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The Charter of the Jews of the Duchy of Austria July 1, 1244 CE
Inasmuch as the Jews, during the Middle Ages, were looked upon as a distinct racial
and religious group who could not and should not be subject to the same laws as
Christians, they were given special charters by which they were governed. The most famous
of these is that granted by Frederick the Belligerent in July, 1244 to the Jews of his
duchy of Austria. This document is important because it was soon adopted, with some
changes, by most East European countries to which the masses of Jews finally drifted:
Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, Silesia, and Lithuania. This charter-a very favorable one-was
issued to encourage money-lending among the Austrian Jews and probably also to attract
moneyed Jews to migrate to this outlying German state which was in need of ready credit.
Every effort is therefore made in this Latin constitution to grant the Jews ample
opportunity to sell their wares and, above all, to lend money. They were given adequate
protection: they were subject to the direct jurisdiction of the Duke who guaranteed them
safety of life and limb. The right of the Jews to govern themselves in communal and
religious matters was not specified by the Duke, but this was taken for granted. We may
assume, indeed, that the Jews of Austria enjoyed extensive political autonomy under this
Frederick, by the grace of God Duke of Austria and Styria and lord of Carniola, offers
greetings at all times to all who will read this letter in the future. Inasmuch as we
desire that men of all classes dwelling in our land should share our favor and good will,
we do therefore decree that these laws, devised for all Jews found in the land of Austria,
shall be observed by them without violation.
I. We decree, therefore, first, that in cases involving money, or immovable property,
or a criminal complaint touching the person or property of a Jew, no Christian shall be
admitted as a witness against a Jew unless there is a Jewish witness together with the
Christian. [The Jewish witness was a guarantee of fair play.]
II. Likewise, if a Christian should bring suit against a Jew, asserting that he had
pawned his pledges with him and the Jew should deny this, and then if the Christian should
not wish to accord any belief in the mere statement of the Jew, the Jew may prove his
contention by taking an oath upon an object equivalent in value to that which was brought
to him, and shall then go forth free. [Money-lending on pledges was the leading Jewish
business at this time.]
III. Likewise, if a Christian has deposited a pledge with a Jew, stating that he had
left it with the Jew for a smaller sum than the Jew admits, the Jew shall then take an
oath upon the pledge pawned with him, and the Christian must not refuse to pay the amount
that the Jew has proved through his oath.
IV. Likewise, if a Jew says that he returned the Christian's pledge as a loan to the
Christian, without, however, the presence of witnesses, and if the Christian deny this,
then the Christian is able to clear himself in this matter through the oath of himself
V. Likewise, a Jew is allowed to receive all things as pledges which may be pawned with
him-no matter what they are called without making any investigation about them, except
bloody and wet clothes which he shall under no circumstances accept. [Such garments
presuppose murder and theft.]
VI. Likewise, if a Christian charges that the pledge which a Jew has, was taken from
him by theft or robbery, the Jew must swear on that pledge that when he received it he did
not know that it had been removed by theft or robbery. In this oath the amount for which
the pledge was pawned to him shall also be included. Then, inasmuch as the Jew has brought
his proof, the Christian shall pay him the capital and the interest that has accrued in
the meantime. [Then the Christian takes back his property.]
VII. Likewise, if a Jew, through the accident of fire or through theft or violence,
should lose his [own] goods, together with the pledges pawned with him, and this is
established, yet the Christian who has pledged something with him nevertheless brings suit
against him, the Jew may free himself merely by his own oath. [TheJew loses the money
advanced and the Christian, his pledge.]
VIII. Likewise, if the Jews engage in quarreling or actually fight among themselves,
the judge of our city shall claim no jurisdiction over them; only the Duke alone or the
chief official of his land shall exercise jurisdiction. If, however, the accusation
touches the person, this case shall be reserved for the Duke alone for judgment.
[Important criminal cases are to be decided not by the Jewish court, but by the Duke.]
IX. Likewise, if a Christian should inflict any sort of a wound upon a Jew, the accused
shall pay to the Duke twelve marks of gold which are to be turned in to the treasury. He
must also pay, to the person who has been injured, twelve marks of silver and the expenses
incurred for the medicine needed in his cure.
X. Likewise, if a Christian should kill a Jew he shall be punished with the proper
sentence, death, and all his movable and immovable property shall pass into the power of
XI. Likewise, if a Christian strikes a Jew, without, however, having spilt his blood,
he shall pay to the Duke four marks of gold, and to the man lie struck four marks of
silver. If he has no money, he shall offer satisfaction for the crime committed by the
loss of his hand.
XII. Likewise, wherever a Jew shall pass through our territory no one shall offer any
hindrance to him or molest or trouble him. [The Jew is to pay no road-fees in all Austrian
lands.] If, however, he should be carrying any goods or other things for which he must pay
duty at all custom offices, he shall pay only the prescribed duty which a citizen of that
town, in which the Jew is then dwelling, pays.
XIII. Likewise, if the Jews, as is their custom, should transport any of their dead
either from city to city, or from province to province, or from one Austrian land into
another, we do not wish anything to be demanded of them by our customs officers. [Heavy
road-fees were often imposed on Jewish corpses in transit.] If, however, a customs officer
should extort anything, then he is to be punished for praedatio mortui, which
means, in common language, robbery of the dead.
XIV. Likewise, if a Christian, moved by insolence, shall break into ordevastate the
cemetery of the Jews, he shall die, as the court determines, and all his property,
whatever it may be, shall be forfeited to the treasury of the Duke.
