In the Bible
Genesis 4:2, 17, 20–22 describes Cain and four of his descendants as the first to engage in crafts. Cain worked the land, Enoch engaged in building, Jubal, in music, Jabal (like Abel) was a shepherd, and Tubal-Cain worked with metals (i.e., copper and iron).
This division apparently reflects the social development of the ancient world from around the fifth or fourth millennium b.c.e. This period saw the beginning of the development of agriculture and the increase and diversification of the types of crafts connected with it. During this period, there was increased knowledge of each individual occupation, and many types of work were undertaken by experts who handed down their professional know-how from father to son as a family tradition or as a closed tribal tradition. For example, in the 12th century b.c.e., the Philistines held the monopoly in the processing of iron and the sharpening of iron implements (i Sam. 13:19–22).
The first known crafts were directly connected with the production and preparation of food. Other crafts that were also connected with agricultural production were the tanning of *leather and the manufacture of clothing. Examples of textiles preserved since the Bar Kokhba period were found in the *Judean Desert Caves. Evidence of weaving and dyeing are the loom weights and dye vats discovered in excavation. This group of crafts also included braiding, which consisted of the production of ropes and mats, and other similar industries. The development of agriculture and allied crafts also gave rise to the development of tools, such as the manufacture of plows, digging implements, vehicles of transportation, leather implements, and so on (see *Agriculture; *Carts and Chariots).
Another group of crafts are the various artistic crafts: the making of jewelry and of fine vessels of wood, stone, and ivory inlaying; the production of hammered metal objects; embroidery; and so on. There are biblical references to the work of the potter and many examples have been found in excavations (see *Pottery). This group of crafts developed with the building of palaces and temples:
And I have filled him [Bezalel son of Uri] with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship. To devise skillful works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass. And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship (Ex. 31:2ff.).
Artisans of various types were numbered among the slaves of the kings of Egypt, Mesopotamia, and other permanent settlements. The Bible does not mention craftsmen of this type, apart from *Bezalel, who worked on the construction of the Tabernacle, and the people of Tyre, who participated in the construction of the Temple in Jerusalem (i Kings 5:15–25). Gold and silver were used for vessels etc. to be used in the temples or palaces, for jewelry, figurines, sewing implements, pins and clasps, etc. These metals were processed by means of casting or hammering, and separate parts were joined together by means of welding and coating. Other products, especially jewelry and tiny vessels of precious metals, were formed from different shapes, such as squares, circles, and rectangles, which were welded together in various patterns, or joined together on a chain (ii Chron. 3:16). Another artistic craft consisted of inlaying fine vessels and jewelry with precious and semiprecious stones as a decoration or for finishing other items. The biblical term millu'at apparently refers to this technique of inlaying (e.g., Ex. 28:17). Metal frames inlaid with precious stones have been found, dating to the second millennium b.c.e. Inlaid furniture and tablets dating to the third millennium b.c.e. have also been found, as well as another example of metal inlaid with stones from the second millennium b.c.e. and others. The Bible describes the stones of the breastplate (Ex. 28:15ff.) as being inlaid within their frames. Inlaying ivory ornaments into wooden furniture, walls, and other fine objects was also prevalent during the second millennium b.c.e. In general the Bible conveys the picture of the development by the Jewish people in Ereẓ Israel of manifold skills in the arts and crafts which they later carried with them throughout the Diaspora.
Post-Biblical and Talmudic Period
There is little information about crafts in the period between the return from the Babylonian captivity in 538 b.c.e. and the talmudic era. Carpenters and masons are explicitly mentioned in Ezra 3:7 as being among those who returned from the Babylonian exile, and they must have been active in the building of the Temple. Among those who took part in the building of the wall of Jerusalem under the guidance of Nehemiah are mentioned the ẓorefim ("refiners and workers in gold and silver"; Neh. 3:8 and 31), the perfumers (3:8), and the builders, who, in addition to the stonework, "set up the doors, the bolts, and the bars" of the various gates. Little is known of the life of the Jewish people in Judea during the period after Nehemiah until the establishment of Seleucid rule in 198 b.c.e. Discoveries at Tell al-Naṣba indicate that the manufacture of pottery was carried on by entire villages during this period. Aristeas described Jerusalem as "a city rich in crafts" (Aristeas to Philocrates, ed. M. Hadas, p. 147). Ben Sira (Ecclus. 38:27–32) describes in some detail the work of the various craftsmen of his time, wood carvers, signet engravers ("whose art is to make every variety of design; he is careful to make the likeness true"), metalsmiths, and potters, and concludes, "All these are deft with their hands, and each is wise in his handiwork; without them a city cannot be inhabited, and wherever they dwell they hunger not."
Arts and crafts were greatly fostered by the Hasmonean kings, as a result of the extensive building operations which they undertook. Simeon built the port of Jaffa to attract seaborne commerce, and the increased maritime trade also promoted the development of crafts. The description of the mausoleum which he erected for his parents and brothers in Modi'in (i Macc. 13:25) makes it certain that skilled craftsmen of every kind were employed in its erection and embellishment. The huge building projects undertaken by Herod, both in Jerusalem and Caesarea, but above all the rebuilding of the Temple, so vividly described by Josephus (Ant., 15:380ff.), called for skilled workers in many spheres – masons, carpenters, metalworkers, weavers and embroiderers, goldsmiths and silversmiths. Jews were employed for the building of the Temple as is specifically mentioned. Priests were trained as masons and carpenters for the edifice itself – as Josephus states, "Into none of these did King Herod enter, for he was forbidden, because he was not a priest. However, he took care of the cloisters and outer enclosures" (15:419–20). Excavations in Jerusalem have revealed the sarcophagus of "Simeon, the builder of the Sanctuary."
There were some families of craftsmen who were experts in skills required for the Temple service itself. The *Bet Garmu specialized in the preparation of the *shewbread and the house of Avtinas prepared the incense. These families actually monopolized their position. When they demanded higher wages, the Temple administration dismissed them and summoned shewbread and incense makers from Alexandria to take their place. The experiment failed because of the inefficiency of the new craftsmen, and the houses of Garmu and Avtinas were reinstalled. They only resumed work after receiving double their previous salary (Yoma 3:11, 38). That Jews engaged in the building of pagan edifices is specifically mentioned in the Mishnah with regard to the problems of conscience and halakhah for the Jewish workers. The sages ruled that "none may help them to build a basilica, scaffold, stadium, or judges' tribunal; but one may help them to build public baths or bathhouses, yet when they reach the cupola in which the idol is placed, it is forbidden to help them to build it" (Av. Zar. 1:7).
