The New World through Jewish Eyes: Recovering a Sixteenth-Century Perspective

Flora Cassen

In 1557, Joseph Ha-Kohen, an Italian Jew and the son of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, wrote a 600-page book in Hebrew on the Americas. He was the second Jew to mention the New World in writing and the first to pen a whole book about it. The book included mention of Columbus and Cortés; discussions of Spanish and global politics; descriptions of the New World’s geography and inhabitants; and a critique of Spanish colonialism from a Jewish perspective. Based on rare surviving autograph manuscripts of Ha-Kohen’s book, this talk will discuss the functions of manuscript in the age of print and add a Jewish perspective to our knowledge of how early modern Europeans assessed the discovery and conquest of the New World.