For much of our period, however, Jews were viewed as strangers or exiles both by themselves and by their Christian contemporaries. They had no legal claim to acceptance or toleration. Royal permission to remain or return, moreover, did not necessarily entail the right to reside in a particular town or village, a right granted or rescinded only by local authorities. In F├╝rth, for example, there was a thrivingJewish community, but in neighbouring Nuremberg, aJew could appear only during the day and only in the company of a local inhabitant. Jews were permitted to reside in Leipzig but only during the period of the great fairs. While a diverse community of Jews had lived in Buda for centuries, no Jews could remain overnight in Pesth. In Strasburg, Jews could enter the city during the day by paying a poll tax but had to leave as soon as the evening bells tolled. The Jews may have used persuasion, pressure, and financial contributions to retain and expand these contracts, but they never questioned their legitimacy.

Although subject to numerous and oppressive geographic, financial and sartorial restrictions, which often confined them to cramped quarters and ghettos, to lending money and dealing in used clothing, and to a particular dress code designed to call attention to their status and identity, Jews were also almost universally granted the privilege of juridical autonomy. Within their communities, they were free to establish charitable institutions, elect a governing body, define the curriculum of their schools, register their births, marriages and deaths, and adjudicate civil cases in their own courts of law. The communities maintained their power of discipline by the use of excommunication (Herem) made even more essential by the imposition upon them of collective liability.

The ghettos and Jewish quarters might have erected barriers between Jews and Christians, but they were never hermetically sealed. On the contrary, financial relations between the two communities were frequent, if not always harmonious. Memoirs and autobiographies, moreover, suggest that at least in some instances there were also cultural and theological exchanges. The Italian Rabbi Leone Modena, for example, took great pleasure in describing his homiletic successes. 'In attendance [at the synagogue] were the brother of the King of France, who was accompanied by some French noblemen and by five of the most important Christian preachers who gave sermons that Pentecost. God put such learned words into my mouth that all were very pleased including many other Christians who were present.'1

Traffic in the Venetian ghetto was certainly two-way since Modena often ventured outside 'to shop for books, to work in the print shop of Christians,

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment