Die Wiener Juden Im Mittelalter

By Englisch, Brigitte | Shofar, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Die Wiener Juden Im Mittelalter


Englisch, Brigitte, Shofar


by Klaus Lohrmann. Geschichte der Juden in Wien 1. Berlin: Philo, 2000. 192 pp. Euro 25.00.

As part of a planned six-volume history of Viennese Jews from the Middle Ages to the present, the author here undertakes in approximately 160 pages the presentation of events from the first emergence of Jews in Vienna in 1194 to the enforced baptisms of 1420/21. It is the declared goal of the series to replace the summarizing account of the history of Viennese Jews written by Hans Tietze by creating an encyclopedic work that will suffice academic demands for the next hundred years. The fact that already this first volume only partially meets these demands stems from the book's fragmentary and dispersed documentation and from the resulting thematic limitation. The main problem is, however, the author's focusing on the "development of the ethics of economy in the Middle Ages with its obvious influences on the Chrisan-Jewish relationship" (see dust jacket of book).

This thematic limitation is all the more surprising since Lohrmann, given the structure and orientation of his study, seems in fact to be aiming at another goal. So the work is based on varied and little known source material consisting of deeds, records, letters, bills, legal texts, Jewish custom, religious writings, etc. which the author knows how to evaluate in an informed manner. One must also credit him for the fact that he does not let the object of his investigation as predetermined by regional criteria turn his study into only an isolated case study. Rather Vienna serves the author much as a mirror of European conditions, which he finds documented on the basis of cross references to the situation of Jews in other cities.

Also the format of the book gives rise to the assumption that the analysis will be complex. While not explicitly structured, this study consists of three major complementary sections. The first section (pp. 13-92) deals with the position of Jews in the public life of Vienna, or more precisely the tasks they were allowed to be in charge of. Beginning with the example of Schlom, a coin master in the service of Leopold V in the late 12th century, what are analyzed here are the basic conditions for professional activities, especially in the areas of finance and credit, the legal privileges, as well as the legal limitations, of the Vienna Jews, economic factors, taxes and fees, etc. (Chapter 2, pages 35-58). The author is successful in Chapter 3 (pp. 59-92) in illuminating the economic importance of Jews in late medieval society as it is significantly specified in the subtitle: "Moneyers, Merchants, and Finance Experts."

With Chapter 4 (pp. 93-126) the author shifts thematically to the inner structure and the conditions of being relative to Jewish communal life in late Medieval Vienna, as well as some of its protagonists. The breadth and scope include the structuring of the Jewish Quarter (pp. 93-102), a compilation of biographical dates of specific Rabbis from the 12(th) to the 15(th) centuries, and the inner organization of the Jewish community, which the author characterizes as an oligarchical leadership drawn from those families involved in financial businesses.

This observation provides the transition to Chapter 5, which deals with important Jewish families (pp. 127-137). The reader now has the opportunity to come to grips with the previously discussed abstractions in terms of actual living human beings who are introduced according to their biographical dates, their genealogy, and their professional functions, in addition to the financial transactions they performed. Despite the absence of systematizing aids, such as charts and family trees, which would have made the narrative interconnections more easily understandable, this survey is without doubt a good aid for further research into this area. …

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