Grotius, Hugo°

views updated


GROTIUS, HUGO ° (Huig de Groot ; 1583–1645), Dutch statesman, jurist, theologian, and historian. Grotius' contacts with Jews and Judaism were concerned with both political and spiritual matters. As a result of the flight of Marranos from Spain and Portugal to the Netherlands in the late 16th and early 17th century, and the consequent formation, without a firm legal basis, of sizable Jewish communities in *Amsterdam and other cities, the estates of Holland appointed Grotius to a commission "to amend the regulations for protecting Jews living in these lands from all scandals, anxieties, and sanctions." Grotius' report, known as Remonstrantie, appeared in 1615, but was not published in full until 1949. In the report Grotius posed three questions: whether it is desirable to allow Jews to settle in the country; whether it is advisable to permit them to follow their religious traditions; and in what ways it is possible to prevent difficulties affecting either Christianity or the state, through the presence in the land of Jews observing their religion. Grotius answered the first question in the affirmative. On the second point, he advised that the Jews be granted freedom of worship subject to limitations to prevent certain religious and political hazards.

Though some of his replies were noteworthy for their tolerance, others were hardly agreeable to Jews. Grotius ruled that all Jews who entered the state should be obliged to register with the city authorities, declaring that they believed in one God and that the words of Moses and the prophets were true. They were to be allowed to live in urban areas only, and their number was to be limited to 200 families in the provinces of Holland and Friesland and to 300 families in Amsterdam. They were to be granted the privilege of engaging in commerce and industry. Mixed marriages between Jews and Christians were to be prohibited. Yet the Jews were neither to be compelled to conform to a particular style of dress nor to be separated from the rest of the residents in any other way. They must not be coerced to violate their Sabbath, nor should they desecrate Sundays and Christian holidays. Different penalties were fixed for those who might transgress these regulations. The Remonstrantie were accepted by the estates of Holland but were not adopted as a general law for the entire country.

Even more interesting are Grotius' intellectual contacts with Judaism. His conceptions of, and attacks on, Judaism were formed within the framework of Christian apologetics. He confesses his obligation to the Hebrew authors who, through their knowledge of the literature, language, and customs of their people, have revealed a special understanding of the Scriptures. Similar statements are found in the Annotata ad Vetus Testamentum (Paris, 1664). In his legal works Grotius quotes, in addition to the writings of Jewish authors who wrote in Greek (Philo and Josephus), the medieval Jewish commentators, as well as the Targum, Talmud, and Midrash. Occasionally his compositions contain Hebrew words and verses, and there can be no doubt that he had some knowledge of Hebrew and Aramaic; for example, he says in the Annotata that the beauty of the Song of Songs is marred in translations. His reported wide familiarity with Semitic languages nevertheless appears exaggerated. Many of his letters, especially to his friend Gerhard Johannes Vossius as well as to *Manasseh Ben Israel, indicate that he gained much of his information about Jews from the latter, whom he admired greatly. Because of the Jewish thread running through his works, which grew stronger in the course of time, Grotius was accused of leanings toward Judaism and of preferring Jewish to Christian biblical exegesis, accusations which, however, overlooked the spiritual ties between Protestantism and the Old Testament.


J. Meijer (ed.), Hugo de Groot. Remonstrantie nopende de ordre dije in de landen van Hollandt ende Westvrieslandt dijent gestelt op de Joden (1949), introduction; J. Meijer, in: hj, 14 (1952), 133–44; idem, in: jsos, 17 (1955), 91–104; I. Husik, in: huca, 2 (1925), 381–417; A.K. Kuhn, in: ajhsp, 31 (1928), 173–80; A Loewenstamm, in: Festschrift… des Juedisch-Theologischen Seminars, 2 (1929), 295–302; M. Balaban, in: Festschrift… Simon Dubnow (1930), 87–112; J.M. van Eysinga, in: Mededeelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, Afdeling Letterkunde, 13 (1950), 1–8; C. Roth, Life of Menasseh Ben Israel (1934), 146–8.

[Shabtai Rosenne]