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Economics, Empire, Eschatology: The Global Context of Jewish Settlement in the Americas, 1650–70

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 August 2016


The Dutch and English offered Spanish and Portuguese Jews inducements such as liberties unheard of in Europe until the mid-nineteenth century in order to lure them to their New World colonies. As compelling as the economic and military rationales for Jewish settlement were, there were also “spiritual” reasons to encourage Jewish settlement – and for Jews, themselves, to venture to the colonies. The mid-seventeenth century was a time of eschatological fervor in both Christian and the Jewish communities and millenarianism and messianism formed the backdrops against which Jewish colonization in the New World occurred. The seventeenth century saw an increasingly acute expectation of apocalyptic events by Christians and Jews, and was marked by an outpouring of messianic prophecy all over Europe and the Mediterranean. This article will discuss whether the English and/or the Dutch encouraged Jewish settlement in the New World with the idea that it could help in ushering in the much yearned for second coming. It will also discuss whether Jews may have been tempted to go to the colonies with the idea that they were helping to bring about the dispersion described in Daniel 12:7 – a scattering that was necessary before the prophesized “Second Coming”.

© 2016 Research Institute for History, Leiden University 

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Jessica Vance Roitman is a researcher at the Royal Netherlands Institute of Southeast Asian and Caribbean Studies (KITLV) and a Lecturer at Leiden University. She works on diverse topics, including Jewish history, Early Modern (Atlantic) history, slavery, migration, and the formation of identities.



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