Updated About content Print Article Share Article
views updated


Persons contracted for army supply and building, mainly road construction. While the initial possession of financial and commercial expertise and substantial resources was a necessary prerequisite for engaging in this occupation, it provided a successful means of enrichment and also opened the way to a certain measure of social acceptance and political influence from which as members of a hated group Jews were otherwise excluded. In Christian Spain Jews were prominent as military suppliers to kings. A noted example was Judah de la *Cavalleria, who supplied arms to the king of Aragon in 1276 for his wars against the Muslims in Valencia. The *Ravaya brothers supplied arms to King Pedro iii of Aragon (1276–85) in his wars against the rebel nobility of Catalonia. The wealthy Muça de *Portella also supplied arms to Pedro iii of Aragon. Isaac *Abrabanel was military supplier to Ferdinand and Isabella from 1489 to 1492, while Abraham *Senior was the chief supplier of military equipment to the Spanish troops who fought in Granada. Jews also played a prominent role in the production of military equipment, metal casting, and armaments manufacture. There is evidence of Jewish arms manufacture in Spain, and in 1495 large numbers of Jewish arms manufacturers entered Portugal after the king had promised them special rights, such as payment of only half the sum for entry imposed on Jewish immigrants from Spain. Portuguese chroniclers, among them Damião da Goes, recount that some members of the king's council opposed the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal on the ground that the Jews possessed many secret methods of armaments manufacture which should not be allowed to pass into the hands of the Turkish infidels. The Jewish chronicler Elijah *Capsali describes the exiles from Spain as having introduced firearms to the Ottoman Empire and army, this being one of the reasons why they were well received by the sultans. Among the experts on cannon and gunpowder manufacture in the 16th century were Jews who had immigrated to Ottoman territory after the Spanish expulsion.

Probably Jews served as military suppliers during this period in Central Europe also; there is no lack of evidence for their participation in the arms trade: a decision of the Bruenn (Brno) tribunal permitted the Jews of Uherske Hradiste to trade in arms. A number of Jewish military suppliers operated in Germany in the 16th century. Isaac Meyer was permitted to reside in Halberstadt in 1537 in order to supply the monastery with weapons. *Joseph (Joselmann) b. Gershon of Rosheim in 1548 was granted a writ of protection by the emperor which also specified his activities as a military supplier.

Portuguese Jews in Amsterdam in the 17th and 18th centuries were active as military suppliers to the armies of Holland, Morocco, and England. The internal wars in Morocco during the 17th century enabled many Dutch Jews, who acted as military suppliers to all sides involved in the conflict, to enter the arms trade. Amsterdam was the place of residence of Solomon Michael David, military supplier of Hanover in the second half of the 18th century.

The *Court Jews were regarded by their rulers as capable of supplying the whole range of military equipment: horses, food, uniforms, and weapons. Jewish commerce in Germany and Austria consequently prospered. Although the Court Jews themselves constituted only a minute proportion of the Jewish population, they required a widespread network of sub-contractors, petty merchants, etc., who were also Jewish, in order to fulfill their functions as major contractor-suppliers, especially in wartime. Large-scale provisioning was achieved through contacts with Jewish dealers in agricultural products from Eastern Europe. Antisemites contended that in Germany at this time "all the military suppliers were Jews, and all the Jews were military suppliers." Samuel Julius was military supplier to Frederick Augustus, elector of Saxony. The *Model family were court suppliers and military contractors to the duchy of Ansbach during the 17th and 18th centuries. Joseph Suess *Oppenheimer acted as military supplier first to the landgrave Ernest Augustus of Hesse-Darmstadt, and then to Charles Alexander, duke of Wuerttemberg. The *Gomperz family of Cleves acted as military contractors and commercial agents to six Prussian rulers, notably Elias Gomperz, who founded his firm in Emmerich in the second half of the 17th century. His contemporary Israel Aaron, who had close commercial ties with Pomerania, Mecklenburg, Amsterdam, and Hamburg, also acted as military supplier to Prussia. The *Wertheimer, Mayer, and Herschel families, as well as others who were permitted to settle in Vienna during the rule of Emperor Leopold, also acted as military contractors.

