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Judaism, slavery and commemorative ritual in the Netherlands

by Martijn J. Stoutjesdijk

Abstract / Judaism and slavery in the (Early) Modern Dutch history are connected in a paradoxical way. Jewish merchants played a minor, but substantial role in the initial stages of the Dutch transatlantic slavery and are sometimes accused of having contributed disproportionately to its growth. As a matter of fact, it has been claimed that one of the first documented slaves on Dutch territory was a Jewish slave, property of Jewish masters (the slave Elieser).

Schandstenen waarmee vrouwen door de stad moesten lopen als straf bij overtredingen als roddel, publiekelijk schelden of bedelen; 16/7 de eeuw – stadsmuseum Woerden / foto Aart G. Broek

On the other hand, Jews and (descendants of) slaves sometimes find each other in a shared history of being victim of violence, oppression and discrimination. In light of this, the phenomenon of the Keti Koti Dialogue Tables is of particular interest. The Keti Koti Dialogue Tables are an invention of the Surinamese slave-descendant Mercedes Zandwijken and the Dutch Jew Machiel Keestra. The Keti Koti Dialogue Tables are meant to commemorate the Dutch role in the transatlantic slavery by bringing together descendants of slaves and white Dutch people. In the past five years Keti Koti Dialogue Tables have been organized at different places in the Netherlands and up to 5000 persons have participated. The Keti Koti Dialogue Tables are explicitly inspired by the Jewish Seder meal. As in the Seder meals questions are asked (why are we here tonight?), symbolic food is eaten and songs are sung. In this article I will study the Keti Koti Dialogue Tables against the background of the Seder meal through the theoretical lenses of Multidirectional Memory (Rothberg 2009) and Transfer of Ritual (Langer e.a. 2006). With the help of other special-purpose Haggadot (manuals for the Seder meal), for i.e. the LGBTQ community and ‘earth justice’, I will show that the Seder meal forms a particular useful locus for experiencing and sharing feelings of hope for peace, justice, inclusiveness and dialogue.

For the article see: NTT Journal for Theology and the Study of Religion, Volume 73, Number 2, 1 June 2019, pp. 65-85(21)


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