|What ever happened to the Sephardim? Assimilation and the Sephardim of the Netherlands in the 18th Century|
|The Sephardic community of Amsterdam in the 17th century was preeminent in the Western Diaspora. Throughout the 17th century, it was the mother community for the rest of the Sephardic settlements in places like Hamburg, London, and Bordeaux. But by the mid 18th century, the community had stagnated and declined – a stagnation that was, to greater or lesser extent mirrored by the other Western Sephardic communities. Scholars propose various reasons for this decline. Among the main causes put forward are the economic decline of the Netherlands in general and Sephardic migration to other, more economically viable places, including the New World. While these factors were quite clearly at play, I will suggest two other reasons for the decline of the Sephardim in the Netherlands in the 18th century in my presentation at the ESSHC.
Drawing upon Todd Endelman’s famously provocative thesis on the “radical assimilation” of the Sephardi elite in Georgian England, I will sketch a similar trend of elite conversions to Christianity within the Dutch context -- a trend that exemplified Sephardi assimilation. However, I will also suggest that there was a different sort of assimilation going on among the Sephardi community in the Netherlands in the 18th century. This was an assimilation into the Ashkenazi community, or a sort of “Ashkenazization” of the Sephardim, especially among the lower and middle classes. Inter-marriages between the Sephardim and the Ashkenazi grew apace in the latter part of the 18th century, and the children of these unions were almost always raised as Ashkenazi Jews. Thus, the boundaries between the two communities began to blur into a sort of overarching Dutch Jewishness which drew upon the mystique of the Sephardim but was entrenched in Ashkenazi ritual and tradition.