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CRAIN [KRANJ] [FORMERLY IN CARINTHIA]

158. Seals of Abraham Son of Jacob, Ishmaël Son of Isaac, and Three Other Jews

Dimensions: unknown.

Location: unknown.

Bibliography: Valvasor, 1689; Rosenberg, 1914.

Johann Weichard, Baron of Valvasor, in 1689 published a multi-volume historical and geographical study of the duchy of Crain, now called Kranj. This area at present is in northern Slovenia, south of the Austrian city of Klagenfurt. The work is such an invaluable source for folklorists dealing with Slovenia that even though the original German edition is extraordinarily rare, the book in Slavic translation is still available.

In the German edition a document is reprinted from “Pentecost the 22nd day in the month Sambat [Shevat] in the year 5206 after the creation of the world” (4:310), which is January 20, 1446, according to the Christian calendar. The entry naturally does not show seals attached. However, it concludes, “We have written and sealed it,” and five Jews affirm, all apparently having sealed the original with their seals. These five men are creditors in the settlement of a debt involving the redemption of a pawn. The document, quoted exactly from the original, states that the debt letter came from the town of Marburg* and that the position of the Jews could not legally be proved during the required period of thirty days even though a proclamation in the synagogue, repeated house to house, had been made for the guarantors, or for the evidence of a sealed document to back up their claim. An arrangement was then worked out with the debtor, the noble Friedrich Lamberger and his heirs, to which all the Jews acquiesced. Though this took place over 200 years earlier, Valvasor, the aristocrat who collected the material making up this book, added ironically (4:310) that “this Herr Friedrich von Lamberg [sic] . . . observed such a course of virtue that few people would be willing to follow him today”; i.e., though the Jews could not legally prove their case within the thirty-day period, he still settled the Jewish debt amiably.

The first Jew signing the 1446 document was Abraham, son of Jacob a Cohn of Marburg, probably the principal creditor. The other four Jews also came from the region. The second name listed is Ishmaël son of Isaac a Cohn of Radkersburg (Styria). These two men were probably related. The names of the last three Jews are illegible on the reprinted document, but we can still see that one came from Judenburg (Styria), one from St. Veit (Carinthia), and one from Laibach, the old German name for Ljubljana, now the capital of Slovenia. We are thus dealing with a transaction involving five Jewish creditors, co-lenders from local towns in what are now southern Austria and northern Slovenia, settling a debt involving a German debtor from the duchy of Crain, now also in Slovenia.

An interesting custom, followed throughout all Austrian territories and in provinces where the Hapsburgs were overlords, is referred to here. It is explained by Artur Rosenberg in his detailed 1914 study of the history of the Jews in Styria. Documents involving Christians and Jews in these areas only acquired legal power if they followed a certain formula. The first step was that the shamesh, or synagogue sexton, who was held responsible, must publicly proclaim in the synagogue that the creditors register their demands against Christian debtors within thirty days, with evidence to back up their position. Then this proclamation must be repeated house to house. If the thirty days passed without such registration, the shamesh and another functionary (the Judenmeister or the cantor) issued a certificate of the facts to the Christian debtors, written in German or Hebrew, which carried public validity. (Artur Rosenberg specifically notes that the Crainer nobleman Friedrich Lamberger in 1445 had the debt proclaimed in the synagogues of Judenburg, Radkersburg, Marburg, St. Veit, and Laibach.)

It seems evident that this custom arose as a further protection for Christian debtors against abuses that might result from improper influences exerted on the Christian Judenrichter. Rosenberg writes that in 1396 the Austrian duke decided that promissory notes of citizens to Jews would have to be jointly sealed by the Jewish judge and a town judge. An additional safeguard was ordained in 1445 whereby a third seal of a prominent citizen was also required. “At the same time, however, a gradual decline of the influence of the Jewish judge is noticeable,” Rosenburg comments (p. 23), and in another section points out the revealing fact that Jewish judges sometimes found employment as witnesses for Jews after the termination of their period of office.

In the matter of the five Jews sealing the 1446 document, we have no idea what their seals looked like. This debt letter has been analyzed in some detail, though the transaction was not an important one involving a large sum of money, because all five creditors, Jews of no great stature, possessed and used seals. We have here a situation similar to that of Natan of Kreuznach (see No. 121), and it indicates again that Jewish seals were relatively common, at least in certain German-speaking areas in the fourteenth and, though to a lesser extent, in the fifteenth century. Very few survive because the documents involved, evidence of private debts, were discarded after the contractual relations were concluded and only rarely found their way into municipal and state archives.* They thus resemble chapbooks and pious woodcuts of the same period.


*Now called Maribor, also in Slovenia, incorporated into modern Yugoslavia; its remaining parts are integrated into modern Austria.

*The other possibility is that the reference to sealing was merely a traditional formula hallowed by time in the phrasing of this document, and that no seals were actually used by the Jews. Actually, this is more of a real possibility in areas of what is now called Yugoslavia than in either Bavaria or the Rhineland because of their early integration into the Roman Empire, where sealing took second place to notarization. This matter will be discussed in greater detail below.

*Now called Maribor, also in Slovenia, incorporated into modern Yugoslavia; its remaining parts are integrated into modern Austria.

*The other possibility is that the reference to sealing was merely a traditional formula hallowed by time in the phrasing of this document, and that no seals were actually used by the Jews. Actually, this is more of a real possibility in areas of what is now called Yugoslavia than in either Bavaria or the Rhineland because of their early integration into the Roman Empire, where sealing took second place to notarization. This matter will be discussed in greater detail below.

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780814344859
MARC Record
OCLC
1055142843
Pages
298-299
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-02
Language
English
Open Access
Yes
Creative Commons
CC-BY-NC-SA
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