Template:History of Hamburg During the period 1641–1842, the Jews of Altona (then a town close to Hamburg) paid specifically Jewish taxes as well as the same taxes as other residents of Altona. The tax burden on the members of the Jewish community was twice as heavy as that on the other residents.

In the Holy Roman Empire during the middle ages.

The Imperial Tax Register of 1241 was the first register to include taxes on the Jews. The total of the taxes on the Jews listed in the Register amounted to 857 silver marks; the total contribution of all the cities together amounted to 4.290 silver marks. These local taxes served wholly or in part to finance town-building. Not all of the contributions reached the central administration. In contrast, it is clear from the Register that the payments made by the Jews reached the Exchequer in their entirety.[1] The taxes on the Jews were first described as the ’’Jewish Tax’’ in 1330.[2]

In Altona and Hamburg

In 1640 the Danish King Christian IV acquired part of the County of Pinneberg including Altona.[3] Altona was subsequently granted the rights and status of a town on 23 August 1664.[4]

Jews in Hamburg

The community was founded principally by Portuguese merchants and was known as the Portuguese-Jewish Community, although many of its members were of Spanish-Jewish descent.

These Sephardic Jews, who initially pretended to be persecuted Catholics, first came to Hamburg at the end of the 16th century. They were mostly Portuguese- or Spanish-speaking merchants. In 1621, when the armistice between Spain and the Netherlands came to an end, many of the Portuguese Jews moved to Hamburg. They were made welcome, even after the actual situation had become clear; however they were not permitted to establish a cemetery within the city walls. Thanks to the linguistic skills of the Sephardim and their contacts among their co-religionaries they controlled a large sector of the German market in provisions. The Sephardim differed culturally and socially from the Jews who came to Altona, and subsequently also to Hamburg, from the east. These were Yiddish Language speaking Ashkenazim. The permanent settlement of the Ashkenazim was opposed by both the senate (town council) and the citizens, supported by the Sephardim, who did not wish to see the establishment of a second community in Hamburg. As servants, referred to as tudescos, the Ashkenazi Jews were, de facto, under the protection of the Sephardic Jews.[5]

Jews in Altona

On 1 August 1641 the Danish king had formally granted the Ashkenazi Jews the privilege of having in Altona, as hitherto, a cemetery and a synagogue, thus providing the basis for the existence of a Jewish community.[6] Subsequently the Danish kings promised the Jews personal security, the freedom to practice trade and religious liberties. Some of the Jews living in Hamburg therefore tried to secure the legal protection of the Danish crown in case of any attempt to expel them. In Altona the conditions of residence were favorable, in Hamburg the conditions for trading. These were the reasons for the genesis of the Altona community of Ashkenazi Jews from Hamburg and Altona.[7] Thanks to immigration from the east, Altona became a center of research and scholarship in Jewish teaching, attracting hundreds of students. The officially recognized Jewish court of justice had a reputation as one of the most distinguished in the whole Jewish world.[8] The Jews did not acquire these privileges freely, but in return for the payment of taxes.

Levies on Jews

From 1584 to 1639, as in the Middle Ages, the Jews of Altona paid taxes specific to the Jews, but no further taxes. Each Jewish family was required to pay 6 Reichstaler per year. Under Danish rule this changed: the Jews continued to pay the specifically Jewish taxes plus the same taxes as all other residents.[9] From 1641 every Jewish family was required to pay 5 Reichstaler in Jewish taxes; in the year when Altona became a town the contribution rose to 6 Reichstaler.[10] With the ordinance of 1641 the Danish king had permitted the Jews to slaughter animals in their own manner. This privilege too was not cost-free. For the years 1667–1669 we have records of taxes paid by Jewish butchers. According to these the rates were 1 Mark and 8 Schillinge for an ox, 4 Schillinge for a calf and 2 Schillinge for a lamb. These taxes were twice as high as those paid by Christian butchers.[11] From 1681 Individual taxes on the Jews (6 Reichstaler plus the payments made by the Jewish butchers), were replaced by lump-sum payments by the Jewish community.[12]

From the year 1712 onwards it is possible to calculate the amount of the lump-sum payments made by the Jews. During the period 1712–1818 this amounted to 6 Reichstaler for each Jewish family; 6 Reichstaler was the level that had already been set in 1584. Assuming that a Jewish family consisted of approximately 6 persons, 6 Reichstaler corresponded to 1 Reichstaler for each individual Jew. On top of this 1 Reichstaler, also paid by the other residents, had to be paid.[13] The tax burden on the members of the Jewish community was twice as heavy as that on the other residents. The influence of this on business practice constituted an obstacle to the granting of civil rights. In the year 1818 the Jewish Elders declared to the community of Altona that they could not, ’’on the one hand, levy specifically Jewish taxes on the members of their community and, on the other hand, encourage our co-religionaries, especially the younger ones, to pursue useful activity. In short: so to improve our condition that we might not seem unworthy to acquire civil rights. The extension – against our wishes - of the taxes on the Jews would be incompatible with the granting of civil rights.’’[14] This marks the beginning of the struggle of the Jewish community for emancipation. The Jewish community secured the abolition of taxes on the Jews in the year 1842.[15]


  1. Judenschutzsteuern, pp. 13–14
  2. Judenschutzsteuern, pp. 18–19
  3. Judenschutzsteuern, pp. 25–26
  4. Judenschutzsteuern, pp. 53–54
  5. Judenschutzsteuern, pp. 91–94
  6. Judenschutzsteuern, p. 111
  7. Judenschutzsteuern, p. 91
  8. Judenschutzsteuern, pp. 243–244
  9. Judenschutzsteuern, p. 135
  10. Judenschutzsteuern, p. 135, pp. 180–181
  11. Judenschutzsteuern, p. 153, pp. 168–169
  12. Judenschutzsteuern, p. 156
  13. Judenschutzsteuern, pp. 265-266. Meaningful conversion of the face-value can be made for this period since, unlike the paper money of Copenhagen, the silver currency of Altona was stable, p. 50
  14. Judenschutzsteuern, p. 239
  15. Judenschutzsteuern, p. 199

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