The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Traces of Court Jewish Women: From Wittib Hertzin (Kassel) to Crona David (Braunschweig) to Esther Löwele (Sulzburg)

This paper analyzes aspects of the economic and social lives of court Jewish women by studying legal local and regional cases which involved women from families of court Jews who navigated or were subject to the complex judiciary and administrative systems of the 17th and 18th centuries.

During the heyday of court Jews, their male relatives who were recruited as court Jews by many of the more than 240 absolutist rulers of principalities of the Holy Roman Empire maintained extensive business and family networks across regions and countries to fulfill their multifaceted economic and diplomatic roles. These individuals left traces and have been studied. Very few women were appointed as court Jews in their own right. The activities of female relatives, usually the spouses, widows or daughters of court factors, or women in the periphery of court Jewish households are even less discernible. Although the spouses were usually not mentioned in legal documents while their husbands were alive, they had often been business partners, due to the fact that they were able to provide seamless transitions of business activities after their husbands had passed away.

Archival legal files related to financial activities and family matters are often the only traces that a few of these women left.

Overall, the most important factor that determined the outcome of the identified local legal cases seemed to have been the social status of the court Jewish family. The minority status as Jews does not seem to have played an important role. Many of the cases show an affinity with Jewish laws and gender roles. Many of the women protected vulnerable family members by using the complex external legal systems of their time which were in essence available to them.