Exchequer of the Jews

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EXCHEQUER OF THE JEWS , department of medieval English government for Jewish affairs. The squared tablecloth (12th century, Fr. eschequier) used like an abacus for counting money in settling the sheriffs' accounts gave its name to the Exchequer, a branch of the royal administration in which accounts were rendered and revenue questions decided. A separate Jewish department (subordinate to the main Exchequer) may have originated in the Exchequer of Aaron, established for the affairs of *Aaron of Lincoln, whose assets passed to the Crown on his death (1186). By 1194 there were already justices or keepers of the Jews. Benedict of Talmont may have served as a Jewish Justice of the Jews in the last years of the 12th century. After 1199 only Christians, varying in number from two to five, were appointed. Other Jewish "officials," the most important being the *archpresbyter (Presbyter Judeorum), were associated with the Exchequer of the Jews in the 13th century.

Its functions were both administrative and judicial. It controlled the system of archae (or chests), at first six or seven, later over 20, in towns with established Jewish communities: appointing and dismissing their officials, ordering the withdrawal and restoration of chirographs. All moneylending transactions (other than the lending of money against pawned movables) had to be registered in these archae. When the debt became due, the Exchequer of the Jews would issue an authorization for the levying of the debt at the request of the creditor; only if the debtor had died would this need to be preceded by legal proceedings. The Exchequer of the Jews also exercised a jurisdiction over cases involving Jewish debts which had passed into the hands of the Crown or had been transferred to other Christian creditors. At certain periods in the 13th century Crown revenue from Jewish sources was handled by the ordinary Exchequer, but in others the Exchequer of the Jews collected such revenue, retained it in a separate treasury, and disbursed it on the king's instructions. The Plea Rolls of the Exchequer of the Jews survive for 1219–20, 1244, 1253, and in a virtually continuous series from 1266 to 1287 (in course of publication).


Roth, England, index; H.G. Richardson, English Jewry under Angevin Kings (1960); A.B. Cramer, in: American Historical Review, 45 (1939–40), 327–37; idem, in: Speculum, 16 (1941), 226–9; Meekings, in: Bulletin, Institute of Historical Research, 28 (1955), 173–88; Rigg-Jenkinson-Cohen-Brand, Exchequer.

[Vivian David Lipman]