1 July 1244 Charter of the Jews of the Duchy of Austria gives freedoms and restrictions #otdimjh

A good example of the rights and limitations given to the Jews in medieval Europe is given here – worth reading in full!


Inasmuch as the Jews, during the Middle Ages, were looked upon as a distinct racial and religious group who could not and should not be subject to the same laws as Christians, they were given special charters by which they were governed. The most famous of these is that granted by Frederick the Belligerent in July, 1244 to the Jews of his duchy of Austria. This document is important because it was soon adopted, with some changes, by most East European countries to which the masses of Jews finally drifted: Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, Silesia, and Lithuania. This charter-a very favorable one-was issued to encourage money-lending among the Austrian Jews and probably also to attract moneyed Jews to migrate to this outlying German state which was in need of ready credit. Every effort is therefore made in this Latin constitution to grant the Jews ample opportunity to sell their wares and, above all, to lend money. They were given adequate protection: they were subject to the direct jurisdiction of the Duke who guaranteed them safety of life and limb. The right of the Jews to govern themselves in communal and religious matters was not specified by the Duke, but this was taken for granted. We may assume, indeed, that the Jews of Austria enjoyed extensive political autonomy under this pact.


Duchy of Austria (orange) as a part of the Holy Roman Empire (black line) during the 14th century.

Frederick, by the grace of God Duke of Austria and Styria and lord of Carniola, offers greetings at all times to all who will read this letter in the future. Inasmuch as we desire that men of all classes dwelling in our land should share our favor and good will, we do therefore decree that these laws, devised for all Jews found in the land of Austria, shall be observed by them without violation.


  1. We decree, therefore, first, that in cases involving money, or immovable property, or a criminal complaint touching the person or property of a Jew, no Christian shall be admitted as a witness against a Jew unless there is a Jewish witness together with the Christian. [The Jewish witness was a guarantee of fair play.]
  2. Likewise, if a Christian should bring suit against a Jew, asserting that he had pawned his pledges with him and the Jew should deny this, and then if the Christian should not wish to accord any belief in the mere statement of the Jew, the Jew may prove his contention by taking an oath upon an object equivalent in value to that which was brought to him, and shall then go forth free. [Money-lending on pledges was the leading Jewish business at this time.]

III. Likewise, if a Christian has deposited a pledge with a Jew, stating that he had left it with the Jew for a smaller sum than the Jew admits, the Jew shall then take an oath upon the pledge pawned with him, and the Christian must not refuse to pay the amount that the Jew has proved through his oath.

  1. Likewise, if a Jew says that he returned the Christian’s pledge as a loan to the Christian, without, however, the presence of witnesses, and if the Christian deny this, then the Christian is able to clear himself in this matter through the oath of himself alone.
  2. Likewise, a Jew is allowed to receive all things as pledges which may be pawned with him-no matter what they are called without making any investigation about them, except bloody and wet clothes which he shall under no circumstances accept. [Such garments presuppose murder and theft.]
  3. Likewise, if a Christian charges that the pledge which a Jew has, was taken from him by theft or robbery, the Jew must swear on that pledge that when he received it he did not know that it had been removed by theft or robbery. In this oath the amount for which the pledge was pawned to him shall also be included. Then, inasmuch as the Jew has brought his proof, the Christian shall pay him the capital and the interest that has accrued in the meantime. [Then the Christian takes back his property.]

Illustration showing Jews receiving a charter of privileges from Emperor Henry VII in 1312. From: Codex Baldvini; Koblenz, Municipal Archives.

VII. Likewise, if a Jew, through the accident of fire or through theft or violence, should lose his [own] goods, together with the pledges pawned with him, and this is established, yet the Christian who has pledged something with him nevertheless brings suit against him, the Jew may free himself merely by his own oath. [TheJew loses the money advanced and the Christian, his pledge.]

VIII. Likewise, if the Jews engage in quarreling or actually fight among themselves, the judge of our city shall claim no jurisdiction over them; only the Duke alone or the chief official of his land shall exercise jurisdiction. If, however, the accusation touches the person, this case shall be reserved for the Duke alone for judgment. [Important criminal cases are to be decided not by the Jewish court, but by the Duke.]

  1. Likewise, if a Christian should inflict any sort of a wound upon a Jew, the accused shall pay to the Duke twelve marks of gold which are to be turned in to the treasury. He must also pay, to the person who has been injured, twelve marks of silver and the expenses incurred for the medicine needed in his cure.
  2. Likewise, if a Christian should kill a Jew he shall be punished with the proper sentence, death, and all his movable and immovable property shall pass into the power of the Duke.
  3. Likewise, if a Christian strikes a Jew, without, however, having spilt his blood, he shall pay to the Duke four marks of gold, and to the man lie struck four marks of silver. If he has no money, he shall offer satisfaction for the crime committed by the loss of his hand.