In ancient Jerusalem, before the city fell in 70 c.e., specified streets, markets, and districts were inhabited by artisans of the same trade. Bakers, cheese-makers, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, leatherworkers, dyers, weavers, fullers, potters, and other craftsmen were concentrated in their own quarters. The different trades seem to have had synagogues of their own. When passing through the city or a nearby village, the artisan was recognized by the distinctive badge he wore: the tailor had a needle stuck in the front of his dress; the worker in wool showed a woolen thread; the dyer carried different colored threads from which patrons could select the desired shade; the carpenter displayed a ruler; the leatherworker was recognized by the apron he wore; and the weaver carried a small distaff behind his ear and the scribe, a pen. Eleazar b. Azariah said of this practice of wearing badges: "There is something grand about artisanship; every artisan boasts of his trade, grandly carrying his badge in the street" (arn2 21, 45); and the rabbis stated that he who does not teach his son a craft, teaches him brigandage (Kid. 29a). The rabbis classified leather dressing among the coarser trades, but quilting or stitching in furrows was considered a clean and easy craft (Kid. 82a–b). The tanners of Palestine, like those of ancient Greece, practiced their trade outside the cities because of the unpleasant odor. Gold and silversmiths produced articles for the household as well as ornaments. An ornament produced for women was a "golden Jerusalem," which contained the picture or the engraving of Jerusalem (Shab. 59a). The institution of apprenticeship was frequently mentioned in rabbinic literature. The master was called rav and the apprentice, talmid or shulyah. The term of apprenticeship was agreed upon between the master and the parents of the boy. The son of an artisan generally followed the trade of his father, and orphans were instructed by members of the guild of their late fathers.
An impressive description is given by the rabbis of the massive basilica synagogue in Alexandria. The worshipers did not occupy their seats at random, but goldsmiths, silversmiths, blacksmiths, metalworkers, and weavers all sat together in groups so that when a poor man entered the place he recognized the members of his craft and on applying to that quarter obtained a livelihood for himself and for the members of his family (Suk. 51). The guild of Jewish weavers in Alexandria was registered according to Roman law as a corporation (J. Juster, Les Juifs dans l'empire romain, vol. 2, 306), and the Jewish coppersmiths of Alexandria were renowned. According to the Talmud the coppersmiths were employed to repair the bronze utensils in the Temple and were commissioned to make doors of Corinthian bronze for the Temple which "shone like gold" (Yoma 38a). The craftsmen of Jerusalem used to come out in groups to welcome the pilgrims bringing their first fruits to the Temple (Bik. 3:3). Both the Jerusalem and the Babylonian Talmuds have many references to craftsmen of every kind in Ereẓ Israel after the destruction of the Temple and an echo of their prosperity to which Ben Sira refers in the third century b.c.e. is heard in the proverb, "though a famine lasts seven years it does not pass through the gate of the artisan" (Sanh. 29a).
The textiles of Beth-Shean, referred to in the Talmud (tj, Kid. 2:5) were famed for their quality and praised by Roman writers; Sepphoris had a synagogue of the weavers. Dyeing was a particular Jewish occupation; to the statement of a fourth century work, Totius Orbis Descriptio, that purple silk was manufactured in Sarafand, Caesarea, Shechem, and Lydda, the Talmud (Sot. 46b) adds a village, Luz, in Galilee, where the famous purple dye was made. As mentioned, whole villages engaged in pottery making, and Tiberias was a center for glass. Many beautiful mosaic pavements have been uncovered in Israel; that of the sixth-century synagogue in Bet Alfa is inscribed with the names of the craftsmen *Marianos and his son Ḥanina. In Babylon also, Jews worked in a multitude of crafts, including weaving, dyeing, tapestry making, leather work, metalwork, and wicker work (bb 22a; cf. Pauly-Wissowa s.v.Babylonia). Pumbedita was a center for the weaving of linen (Git. 27a; bm 18b). Josephus (Wars, 5:212) describes in detail a "truly wonderful" Babylonian-made curtain (parokhet) in front of the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The frequent references in the Babylonian Talmud to rashei ommanot ("heads of crafts") suggests that the craftsmen were organized in guilds, and in fact there are references to guilds of basketmakers and to weavers (Sot. 48a). Perfumers, carpenters, and art metalworkers were apprenticed (Krauss, Tal Arch, vol. 2, 255–6). Glassblowing seems to have been an occupation among Jews not only in Ereẓ Israel, but also in Egypt and Rome. Although a reference in the Talmud (Men. 28b) to Alexandrian goblets does not mention that they were of Jewish manufacture, names of Jewish glassblowers have been found in Oxyrhynchus and Thebes, and Roman glasswork of the third and fourth centuries decorated with typical Jewish symbols, the ark, the menorah, the Temple, and the sukkah, strongly suggest Jewish craftsmen in glass (Classical Review, 51 no. 4 (1937), 144–6).
From the Middle Ages to the End of the 18th Century
The Jewish occupational structure was gradually eroded with the destruction of the ancient Jewish social pattern and with the change in social attitudes through the relentless pressure from the Christian church, from the fourth century on. With the burgeoning of city life in the lands of Islam and the gradual exclusion from and relinquishment by Jews of agriculture under both Muslim and Christian rule, a process which had been accomplished more or less by the eighth century, crafts became almost the only economic sphere where Jews still worked with their hands. The respect paid to crafts in the period immediately preceding this profound change in Jewish life waned in the atmosphere of the medieval cities, where the merchant and trade had a more honored status.
Two entirely different patterns in the practice of crafts and their place in Jewish life and society are discernible throughout the Middle Ages. One characterizes the communities in countries around the Mediterranean, including in the south those in the continents of Asia and Africa, and in the north extending more or less to an imaginary demarcation line from the Pyrenees to the northern end of the Balkans. The other, in the Christian countries of Europe, was more or less north of the Pyrenees-Balkans line.
south of the pyrenees-balkans
In the ancient places of Jewish settlement, crafts continued a major occupation of a large part of the Jewish population. The Karaite Benjamin b. Moses al-*Nahāwendī described in the ninth century those who "come to another's house, do his work and make what he needs for him for pay – like the tailor and the launderer, the worker in iron, in copper, tin, and lead, the dyer and the weaver as well as every other artisan" (in his Massat Binyamin , 4b). There was thus a wide range of itinerant Jewish craftsmen in Persia and its vicinity. In the same century a hostile Muslim denigrated the Jews because among them are found "only dyers, tanners, bloodletters, butchers, and cobblers." This limitation in Jewish society must have been a figment of his imagination, but in any case he must have found many Jews in these occupations in Egypt and its surroundings in his time. The responsa of the geonim contain ample evidence of Jewish crafts and craftsmen throughout the Muslim Empire in the 10th and 11th centuries.
