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131. Seal of Aaron Son of Master Simcha Tson (Selichman Schaifsoen)

Dimensions: 35 mm. Impression.

Location: Cologne Historical Archives, HUA 1/6818b.

Bibliography: Kober, 1937, 1940; Brincken, 1963–64.

This is an unusually large seal. On the left, running around, some Hebrew letters can still be seen, but they do not form coherent words. At the left and right center there seem to be player’s masks. The area above is largely destroyed, but there are remnants of what may be a bird standing at the left. At the bottom is a shield, turned forty-five degrees to the left; on the shield is an animal believed to be a sheep because of the name of the seal owner. Anna-Dorothee van den Brincken (p. 425) described the seal as showing a sheep with a “helmet with a point on top [possibly a Jew’s hat] and a bilingual legend.” Adolf Kober (1940, p. 12) states that the seal shows “a shield, a helmet, and a helmet ornament.”

No. 131, seal of Selichman Schaifsoen, attached to truce accord from Cologne, November 7, 1401 (reduced in size).

This splintered seal still hangs from a document dated November 7, 1401. According to the records the seal belonged to Selichman Schaifsoen. The document subject is a truce involving the city of Cologne. This document is in German and on paper, not parchment.

A photograph taken of the seal about a half century ago is affixed to the place on the document where it originally was stamped. Since the legend on the seal was illegible even when this photograph was taken, we are fortunate that the sealer signed his name in Hebrew alongside the seal, namely: , that is, Aharon ben Rab Simḥa Tson or Aaron son of Master Happy Sheep.”

This interesting seal illustrates several points often assumed but rarely so explicitly indicated. The first is that the clear dot over the resh of the signature shows that a contraction is involved: the word is not the Aramaic for “son” but rather “son of master (or rab),” referring of course to the father. We also see that the father had the odd surname of “sheep,” tson in Hebrew,* in German Schaf. The son called himself “Son of Schaf,” or “Schaifsoen” in loose translation, and also adopted a translation of his father’s Hebrew first name, Simcha (“happy” or “good”), so that Simcha became the German Selichman (Selig-man), which would be, in English, “Happy Man.” In effect, the name Selichman Schaifsoen is a kind of transliteration of the father’s Hebrew name, becoming, in English, “Happy Man Son of Sheep.” (It was noted above that the figure of a sheep seems to appear on the shield of the seal, indicating a case of armes parlantes. It may be recalled that Lamb, the famous financier from Augsburg at the beginning of the fourteenth century [see No. 80 above], had a father with the Hebrew name of Pesach Solomon and called himself “Lamb” after the Pesach. No. 131 seems to reflect a similar approach.)

Reading Adolf Kober’s history of the Jews in Cologne, we can understand why the son of Schaf—referred to variously as Schaiff, Schaff, Schoyf, Schaef, Schaf, or Schaep in the records*—was so proud of his father that he used this transliterated version of his name to deal with the Christian community. Kober unequivocally states that Schaf or Schaiff was the most important Jewish financier of his day. At the end of the fourteenth century the city of Cologne was desperate for money because of heavy imperial taxes and what amounted to open war with Archbishop Friedrich. Schaiff was among the first Jews allowed to resettle in the city in 1372 after the Black Death massacres. The Jews were called on to lend large sums, and foremost among the lenders was Schaiff. During the years 1375 and 1391 he loaned the city some 28,000 marks, an enormous sum for that time. In 1380 alone Schaiff, with another Jew, lent 3,085 marks, which was one-third of all the money borrowed from the Jews and one-fifth of the entire loan to the city.

This 1401 “truce” document gives us an interesting inside glimpse of the tensions and insecurities of German Jewry in those fateful times. It involves a son and a son-in-law of Schaiff. Though this redoubtable financier had three sons and two sons-in-law, the only two figures of distinction were his son Selichman and his son-in-law Vyvus. Selichman Schaifsoen is first mentioned in 1388, together with his wife Gymen, when they agree to pay an annual residence fee to the city of Cologne of eight gulden, reduced the next year to five gulden. From 1393 to 1402 he lived in Wesel, a small city near Cologne; and he is also listed in 1400 as a resident of Nymwegen. In the late 1390s he became the Schutzjude or “protected Jew” of Count von der Mark and thereafter worked in the same capacity for the counts of Jülich-Geldern, lords of principalities near Cologne.

Schaiff seemed to favor his son-in-law Vyvus. Though not as important a businessman as Schaiff, Vyvus made loans to the city of Cologne between 1379 and 1398. A resident of Cologne, he applied for and received a permit to reside at Dortmund as well from 1382 to 1386, also lending money there. (This Vyvus should not be confused with Vyvus of Andernach, to whom Duke William von Berg pawned his crown around 1400.)

