¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 A central role of Jewish community organization is the coordination of charity (tzedakah). For the observant Jew, charity is not an option – it is a duty. To dedicate to God one tenth of all takings is one of the earliest commandments,39 an idea that in scripture gradually developed further.40 In the book of Exodus charity took on the form of offerings and in subsequent books the tithes were destined for the priests.41 Charity as assistance to the poor appears in later sacred writings, such as the book Nehemiah,42 and was not limited to Jews, since even the King Nebuchadnezzar was thus commanded. The book of Proverbs then set forth the responsibility for one’s neighbour and the stranger.43 Although the book of Tobit never made it into the Hebrew Bible, it also introduced charity as an essential element of righteousness.44 After the destruction of the Temple, charity eventually assumed a central role in Jewish religious life through the Mishnah, the Talmud, and finally the writings of Maimonides.45
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Many of the Jewish charity customs in rural southern Germany had their roots in the old Frankfurt community.46 This Jewish-German culture of charity was already highly structured in the eighteenth century.47 Communities set up elaborate collection boxes ;48 other forms of charity fundraising included the sale and even auctioning of community honours, such as call to the Torah reading.49 Jewish charity covered six major areas of concern: the sick, the dead and dying, widows and orphans, the hungry, indigent brides, and the homeless vagrants.50 For the care of the sick, the dying, and the dead, the community almost certainly had a Sister/Brotherhood (chewra kaddischa).51 The commotion relating to the funeral of Samuel Gugenheimb () suggests that he and/or his son Lang Josel () had not fulfilled their responsibility towards the Brotherhood .
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Jewish vagrants were the dominant target of charitable work in the seventeenth century, with few jurisdictions willing to allow poor, homeless Jews to settle in the aftermath of the Thirty Years’ War, the Khmelnytsky pogroms,52 and the War of the Spanish Succession. Jewish communities in southern Germany and Switzerland had established a complex system of vouchers, called Pletten, Politen, Pläten, Polleten, Bletten, or Blätten,53 which committed each family to hosting a number of vagrants for as many days as the authorities permitted. According to the letters of protection, the duration of this hospitality was typically one night or, at most, over a major holiday. Given the vagrants’ hardships and occasional familial links, the Jews often attempted to extend their hospitality , which resulted in fines and even incarceration.54
39Cf. Gen. 28:22.
40Cf. Lev. 27:30.
41Cf. Exod. 25:2; Neh. 10:38.
42Cf. Dan. 4:24.
43Cf. Prov. 6:2.
44Macantangay, “Acts of Charity.”
45Maimonides, “Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity”, 10:7–14; Maimonides, Meszler, and Raphael, “Gifts for the Poor,”
46Horovitz, “Die Wohlthätigkeit.”
47Mainzer, “”Gedenkblätter zur Erinnerung.
48Frauberger, “Ueber alte Kultusgegenstände,” 63; Rapp Buri, “Jüdisches Kulturgut,” 45.
49Ullmann, “Nachbarschaft und Konkurrenz,” 182; Smith, “Auctions.”
50Penslar, “Shylock’s Children.”
51Encyclopedia Judaica vol. 8 “Hevrah Kaddisha” 442 – 6.
52Weinryb, “The Hebrew Chronicles.”
53Weldler-Steinberg and Guggenheim-Grünberg, “Geschichte der Juden in der Schweiz,” 136 (Pletten); Ullmann, “Nachbarschaft und Konkurrenz,” 373 (Politen); Guggenheim, “Aus der Vergangenheit,” 46 (Bletten); Rosenthal, “Heimatgeschichte der Badischen Juden,” 166 (Blätten); Rosenthal’s explanation for the etymology of this term is, in the opinion of this author, likely incorrect. Rather than being derived from the French term ‘billet’, the word’s origin is probably the Hebrew word פלטה meaning “leftover.”
54Rosenthal, “Heimatgeschichte der badischen Juden, 177.