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 07.51.39

XII. Likewise, wherever a Jew shall pass through our territory no one shall offer any hindrance to him or molest or trouble him. [The Jew is to pay no road-fees in all Austrian lands.] If, however, he should be carrying any goods or other things for which he must pay duty at all custom offices, he shall pay only the prescribed duty which a citizen of that town, in which the Jew is then dwelling, pays.

XIII. Likewise, if the Jews, as is their custom, should transport any of their dead either from city to city, or from province to province, or from one Austrian land into another, we do not wish anything to be demanded of them by our customs officers. [Heavy road-fees were often imposed on Jewish corpses in transit.] If, however, a customs officer should extort anything, then he is to be punished for praedatio mortui, which means, in common language, robbery of the dead.


Frederick the Quarrelsome killed in battle, Babenberg Pedigree, Klosterneuburg Monastery, c. 1490

XIV. Likewise, if a Christian, moved by insolence, shall break into ordevastate the cemetery of the Jews, he shall die, as the court determines, and all his property, whatever it may be, shall be forfeited to the treasury of the Duke.

  1. Likewise, if any one wickedly throw something at the synagogues of the Jews we order that he pay two talents to the judge of the Jews. [This judge was a Christian who looked after the interests of the Jews.]

XV1. Likewise, if a Jew be condemned by his judge to a money penalty, which is called wandel (“fine”), he shall pay only twelve dinars to him.

XVII. Likewise, if a Jew is summoned to court by order of his judge, but does not come the first or second time, he must pay the judge four dinars for each time. If he does not come at the third summons he shall pay thirty-six dinars to the judge mentioned. [Fines were a source of income to the judge.]

XVIII. Likewise, if a Jew has wounded another Jew he may not refuse to pay a penalty of two talents, which is called wandel, to his judge.

XIX. Likewise, we decree that no Jew shall take an oath on the Torah unless he has been summoned to our [the Duke’s] presence. [This happened only in important cases.]

  1. Likewise, if a Jew was secretly murdered, and if through the testimony it cannot be determined by his friends who murdered him, yet if after an investigation has been made the Jews begin to suspect some one, we are willing to supply the Jews with a champion against this suspect. [The champion fought the suspect and God gave victory to the right.]

XXI. Likewise, if a Christian raises his hand in violence against a Jewess, we order that the hand of that person be cut off.

XXXII. Likewise, the [Christian] judge of the Jews shall bring no case that has arisen among the Jews before his court, unless he be invited due to a complaint. [Civil suits between Jews were settled by the Jews themselves.]

XXIII. Likewise, if a Christian has redeemed his pledge from a Jew but has not paid the interest, the interest due shall become compounded if it is not paid within a month.

XXIV. Likewise, we do not wish any one to seek quarters in a Jewish house. [Forced entertainment of officials was considered a burden.]

XXV. Likewise, if a Jew has lent money to a magnate of the country on his possessions or on a note and proves this documentarily, we will assign the pledged possessions to the Jew and defend them for him against violence. [In this way Jews acquired estates, which they farmed.]

XXVI. Likewise, if any man or woman should kidnap a Jewish child we wish that he be punished as a thief [by death].

XXVII. Likewise, if a Jew has held in his possession, for a year, a pledge received from a Christian, and if the value of the pledge does not exceed the money lent together with the interest, the Jew may show the pledge to his judge and shall then have the right to sell it. If any pledge shall remain for a “year and a day” [really, a year, six weeks, and three days] with a Jew, he shall not have to account for it afterwards to any one.

XXVIII. Likewise, whatever Christian shall take his pledge away from a Jew by force or shall exercise violence in the Jew’s home shall be severely punished as a plunderer of our treasury. [The Duke felt that the wealth of the Jews practically belonged to him.]

XXIX. Likewise, one shall in no place proceed in judgment against a Jew except in front of his synagogues, saving ourselves who have the power to summon them to our presence. [Court was held for the Jews in the yards in front of their synagogues.]

XXX. Likewise, we decree that Jews shall indeed receive only eight dinars a week interest on the talent. . . . [This was 173.33 per cent annual interest. Such a high rate was not unusual because of the insecurity of the times.]

Given at Starkenberg, in the year of the incarnation of the Lord, 1244, on the first of July.

