By Miriam Bodian, University of Texas at Austin
Herman Prins Salomon, whose research examined aspects of early modern Portuguese-Jewish experience, died on January 31, 2021 at the age of 91. Born in 1935 in Amsterdam, he and his family fled to Canada in 1940 and returned to the Netherlands in 1945. Salomon received his B.A. and M.A. in Romance Languages from the University of Amsterdam, an M.A. from New York University, and his PhD from the Catholic University in Nijmegen. After a rather peripatetic early career, he found his academic home at SUNY Albany in 1969, where he spent forty-one years as Professor of Languages, Literatures and Cultures until his retirement in 2010. Salomon’s work straddled fields and moved between cultural orbits in a way that reflected his eclectic interests. But its thematic focus was always clear: the experience and intellectual world of the Portuguese conversos and the community built by Portuguese ex-conversos in Amsterdam.
Among Salomon’s most important contributions were his annotated translations of important works by Amsterdam Jews. One stands out in particular. In 1993 Salomon and I.S.D. Sassoon published a lengthy, long-lost work by the “heretic” Uriel da Costa, in a facsimile edition with an English translation. No copy of this work, Exame das tradições phariseas, which was originally printed in Amsterdam in 1623 but was soon thereafter banned, was believed by scholars to have survived, until Salomon and his colleagues Adri Offenberg and Harm den Boer found a copy in the Royal Library in Copenhagen in 1990. Da Costa’s recovered treatise is now essential reading for the study of early challenges to rabbinic authority among Amsterdam’s Portuguese Jews.
In another major contribution, Salomon published and annotated a lengthy and fascinating work by the learned Amsterdam rabbi Saul Levi Mortera, Tratado da verdade da lei de Moisés, in which the author articulated a Jewish position on Calvinism (liberally citing passages from Calvin’s Institutes). Among other important manuscript works Salomon published (and in this case translated to English) was a unique family history written by the Portuguese-Jewish merchant Isaac de Pinto, who fled Antwerp for the Dutch Republic in 1646. A connoisseur of archival documents as well as manuscripts, Salomon published and analyzed documents preserved in Portugal’s national archives in his volume Os primeiros portugueses de Amesterdão, which illuminated the earliest years of ex-converso settlement in Amsterdam.
Salomon’s many essays on topics ranging from the history of the Portuguese Inquisition to Portuguese-Jewish liturgical customs were published regularly in Studia Rosenthaliana, Sefarad, Cadernos de Estudos Sefarditas, and the Jewish Quarterly Review, among others. He will be remembered for his commitment to scholarship, his enthusiasm, and his colorful personality.