This book untangles a web of ideas about politics, religion, exile, and community that emerged at a key moment in Jewish history and left a lasting mark on Jewish ideas. In the shadow of their former member Baruch Spinoza's notoriety, and amid the aftermath of the Sabbatian messianic movement, the Spanish and Portuguese Jews of seventeenth-century Amsterdam underwent a conceptual shift that led them to treat their self-governed diaspora community as a commonwealth. Preoccupied by the question of why and how Jews should rule themselves in the absence of a biblical or messianic sovereign state or king, they forged a creative synthesis of insights from early modern Christian politics and Jewish law and traditions to assess and argue over their formidable communal government. In so doing they shaped a proud new theopolitical self-understanding of their community as analogous to a Christian state.
Through readings of rarely studied sermons, commentaries, polemics, administrative records, and architecture, Anne Albert shows that a concentrated period of public Jewish political discourse among the community's leaders and thinkers led to the formation of a strong image of itself as a totalizing, state-like entity - an image that eventually came to define its portrayal by twentieth-century historians. Her study presents a new perspective on a Jewish population that has long fascinated readers, as well as new evidence of Jewish reactions to Spinoza and Sabbatianism, and analyses the first Jewish reckoning with modern western political concepts.