The ability of the absolutist rulers to maintain organized and well-regulated armies under their control and command may be attributed to a considerable degree to both the acumen of the Jewish contractors and their connections with fellow Jews. The part played by Jews in supplying the armies of England in the 17th and 18th centuries was no less decisive. Abraham Israel (Antonio Fernandez) *Carvajal was the most important military contractor during the rule of Cromwell, and one of the five London merchants to sign a contract to supply the army with wheat in 1649. William of Orange was enabled to sail to England in 1688 by an interest-free loan of two million crowns made to him by Francisco Lopez Suasso of the Hague, while another Jew, Francisco de Cordova, was in charge of military supplies for the campaign in partnership with Isaac Pereira. Solomon de *Medina, military supplier to the Duke of Marlborough's troops, was granted a title in 1700 for his services to William iii. In Ireland the firm of *Machado and Pereira provisioned the Duke of Schomberg's armies. During the War of the Spanish Succession, Robert Harley was accused of ruining the economy of England in order to enrich Jewish military suppliers. Joseph Cortissos, formerly a resident of Amsterdam, was in charge of military supplies during Peterborough's campaigns against the Spanish.

Jews can be found among French military suppliers as early as the 16th century. A number of Jewish families were permitted to settle in Metz in 1567 by Marshal de Vieilleville on the condition that they undertook to supply his troops, but their activities were limited to small-scale local operations. The part played by some of the wealthiest French Jews in military supplies reached considerable proportions during the reign of Louis xiv. Jacob Worms was chief military contractor to Louis xiv, and in the latter half of the 18th century Herz *Cerfberr rose to prominence in this field. When in 1776 it was decided to end the system of private contracting for military supplies, an exception was made in the case of Cerfberr, who remained the supplier for the army in Alsace-Lorraine. In 1785 he divided the management of his business enterprises, allocating his banking activities to his sons and sons-in-law, while concentrating his own efforts on military supplies. Moses Belin, military supplier in Metz, and Moses Eliezer Liefmann *Calmer of Hanover, military supplier from 1769, were among many other Jews prominent in this field in France. Most important was the wealthy Abraham *Gradis, who acted as military supplier to the French army in Canada and did much for French troops there, especially during the Seven Years' War. From 1748 to 1779 he organized, with the assistance of Raphael Mendes, Benjamin Gradis, and other Jewish shipowners, the embarkation of French warships from Europe to Canada.

Jews played a prominent part in supplying weapons and provisions to the English army in the colonies. Mathias Bush supplied the Pennsylvanian troops in the war against the French. The *Franks family, with branches in London and New York, acted as contractors to the English army in the American colonies. David Franks continued to serve the English crown even after 1775, supplying provisions and uniforms to English prisoners of war. Among other Jews, the Sheftall family of Georgia were suppliers to the American army as well.

In Russia in the 19th century contracting for construction of army buildings – fortifications and barracks – and for provisions was frequently combined with contracting for the construction of state-built roads and *railroads. The modern Jewish "white collar" worker first emerged in the network of offices as clerks or works supervisors of these contractors. Such a worker is Faby, the hero of J.L. *Gordon's poem Koẓo shel Yod, which in an indirect way chronicles the impact of railroad building on the various strata of Jewish society in the *Pale of Settlement in the second half of the 19th century. Several Jewish entrepreneurs rose in this way from the poverty of the Pale to opulence, such as Judah Opatow. After their initial success many of these contractors – better known under the Russian designation "Podryachiki" – combined contracting with banking, as for instance the houses of *Kronenberg and *Poliakoff.


M. Grunwald, Samuel Oppenheimer und sein Kreis (1913); H.I. Bloom, Economic Activities of the Jews of Amsterdam (1937), index; B.G. Sack, History of the Jews in Canada, 1 (1945), 27 ff.; Kisch, Germany, 115, 414ff.; S. Stern, Court Jew (1950), 38–59; idem, Der Preussische Staat und die Juden, 2 vols. (1962); J.R. Marcus, Early American Jewry, 2 vols. (1951–53), index, purveyors; idem, American Jewry Documents (1959), index, purveyors; H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 6 vols. (1953–67); Baron, Social, index; W. Sombart, Jews and Modern Capitalism (1962), 68–70; Roth, England, index, contractors; A. Hertzberg, French Enlightenment and the Jews (1968), index,

[Joseph Kaplan]