Prussian Jewish edict of 1812

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King Friedrich Wilhelm III. of Prussia

With the edict concerning the civil conditions of the Jews in the Prussian state of March 11, 1812, the residents of Prussia of the Jewish faith became Prussian citizens upon application. It replaced the Revised General Privilege of 1750 issued by Frederick II and is considered the most important step towards legal equality for Jews in Prussia. The Jews who lived and worked there at that time were no longer legally classified as foreigners and in large parts no longer differed from the other subjects in terms of civil law . The edict also contained conditions to be fulfilled and sensitive restrictions that were tightened in the following period. The intention and goal of legal emancipation was the complete social, cultural, economic and ultimately religious assimilation of the Jews. The edict was not valid in all parts of Prussia, so that no uniform law was created. After several amendments, it was repealed on July 23, 1847 by the law on the conditions of the Jews .

The creation of the edict

Freiherr vom Stein

The question of civil equality for Jews was part of a larger reform in Prussia, which suffered a military defeat in 1806 and, in the Peace of Tilsit, ceded areas it had previously annexed during the partitions of Poland. This defeat marked the end of the decline of the old Prussian class system. Prussia now undertook a comprehensive reform , which included the economy, the agrarian constitution, the military, administration and the urban order. The aim was to break the power of the estates and introduce free citizenship. This also included equal rights for Jews. The aim of the reform was to turn the Jews, who were negatively stigmatized as usurers, into a useful, nationally responsible property citizen and Jewish-Prussian citizen.

As early as 1808, the Jews were briefly included in local government by the town council. As protective Jews , they were even given the active and passive right to vote, which was later denied again, to honorary offices, so they could become city councilors or city councilors. As with Christian citizens, the prerequisite for this was that they had property or that they were self-employed. This corresponded to the feudal orientation of city citizenship.

An early draft of the edict, which had been drawn up by Heinrich Friedrich Karl vom Stein and Minister of State Friedrich Leopold von Schrötter , represented an education law according to which a small group of wealthy Jews could receive all civil rights in later generations through professional retraining. But first they should be eliminated from trade, the branch of industry in which they were particularly well represented. Stein and Schrötter could not decide on concrete measures because they were determined by distrust and antipathy.

In contrast, Wilhelm von Humboldt pleaded, following the example of emancipation in France, for immediate and complete civic equality, since a gradual reduction in discrimination would only emphasize segregation. He believed a radical change was possible because equality only removes the “unnatural state” so that the “natural” comes to the fore again. Overall, he saw the necessity of a radical reform in Prussia to increase general welfare, called for the separation of church and state and the possibility for the citizens to choose their religion freely.

In 1808, in his draft of a new constitution for the Jews , Humboldt first examined the causes of the special position of the Jews and derived the program from this: Jews should by “amalgamation”, “shattering their church form” and “settling”, from their “national character” be liberated, which Humboldt by striving to separate the male Jews from their environment, by the "ecclesiastical-political constitution that reduces religion [in its pure nature] to almost zero" and declares a nomadic way of life. The aim is "that everyone who does not have to ask religious questions about it remains uncertain whether someone is Jewish or not". Humboldt finds it hardest to overcome the religious peculiarities of the Jews. He does not consider legal equality to be sufficient to achieve this directly, but after a phase of Judaism as “mere religion” he expects conversion as the conclusion of a naturally necessary development through the insight into the worthlessness of externalized religious convictions: “Individuals will become aware that they only had a cairimonial law and actually no religion, and, driven by the innate human need for a higher belief, they will automatically turn to the Christian one. ”For this development, Humboldt recommends“ schisms ”in religion "Promote" what prevents the emergence of an orthodoxy and contributes to the fact that the church hierarchy "falls apart".

Baron Karl August von Hardenberg , who had been appointed State Chancellor in 1810, was finally able to get King Friedrich Wilhelm III. Submit a progressive draft law for approval, which, however, restricted it in two points: in admission to state offices and in the question of compulsory military service. The draft law was inspired by the French-influenced legislation in the Kingdom of Westphalia.

Content and scope of the edict

The edict abolished the protective relationship of the Jews, made them citizens, and granted them extensive freedom of settlement , trade and industry . For the first time, Jews were able to move freely in almost the entire Prussian area, choose almost any trade and acquire real estate without official control. Almost all of the special charges were eliminated.