Prayer: Lord, this charter reminds us of the semi-freedom of other oppressed peoples – help us to recognise your divine image in all of your creatures, especially those of difference ethnicity, religion and life-styles, and respond as you would have us respond to all, with love and acceptance. In Yeshua’s name we pray. Amen.


Elbogen, pp. 67-77; Roth, pp. 195-197-

Graetz, III, pp. 567-569; Graetz-Rhine, III, pp. 338-340; Margolis and Marx, pp. 376-378.

Dubnow, S. M., History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, 1, pp. 43-54. A discussion of the Boleslav and Casimir charters, variations of the 1244 Austrian charter.

Grunwald, M., Vienna (Jewish Communities Series), pp. iff.

Kisch, G., “Research in Medieval Legal History of the Jews,” in Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, VI (1934-1935), and “The Jewry-Law of the Medieval German Law-Books,” in Proceedings, VII (1935-1936). Both of these essays throw great light on the relation of the Jew and the Jewish community to the medieval state.

JE, “Austria”; “Kammerknechtschaft.”

“The Bishop of Speyer Gives the Jews of His City a Charter, io84,” Oliver. J. Thatcher and E. H. McNeal, A Source Book for Mediaeval History, pp. 577-578

“The Privilege of Frederick I for the Jews, 1157,” Thatcher and McNeal, pp. 573-577. This is a confirmation of the charter granted the Jews of Worms, Germany, about 1090, by Emperor Henry IV. It is the opinion of some scholars that both the Speyer and Worms charters are based on a ninth century Carolingian formula-prototype. The charter of 1244 is very probably a development of these early charters.

Jacobs, J., The Jews of Angevin England, Documents and Records, etc., is a very useful source book for the period in England. It also contains, p. 134 and P. 212, charters granted Jews by Richard the Lion-Hearted and his brother, John Lackland.

R,adin, M., “A Charter of Privileges of the Jews in Ancona of the Year 1535,” JQR, N.S., IV (1913-1914), particularly pp. 240ff.

The “Raffelstettener Zollordnung” (a catalogue of customs and tax rules) documents the presence of Jewish merchants in Austria in the 10th century. The Judengasse (“Jew′s Alley”) in Salzburg is documented in the 12th century (note that Salzburg was not part of Austria until 1816). In 1244 Jews were granted certain rights by the Duke of Austria, Emperor Friedrich II later granted formal rights to Jews in 1338. In the same year, there were riots aimed at Jews in Pulkau; as a response, the Viennese Jews lowered interests for loans in order to prevent similar actions against their own community.

During the reign of Emperor Friedrich III, many pogroms disrupted or extinguished Jewish life in the Holy Roman Empire

The old synagogue of Salzburg in the Judengasse was first documented in 1370 as a house of prayer. With the increasing power of reformist movements and the related loss of power for the Catholic Church, hostility against Jews increased; being non-Catholic, they were often seen as collaborators of anti-imperial, protestant forces. In the course of the Hussite Wars (named after the Bohemian reformist Jan Hus), many Jews were expelled from Austria in 1420 and 1421.

In Salzburg, which was non-secular and ruled by a Catholic Prince-Archbishop not overly pleased about non-Catholic residents of any kind, Jews were expelled in 1492 and prevented from permanent settlement until the 19th century. Emperor Maximilian I banned Jews from Styria and Carinthia on request of local guilds in 1496 and relocated to the Eastern edge of the Empire in Zistersdorf near Eisenstadt.

From 1551, Jews had to wear a yellow spot on their clothing every time they entered market towns or cities. Over the course of the 16th century, the number of Jews in Vienna consistently increased and a new cemetery was built in today′s 9th district. In 1624, they were allowed to settle in the area of today′s Leopoldstadt under the rule of Emperor Ferdinand II. They were expelled again in 1669/70, but only ten years later individuals were granted permission to settle again: Samuel Oppenheimer and Samson Wertheimer acted as Court Jew (“Hofjuden”) and gained influential positions and significant privileges.

“Toleranzpatente” of the Enlightenment

With the end of the counter-revolution and the gradual settling of religious wars between Catholic-Imperial and Protestant-Federalist forces, the situation for non-Catholic people in Austria gradually improved. The spreading ideas of enlightenment helped to secure basic rights for Jews. The “Toleranzpatente” of Emperor Joseph II in the 1780ies mark the first formal basis for basic religious freedom.

