At the end of the sixteenth century Jews of Spanish-Portuguese origin (known as Sephardim) started to arrive in Amsterdam, a thriving city of trade. Ever since the Jews in Spain and Portugal were expelled and forced to convert to Catholicism in 1492 and 1497, respectively, and after the Inquisition began, targeting Jews and those referred to as new Christians, living safely become virtually impossible for Jews in these countries.

Especially the elite among the Jewish population with international contacts fled the Iberian Peninsula. They sought refuge in Italy, Morocco, the Ottoman Empire, the South of France and the Southern Netherlands, establishing Jewish communities there or joining existing ones. From the late sixteenth century Amsterdam became a new sanctuary as well, where outsiders could settle in peace.