However, the state authorities were able to revoke the new citizenship rights from individual Jews. It also did not extend to the admission of Jews to the officer corps, the judiciary and public administration, but referred these admissions to individual cases and later legislation. With regard to compulsory military service, Jews and Christians were initially formally equated. The restrictions also meant that all Jewish war invalids were refused employment in the administrative service, which all war invalids were otherwise entitled to.

All older Prussian regulations that dealt with the legal relations of the Jews were repealed, in particular the revised general privilege of Frederick the Great of 1750, which had established their protective status. The General Prussian Land Law now applied to the Jews as to all other Prussian subjects .

The edict also abolished the partial autonomy of the Jewish communities: the Jews were released from the judicial and guardianship of rabbis and elders; they only had financial obligations towards their community. Deviating religious customs, such as the form of marriage or the taking of the oath, were taken into account.

The edict came with a number of conditions. The Jews had to the acquisition of the Prussian State citizenship commit to register with the police authorities and adopt within six months fixed surnames. In this way, orderly registration was made possible. In business life they had to use German or another living language and were not allowed to sign in Hebrew, only in German or Latin.

In addition, the validity of the edict was limited to the parts of the country that belonged to Prussia in 1812: Brandenburg , Pomerania , West Prussia (except in the Culmer Land to the right of the Vistula ), East Prussia and Silesia . In the areas gained after the Congress of Vienna, e.g. B. the Grand Duchy of Posen , it was not used, not even in the areas newly acquired by Prussia that had previously been Saxon ( Lausitz ) or Swedish ( Western Pomerania ). In all of these parts of the country, which had introduced legal changes under French influence, the legal situation that was valid before the French era became binding again.

The edict did not apply to “foreign Jews”, i.e. newly immigrating Jews. They needed a special permit to be able to settle in Prussia.

Implementation of the edict

Strict standards were applied to the implementation of the edict by the police and the judiciary, and as early as 1834, Zeller's manual showed a clear educational intention. Michal Szulc and other historians show in their research that officials interpreted the provisions restrictively.

Citizenship, Conditions

The validity of the edict was limited to Jews who were permanently settled and employed in the place of residence. All other “undocumented” Jews, especially those without residence and who could not support themselves through their own income, were expelled as far as possible. Birth within Prussia was not considered a criterion for citizenship, nor was it a previous residence or direct relationship with a naturalized Jew. Citizenship had to be applied for within set deadlines. The applicant was responsible for providing evidence of the admission requirements. Conditions were in detail:

  • complete innocence of the way of life,
  • Ability and obligation to use the German language, spoken and written,
  • Adoption of a specific family name,
  • permanent residence,
  • sufficient livelihood through a science, art, agriculture, urban trade or capital or alternatively “patriotic behavior” (in the wars of freedom).
Gainful employment

In terms of employment, local trades and honesty are emphasized, which excludes forms of trade and handicraft that were practiced while “moving around”. The Jewish corporations were obliged to see to it that every child learned a profession in science, handicrafts, agriculture or a "trade from fixed sales points". Especially the Jews in the country were prescribed by § 13 to only "conduct the trade" that the others (Christians) also did.

Asset supervision

The state was responsible for overseeing the property of the Jewish communities.

School inspection

Only state-approved teachers may be used in religious education. The language of instruction in Jewish schools had to be German as well.

Naming rights

When assigning first and last names, governments should ensure that the previous Jewish names were retained. According to Peter Waldbauer, no discriminatory names were prescribed; the new first and last name could largely be chosen freely, but the name bearers were largely indifferent. In Berlin, only 325 of 1633 households chose completely new names, and the name Moses was largely retained. According to Dietz Bering , there was no “mass exodus from Hebrew names”, because two thirds stayed in the previous name range, Bering only saw a slight “withdrawal movement” of names such as Hirsch, Levy, Salomon and Isaack. According to Bering, the adoption of fixed family names also influenced the earlier collective self-confidence of the Jewish community in favor of the fragmented family group. The term Jew , which used to be common when naming names, has been abolished. You introduced yourself by name and business.

After the indignant reaction of the Prussian king to the request of Markus Lilje from Gardelegen to give his son the Christian first name of the king in 1816, Christian first names were accepted less often. In the order of 1836 it was expressly forbidden to give the children Christian names, which, however, was difficult to decide in many cases where the Christian and Jewish naming traditions overlap, such as "Maria" or "Joseph". In 1841 the order was modified to the extent that names such as Christoph referring to Christianity were to be avoided.

Acquisition and loss of citizenship

Citizenship can only be acquired by a foreign Jew if there is a special public interest, i.e. if he has learned a non-profit art or as a trader has a minimum amount of assets, speaks and writes German and is innocent. Marriage to a resident does not establish citizenship. Russian Jews basically had no right to take up residence in Prussia.

Entry restrictions

Particularly detailed are the measures to prevent the "creeping in of foreign beggar Jews", which allegedly would endanger public safety by vagabonding and peddling. Any domestic Jew who supported Jews who entered illegally was punished and could lose citizenship if they did so. The “implantation” of foreign Jews through employment in Jewish or Christian households and companies was also considered dangerous.


A Jew can only marry a foreign Jew if she has a fortune of 500 talers.

military service

Voluntary military service is possible and exempt from military tax (recruit money).

Access to offices

According to Section 9 of the edict, naturalized Jews also remain excluded from the state and administrative offices and cannot become members of the public, not even in the local councils.

The meaning of the edict

In its conception, the edict was regarded by contemporaries as a far-reaching realization of enlightened ideas of emancipation. Hardenberg saw the old estates as outdated and saw the citizen as a citoyen , as a political active citizen. The edict only emancipated the Jews as useful "homo oeconomicus", as "bourgeois" or economic citizen and reserved them the decisive political equality.

The Jews had now reached a high degree of formal legal equality in civil law terms, the exercise -sized political rights but was still denied them. Although the edict thus fell short of the principle of "equal rights with equal duties", it was received with enthusiasm by a large part of the Jews, especially by those parts of the Reform Judaism that developed in these years and that in assimilation to the Jews German culture saw the future of modern Judaism. Letters were sent to Hardenberg and the King from the parishes of Berlin, Königsberg and Potsdam, expressing deep gratitude for the “gift of the fatherland”. Jews took part in large numbers in the Prussian wars of freedom against Napoleonic rule, which began the following year.

With this edict of 1812, Prussia belonged to the states with “incomplete emancipation of Jews”, unlike the territories that were temporarily incorporated into the Napoleonic Empire, such as the areas on the left bank of the Rhine , or the French satellite states, the Kingdom of Westphalia , the Grand Duchy of Berg or the Grand Duchy Frankfurt .

In the assessment of the emancipation content of the edict, which did not contain the term emancipation, there is no consensus among researchers. The aim was to amalgamate or fuse the Jews with the general population, not to accept Jewish religious peculiarities.

It was not until 1847 that the Prussian Jewish law established even greater legal equality under private law in all Prussian parts of the country, including the provinces that were returned to Prussia in the Congress of Vienna . In the province of Posen , however, the distinction between two Jewish classes was to remain in place in 1847. Admission to offices, officers and teaching at the university remained restricted.

Finally, the Emancipation Act of the North German Confederation in 1869 lifted "all remaining restrictions on civil and civic rights" that were derived from the diversity of religious beliefs. The emancipation of the Jews was thus fully established in formal legal terms, but not yet socially realized in everyday life, especially since the anti-Semitic movement began with the completion of emancipation and continued to grow.

