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155. So-Called Jewish Community Seal of Austria

Dimensions: none.

Location: none.

Bibliography: Grunwald, 1936; Gold, 1966.

The Vienna City and County Archives (as distinct from the House, Court and State Archives of Vienna) preserves photographs of two documents, one in Hebrew from June 19, 1338, reproduced here, and the other its confirmation by Albert II and Duke Otto the following day, on June 20. The first is the oldest document of the Jewish community of Vienna, referred to above, involving the Jews’ reduction of interest on loans as an expression of gratitude for not having been attacked during the riots over an accusation at the nearby town of Pulka that the Jews had desecrated the Host. Originally it was claimed that the Hebrew document was sealed by a seal of the Vienna Jewish community. However, Felix Czeike, director of these archives, states that the June 20 document is sealed by Albert II and Duke Otto but that the archival photograph of the June 19 document (whose original has been missing since 1952) does not show any seals. Anna Benna of the central state Austrian archives in further correspondence writes that the words of the Hebrew document call for the two Judenmeisters of the Vienna Jewish community—Saadya and Moses by name—to seal, but that there is no Jewish community seal, in the proper sense of the expression, attached.

There is a seeming contradiction. The Hebrew document calls for the two Judenmeisters of the Vienna Jewish community to seal as representatives of that community, while a photograph of the document itself shows no seals appended. The problem is similar to the case of the so-called Jewish Community Seal of Cologne (No. 130). As discussed there, the standard wording “We have signed and sealed” no longer had any meaning in many areas by the late Middle Ages because sealing had lost its original juridical function, and though the phrase was preserved in documents, the signatures alone constituted an enforceable contract. On the ninth line of the Hebrew document we read, “we gave them this writing as proof and witness with the sealing of our rabbis.” The word “rabbis” refers to the Judenmeisters and is meant in an honorific sense; the word “sealing” should be understood as “signatures.”

Interest reduction agreement from Vienna, June 19, 1338, formerly considered sealed by the so-called Jewish community seal of Austria. Vienna City and County Archives.

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