XV. Likewise, if any one wickedly throw something at the synagogues of the Jews we
order that he pay two talents to the judge of the Jews. [This judge was a Christian who
looked after the interests of the Jews.]
XV1. Likewise, if a Jew be condemned by his judge to a money penalty, which is called wandel ("fine"), he shall pay only twelve dinars to him.
XVII. Likewise, if a Jew is summoned to court by order of his judge, but does not come
the first or second time, he must pay the judge four dinars for each time. If he does not
come at the third summons he shall pay thirty-six dinars to the judge mentioned. [Fines
were a source of income to the judge.]
XVIII. Likewise, if a Jew has wounded another Jew he may not refuse to pay a penalty of
two talents, which is called wandel, to his judge.
XIX. Likewise, we decree that no Jew shall take an oath on the Torah unless he has been
summoned to our [the Duke's] presence. [This happened only in important cases.]
XX. Likewise, if a Jew was secretly murdered, and if through the testimony it cannot be
determined by his friends who murdered him, yet if after an investigation has been made
the Jews begin to suspect some one, we are willing to supply the Jews with a champion
against this suspect. [The champion fought the suspect and God gave victory to the right.]
XXI. Likewise, if a Christian raises his hand in violence against a Jewess, we order
that the hand of that person be cut off.
XXXII. Likewise, the [Christian] judge of the Jews shall bring no case that has arisen
among the Jews before his court, unless he be invited due to a complaint. [Civil suits
between Jews were settled by the Jews themselves.]
XXIII. Likewise, if a Christian has redeemed his pledge from a Jew but has not paid the
interest, the interest due shall become compounded if it is not paid within a month.
XXIV. Likewise, we do not wish any one to seek quarters in a Jewish house. [Forced
entertainment of officials was considered a burden.]
XXV. Likewise, if a Jew has lent money to a magnate of the country on his possessions
or on a note and proves this documentarily, we will assign the pledged possessions to the
Jew and defend them for him against violence. [In this way Jews acquired estates, which
XXVI. Likewise, if any man or woman should kidnap a Jewish child we wish that he be
punished as a thief [by death].
XXVII. Likewise, if a Jew has held in his possession, for a year, a pledge received
from a Christian, and if the value of the pledge does not exceed the money lent together
with the interest, the Jew may show the pledge to his judge and shall then have the right
to sell it. If any pledge shall remain for a "year and a day" [really, a year,
six weeks, and three days] with a Jew, he shall not have to account for it afterwards to
XXVIII. Likewise, whatever Christian shall take his pledge away from a Jew by force or
shall exercise violence in the Jew's home shall be severely punished as a plunderer of our
treasury. [The Duke felt that the wealth of the Jews practically belonged to him.]
XXIX. Likewise, one shall in no place proceed in judgment against a Jew except in front
of his synagogues, saving ourselves who have the power to summon them to our presence.
[Court was held for the Jews in the yards in front of their synagogues.]
XXX. Likewise, we decree that Jews shall indeed receive only eight dinars a week
interest on the talent. . . . [This was 173.33 per cent annual interest. Such a high rate
was not unusual because of the insecurity of the times.]
Given at Starkenberg, in the year of the incarnation of the Lord, 1244, on the first of
REFERENCES TO TEXTBOOKS
Elbogen, pp. 67-77; Roth, pp. 195-197-
READINGS FOR ADVANCED STUDENTS
Graetz, III, pp. 567-569; Graetz-Rhine, III, pp. 338-340; Margolis and Marx, pp.
Dubnow, S. M., History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, 1, pp. 43-54. A
discussion of the Boleslav and Casimir charters, variations of the 1244 Austrian charter.
Grunwald, M., Vienna (Jewish Communities Series), pp. iff.
Kisch, G., "Research in Medieval Legal History of the Jews," in Proceedings
of the American Academy for Jewish Research, VI (1934-1935), and "The Jewry-Law
of the Medieval German Law-Books," in Proceedings, VII (1935-1936). Both of
these essays throw great light on the relation of the Jew and the Jewish community to the
JE, "Austria"; "Kammerknechtschaft."
ADDITIONAL SOURCE MATERIALS IN ENGLISH
"The Bishop of Speyer Gives the Jews of His City a Charter, io84," Oliver. J.
Thatcher and E. H. McNeal, A Source Book for Mediaeval History, pp. 577-578
"The Privilege of Frederick I for the Jews, 1157," Thatcher and McNeal, pp.
573-577. This is a confirmation of the charter granted the Jews of Worms, Germany, about
1090, by Emperor Henry IV. It is the opinion of some scholars that both the Speyer and
Worms charters are based on a ninth century Carolingian formula-prototype. The charter of
1244 is very probably a development of these early charters.
Jacobs, J., The Jews of Angevin England, Documents and Records, etc., is a very
useful source book for the period in England. It also contains, p. 134 and P. 212,
charters granted Jews by Richard the Lion-Hearted and his brother, John Lackland.
R,adin, M., "A Charter of Privileges of the Jews in Ancona of the Year 1535," JQR, N.S., IV (1913-1914), particularly pp. 240ff.
Jacob Marcus, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791, (New York:
JPS, 1938), 28-33
Later printings of this text (e.g. by Atheneum, 1969, 1972, 1978) do not indicate that
the copyright was renewed)
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© Paul Halsall, July1998