In the 11th and 12th centuries extensive Jewish activity in crafts is attested. S.D. Goitein has shown (A Mediterranean Society, 1 (1967), 362–7) how widespread and ramified were partnerships in crafts. He stated (p. 87) that these partnerships "range in date between 1016 and 1240…. Concerned are gold and silversmithing and other metal work…, dyeing (purple… indigo… silk),… the manufacture of glass vessels,… weaving,… silk work,… the making of wine,… and cheese, sugar factories,… and a pharmacy." The amounts of money and quantities of materials involved in these partnerships and in other craft enterprises (ibid., 80–89) indicate a wide range in scale of the work. Sometimes the equipment of such a workshop is mentioned:
An inventory of the workshop of a silk-weaver, dated 1157, contained 32 items… He possessed four looms, three combs connected with silk-weaving, three cylinders of wood on which the woven materials were rolled, two irons, one for the pressing of robes and another for the pressing of fabrics worn as turbans, wickerwork baskets full of warps, various quantities of bleached and other linen (which was woven together with silk), a small pot with weaver's reeds, copper threads covered with silver, and other items not preserved. The instruments taken away from a silk-weaver in Dahshū (the village famous for its pyramids) counted 26 items, of which nine were different from those just mentioned (ibid., 86).
Most workshops were smaller, like the one whose "weaving tools" were sold for 12 dirhem only (J. Blau (ed.), Teshuvot ha-Rambam (1961), 85–86, no. 52).
*Benjamin of Tudela began to find Jewish craftsmen on his travels only on reaching Greece. At Thebes he found "about two thousand Jews. They are the good masters for preparing silk and purple clothes in the land of the Greeks, and among them are great sages in Mishnah and Talmud" (M.N. Adler (ed.), Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (1907), 12, Heb. section). He also found the Jews of Salonika, numbering about 500, among them scholars, "and they busy themselves in silk work" (ibid., 13). At Constantinople he was told that Jews are hated mainly "on account of the tanners, who work in hides, because they throw out their dirty water into the streets at their doorsteps and they befoul the Jewish quarter. Therefore the Greeks hate the Jews, the good ones as well as the bad ones" (ibid., 16). Benjamin's information not only expressed the usual superiority of merchants toward craftsmen in a medieval city, but also gave evidence of differing attitudes – an inimical one, toward "base" professions, like tannery, and a more friendly one, toward "better" professions like silk manufacture and dyeing, among Jews.
Throughout the later Middle Ages and up to modern times the same structure of Jewish society persisted in Islamic countries, in which a broad layer of various Jewish craftsmen was a distinct feature. Several crafts – like silk work and dyeing, in some countries also silver and gold work (e.g., in Yemen) – were considered a Jewish specialty.
Not only Sicily under Norman and Hohenstaufen rule relied on Jews for silk work and dyeing, but in Italy there were many Jewish craftsmen, in particular in the south. It would seem that Thomas Aquinas was referring to them in his letter Ad ducissam Brabantiae (March 7, 1274), advising Christian rulers that "they would do better to compel the Jews to work for their living as is done in parts of Italy" (ut Judaeos laborare compellerent ad proprium victum lucrandum, sicut in partibus Italiae faciunt). The same situation was found about 200 years later, by Obadiah of *Bertinoro. Writing in 1488, he describes the community of Palermo, which "contains about 850 Jewish families…. They are poverty-stricken artisans, such as copper-smiths and ironsmiths, porters and peasants… despised by the Christians because they are all tattered and dirty… They are compelled to go into the service of the king whenever any new labor project arises; they have to drag ships to the shore, to construct dykes, and so on. They are also employed in administering corporal punishment and in carrying out the sentence of death" (ed. A. Yaari, in Iggerot Ereẓ Yisrael (1943), 104). He found a similar situation at Messina, where he counted "about four hundred Jewish family heads… better off than those of Palermo, all of them craftsmen, though a few are merchants" (ibid., 108). As in the 12th century, so in the 15th century, the Jewish onlooker from the north expresses shock at and a sense of superiority toward this artisan Jewish society.
In the kingdoms of Christian Spain, craftsmen made up a large and important sector in Jewish occupations and society. The family name Escapat, Scapat, derives originally from an Aramaic term for a shoemaker. In many communities artisans were the majority or formed at least half of the income earners. In Segovia, in the late 14th century, out of 55 Jewish earners, "23 were artisans – weavers, shoemakers, tailors, furriers, blacksmiths, saddlers, potters, and dyers" (Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 198). "There was a street known as Shoemakers' Lane in the judería of Toledo in the 14th century" (ibid., 197). "Conspicuous in Aragon are Jewish bookbinders, scientists who devise scientific instruments, and gold- and silversmiths" (ibid., 426). Baer assumes that in the 14th century "at least half of the Jews of Barcelona… were artisans: weavers, dyers, tailors, shoemakers, engravers, blacksmiths, silversmiths (including some highly esteemed craftsmen who made Christian religious objects), bookbinders (who bound the registers of the royal chancery), workers in coral, and porters" (ibid., 2 (1966), 37). The same holds more or less true for Saragossa (ibid., 55–56). The anti-Jewish laws of 1412 stated that "Jewish artisans (blacksmiths, tailors, shoemakers, etc.) might not serve Christian customers" (ibid., 168).
There is every reason to assume that the main outlines of Jewish society in the kingdoms of Christian Spain were a continuation of its structure in the kingdoms of Muslim Spain. The importance of artisans was evident in Jewish social and even cultural life there. The artisans were the mainstay of the opposition led by the mystic trend to the rule of the rationalist patrician stratum in Spanish communities. Artisan *guilds were behind many of the demands for democratization of community leadership and for equal distribution of taxes in communities like Saragossa and Barcelona in the 13th and 14th centuries. Shocked by the catastrophe of the persecutions of 1391, the moralist Solomon ibn Laḥmish *Alami demanded in 1415 of the Spanish Jew: "Teach yourself a craft, to earn your living by your work… for it is to the honor of men to live off their work and toil, not as the proud ones thought in their foolishness" (lggeret Musar, ed. A.M. Habermann (1946), 29).
The artisans had always been the most faithful element in Spanish Jewry. During the mass conversions of 1391–1415, many devout artisans remained steadfast" (Baer, Spain, 2 (1966), 354). No wonder that King Alfonso v stated in 1417 that community leadership had passed to "the artisans and the little people" and Solomon *Bonafed complained about this time that in Spanish Jewry "the tailors render judgment, and the saddlers sit in courts (quoted by Baer, ibid., 248).
The workshop of the Jewish artisan in Spain was not always a small one. Mention is made of workshops (operatoria) on a large scale for the manufacture of clothes in Saragossa and Huesca (Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 425). About the beginning of the 14th century there came before *Asher b. Jehiel (the Rosh) the case of a dyer or saddler "who has an annual expense in the form of gifts to the judges and officials, to keep them from trumping up charges against him – the usual contribution that craftsmen are required to make out of their handiwork" (quoted by Baer, ibid., 201). At the other end of artisan society there would be the case of that "worthless scamp among the artisans [who] will marry a woman here today and then become enamored of another and go and marry her elsewhere and return brazenly to his home town" (responsum quoted by Beer, ibid., 424).
After the expulsion from Spain the exiled artisans merged into the artisan class of the communities in North Africa and the Ottoman Empire. It would seem that many other exiles took up crafts in their new straitened circumstances; some would even see it as a moral obligation, as formulated by men like Solomon ibn Laḥmish Alami (see above). The Safed community in its days of glory in the 16th century was based on a broad stratum of craftsmen practicing on a large and small scale. Stories about Isaac b. Solomon Ashkenazi *Luria (Ari) tell much about the social relationships and place of artisans in this holy community. One of the exiles who went to Jerusalem advised his correspondents: "Let anyone who wants to, come. For they can live out their lives earning through crafts. These are the worthwhile crafts here – gold- and silversmithery, tailoring, carpentry, shoemaking, weaving and smithery… I who know no craft except for my learning derive my needs from Torah study" (A. Yaari (ed.), Iggerot Ereẓ Yisrael (1943), 181).
north of the pyrenees-balkans (including northern and central italy)
Crafts played a very small role as a Jewish occupation, from the inception of Jewish settlement in this part of Europe. Around the beginning of the 11th century mention is made of a Jew in northern France who owned a furnace and made his living by working it with Christian hired men and letting it out for baking to other people (S. Eidelberg (ed.), Teshuvot Rabbenu Gershom (1956), 61–63, no. 8).
Neither the documents of privileges granted to Jews in these countries up to the 15th century nor their own writings reveal much concern with crafts or the presence of craftsmen. Certainly the Christian guilds prevented the growth of a Jewish artisan class in the cities of Western and Central Europe up to the 15th century. Since moneylending brought various articles in pawn into Jewish houses, to be able to return them undamaged or to sell them profitably the Jew had to learn to repair them and keep them in good condition. Hence a part-time, unspecialized kind of "pottering" artisanship always existed in those countries and times where Jews were engaged in moneylending. Jews attempted to maintain their own butchers for the sake of kashrut, although Christian butchers' guilds always tried, often with success, to thwart this aim. It is reasonable to assume that there were always at least part-time tailors among Jews everywhere, to avoid using the forbidden admixture of wool and flax (sha'atnez).
From these beginnings there developed from the 15th century a resumption of crafts among communities in Southern and Central Europe (Bohemia, Moravia, and Austria) and especially in Poland-Lithuania.
Rabbinical responsa tell of women – widows or spinsters – who worked in shawl-making and thread-making for gentile customers. Jewish craftsmen are mentioned in Poland in 1460. In 1485 the municipal council of Cracow permitted "poor Jewesses to sell every day shawls and scarves made by their own hands and craft." Jews increasingly penetrated crafts in the towns of Poland in the 16th century as the constant complaints of guilds and municipal councils abundantly show. The same development is reflected even more strongly in the various royal decisions and agreements between municipalities and Jews, or Christian guilds and their Jewish counterparts, all of which combine to give a picture of consistent, even if much hampered, penetration of Jews into various crafts.
In the grand duchy of Lithuania, the Jews of Grodno already had permission in 1389 in their charter of privileges "to exercise different crafts." In time, crafts became a well-developed sector of the Jewish economic structure. When needy, displaced refugee children from Germany arrived in Lithuania in the wake of the destruction of the Thirty Years' War, the Council of Lithuania (see *Councils of the Lands) gave the compassionate instruction: "It has been resolved and decided to accept 57 boys into our country to be under our protection, to divide them among the communities to feed them, to clothe and shoe them. Boys to whom God has granted wisdom that their study will be successful shall be induced to study Torah at school; boys whose abilities are not sufficient for the study of the Torah shall be induced to take service or to learn the work of some craft" (S. Dubnow (ed.), Pinkas ha-Medinah (1925), 73, no. 351). This indicates both that there was opportunity for learning a craft, and the disregard in which it was held by the leaders of Jewish society. Accordingly crafts are associated with intellectual incapability; it would be a sin, it seems, to send an able boy to be apprenticed to an artisan. The council also dealt with supervision of Jewish tailors to ensure that they should not transgress Jewish law in their work (ibid., 178, no. 728). The increase in craftsmen is reflected in the hostile decision of the Council of Lithuania in 1761 forbidding craftsmen in all large communities from taking part in the assemblies of the community (ibid., 268, no. 983). Indeed, in the bitter divisions in the Vilna community in the second half of the 18th century craftsmen played an important role in the opposition groups and activities.
Despite a general disparagement of crafts, *printing was considered an honorable profession. The Cracow community is found in 1595 trying to defend the printers of Cracow and Lublin against competition from Italian printers (M. Balaban, in jjlg, 11 (1916), 93, no. 79).
In the rapidly developing southeast of Poland a Jewish craftsman named Kalman, mentioned as a proficient tanner and furrier (in arte pellificiaria bene versatus) in *Przemysl, was important enough to be granted a special privilege by King Stephan Báthory in 1578 (M. Schorr, Żydzi w Przemyślu (1903), 88–89, no. 12). In the same town – which was certainly not exceptional in economic structure – the king defended in 1638 "the Jewish craftsmen who do their work for Jews only" against restrictions by the municipal authorities (ibid., 143, no. 71). The Jews, however, penetrated the Christian market there. In 1645 the same king ratified an agreement between the municipal authorities and the Jews, paragraphs 5–14 of which show Jewish craftsmen as serious competitors to the Christian craftsmen in the branches of tanning, furriery, tailoring, barbering, goldsmithery, painting, cobbling, saddlery, baking, candle-making, hat-making, and sword-making; some of their products were intended by the Jewish craftsmen for the Jewish market only – or so their Christian competitors demanded. Some were entered on the Christian market with the reluctant agreement of the guilds (ibid., 150–1, no. 74). By the end of the 17th century the citizens of Przemysl prepared a complaint which generalized that "every Jew is either a merchant or a craftsman." They state that the Jews had "totally ruined the goldsmiths', the tailors', the butchers', and the bakers' guilds." The method of competition used by the Jews is described. They employ mobility and initiative. "They [i.e., the Jews] have totally eradicated the barber-bloodletters' guild for there are several Jewish barbers who go with their physicians to the manor houses to the patients there letting blood, putting on suctions cups (bańki); the same they do in town. There were not a few Christian soap-makers; now there remains only one, and at that, very poor. But there are several Jews who make soap, carrying it down river and selling it in town too" (ibid., 206–8, no. 129). In this town, as in others, Jewish guilds developed, and from the last quarter of the 17th century various ordinances and regulations are extant of the Przemysl Jewish tailors' guild – which called itself grandiloquently "the holy society of the dressers of the naked ones" (חברא קדישא דמלבישי ערומים) – showing relations between masters and apprentices, and between masters and hired workers, and demonstrating the strict supervision by the community and rabbi over the observance of sha'atnez laws by the tailors (ibid., 259–74, nos. v–xxiii).
The situation in the west of Poland-Lithuania, i.e., Great Poland, is seen clearly in various ordinances of the Poznan community. In 1535 a council of community elders – usually very conservative and patrician in its attitude – admonished the Jews in their jurisdiction
To remember for their good the clothes makers of Śwerzeniec community, a reminder of help and mercy, to look upon some among them with care and particular supervision – for we have seen that crafts are diminishing daily and many of our people have deserted craftsmanship, hence it is fitting to strengthen the hands of the artisans, not to let them fall, for this is a great benefit and an important rule for the entire society (D. Avron (ed.), Pinkas ha-Kesherim shel Kehillat Poznan (1966), 55–66, no. 273).
The same council devised in 1747 a set of model ordinances for guilds in the community and for regulating their relations with other community institutions (ibid., 398–403).
By the end of the 18th century the Poznan community had a well-developed artisan class. In 1797 there were in the town 923 Jewish and 676 Christian tailors; 22 Jewish goldsmiths and 19 Christian; 51 Jewish hatters, 24 Christian; 52 Jewish buttonmakers, 6 Christian; 238 Jewish ironsmiths, 6 Christian; 51 Jewish bakers, 607 Christian. In total there were 1,592 Jewish craftsmen, about one-third of the 4,921 craftsmen in Poznan in this year.
In Bohemia-Moravia also, as well as in southern Germany, Jews increasingly engaged in crafts. A community like that of Prague had long-standing and well-developed Jewish guilds by this period based on a ramified craft structure and professional life and organization.
Some circles of these craftsmen developed a specific ethos and pride in their own calling. As early as the 17th century there were tailors in Poland-Lithuania who asked to be buried with the boards of their tailoring tables, being certain of the honesty and righteousness of their life's work.
In the aspirations for emancipation of the Jews and spread of Enlightenment – and as a corollary of the program for "productivization" of the Jews – occupation in crafts became an issue of the ideological and political strivings for change and betterment in legal status and social standing. Christian W. von *Dohm regarded the encouragement to enter crafts as part of his proposals for "betterment of the Jews." Emperor *Joseph ii included encouragement of crafts among Jews in his legislation for them.
Yet, the practical changes in crafts did not eventuate from this ideology or legal enactments, but from the actual economic and social situation among the masses of Jews in Poland-Lithuania and later on in the Pale of Settlement in czarist Russia. In the 18th century many Jewish craftsmen in the private towns of the Polish nobility began to bring their products to fairs and market days in the main royal towns. The general tendency, in which craftsmen were now working for the open market instead of producing to order, encouraged this development. The Jewish craftsman – being outside the guild structure – was unattached and ready to prepare stock and sell it in free competition. He thus became anathema to the Christian craftsmen and the guilds.
In the early 19th century Jews in the impoverished and overcrowded shtetl in the Pale of Settlement tended either to continue in the old crafts – mainly tailoring, textiles, and cobbling – or to enter new professions where not much training or outlay on equipment was needed, such as leather work, and carting. Many of those craftsmen peddled their work in villages around the townlets. Through the 19th century a specific Jewish crafts structure developed in Eastern Europe, as reflected in Table 1 for the end of the century.
This situation made for hardship and competition among Jewish crafts in the Pale of Settlement. It also gave rise to a specific way of life, and even folklore among the masses of Jewish workers. By the end of the 19th century, Eastern Europe had a strong element of class-conscious Jewish craftsmen who through their poverty and hardship formed an embryonic Jewish proletariat. Much of the force of the Jewish revolutionary movement and sentiment, the bitterness and impulsion to social activity, came from this stratum of Jewish society. The writings of *Shalom Aleichem and other writers of this generation immortalize the spirit of "amkho, sher un eyzen" ("our folk of the scissors and flatiron").
In the same period of the 19th and early 20th centuries, Jewish crafts in the old centers, for instance Prague and in Bavaria, disintegrated under the impact of flourishing capitalism and the crossing over of Jews in Central and Western Europe to the more profitable and "respectable" professions of the middle class. Emancipation in these countries brought about not productivization but practically the end of Jewish participation in crafts.
Jewish emigration in the second half of the 19th century, and in a large measure up to the 1930s, was predicated on and characterized by this craftsmen element.
Among the Jewish immigrants to the United States before World War i, over one-third were craftsmen, mostly tailors, whereas among non-Jews only 20% of the immigrants had a
|Paper and Print||5,998|
skilled profession. Of 106,236 Jewish immigrants to the United States in 1903–04 there were 16,426 tailors, 4,078 carpenters, 2,763 cobblers, 1,970 glaziers and painters, 1,400 butchers, 1,173 bakers, and 14,830 in miscellaneous crafts. (See Table 2: Jewish Craftsmen in New York, 1890). In Paris in 1910 Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe included 16,060 craftsmen of whom 11,460 (71.4%) were in garment manufacture – 7,000 tailors, 2,000 hatters, 1,900 furriers, 1,200 cobblers – 2,700 (16.8%) iron workers, 1,000 (6.2%) wood-workers, 600 (3.7%) leather workers, and 300 (1.9%) in other crafts. The same structure held good for Eastern European Jewish immigrants in England as well as other countries.
|Butchers||Gold + Silver smiths||Bakers||Glaziers|
Thus the sweatshop of New York, London, and other centers of Jewish immigration and the preponderance of Jews in tailoring and ready-made clothes businesses in countries of large immigration from Eastern Europe derived from the structure of the Jewish crafts world which had taken shape during the 19th and early 20th centuries in Eastern Europe.
This situation underwent many changes, mostly destructive, between the two world wars. In Soviet Russia the general trend against the practice of the independent craftsman and the industrialization of the country diminished the role of crafts among Jews. In the countries built on the ruins of the empires of czarist Russia and Austria-Hungary – like Poland, or Lithuania – the old enmity of the Christian craftsmen rapidly reasserted itself in modern guise. Jews were pushed out or barred from crafts either explicitly or more frequently by seemingly innocuous demands by the trade unions or authorities. Entry to the trade, for instance, was made conditional upon proper apprenticeship with proper masters (and Christian masters only were usually recognized as such); stringent demands for modern equipment and modern conditions of work were usually formulated in a way that hampered the Jewish craftsman in particular. The response of Jewish crafts to this challenge was pioneered by *cooperatives and loan banks; a stimulus was given to schooling and the establishment of educational systems; vocational training was provided by the *ort organization.
In modern Ereẓ Israel the pioneering spirit of exaltation of work did not noticeably turn in the direction of crafts. Enthusiasm was mainly reserved for agricultural work and manual labor.
By the end of World War ii, a large segment of Jewish craftsmen had disappeared as a result of the Holocaust. The specific technical requirements and social structure of the State of Israel and its growing prosperity, with the predominance of the middle-class, liberal and administrative professions governing the structure and ethos of Jewish economy and society in the countries of the West (Western Europe, the United States, Great Britain and the Commonwealth, South Africa, South America), have created a situation where in many places Jewish occupation in crafts is at a vanishing point, and in others they play an increasingly minor role. The large
concentrations of Jewish tailors and tailoring in New York, London, and elsewhere have almost disappeared in the lower echelons of the craft in particular.
A 1957 survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census found that 9% of employed male Jews were working in crafts. A similar breakdown in Canada put the percentage at 14%.
On the other hand, the large scale immigration of Jews from Near Eastern countries to Israel and the entry of survivors of the Holocaust to Israel and some western countries brought a certain temporary revival of Jewish crafts there as shown by Table 4. Craftsmen among Immigrants to Israel.
An indication of ort activity in assisting young Jews to train for modern and sophisticated crafts in the postwar period is shown by Table 5. Crafts Specialization among Graduates of Ort. In keeping with this trend, from the late 1960s ort schools began moving toward comprehensive education, academic as well as vocational, with an emphasis on technological occupations.
It now seems that despite efforts at modernization and the near disappearance of many of the old inimical forces, Jewish occupation in crafts and the role of craftsmen as an important factor in Jewish society are disappearing, as in other societies, through the influence of modern industrial techniques and organization.
Throughout the medieval and modern periods crafts played an uneven role and were differently evaluated in the various Jewish centers. The greatest continuity in position and constancy of attitudes toward crafts is found in the countries of the Middle East up to the end of the 19th century. Crafts and craftsmen weighed most importantly in the social and economic structure of the Jewries of Christian Spain (to the end of the 15th century) and those of Eastern Europe in the late Middle Ages and modern period. For a relatively brief interval they played a dynamic role in the new urban centers of Jewish immigration in the West.
Whereas in the Near East and Spain crafts were accorded – even if sometimes grudgingly – a positive evaluation and craftsmen had a certain recognized influence in Jewish
|Clothing||Paper, Printing and Bookbinding||Wood||Leather||Food, Drink and Tobacco||Metal||Fine Mechanics||Machinery and Motor Vehichles||Electronics||Total Number of Craftsmen||Total Number of Immigrants|
society, in the centers of Ashkenazi Jewry, even in Eastern Europe, they had to wait until the late 19th century and for modern revolutionary tendencies to attain some positive evaluation and social standing. It would seem that both the slighting of crafts in modern Zionist thought, even if this is subconscious, and the ephemeral character of their prosperity in the West, are not solely to be ascribed to the advent of modern techniques and industrialization but also to the legacy of this long-standing negative Ashkenazi attitude.
|Metal and Mechanics||42,344||299||42,643||24.8|
|Electricity and Radio||28,404||347||28,751||16.7|
|Agriculture and Agro-mechanics, Telephones||1,629||290||1,919||1.1|
|Industrial Arts, Drawing, Printing||6,671||2,285||8,956||5.2|
|Chemistry Laboratory Assistants, Beauty Culture, Secretarial, Languages||11,785||15,996||27,781||16.2|
[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson]
M. Wischnitzer, History of Jewish Crafts and Guilds (1965); Krauss, Tal Arch; A. Ruppin, Jews in the Modern World (1934), 182–204; J. Lestschinsky, Das wirtschaftliche Schicksal des deutschen Judentums (1936; Goralah ha-Kalkali shel Yahadut Germanyah, 1963); E. Tcherikower (ed.), Geshikhte fun der Yidisher Arbeter Bavegung in die Fareynigte Shtatn, 2 vols. (1943–45); C. Singer et al. (eds.), A History of Technology, 1 (1954); Pritchard, Pictures, 305.
The term “craft” derives from the Anglo-Saxon crseft, meaning “strength, skill, or cunning,” in contrast to “art,” which usually implies an intention of producing beauty or pleasure. Contemporary scholars often consider “arts and crafts” together because of the difficulties in so many societies of differentiating the aesthetic from the strictly utilitarian. Anthropologists prefer to use “technology” to refer to the processes of manufacture and “material culture” for the artifacts themselves. Since crafts include all activities that produce or modify objects by manual means, with or without the use of mechanical aids, such as looms or potters’ wheels, the range of study is very broad. There is an equally wide range of social forms within which the craftsmen operate.
In a second sense, “craft” is synonymous with “guild,” commonly used as a term of class ascription and role delineation in contemporary sociology, and is applied to occupational associations. Within this meaning the status of craftsmen differs by culture, epoch, and craft.
It was the change in the role of the craftsman that first drew the attention of scholars to the importance of studying the history of technology. When it became apparent in the middle of the nineteenth century that the impact of the industrial revolution was causing rapid degeneration in traditional peasant crafts, European folklorist-ethnographers set themselves to recording and collecting as much as possible before the crafts became extinct. As these collections grew, the study of technology grew with them and raised some of the basic questions with which the infant science of anthropology was to be concerned. The exhaustive collections of European museums, often made under the impetus of chauvinistic nationalism, tempted some scholars to postulate a number of diffusion theories of differing degrees of sophistication and other scholars to devote their careers to the refutation of these theories. The product of these controversies has been of infinite value to the social sciences.
European students of local arts and crafts have made superbly documented analyses of the diffusion of particular objects, styles, and techniques, such as de Rohan-Csermak’s study (1963) of the spread of sturgeon hooks across Eurasia, and most European countries now boast folk museums or reconstructed villages where peasant crafts are produced, displayed, and sold. Folk craftsmen, along with folk musicians, dancers, and other artists, are subsidized by the national governments to discourage crass commercialization and to ensure the continuity of tradition. In many countries, such as Sweden, Denmark, Mexico, and Japan, folk craft products have been adapted to the world market to such an extent that they have become a valuable asset in economic development and national prestige.
However, American scholars view much of this European research as both questionable and beside the point. On the basis of the work of Sapir (1916, pp. 5–25), Dixon (1928, pp. 145–146), and others, they tend to feel that far-reaching historical reconstructions on the basis of distribution studies of artifacts are unwarranted, and they are particularly cynical if the result happens to support a nationalistic claim. Only very limited and tentative historical inferences are allowable from the study of artifacts, and then only in a restricted area whose historical unity can be assumed, or where the artifacts are used to corroborate and illustrate historical documentation. Archeology, which might be defined as the study of the more durable arts and crafts of past societies, provides a model. In spite of extreme care in distribution study and typing of artifacts, archeologists reach only very tentative conclusions and are loath to attempt the outlining of even a small segment of protohistory.
Thus, in their zeal to understand more fully the relationships between art and culture, American scholars eschew historical reconstruction based on techniques for chipping flint or the distribution of beads. Instead, such monographs as Bunzel’s The Pueblo Potter (1929), O’Neale’s Yurok-Karok Basket Weavers (1932), and Adair’s The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths (1944) analyze the integration of craft activities with the structure of living societies, the economic base of the crafts, their social functions, the roles of the craftsmen, and the value systems that may be expressed through them; these monographs are, accordingly, as pertinent to art historians, aestheticians, and psychologists as to anthropologists. But even when the art is moribund or the culture extinct, intensive study of museum specimens can yield useful insight into the nature of style and the processes of creativity. In this way, Olbrechts (1946) was able to postulate the so-called Master of Buli as the creator of the long-faced Luba sculptural style, and Pros-kouriakoff (1950), through analysis of significant stylistic details on dated Maya stelae, was able to give provisional dates for the great mass of un-dated Maya sculpture. The inconclusive results of studies in measurement, such as Reichard’s Melanesian Design (1933), or in typology, such as Schweeger-Hefel’s Holzplastik in Afrika (1960), suggest the need for more sophisticated statistical and computer analyses of dimension, proportion, and the frequency of particular stylistic characteristics in objects from a given area, the ultimate goal being the mathematical quantification of each style. Research projects by Yehudi Cohen and Alvin Wolfe, as yet unpublished, are hopeful attempts to correlate particular styles or forms of art with types of social organization. Where the arts and crafts are still practiced in reasonably traditional ways, it would be possible to study the aesthetic value systems of the craftsmen and their audiences and thus help answer the ancient questions about the existence of an absolute criterion of art above culture, epoch, and individual.
Craft organization by sex
In most human societies throughout history, the crafts have been organized primarily on the basis of the sexual division of labor, with all the men of an ethnic group learning with varying degrees of skill all of the “masculine” crafts, and all the women learning a separate set of “feminine” crafts. Although it would seem logical for women to make clothing and utensils for food processing, and for men to provide shelter, transport, weapons, and hunting and fishing equipment, actually there is no clear consensus as to which sex should practice which particular crafts. Women are the weavers in the American southwest, but men are in Africa. Men of the Northwest Coast Indians design the Chilkat blankets by making drawings on boards, but women do the actual twining process. Men are the potters in Europe, India, and central Africa, but women are in west Africa and the Americas. Bark cloth is made by men in Africa, but by women in southeast Asia. Baskets made for the home are usually the domain of women, but men may make baskets for sale or barter. In spite of its obviously arbitrary nature, the division of craft labor by sex is usually considered a “law of nature,” the breaking of which brings serious consequences. Many nonliterate societies provide the role of the berdache, or transvestite, for men who are not necessarily homosexuals but who choose to practice, and often excel women in, the feminine crafts. Even in Western culture, where industrialization has blurred the sexual division of labor, female welders, engineers, or surgeons face as much opposition as male nurses or secretaries, although there is no innate supra-cultural reason why they cannot perform the required services as well as, or in some cases better than, the opposite sex, to whom the role is usually assigned.
Craft organization by family
A second basic structuring device for crafts is the family unit. This device occurs in fairly complex societies and is seen in its most extreme form in Indian occupational castes. Here all the men of a family practice the same craft, the techniques of which are handed down from father to son. Ideally at least, every son follows the same craft as his ancestors and marries the daughter of a member of the same caste. Wherever appropriate, the women also practice the craft or help in the preparation of raw materials. Such endogamous occupational castes as sonār (goldsmiths), lohār (blacksmiths), kumhār (potters), and camār (leatherworkers) prove quite stable even when technological change or emigration requires radical modification of their occupational activities to keep their product marketable. Many occupational castes have subcastes, each endogamous, which specialize in particular designs or types of the caste product. Although castes effectively minimize competition, they are all interdependent economically because they need one another’s products.
In many other societies castelike family organization exists among craftsmen. The Senufo and Bambara of west Africa, for instance, group all artisans together in a single endogamous kin unit, whether they be male blacksmiths, jewelers, wood or stone carvers, or female potters. They usually live apart in their own villages or in compounds at the edge of towns. Even though they obtain most of their livelihood from farming, as do other Senufo, they have a separate initiation system and are both feared and disdained because of the magical associations of their callings. In central Africa those who know the secret of smelting iron from local ore are also considered magicians but are often of chiefly status and are accorded great admiration, rather than fear.
In many other cultures, such as traditional Japan, China, Dahomey, and Polynesia, the right to practice a particular craft was hereditary, and these craft families often served as courtiers who supported the political authority by providing suitably elegant objects for the king and his court. In contemporary Euro-American culture one may find families who have practiced a particular and often highly specialized craft for many generations and often in many countries. Examples are the Dolmetsch family, makers of recorders and other archaic instruments, the Zildjian family, who alone possess the formula for making the finest cymbals, and, in the humbler crafts, Swiss woodcarvers and watchmakers, Belgian lacemakers, and Irish and Scottish tweed weavers.
Craft organization by village
Since nearly all crafts require particular materials for their manufacture, craftsmen try to settle as near as possible to their source of supply or, alternatively, to their markets. In this way, an area possessing an out-cropping of fine pottery clay will often develop one or more villages of potters. In such a situation, it is not difficult to see how potters originally of different origins could combine forces to regulate prices, standardize designs or specializations, minimize competition, and ultimately to intermarry and form a complex kin unit. Within such a craft village, the family organization is likely to approximate a caste; indeed, in India many craft villages are inhabited by a single occupational caste. Even where there is no limitation on marriage, the common economic and technological interests of the young people tend to draw them together socially.
Just as with interdependent castes, craft villages and families also are complementary. For instance, craft villages in Melanesia trade extensively with one another, often in connection with ceremonial exchanges. The need for one another’s exclusive products is so great that trade is often carried on through neutrals during periods of war. In the Nilgiri hills of south India, three non-Hindu tribes have a similar symbiotic relationship, the Toda providing clarified butter (ghī) for food and ritual purposes, the Kota cultivating grain, and the Badaga serving as craftsmen, merchants, and musicians.