The 1401 document sealed by Selichman Schaifsoen is only a reflection of a bitter conflict that had arisen between him and his brother-in-law Vyvus, a violent controversy that can be documented from 1397 to 1404. In brief, this involved a series of claims and counterclaims, with the counts supporting their “protected Jew” while the city defended Vyvus. At one time it even seemed that the knights supporting their counts would take military action against the city to enforce payment. On March 17, 1401, sixteen knights declared a feud against Cologne because of the “injustice” (the exact word of the text) suffered by Selichman. On April II twelve other knights also turned against the city. This is the background of the “truce” mentioned in our document. Selichman granted Cologne a three-week truce in order to try to adjudicate matters.

We do not know the end of the affair, which is carefully analyzed by Kober. “How this unpleasant dispute finally came to an end is not stated in the documents. Probably it was ended through the death of those involved,” he states (1937, p. 13). It is a sordid tale, and one bred by the insecurity of the times. As Kober added in his concluding remarks: “Jews such as Schaiff and Selichman knew how to defend themselves. But they only found recognition through their wealth. If the Jew had money, then he could acquire the help of powerful lords. Then he would be their Schutzjude, and the knights and noblemen would declare a feud on any who violated his rights. But in the long run even money wasn’t enough to prevent persecution and banishment” (p. 15). Insecurity bred greed; greed bred hatred; and hatred led inevitably to the downfall of the parties involved, for the Jew was only useful as long as he could be squeezed; when nothing was left, he was evicted or abandoned despite the justice or injustice of his position.

One curious aspect of the seal of Selichman Schaifsoen lies in the fact that the relatively unimportant son had the right to seal with his own seal, while there is no evidence that Schaiff, his more important father, ever sealed any documents. As Anna-Dorothee van den Brincken (1963–64, p. 425) pointed out, these Jewish seals disappear in the fifteenth century, being to a large extent a cultural byproduct of the Jewish situation in German-speaking countries during the fourteenth century. Yet the seal of the son remains from the fifteenth century, while a seal of his most prominent father, who died in 1394, appears nowhere. The writer is personally convinced by this, as well as other examples, that a closer search of the city, state, and ecclesiastical archives in the Rhine area for the earlier period will disclose more Jewish seals. However, this feeling is not shared by the former and present archivists of Cologne. Dr. van den Brincken worked at the Cologne archives when the original material was being gathered for the great exhibition of Judaica held at the Cologne City Museum from October 15, 1963, to March 15, 1964. Dr. Toni Diederich, now in charge of the Episcopal archives of Cologne, states in correspondence that though he has reviewed thousands of seals of the period in question, he has never seen a Jewish seal. The present archivist, Dr. Huiskes, kindly made a further review for the writer, concentrating on the question of whether Simcha Schaif (called Bunheim Schaif in the records), father of Selichman Schaifsoen, had a seal. Dr. Huiskes states that in 1371 Lords Arnold von Randerath and Erprath III and Arnold von Kinzweiler sealed for Bunheim Schaif (HUA 1/2686), and that in 1382 the Cologne lay assessors sealed again for Bunheim Schaif (HUA 1/3500). In both documents Schaif signed an acknowledgment but did not seal. So a case for a seal held by the father of Selichman Schaifsoen does not seem to be supported.

A final note on the matter of additional Jewish seals from Cologne must be added. Dr. Diederich has informed the writer that there are approximately ninety thousand documents in the City Archives and about six thousand documents in the Episcopal Archives. Additionally, there are thousands more in the “church” holdings of the High State Archives of Düsseldorf, acquired after the secularization, and still additional holdings dealing with Archbishop Baldwin of Trier in the “Electorate of Trier” documents of the High State Archives of Koblenz. All responsible parties admit that these tremendous holdings have never been completely indexed,* and the writer continues to believe that many surprises will emerge from a final cataloging of this early material.


*Actually, we know from another context that the father signed his name in Hebrew as namely, “Simcha son of the holy (or martyred) Master Ephraim,” so it would appear that Simcha assumed the second name or Tson or Sheep. There may be a historical background for taking this strange name. The May 17, 1301, document referred to in No. 130 was a sale deed involving the house of Jekuthiel ben R. Moshe, which was specifically called in German “The Sheep.” It is possible that Simcha son of Ephraim, when seeking a second name to deal with the Christian community, took it from this house, as did the Rothschilds two hundred years later, the family taking its name from a red shield which had hung before the house of its founder in the Frankfort ghetto.

