High German Jews had been living in the municipal region of Hamburg since the 1620s without a secure legal basis. They did possess letters of protection mostly from Schaumburg (today part of Lower Saxony) and later from Denmark, however, these were usually valid only for (neighboring) Holstein. The Hamburg Senate tolerated them, not in the least because of the intercession by Portuguese Jews already living there. There are also reports of private arrangements with the financial administration. This practice met with resistance from the Lutheran clergy and the Citizens‘ Council of the orthodox Protestant city. In the winter of 1657/58, numerous Jews fled from Altona to Hamburg because of the Swedish-Danish war. On the basis of private arrangements, a few of them were able to obtain a legal right of residence. These, too, lacked a firm basis in law. The city Senate sought to change this situation on May 28, 1697, by means of “Revised Articles, by which High German Jews would receive protection in this city.“ Reproduced in Max Grunwald, Hamburgs deutsche Juden bis zur Auflösung der Dreigemeinden 1811, Hamburg 1904, p. 184. However, the Senate could not gain the required approval of the Citizens‘ Council. As the quarrel between the Senate and Citizens‘ Council continued to smolder, the Jewish population of Hamburg requested an imperial commission, led by (later) Cardinal Damian von Schönborn, to put the conflict to rest. The commission redefined the legal relationships of Ashkenazic (High German) and Sephardic (Portuguese) Jews in the Decree for Jews of 1710. Two years later, these regulations became part of the new Hamburg constitution, the Basic Law [so-called Hauptrezess] of 1712, which would today be considered a municipal constitution.
The Decree became the legal basis for the right of Jews to remain and reside in Hamburg. They addressed Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews in nearly identically worded articles. Protection money, which was customary in other German localities, was not required. The first articles regulated the religious practices of Jews: the exercise of the Jewish faith was granted to them. At the same time, Lutheran Hamburg acted in a more restrictive way than did some of the ecclesiastical principalities or Prussia. On Sundays and holy days Jews were to comport themselves quietly and unobtrusively. Their clothing was to be unassuming—“modest and without pomp and ostentation.“ They were not permitted to provoke or insult Christians. Their religious service was to be performed quietly and discretely, without “ringing bells, calling out, and the blowing of horns and trumpets.“ The “exerctium religionis publicum,“ that is the public exercise of religion was forbidden to them. Funeral rituals were closely regulated; for example, only two coaches were permitted to follow the hearse. A Jew, fourteen or fifteen years of age, could not be hindered from converting to Christianity. Religious services could only be conducted in private homes. Adultery with Christians was a punishable offense. Christian servants could be employed but it was not permitted to obstruct their religious observances. Jews were guaranteed comprehensive legal protection from the state. With the exception of ceremonial matters (the body of Jewish laws and ordinances), all other disputes came under the competence of Hamburg’s courts, not the jurisdiction of Altona’s upper rabbinate. A rabbinic bill of divorce was prohibited. Many of the reglations dealt with economic activities and related infractions. Charging interest was allowed, but usury was punished by loss of capital. A universal right of free residence was not granted in the Decree. Real estate could not be registered in a Jew’s name and therefore could not be acquired by Jews. However, Jews would not be compelled to live only in certain ghetto-like districts.
The Decree signified a domestic and foreign policy success for the city. Firstly, it put in the hands of the Senate the desired instrument with which to enforce its state sovereignty and its secular claim of jurisdiction regarding Jews living in Hamburg. Secondly, it signified Imperial recognition of the Hansa city against the pretensions to power of its Danish neighbor. That is because, until the Gottorfer Compromise of 1756, Denmark adhered to the view that Hamburg was in no way an Imperial city directly subordinate to the emperor; rather it lay essentially in the territory of Holstein. For Hamburg’s Jews, on the other hand, and even in the realm of religious privileges and restrictions, it rendered a high degree of at least formal legal security. In the same year new statutes were also enacted for the Hamburg (Ashkenazic) community. Nevertheless, the Decree of 1710 could not compare to the more far-reaching, liberal Danish privileges.
In view of the close proximity of Altona to Hamburg, the city Senate could not actually implement the restrictions of the Decree. This applied especially to the Jews under Danish protection, if they resided in Hamburg. Hamburg’s economic boom during the Seven Years War fundamentally altered the economic conditions of the city. The influence of ultra-orthodox Lutheranism waned. This offered Jews the possibility of economic advancement and an accompanying improvement in their status.
In 1811, following upon Hamburg’s incorporation into the Napoleonic empire and the adoption of the French statutes regarding emancipation, the Imperial Decree for Jews [of 1710] was abrogated, and the A[ltona]H[amburg]W[andsbek] federation was ended. The French law of November 13, 1791 now came into force. In addition the three Napoleonic decrees (dating from March 17, 1808), regarding Jewish religious practices, among other matters, were also applied. On May 30, 1814, the French finally withdrew from Hamburg. The founding of the Germanic Confederation confirmed the city-state status of Hamburg, albeit in the spirit of restoration. The regulation of the legal position of the Jewish minority was again on the table. As early as May 13, 1813, Hamburg’s Jews had petitioned the city Senate, demanding legal equality of rights. They were equally unsuccessful with their submission to the Congress of Vienna. At the last minute, a change in Article XVI, section 2 of the Final Act of the Vienna Settlement crushed all their and other’s hopes. Hamburg Jews had to accept the fact that the city would reinstitute the Decree for Jews of 1710, more or less unchanged. Hamburg let stand only the Act of Separation from the Altona upper rabbinate (1812). It is unclear just when or if the Decree would be formally abolished. At the beginning of the 1830s, the Jews of Hamburg tried once again to alter their status, this time with the decisive participation of Gabriel Riesser. It was not until the Provisional Ordinance of February 21, 1849, that the matter of the Decree of 1710 was settled, without its formal abolition, however. Despite the foundering of the Frankfurt Constitution of 1849 [which had sought to emancipate Germany‘s Jews], the city did not return to the Decree for Jews of 1710. Even so, the actual keystone of emancipation was not put into place until the separation of church and state was firmly written into the Hamburg Constitution of 1860.
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Ina Lorenz, Prof. Dr. phil., works after her retirement as research assistant at the Institute for the History of the German Jews (IGdJ). The focus of her work is German-Jewish history in the 19th and 20th century, especially in Northern Germany, she published several source editions on the Jewish congregations of Hamburg, Altona and Wandsbek from the 17th to 20th century and also worked on the social and congregational history of the Jews in Hamburg.
Ina Lorenz, The Imperial Decree for Jews of 1710 (the so-called Judenreglement): a new formal guarantee of legal security for the Jews of Hamburg (translated by Richard S. Levy), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 22, 2016. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-38.en.v1> [September 22, 2017].