See also


  • Annegret Helene Brammer: Jewish policy and Jewish legislation in Prussia 1812 to 1847 with an outlook on the equal rights law of the North German Confederation of 1869 . Schelzky & Jeep, Berlin 1987. Inaugural dissertation, Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen , 1986.
  • Friedrich Battenberg : The European Age of the Jews. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft , Darmstadt, 1990. ISBN 3-534-11382-9 . Volume II, from 1650 to 1945.
  • Michael Brenner , Stefi Jersch-Wenzel a  . Michael A. Meyer: German-Jewish history in modern times. C. H. Beck, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-406-39703-4 .
  • Ismar Freund : The emancipation of the Jews in Prussia. With special consideration of the law of March 11, 1812. A contribution to the legal history of the Jews in Prussia. Poppelauer, Berlin 1912.
  • Wilhelm von Humboldt : On the draft for a constitution for the Jews. In other words: works in five volumes. Volume IV, Writings on Politics and Education. Stuttgart 1964, pp. 95-112.
  • Lars Menk: A Dictionary of German-Jewish Surname. Avotaynu, Bergenfield, NJ, 2005, ISBN 1-886223-20-3 .
  • Jürgen Rohlfes: Emancipation of Jews in Prussia. The "Edict concerning the civil conditions of the Jews in the Prussian State" of March 11, 1812. In: Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Studium, No. 5/6, 2000, pp. 333–348.
  • Katja Schmidt: The development of the Jewish religious society into a corporation under public law in Prussia from 1671 to 1918, with special appreciation of the situation in Berlin. Weißensee, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-89998-094-8 .
  • Margret Heitmann : The dawn of “a new and happy era?” 200 years of the Emancipation Edict in Prussia. Kalonymos , Vol. 15, H. 1, 2012 pp. 1–5 (with facsimiles).
  • Philipp Zeller: Systematic textbook of police science by Prussian laws, edicts, decrees and ministerial Rescripten both for the instruction of Regierungsreferendarien and all those who dedicate themselves to the police science, as well as to aid for the Royal. Prussian government councilors, police presidents, district administrators, police councils, mayors, town councilors, police commissioners, gendarmerie officers, landowners, domain officials and village schools, in the exercise of their office as police officers, also for use by judges and judicial commissioners. 1828.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b c Marion Schulte: About the civil conditions of the Jews in Prussia. Walter de Gruyter, 2014, ISBN 978-3-11-030603-3 , p. 151 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  2. ^ Marion Schulte: About the civil conditions of the Jews in Prussia. Walter de Gruyter, 2014, ISBN 978-3-11-030603-3 , p. 372 ( limited preview in the Google book search).
  3. ^ A b Ernest Hamburger: Jews in public life in Germany. Mohr Siebeck, 1968, ISBN 978-3-16-829292-0 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  4. Uwe Eissing: Christian Wilhelm von Dohm's work “About the bourgeois improvement of the Jews” (1781/1783). (PDF) In: Bulletin of the Leo Baeck Institute 88. 1991, pp. 27–58 , archived from the original on May 18, 2015 ; accessed on September 27, 2019 .
  5. ^ A b c Wilhelm von Humboldt's political memoranda . Walter de Gruyter ( [accessed April 17, 2016]).
  6. ^ Wilhelm von Humboldt's political memoranda . Walter de Gruyter ( [accessed April 17, 2016]).
  7. Irene Prüfer Leske: Alexander von Humboldt y la actualidad de su pensamiento en torno a la naturaleza . Peter Lang, 2009, ISBN 978-3-03911-770-3 ( [accessed April 17, 2016]).
  8. a b Ph Zeller: Systematic textbook of police science, according to Prussian laws…. Basse, 1834, p. 427 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  9. ^ Hans-Werner Hahn: Review of: Irene A. Diekmann (Ed.): The Emanzipationsedikt of 1812 in Prussia. The long journey of the Jews to become “native” and “Prussian citizens”. Berlin 2013 in: H-Soz-Kult, April 11, 2014.
  10. ^ A b Peter Waldbauer: Lexicon of anti-Semitic clichés.
  11. Irene A. Diekmann: The Emancipation Edict of 1812 in Prussia: The long way of the Jews to "Einländer" and "Prussian citizens" . Walter de Gruyter, 2013, ISBN 978-3-11-031979-8 ( [accessed April 17, 2016]).
  12. a b Bering, Dietz: The name as a stigma. Anti-Semitism in everyday German life 1812 1933, 2nd edition Stuttgart 1988. (Habil., Cologne 1986)
  13. Irene A. Diekmann: The Emancipation Edict of 1812 in Prussia . Walter de Gruyter, 2013, ISBN 978-3-11-031979-8 ( limited preview in Google book search).
  14. Anti-Semitism in everyday German life: With the naming, the mockery and exclusion of the Jews began: “Didn't you see little Cohn?” In: Die Zeit . February 5, 1988, ISSN  0044-2070 ( [accessed April 17, 2016]).
  15. Siegfried Müller: Strangers and Others in Germany: Thinking about incorporating, leveling, excluding . Springer-Verlag, 2013, ISBN 978-3-322-95853-2 ( [accessed April 17, 2016]).
  16. Dan Diner (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Jewish History and Culture (EJGK). Volume 5: Pr-Sy. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2014, ISBN 978-3-476-02505-0 , p. 566.