The Business of Emancipation

The German-Jewish struggle for legal equality and economic prosperity

Philanthropy and social justice

There is a Jewish tradition of giving called tzedakah (Hebrew for “righteousness”), which is based on a religious commandment (mitzvah) enjoining Jews to do right by others and support them when they are in need. It is a form of social justice and a central tenet of Jewish life. 

As Jews became increasingly integrated into German society, perhaps motivated by Jewish tradition and the patterns of philanthropy among wealthy Germans, the religious and organizational differences between Jewish and Christian philanthropy became less pronounced. The secular Christian concept of Menschenliebe, which is translated into English as “philanthropy”, came to play an important role in Jewish approaches to giving – even for Orthodox Jews, who were wary of Christian models. In addition, the growth of the urban poor resulted in a system of public welfare, changing who was eligible for resources and how those resources were donated and distributed. Jewish voluntary societies continued to provide material relief for the Jewish poor and sick into the 20th century.

Over time, the wealthy and assimilated Jews continued giving back to society. In addition, the scope of Jewish giving widened to include financial support for artists. In the late 19th century and 20th centuries, successful Jewish businessmen supported artists, intellectuals, and cultural projects, from museum-building to archeological excavations.

Family Stories

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

Kahn & Arnold

Perhaps influenced both by the Jewish tradition of giving and bourgeois patterns of philanthropy, members of the Arnold and Kahn families actively supported philanthropic endeavors in Augsburg. Motivated by the principle “Eigentum verpflichtet” (ownership has its responsibilities) and by good business practice, the firm provided employee benefits to its workers, such as disability support and supplemental benefits for pregnant employees. Hermine Arnold was active in distributing aid to the poor alongside other Jewish women.

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

Early modern time

From economics to political participation

Second half of the 19th century

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln

  Glückel of Hameln