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Heritage Civilization and the Jews
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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


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