
Jewish mysticism. Others fled to the Netherlands or eventually,
to the Americas, the site of new Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch
colonies. A smaller number headed east, to Polish and Lithuanian
lands, where a policy of tolerance toward minorities prevailed.
Many of the exiles from Spain settled in Italy, which was in the
midst of a humanistic cultural "Renaissance". In this
tolerant atmosphere, Jewish and Christian intellectuals traded
ideas, and Jewish philosophy began to reflect a humanistic influence.
This dialog also led Christian philosophers to develop a more
thorough appreciation of the role played by Hebrew culture in
shaping Western civilization.
During the 16th century the Protestant Reformation transformed Europe's
religious and political institutions by challenging the authority
of the pope and questioning a number of Catholic doctrines and
practices. As religious dissent spread, new Protestant movements
arose in England, Holland, Scandinavia, and German lands. In response,
Catholic leaders launched the Counter-Reformation to reaffirm
the supremacy of the Papacy and the authority of the Church. The
resulting breakdown of political and religious alliances dragged
all of Europe into the Thirty Years War (1618-1648).
By the mid 17th century the social and religious ferment of Europe
had inspired a new philosophical movement that called for the
rational reexamination of accepted beliefs. "Enlightenment"
philosophers in the 18th century Included Voltaire, Rousseau, and
Montesquieu, and though their arguments for the equality of all
people had impact throughout Europe, nowhere was it stronger than
in France, where an autocratic regime tottered on the verge of
bankruptcy from ruinous wars and expensive colonial ventures.
As the 18th century drew to a close, the French people rose in revolt
against their rulers and against the entire social order of their
country. The French Revolution was to prove a harbinger of the
great political and social revolutions of the 19th century