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157. Seal of Muschlein

Dimensions: unknown.

Location: missing.

Bibliography: Scherer, 1901.

These two seals are related to the same document and therefore will be treated together. In 1901 J. E. Scherer published a study of the juridical condition of the Jews in Austrian territory which noted that “a document dated September 4, 1351, concerning a demand by the Jew Merklein in Friesach against Bishop Friedrich of Bamberg is sealed, in addition to the Vicedom [the bishop’s property administrator], by Suezzlein the Judenmeister” (p. 545). Zvi Avneri (1968, Nos. 37–38) picked up this information and listed Suezzlein and Muschlein (the latter considered to be the same person as Merklein) as Jews sealing this document. Two sources were noted, the Land Archives at Klagenfurt, Item 216, and the House, Court and State Archives at Vienna, Item 1049, fol. 158r.

The Historical Archives of Klagenfurt has informed the writer that the original of this document is lost. The Viennese archives, contacted independently, also indicate that the original is lost but that there is a copy, filed under Blue Manuscript 339, fol. 157r.–158r. A microfilm of this copy turned out to be three pages in length when blown up to natural size, written in a loose Gothic German most difficult to read, and is probably the longest sealed document involving a Jew or Jews that the writer has seen. Anna Benna of the archives at Vienna also kindly sent a brief synopsis of its contents. According to this summary, Ulrich von Walsee testifies that Merklein, a Jew from Friesach, came to an agreement with the bishopric of Pamberg about a bond. The lost original was sealed by Ulrich and “with the seal of Suezzlein the Judenmeister and with that of Muschlein the Jew of Gretz.” (Scherer refers to Bamberg while Benna gives the location as Pamberg; the writer knows of no Pamberg, though a hamlet of that name might have existed.) All agree that Suezzlein, elsewhere referred to as Suesslein and Suesskind, sealed as Judenmeister. Presumably the Vicedom whom Scherer mentions as Ulrich von Walsee, was also a sealer. This party, of course, was a Christian.

It would seem that Muschlein, who may be the same person as Merklein, did seal. It is probable that Merklein and Muschlein are indeed the same person. Such shifts in names and spelling were very common in the period, and the handwriting of scribes was notoriously deficient. This Muschlein, who is specifically called “a Jew of Gretz”* in the Vienna records, cannot be either of two well-known moneylenders by the name of Musch active in the same period, despite the similar names, because the other two men are referred to as coming from Marburg or Cilli. Muschlein of Graz was apparently a different person. It may be added parenthetically that many records from this period are unclear as to the exact identity of the Jewish lenders, and we are left in even more confusion when the names are similar. This was also a problem when dealing with the records of the small Jewish communities of Languedoc in southern France, as noted earlier.

Lesier (or Lesyer), Judenmeister in Vienna, 1375–78. The axe in his hands may suggest the punishment of cutting off the hands of Jews who were guilty of perjury. Photo from Max Grunwald, Vienna, Philadelphia, 1936, copyrighted by and used through the courtesy of the Jewish Publication Society of America, Philadelphia.

Judenmeister means “Master of the Jews” and is a post always filled by a Jew. The position was similar to that of the Jewish archpresbyter in England before the expulsion and referred to a rabbinical authority even when the post was merely honorific, granted because of wealth and prestige. The Judenmeister in Klagenfurt, in this case Suezzlein, was probably given the right to seal for Jews who did not have seals, who were absent from the city, or who, even if they were available and owned seals, did not have sufficient prestige of their own and required an additional guarantor. We know from other records that Suezzlein added to his influence in the community by such political acts as contributing money to the local Catholic church.

The approach of Christian leaders in juridical matters concerning Jews, especially when dealing with internal Jewish affairs, varied greatly by the late Middle Ages. The title of Judenmeister was peculiar to certain parts of German-speaking areas; its Latin twin was Magister Judaeorum; and there were other phrases meaning much the same thing. Up to the twelfth century one encounters the title Archisynagogus, a word now obsolete but meaning Leader of the Synagogue. This was supplanted by Episcopus Judaeorum, or Bishop of the Jews, a phrase more meaningful to Christian ears, which appears for the first time at Cologne in documents from 1135. Pontifex Judaeorum, or Pontiff of the Jews, was occasionally used. The post of Parnas, Community Head in Hebrew, was somewhat different because this official was always elected by the Jews themselves. In the fifteenth century the title Hochmeister, or High Master, also appears. All these expressions were variants on the most commonly used title, the “Jewish bishop” or leader of the Jewish community and its public representative. These names should not automatically be identified with the rabbi of the community despite the fact that in many cases the two offices were held by the same man. Though the title is cast in terms of rabbinical authority, the post was more political than religious.

These positions should not be confused with the Judenrichter, or Jewish Judge, also called Judex Judaeorum, who was always a Christian official appointed to take care of Jewish affairs, closely related in function to the Justice of the Jews in medieval England. In pre-expulsion France this position was called Praepositus Judaeorum, or Provost for the Jewry. The Judenrichter in German-speaking lands was mainly occupied in deciding cases involving disputes between Christians and Jews; usually the Judenmeister was the representative and acting agent for the Judenrichter within the Jewish community. In particularly important Christian-Jewish disputes in medieval Austria, the duke himself or his adjutant acted as judge.

*In one description Merklein or Muschlein makes his demand “in Friesach”; in the other it is stated that he came “from Friesach” in the matter of the action. Loose descriptions such as these do not negate the unequivocal statement that he originated at Graz, spelled Gretz here.

*In one description Merklein or Muschlein makes his demand “in Friesach”; in the other it is stated that he came “from Friesach” in the matter of the action. Loose descriptions such as these do not negate the unequivocal statement that he originated at Graz, spelled Gretz here.

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