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3.3.  RENAISSANCE (1300-1700)

Table 5 presents some major events which took place during the Renaissance Period, 1300-1700 CE.

Italian Renaissance1300-1600
European Renaissance1400-1650
Expulsion from Spain1492
Expulsion, Portugal1493
Biblical Names Adoption 16-17th cent. Protestants adopt Biblical Hebrew names
Biblical Names AdoptionJews mimic this: Abraham, Jakob, Moses
Secular Hebrew studies1507Introduced, German & French universities
Venice ghetto1516Established
Reformation1517Martin Luther's posting in Wittenberg
Papal Bull1531Begin Portuguese Inquisition of Marranos
Luther attacks Jews1542
Expulsions of Jews1542-1670Prague, Genoa, Papal states, Worms, Vienna
Shulchan Aruch1554Completed by Joseph Karo
Jews of Poland1576Allowed to carry on unrestricted trade
Poland1586Jewish Synod of the Four Countries
Amsterdam1593First Marrano settlement in Holland
European names1500-1800Secular names borrowed from Europeans
Polish names absorbed into Yiddish
Portuguese Jews1612Granted right of residence in Hamburg
Cossack Revolt1648-58Devastation of Ukraine and Polish Jewry
100,000-500,000 Jews slaughtered
Shabatai Zevi1648-76False Messiah
Jews back to England1655Cromwell

Table 5. Renaissance (1300-1700)

The Protestant Reformation changed Europe both socially and economically, and the Renaissance was partially an expression of this change.  It marked the complete breakdown of the established feudal order and Church supremacy, the rise of an increasingly unrestrained competitive spirit in economics and a secularist, rationalist approach to life and knowledge.  At the same time it witnessed those sanguinary Wars of Religion which until their abatement after the blood bath of the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) were to keep Europe in a state of constant warfare.

The Renaissance brought new importance to individual expression and worldly experience;  culturally, it was a time of new currents and brilliant accomplishments in scholarship, in literature, and in the Arts. It first appeared in 1300 in Italy, where relative political stability, economic expansion, wide contact with other cultures, and a flourishing urban civilization provided the background for a new view of the world. There were a number of free-thinking Jews in Italy who shared the philosophical views of leaders in the new movement.  Later, free-thinking Jews in other European countries were excited by this fresh alternative to the deadly atmosphere of the Inquisitorial Middle Ages.

Jews in Western and West-Central Europe were gradually welcomed into countries from which they had been expelled centuries before, if it was in that country's economic interest.  The western, Catholic, feudal countries did not want Jews for religious reasons, did not need them for economic reasons, and did not readmit them, whereas the Protestant countries, having an economic need for the merchant Jews, eventually did readmit them. However in much of Eastern Europe, there was far less tolerance for Jews.

With the positive impact of the Resaissance and some cessation of persecution for a period, new Hebrew names were adopted expressing beauty and a positive point of view:  Ahava "love", Beracha "blessing", Chaim "life", Emuna "faith", Mazaltov "good luck", Rachamim "compassion", ShemTov "good name", Simcha "joy", Tsedaka "righteousness".

In 1579, Holland allowed Jews to practice their religion freely and a thriving Jewish community began to develop.  In 1655, Marranos were allowed to settle in England and were never again expelled.  From 1500 to 1800, in Germany and present-day Austria, Jewish financiers were appointed to influential positions as financial ministers to the state, known as the "Court Jews."  During the 15th and 16th centuries, Poland became the center for Jewish learning.  This prosperity continued until 1648 when the Cossack massacres began.  Secular names were borrowed freely by Jews from the European nations.

Jews had lived in Russia for centuries, sometimes welcomed, sometimes poorly tolerated.  Before 1500, Jews could live anywhere in Russia, but as Russia acquired more and more Jews, their level of tolerance dropped precipitously, until Jews were regionally ghettoized with the creation of the Pale of Settlement (1775, 1792, 1795).

The gradual infiltration of Renaissance thinking into Jewish culture and thought and the promise of integration into Western European society expressed itself in the choice of secular names as Jewish given names. Some European names borrowed were:  Adolph, Geronim, Gimpel, Goetz, Gumpel, Gumpert, Heinrich, Hirsch, Kusel, Victorin;  Alsguta, Blumchen, Blume, Clara, Dobrisch, Feige, Frommet, Hinda, Nesha, Nussel, Reyna, Rica, Taube, Treine. Many of these names were absorbed in the 19th century and entered the lexicon of Yiddish names.

In addition, Biblical names which had been previously adopted by Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries in Latin spellings (e.g., Abraham, Jakob), were then absorbed as secular names by Jews, frequently in Slavic forms.  In the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, these Slavic forms were used:  Avram (Abraham), Danilo (Daniel), Iguda (Juda), Ilya (Eliah), Lazar (Elasar), Mikhail (Michael), Moisey (Moses), Onatan (Jonathan), Ruvim (Reuben), Sadko (Zadok), Sak (Isaac), Yesip (Joseph).  But Ashkenazic names were also used (in Brest):  Ayzik, Bendet, Berman, Fayvish, Fishel, Gersh, Kgets, Kolman, Mendel, Merkel, Mikhel, Shmerlya, Volf, Zelikman, Zelman, Zyskin.  Ashkenazic names were used in Kremenets:  Beylya, Gitlya, Kalmen, Liber, Midlya, Peysakh, Sorka, Surka, Tolba, Yenta, Zindel, Zisel, Zundel. (3)

By this time, the Yiddish language had developed to such an extent, that a large number of Yiddish names were created by modifying Arab, Latin, Germanic, and Slavic names, and by adapting old names:  Alkan, Danel, Davud, Gadel, Henoch, Hosea, Isaak, Israel, Isser, Izaak, Josel, Jude, Judel, Kopel, Leyser, Michel, Musa, Shmelka;  Abigaya, Pessl, Pessla, Hanne, Hendel, Chanele, Merle, Michele, Pessel, Reichel, Zirle.

The secularism of the Renaissance should not be confused with that which is endemic to modern society;  it was not yet part of a complete social and intellectual framework.  Modern historians generally emphasize the fact that religious questions and strife were of great importance in the era of the Renaissance.  Some have pointed out that the Renaissance, heavily dependent on ancient ideas, thought little of man's progress and that not until the Enlightenment did man truly begin to see himself as controlling his environment and mastering his future.  However, few deny that the Renaissance saw a soaring of man's spirit and a blossoming of his creative activities, unparalleled in history.

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