History of the Jews of the Netherlands

A brief history of the Jews of the Netherlands is a desirable perquisite to understanding the world in which your Dutch Ancestors lived.

I recommend the Jewish Virtual Library website (www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org), from which this is a brief extract.

In 1620, the first Ashkenazi Jews arrived in Amsterdam, and they formed a community by 1635. The Ashkenazim, who first came from Germany, and later from Eastern Europe as well, also settled elsewhere in the Netherlands, particularly Rotterdam and the Hague. The Ashkenazim in the Netherlands soon became superior in numbers to the Sephardim, but, with the exception of a few wealthy Ashkenazi families, they remained inferior socially and economically.

Politically, the Jews were for the most part left to their own devices. Their internal affairs were managed by the kehilla, the Jews’ semi-autonomous governing body. The Jews judged themselves in bet dins (religious courts), organized their own educational system, and appointed leaders from within their own ranks. This political isolation from the rest of society on the part of the Jews was typical in Europe in this period.

My own interest in this community was sparked because 20 years ago when I started as a novice to research the ancestry of my wife’s Dutch family which I soon discovered arrived in London from Amsterdam circa 1850.

I was also unpleasantly surprised that virtually nothing was to found in the books on the history of English Jewry that included the community of Dutch Jews who were established a generation before the mass arrival Jews from the Shtetl of the Pale of Settlement.

The Ashkenazim in London established a virtual ghetto in Whitechapel.

They had been excluded from the Dutch guilds and were very poor and unskilled or at best semi-skilled in the tobacco and leather industries.

In the early years of the 19th century small kehilot of Ashkenazim were to be found in most minor towns of Holland. But unlike their co-religionists in Eastern Europe the young were free to move to the big cities particularly Amsterdam.

Content last updated Tuesday, November 11, 2014 at 11:17 PM US Eastern Daylight Time

Amsterdam, Netherlands

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Compiled by Aubrey Jacobus
Updated January 2024
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