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In the 1600s, Spanish and Portuguese Jews, who were forced to convert from Judaism to Catholicism, fled to Amsterdam in order to return to Judaism in a tolerant society. They established the Portuguese Synagogue of Amsterdam in 1616, which is home to the Ets Haim library – the oldest Jewish library in the world.

kaplanFour hundred years later, the library is still a vibrant institution. To celebrate its uniqueness, significance, and history, eminent scholars from around the world will gather for the Tradition and Modernity in Ets Haim Symposium on November 24.

Gregory Kaplan, Distinguished Professor in the Humanities and a professor of Spanish in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures, will be among those attending this historic event. He is a featured speaker for the symposium and will present “From Monarchy to Democracy: Ets Haim’s Converso Legacy.”

“My talk will focus on works by the conversos – Spanish and Portuguese forced converts – who were the first to enlist democracy as the model polity in the post-medieval world,” says Kaplan. “In particular, I will be speaking about how two renowned congregants of the Portuguese synagogue during the late 1600s, Miguel de Barrios and Baruch Spinoza, were pioneers in elucidating the advantages of popular democracy over absolutist monarchy, and how their works continue to influence political thought today.” Read the full story on the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures website.