On 20 November 1684, months before Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, the French king ordered 93 Sephardic converso families to leave the southern part of present-day France. Around half of those families, known as the desterrados de Franca, arrived in Amsterdam, either directly or via detours by boat and on foot. One of the desterrados was Sara Gomez del Valle, who described her situation to the mahamad, the Jewish board of the Sephardic community in Amsterdam, as ‘helpless and without brothers.’ Asking for ‘legal powers of matrimony to her orphaned daughter Esther Gomez del Valle,’ del Valle’s request was one of many made by those arriving around 1685 in Amsterdam seeking assistance.
In media, literature, and movies, the city of Amsterdam is depicted as a tolerant shelter and safe haven for persecuted Jews and is praised for its early modern benevolence and fair treatment. But what this treatment entailed and the reason behind the assistance is less known. In Dutch Jewish historiography, historians such as Tirtsah Levie-Bernfeld, Jonathan Israel, and Miriam Bodian, depict the early modern Jewish charity system as a communal endeavor, organized by the board of the Jewish community who asked their members to donate. For example, Tirtsah Levie-Bernfeld wrote in her book Poverty and Welfare that the ‘religious commandment to help and assist persecuted fellow Jews – in Judaism called a mitzvah – created the urge of the Jewish community in Amsterdam ‘to join’ the godly plight.’ By examining the charity initiatives for the incoming Jewish refugees from France, this blog post will demonstrate that the early modern civic authorities in Amsterdam also started to support the needs of arriving Jewish refugees. Continue reading