Jews, Christians and Crafts in Premodern Towns

Jews, Christians and Crafts in Premodern Towns

Sabine von Heusinger, University of Cologne; Andreas Lehnertz, Trier University
Fand statt
Vom - Bis
14.06.2023 - 15.06.2023
Simone Hallstein, Historisches Institut, Universität zu Köln

Historically, research on medieval urban history has been divided into two distinct traditions: Either focusing on Christians or Jews, even if the same medieval sources were used. But in numerous places, Christians and Jews not only coexisted, but they were also in regular close contact and shared their daily life. Like Christians, Jews worked in many different professions beyond moneylending. Cooperation did not always run smoothly as there were theological, social and political discussions as well as restrictions and bans. The conference aimed at Christians and Jews in medieval urban economy with a focus on crafts. Each session offered a dialogue between the Christian and Jewish perspectives.

To clarify the fundamental question of how Christian and Jewish craftspeople can be tracked down in medieval sources, SABINE VON HEUSINGER (Cologne) first shed light on the different functions and urban spheres of Christian guilds. Looking at different cities (as Cologne, Zurich, Strasbourg and Nuremberg), she determined four functional dimensions: craft guilds, fraternities, political guilds and military contingents. In many cases, not all of these functional dimensions were present, but the framework still provides an analysis tool for asking new questions, e.g. to discover male and female apprentices and masters.

How important it is to investigate the production processes themselves was demonstrated by JÖRG MÜLLER (Trier). A well-known letter from Esslingen to Reutlingen (1331) laying out their guild ordinances provides evidence that Jews could become members of guilds (specifically the guild of tanners and parchment-makers), but it was never in-depth analysed against the backdrop of urban development and its thriving Jewish community. The letter shows the political status of guilds, which intertwined with the economic sphere. Jewish involvement in the parchment-making process, limited to blessing and marking the hides, may have prompted Jews in Esslingen to join the guild.

Remaining on the question where to find craftspeople, EVA-MARIA CERSOWSKY (Cologne) examined the relationships to Christian charitable institutions in late medieval Strasbourg, as evidenced by account books and annual gifts. The focus was on the artisan confraternities and their multifunctional relationships with the main hospital. She discussed the role of various crafts in the hospital, as well as the office-holders who came from different trades. Examples were provided, such as bakers and carpenters, who held positions at the hospital.

The conference also dealt with the extent and dynamics of Jewish-Christian cooperation in crafts. Aside from guild regulations ANDREAS LEHNERTZ (Trier) focused on the limited sources that provide insight into both Christian and Jewish craftspeople, their livelihoods and apprenticeships. He emphasized that such instances are often only mentioned when problems arose. The case at hand: 1497 a Jew – not a moneylender but an old robe tailor – complained that his community was taxing him too heavily. Also, dietary laws posed issues regarding baking, wine making and especially slaughtering. Various historical examples were provided, such as the hiring of someone to make hindquarters of slaughtered animals kosher and the separate selling of meat Jews or their Christian contractors on dedicated vending tables. The importance of kosher seals for ensuring the suitability of meat for Jewish consumption was highlighted.

To showcase the intricate connections between craftsmanship, community institutions, and interfaith collaborations in medieval cities STEFANIE FUCHS (Thierhaupten) addressed craftspeople commissioned by the Jewish communities in the ShUM-cities Speyer and Worms in the 12th to 14th centuries. She compared size and forms of windows, engraved ornaments and motives in synagogues and mikvaot (Jewish ritual baths) with secular buildings, noting stylistic similarities to the cathedrals and, even more so, to local churches. Differences in quality indicate distinct craftspeople. Hebrew-inscribed tombstones and the involvement of Christian stonemasons, along with the use of sketches, revealed close Jewish-Christian collaboration in these crafts.

Turning to early-modern Northern Italy, RODICA HERLO-LUKWSKI (Münster) revealed a well-functioning network of Christians and Jews in manuscript production. She highlighted that Jewish patrons often commissioned Christian illumination in their workshops. Two notable manuscripts, the Rothschild Mahzor and the Rothschild-Jeselsohn Mahzor, were examined. The Rothschild Mahzor showcased the work of three workshops, with one being the most skilled and expensive, likely involving Christian and Jewish collaboration. The Rothschild-Jeselsohn Mahzor was produced by a Jewish artist in collaboration with a Christian workshop.

In addition, BIRGIT WIEDL (St. Pölten) examined Jewish and Christian weapon makers and their customers. She highlighted the involvement of Jews in the production of weapons and the diverse professions associated with it. The skills required for bombard and firearm production varied but could involve smithing, bell-founding and tinsmithing. Her examples showed Jewish gunners and engineers who offered their services to rulers and displayed their expertise through seals and military knowledge. She also mentioned the existence of numerous books on military engineering and a Yiddish manuscript reflecting the audience's interest in this field.

