BUSINESS SUCCESS AND TAX DEBTS: JEWISH WOMEN IN LATE MEDIEVAL AUSTRIAN TOWNS
Jewish Studies Public Lectures II 1999 – 2001 (2002)
In medieval Austria, the status of the Jews as individuals and as a community was regulated by the privilege given by Duke Frederick II in 1244, providing the legal basis for their settlement by giving them protection in exchange for their usefulness. In their assigned activity of dealing with money, the Jews were treated very favourably, while being banned from other occupations by the regulations of local lords or by urban guild statutes. Jews (judei) were given business privileges that became models for further freedoms in the Late Middle Ages, for instance in Hungary and in Bohemia. Jewish women (judeae) were not mentioned explicitly in these privileges – apart from the paragraph that deals with the punishment of rape – but we come across Jewish women of different standing as moneylenders from the earliest stages of Jewish settlement in Austria. The rabbis of medieval Austria, where Jews had settled from the end of the twelfth century, took over some of these models from France and Germany. Considering the favoured status of monetary businesses in contemporary law, it is not surprising that, besides being domestic servants, giving credit was by far the most frequent occupation of Jewish women in the Middle Ages. This activity increasingly had legal consequences, from both the laws applied to Jews and those used among Jews.