The Environment of Jewish Life
The fusion of early modernity and traditionalism that took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries helped produce a series of significant and exciting events and movements in European Jewish history. The dispersion of Sephardi Jews from Spain and Portugal, often in the guise of Marranos or secret Jews, resulted in readmissions that reversed the medieval expulsions from countries like England and France. Germany too was bursting with important Jewish activity. The development of Absolutism and changes in economic thinking provided the context for fundamental political and economic changes in German lands as well, including the rise of the court Jews and the establishment or reestablishment of hundreds of Jewish communities.
Because of Germany's fragmentation, virtually every study mentioning land, borders, and peoples of eighteenth-century Europe reaches some kind of impasse when it comes to dealing with the German lands.1 For those on the roads a great deal, and that certainly included Jews, fragmentation caused numerous hindrances at borders: guards inspected carriages; travelers paid customs; and at times people were detained or refused admittance. Currency differences had to be accommodated as well. Lawsuits and other legal matters crossing territorial lines presented greater problems and complicated commerce even further. Still, many and perhaps even most Germans may have been only remotely aware of these difficulties.
Vienna, Prague, and Metz all played an important role for German Jewry during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Vienna had considerable political significance as capital of the empire, and Prague rose as intellectual cornerstone of the German rabbinate. Alsace and Lorraine were the most integrated of these peripheral areas to the social, economic, and religious life of what we call German Jewry in this era.