To shed light on the advertisement, marketing, and commercial aspects of craftsmanship, JULIA BRUCH (Cologne) discussed special types of sources, such as model books (Musterbücher), sketchbooks (Skizzenbücher), master builders’ books (Werkmeisterbücher), recipe books (Rezeptbücher), medicine books (Arzneibücher), armourers’ books on military engineering (Büchsenmeisterbücher) and gunpowder (Feuerwerkbücher) that provide insight into construction and marketing techniques. Case studies of two illustrated manuscripts, a model book on plate harnesses from Stuttgart and a book on casting by the bell founder Christoph Sesselschreiber, demonstrated how craftspeople showcased their skills and targeted potential buyers through drawings and texts.

SARAH IFFT DECKER (Memphis) shifted the perspective to Jewish and Christian craftswomen in the medieval Crown of Aragon and explored their presence and interactions based on notarial documentation on economic daily dealings. Notaries often described Christian women only in terms of their relation to their husband or father. The labor of Jewish craftswomen was also obscured in sources that simply refer to them as judea. The women learned their skills either informally, as part of family tasks, or by apprenticeship, with women masters primarily teaching girls. Most apprenticeships involving women concerned textiles, some also leather or fur, only a few were active in the higher echelons as textiles dealer. A significant trade within the Jewish community was silk production. Therefore, Christian-Jewish cooperation in the form of joint acquisition of raw materials is on record.

SASKIA LIMBACH (Göttingen) also focused on the role of women and discussed female involvement in printing during the early modern period in Germany. Starting with the example of Katharina Rehbarts, a widowed printer who owned two printing shops and a paper mill, she revealed at least 170 women printers during the 16th and 17th centuries. The presentation covered topics such as women printers mentioned in colophons, their involvement in various book centers, their multifaceted roles in the printing business, and the legal conditions and autonomy they enjoyed as widows.

Lastly, a roundtable discussion led by CHRISTOPH CLUSE (Trier) and MIRI RUBIN (London) reflected the numerous interconnected themes of the conference despite the diverse topics covered in the individual papers. They emphasized the distinction between studying crafts and guilds, highlighting the wide-ranging influence of crafts in all aspects of life. The presentations delved into working relationships and communication between Jews and Christians, the significance of material culture, and the collaborative dynamics between different religious communities. The discussion also touched on the Black Death's impact, the role of religion, and the need for a comprehensive understanding of labor relations.

Overall, the conference illustrates impressively how a wider picture is attained if new types of historical evidence are considered by a variety of researchers. For the future, an extension of the investigation period, which also includes more the time before the mid-14th century, would be desirable. However, the conference generated interest in the subject and anticipation for the forthcoming proceedings.

Conference Overview:

Welcome and Introduction
Sabine von Heusinger (Cologne) and Andreas Lehnertz (Trier)

Session 1: Guilds in German Towns
Chair: Andreas Lehnertz (Trier)

Sabine von Heusinger (Cologne): Christian Guilds in German Towns

Jörg Müller (Trier): Jews in Christian Guilds in Medieval Germany

Session 2: Cooperation in Crafts
Chair: Sabine von Heusinger (Cologne)

Andreas Lehnertz (Trier): Jewish-Christian Cooperation in Crafts

Sarah Ifft Decker (Memphis): Jewish and Christian Craftswomen in the Medieval Crown of Aragon

Session 3: Advertisement and Marketing of Craft Products
Chair: Tanja Skambraks (Mannheim)

Julia Bruch (Cologne): Production and Trade of High-Quality Goods by Christians

Birgit Wiedl (St. Pölten): Jewish and Christian Weapon Makers and Their Customers

Session 4: Crafts in Institutions
Chair: Tanja Potthoff (Cologne)

Stefanie Fuchs (Thierhaupten): Craftspeople Commissioned by Members of Jewish Communities (12th–14th Centuries) – Assumption and Material Evidence

Eva-Maria Cersovsky (Cologne): Craftspeople and Christian Charitable Institutions in Later Medieval Strasbourg (15th–16th Centuries)

Session 5: Innovative Crafts – Book Printing and Book Production
Chair: Eva Cersovsky (Cologne)

Saskia Limbach (Göttingen): Catholic and Protestant Women and the Art of Printing in Early Modern Germany

Rodica Herlo-Lukowski (Münster): Manuscript Production: Jewish-Christian-Interaction in Northern Italy in the Early Modern Period

Roundtable: Dialogue on Christian and Jewish Crafts
Miri Rubin (London) and Christoph Cluse (Trier)

Excursion to MiQua
Tanja Pothoff and Michael Wiehen (Cologne)

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