“Maistrin” (Mastress) and Business-Woman Jewish Upper Class Women in Late Medieval Austria
Jewish Studies Public Lectures II (1996-1997)
Apart from working as servants Jewish women primarily worked in the loan business in the Middle Ages, and they did this not only in Austria. Already the first Jewish woman mentioned in documents in the Archduchy of Austria, Dreslina, worked as a moneylender: she pawned to Nikolaus, provost of Klosterneuburg, a vineyard which Konrad of Tulln redeemed for him in November 1275. The credit amounted to 100 pounds, interests included, a truly impressive sum.1 Dreslina’s name—derived from Drazna or Draschna, the charming one— indicates that she may have come from a Slavic-speaking country.2 It cannot be proven whether she lived in Klosterneuburg or not, her contacts were, however, quite high-ranking: the provost of Klosterneuburg was one of the mightiest landlords and mine masters of the Archduchy of Austria, Konrad of Tulln was the financial administrator of King Ottokar Premysl.3 Perhaps she might have even come to Austria in the train of the Jewish counts-in- the-waiting of Ottokar, the brothers Lublin and Nekelo.
The fact that a Jewish woman worked in business was an important aspect that helped her in establishing her position in legal life; the legal position was related to her economic state and vice versa the increasingly autonomous business activities of a woman improved her ability in the Jewish, as well as the Christian legal system. As there was an increasing number of “respectable women who carry on a business”, rabbis had to react and concede more rights and duties to a woman. This led to an enormous development and change of Talmudic law and made a woman a self-responsible legal personality.