The Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

Introduction

Late 18th-19th century

Early modern era

Beginning with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV (1050-1106), Jews were legally reduced to Kammerknechte, servants of the royal chamber, and therefore property of the king (servi camerae regis). While Jews were not tied to the land like serfs, they were not free to live where they wanted and were often forced to pay high taxes. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Jews were subjected to different legal restrictions than their Christian neighbors. With each new ruler, the laws could become more tolerant or more restrictive. Expulsions from German cities, together with violent pogroms, often destroyed the economies of Jewish communities. These constraints meant that most Jews enjoyed a marginal existence as itinerant peddlers, merchants, horse and cattle traders, pawnbrokers, and suppliers to local rulers.

By the late 18th century, some Jews began benefiting from Germany’s economic transformation. The growth of manufacturing made all kinds of goods accessible to more people at a lower cost, increasing living standards and spurring trade. These changes also threatened some established professions, particularly those of craftsmen and farmers. The social dislocation created by Germany’s rapid industrialization generated a great deal of criticism on the left as well as the right, some of which fell upon

Jews. Because they were often easily identified, Jewish merchants and bankers were often associated directly with capitalism. Vilified as “unproductive” members of society for selling the fruits of hard labor created by others, Jewish entrepreneurs were not only forced to trade under adverse conditions, but also had to defend their reputations and their work

Riot in the Judengasse, Frankfurt in 1614...

  Glückel of Hameln

The expulsion of the Jews from Frankfurt...

  Glückel of Hameln

Poor Jewish Peddler or Beggar...

  Glückel of Hameln

Wolf Ehrenfried, Freiherr von Reitzenstein...

  Glückel of Hameln

Family Stories

Daniel Itzig

Daniel Itzig (1723-1799) was a successful mint master, banker, investor in iron mines, leader of the Jewish community of Berlin (1764-1799), and a “court Jew” (Hofjude) serving Prussian king Frederick II the Great and his successor, Frederick William II. Itzig made his fortune during the Seven Years War (1756-1763) by minting and, on Frederick the Great’s orders, debasing Prussian coinage. Frederick the Great naturalized Itzig and his family for his services to the crown, granting them residency and other privileges, but not citizenship. Itzig was also an important philanthropist, providing funds for Jewish education and founding a school (Chevrat Chinuch Ne'arim) with his son-in-law, David Friedländer, a leader of the maskilim (Jewish Enlighteners), that provided poor Jewish children with a foundation in Jewish and secular studies.  

For more information about Glückel of Hameln see Shared History Project: https://sharedhistoryproject.org/object/hamburg-during-the-life-of-gluckel-of-hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

Early modern time

Introduction

Late 18th-19th Century