*Kober uses the spelling “Schaiff (Bunheim).” This writer is indebted to Bernhard Brilling for the explanation that the parenthetic Bunheim is a German rendering of the Jewish name Bunem, itself derived from “bon homme.” Translated back into Hebrew, the name commonly becomes Simcha.

*It is truly astounding how many archives in advanced European countries have not had their holdings from the medieval period catalogued. Mention has been made earlier of the gaps in England. Anna Coreth, at the time director of the Austrian archives, wrote this author that there were over seventy thousand uncatalogued documents in the Austrian holdings, and added that “it’s rather probable that our archives contain more Jewish seals.”

*Actually, we know from another context that the father signed his name in Hebrew as namely, “Simcha son of the holy (or martyred) Master Ephraim,” so it would appear that Simcha assumed the second name or Tson or Sheep. There may be a historical background for taking this strange name. The May 17, 1301, document referred to in No. 130 was a sale deed involving the house of Jekuthiel ben R. Moshe, which was specifically called in German “The Sheep.” It is possible that Simcha son of Ephraim, when seeking a second name to deal with the Christian community, took it from this house, as did the Rothschilds two hundred years later, the family taking its name from a red shield which had hung before the house of its founder in the Frankfort ghetto.

*Kober uses the spelling “Schaiff (Bunheim).” This writer is indebted to Bernhard Brilling for the explanation that the parenthetic Bunheim is a German rendering of the Jewish name Bunem, itself derived from “bon homme.” Translated back into Hebrew, the name commonly becomes Simcha.

*It is truly astounding how many archives in advanced European countries have not had their holdings from the medieval period catalogued. Mention has been made earlier of the gaps in England. Anna Coreth, at the time director of the Austrian archives, wrote this author that there were over seventy thousand uncatalogued documents in the Austrian holdings, and added that “it’s rather probable that our archives contain more Jewish seals.”

This interesting seal illustrates several points often assumed but rarely so explicitly indicated. The first is that the clear dot over the resh of the signature shows that a contraction is involved: the word is not the Aramaic for “son” but rather “son of master (or rab),” referring of course to the father. We also see that the father had the odd surname of “sheep,” tson in Hebrew,* in German Schaf. The son called himself “Son of Schaf,” or “Schaifsoen” in loose translation, and also adopted a translation of his father’s Hebrew first name, Simcha (“happy” or “good”), so that Simcha became the German Selichman (Selig-man), which would be, in English, “Happy Man.” In effect, the name Selichman Schaifsoen is a kind of transliteration of the father’s Hebrew name, becoming, in English, “Happy Man Son of Sheep.” (It was noted above that the figure of a sheep seems to appear on the shield of the seal, indicating a case of armes parlantes. It may be recalled that Lamb, the famous financier from Augsburg at the beginning of the fourteenth century [see No. 80 above], had a father with the Hebrew name of Pesach Solomon and called himself “Lamb” after the Pesach. No. 131 seems to reflect a similar approach.)

Reading Adolf Kober’s history of the Jews in Cologne, we can understand why the son of Schaf—referred to variously as Schaiff, Schaff, Schoyf, Schaef, Schaf, or Schaep in the records*—was so proud of his father that he used this transliterated version of his name to deal with the Christian community. Kober unequivocally states that Schaf or Schaiff was the most important Jewish financier of his day. At the end of the fourteenth century the city of Cologne was desperate for money because of heavy imperial taxes and what amounted to open war with Archbishop Friedrich. Schaiff was among the first Jews allowed to resettle in the city in 1372 after the Black Death massacres. The Jews were called on to lend large sums, and foremost among the lenders was Schaiff. During the years 1375 and 1391 he loaned the city some 28,000 marks, an enormous sum for that time. In 1380 alone Schaiff, with another Jew, lent 3,085 marks, which was one-third of all the money borrowed from the Jews and one-fifth of the entire loan to the city.

A final note on the matter of additional Jewish seals from Cologne must be added. Dr. Diederich has informed the writer that there are approximately ninety thousand documents in the City Archives and about six thousand documents in the Episcopal Archives. Additionally, there are thousands more in the “church” holdings of the High State Archives of Düsseldorf, acquired after the secularization, and still additional holdings dealing with Archbishop Baldwin of Trier in the “Electorate of Trier” documents of the High State Archives of Koblenz. All responsible parties admit that these tremendous holdings have never been completely indexed,* and the writer continues to believe that many surprises will emerge from a final cataloging of this early material.

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
250-251
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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