Emperor Joseph II granted civil rights to Protestants, Orthodox Christians and Jews in order to integrate them into the Austrian society as ‘useful’ citizens

By then, the segregated Jewish districts of the Habsburg Empire (called “ghettos”) hosted 1,5 million Jews. The “Toleranzpatente” were mostly issued for the sake of Protestants and Greek-Orthodox Christians (about one third of the Empire’s population), but Jews were also admitted to public schools (compulsory education was introduced by Empress Maria Theresia, Joseph′s mother), universities, the military and all crafts and agriculture.

The declared aim of this was to increase the contribution of Jews to the public. However, they faced strong opposition from the traditional guilds that fought this new competition. Jews remained active primarily in trade, the slow acquisition of capital led later to significant success of Jewish investors in the cloth- and cotton industries of Bohemia and Moravia. Established Jewish bankers (such as the originally Viennese Rothschild family) used the new freedom to expand their business into other sectors. Immigration and ownership of land or realities remained prohibited for Jews. This and other constraints prevented Jews from having full citizen rights.

The district of Unterberg in Eisenstadt was home to a vibrant Jewish community – there is still a Jewish Museum in the former ghetto

Nevertheless, based on their new rights and assimilation (which was later accelerated through the spreading ideas of the French Revolution and the following Napoleonic Wars), several Jewish families in Vienna acquired significant wealth and politically influential positions. Not surprisingly, many of them promoted progressive ideas of equality and enlightenment. That didn′t really help to foster appreciation for Jews: Since the Catholic Habsburgs ruled as absolute monarchs over a multiethnic empire, they were not very fond of any nationalist, republican, libertarian or anti-clerical ideas of the French Revolution.

Many Jews were progressive freemasons, which fostered hostilities from military, nobility and clerics even more. The Jew Johann Emanuel Veith converted to Catholicism and became court preacher in Vienna′s Stephansdom cathedral. He maintained close ties with the Jewish community and actively fought anti-Semitic actions.

Increase of Jewish culture in public life: 1800-1867

Especially in cities of the Habsburg Empire, the Jewish population steadily increased. Prague′s community consisted of 8,500 in 1800, which was more then 10 percent of the total population and 11,700 in 1848. Vienna had a much smaller community (immigration of poor Jews from Galicia and other eastern parts of the Empire was prohibited): About 500 to 600 (about 0.25 percent) in 1800, mostly relatively well assimilated, wealthy families. By 1848, their number had risen to 4,000 (about 0.8 percent of the total population). In this year, the revolution broke out and many Jewish intellectuals joined the revolutionary forces (consisting mostly of liberal students and nationalists).

Not terribly fond of potentially revolutionary non-Catholics: Emperor Franz Joseph I

The “Pillersdorf constitution” of 1848 granted full civil rights and religious freedom to all religious groups of the Empire. After the revolution was crushed and Franz Joseph I installed as a new Emperor, many of these rights were taken back. This included some rights for Jews: Jewish civil servants were inaugurated to prove their loyalty to Austria (1851); they were excluded from the possession of land (1853); and they were excluded from certain profession such as soliciting or teaching (1855).

Many intellectual Jews went into publishing, which they were allowed to. This led to a division of the press into a “old order” branch (pro Habsburg, Catholicism, monarchy) and a “progressive” branch (anti-Habsburg, secular, republican); the first one anti-Semitic, the latter one influenced by the many Jewish journalists.

It seems that at this time the Jewish culture in Vienna started to bloom and develop its own identity. The traditional Ashkenazi rite to celebrate a service was adapted in Vienna to a “Wiener Ritus” (Viennese rite), which spread over the Empire to Bohemia and Galicia.

As a supporter of the 19th century’s increasing nationalism, Theodor Herzl founded the Zionist movement in Vienna

Yiddish lost importance in Vienna, partly also in Bohemia and Moravia, and was increasingly replaced by German. Did the Austrian Jews turn into Jewish Austrians? I always find it interesting to see how many Jews especially in the second half of the 19th century chose to give their children typically Austrian names rather than traditional, Hebrew ones.

In 1858, the Stadttempel synagogue of Vienna was built, one of the most elaborate in Europe. With the “Ausgleich” between Austria and Hungary in 1867, Jews finally gained full citizen rights. Vienna was now the city in the Habsburg Empire with the biggest Jewish community (40,000 or 6,6 percent). Most of the Viennese Jews were of Bohemian, Moravian and Hungarian origin. Fewer were from the poor area of Galicia. Jewish communities in other parts of the Empire now developed, even in cities that have not had any for a long time, such as Salzburg (part of Austria since 1816).

About richardsh

Messianic Jewish teacher in UK
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