Fleischman Lecture: "A Jewish Community in a Slave Society"

Featuring Professor Aviva Ben-Ur (University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Archival print of boats on a river next to a historical town

The largest Jewish communities in the early modern Americas emerged in slave societies. Of these, the most unusual was that of the Dutch colony of Suriname, just north of Brazil. There, Jews were among the earliest white settlers, and could hence negotiate for religious liberty, their own court, and ownership of a communally-owned village, located on the edge of the rainforest. This talk focuses on the most consequential privilege accorded to these Jews: the conversion of people of African descent to Judaism, an example that highlights both the political autonomy of Jews and the violence endemic to all slave societies.

Aviva Ben-Ur is a professor in the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the author of Jewish Autonomy in a Slave Society: Suriname in the Atlantic World: 1651-1825 (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2020).