Mexican popular arts, probably the richest and most varied being produced today, come from family groups in Mexico City or from small craft villages. In the Lake Pátzcuaro district of Michoacan, for instance, Uruapan produces fine lacquer work; Paracho, musical instruments, toys, and lathe-turned wooden objects; Santa Clara del Cobre, hammered copper utensils and fringed black serapes; Apatzingán (until recently), leather-covered equipale furniture; Patamban, Capula, and Tzintzuntzan, three or more distinctive pottery wares; Erongarícuaro, woven cambaya cotton textiles and embroideries; and Pátzcuaro itself, rebozo, reed mats, and silver jewelry. Even in pre-Columbian times the Tarascan Indians of Michoacán had a high degree of craft specialization, including lapidaries, stonemasons, woodcarvers, paper and feather workers, weavers of cotton textiles, mat-makers, lacquer makers, drum makers, and makers of bows and arrows. Today the products not consumed locally are sold in nearby Morelia, and a few reach international markets. Similar conglomerates exist around Guadalajara, Toluca, Puebla, Oaxaca, and other Mexican cities, and there are many isolated craft-producing areas, such as Santa Maria del Rio for silk rebozo and Saltillo for serapes.
In most societies there is no economic surplus to support full-time craftsmen, so that all practitioners of crafts, even those recognized as consummate experts, must make their livings largely through agriculture. As an example, the Chokwe of Angola and the Congo (Leopoldville) teach all boys to carve mahamba figures for hunting magic and jinga charms for female fertility in the course of the mukanda initiation rites. Except for a few special cases, no full-time artists exist, but a number of skilled carvers have so impressed their individual styles on the community that their work can be recognized far and wide, and young men pay for the privilege of being apprenticed to them. Yet such a master carver (songi) works his farm and hunts at the end of the rainy season. The few masks, figures, or stools he might be commissioned to make in the course of a year would bring him only a small amount in cash or livestock to supplement his regular income from the sale of peanuts, manioc, or other crops. The paucity of output helps explain why each piece is stylistically unique and why traditional carvers employed full time as producers or teachers turn out only repetitive and stereotypic work. Such part-time experts also supervise the making of masks and paraphernalia for the elaborate socioreligious rites, for instance, of the west African Dogon (Griaule 1938) and the Melanesian Orokaiva (Williams 1940).
In all their variety of style and technique, most crafts can be shown to have been invented at least twice (in the Old World and in the New World) and probably many more times in the hundreds of centuries man has had at his disposal, and they do not seem to follow a strongly evolutionary pattern of development. On the contrary, the elegantly idealized animals of the Magdalenian cave painters were drawn virtually with the same methods, tools, and materials as are found in a contemporary art studio. By 1500 b.c. craftsmen in Egypt and the Near East, using almost all the techniques now known to us, were able to turn out work comparable to the finest of any other epoch. Five hundred years earlier in Sumeria, craft guilds were formed to protect full-time craftsmen working in the royal courts and developing urban centers. Craft associations with such features as the apprenticeship system, standardization of production, and a division between utilitarian and luxury goods existed in most classical cultures. But for a long period after the fall of the Roman Empire, craftsmen could safely earn their livings only as retainers of an isolated and virtually self-sufficient baronial manor. Because a weaver, armorer, or saddler could produce more than even a populous manor could consume, full-time craftsmen in late medieval times began to move into towns, where they could offer their services to more numerous and richer clients.
Town craftsmen accepted commissions to be carried out to the taste of the purchaser, and often with materials provided by him. Craftsmen also discovered that they could profitably produce objects in advance for sale to all. In this situation the craftsmen were no longer working for wages as in the manor, but had become merchants buying and selling raw materials and finished products in their own right for profit. In such politically independent commercial centers as Milan, Florence, Barcelona, Bruges, and Ghent, merchant guilds were established primarily to create a legal monopoly on the sale of local products within the town under municipal authority. The merchants in return could promise a “fair” fixed price for products of each quality and could effectively prohibit any attempts by their members to corner the market in these goods. Guild rules were strictly enforced, and expulsion meant that the merchant could no longer do business in that city. Membership became so desirable that it could be attained only by purchase or inheritance, not unlike a seat on a contemporary stock exchange. A further important function of merchant guilds was the lending of money to members at equitable rates. In time the wealthier merchants began to purchase for export some or all of the output of other craftsmen at less than retail prices. This wholesale trade proved so profitable that merchants soon set up central craft workshops employing craftsmen full-time, foreshadowing the factory.
By the fourteenth century the merchant guilds had become too cumbersome for efficiency and broke down into smaller units limited to the practitioners of a single specialized craft within a city. These craft guilds, or “companies,” besides protecting their members from competition, ensured fair wages and fair prices, forbade night work, inspected workrooms, and protected the apprentices and journeymen. The considerable revenues received by the craft guilds were expended on public works, such as bridges and roads, religious processions, public festivals, and charity and occasionally were used for political purposes. The guilds, often run by powerful family dynasties, resisted both technical innovation and the growth of trade as destructive of their monopoly. By the end of the seventeenth century the improvement of transportation made possible a greater exchange of goods, and the power of the guilds was gradually broken by the spread of laissez-faire economic policies. Craft guilds were legally abolished in England in 1835, but some continue to have ritual functions. Among the contemporary Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria, new guilds are being organized for recently introduced crafts, and their pattern of development parallels that of European guilds.
Outside the secular urban setting of guilds, full-time professional craftsmen are often organized by means of socioreligious brotherhoods. In India painters who were also Buddhist monks spent centuries decorating their cave retreats with gigantic murals, while medieval Christian monks in Europe lavished comparable time, effort, and taste on the illumination of sacred manuscripts. Female artists have been organized into similar associations, the incomparable textiles of the Incas of Peru having been produced by the acllacuna, women trained from childhood as weavers of ritual and burial robes.
One characteristic distinguishes craft production in most cultures and epochs—a single individual carries on all the processes of production, from the gathering of the raw material to the finishing of the article. But when craftsmen are brought together in a central workshop, it soon becomes apparent that some excel in one process and some in another. When each step in the production of a craft is carried out by a specialist who does nothing else, the result need not be inartistic even though standardized. Chinese porcelains pass through at least twenty hands in the process of production, and Japanese blockprints are turned out by a series of experts, each of whom carries out only one step. Although many crafts are now produced by production-line methods for the market, a surprising number of craftsmen have resisted specialization of technique and standardization of product, preferring aesthetic satisfaction to greater efficiency and profit.
Daniel J. Crowley
Adair, John 1944 The Navajo and Pueblo Silversmiths. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.
Bunzel, Ruth L. 1929 The Pueblo Potter: A Study of Creative Imagination in Primitive Art. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.
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[Schmidt, James N.] 1959 In Mexico: Where to Look, How to Buy Mexican Popular Arts and Crafts, by James Norman [pseud.]. New York: Morrow.
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