Familiants Laws

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FAMILIANTS LAWS (Familiantengesetze; Heb. Gezerat ha-Sheniyyot in allusion to Yev. 2:4 (20a)), legislation regulating the number of Jews in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia entitled to found families. The laws were introduced by *Charles vi in 1726–27 to curtail the number of the Jewish population. The number of families fixed was 8,451 for Bohemia, 5,106 for Moravia, and 119 for Silesia. The laws were expressly confirmed, with certain modifications (see below), by Joseph ii in his Toleranzpatent of 1781. The structure of the Familiants system was basically the same for all three regions. In Bohemia the apportionment of the number of families was allotted to the Kreis (district) authorities, while in Moravia the communities themselves, which were more compact and exercised a relatively strong autonomy, had more influence in the apportionment. The regulations remained, with some alleviations, in force until 1848. According to this system no Jew could marry and found a family unless he possessed one of the "family numbers" (Familiennummern). This could only be transferred to the eldest son (at the age of 24) after the death of the Familiant. A younger son (but not a daughter) could inherit the number only after the death of an older brother. The family numbers were carefully registered by the district authorities in the Familiantenbuch (register of Familiants), and candidates for obtaining one in the Kompetentenbuch. If a Familiant had daughters only, his Familiant "number" (Familiantenstelle) expired. In addition, Jews were permitted to reside only in places to which they had been admitted before 1726, and within these they were limited to special quarters, streets, and even houses (Judenhaeuser-židovny). Violations of the regulations could be punished by flogging and expulsion.

The Toleranzpatents and other laws, such as the Systemalpatent (see *Bohemia) of 1797, introduced various changes in the Familiants system. The numbers were increased to 8,600 for Bohemia and 5,400 for Moravia. Alleviations were introduced which tended to favor the upper or professional strata in Jewish society, marriage permits being granted for second or third sons against high payments. On request for a marriage permit the applicant had to prove that he possessed 300 florins (in Prague 500). From 1786 a certificate to prove that he had attended a German or Jewish-German school was required, and from 1812 he had to take an examination in the catechism Benei Ẓiyyon, drawn up by Naphtali Herz *Homberg. Marriage permits could also be given to those taking up agriculture or a guild craft, or after military service. Communal employees were generally permitted to marry as "supernumeraries," but they were not allowed to transfer their permits to their eldest sons.

The Familiants system forced many Jews to marry secretly (" Bodenchassines," "attic weddings") or "pod pokličkou" ("under cover"). The children of such couples were considered illegitimate by the authorities and had to bear their mothers' names. It was not until 1847 that the fathers were permitted to acknowledge their fatherhood in the records and thus a quasi-legitimacy was established. In one instance, in Prostejov (Prossnitz) in 1841, some women who had "illegitimate" children were sentenced to forced labor and only released by special favor.

Because of the Familiants system a large number of Jews were not able to settle anywhere permanently; they wandered about the country, and contributed largely to developing a Jewish beggar group (see *Begging and Beggars). People in this category lived virtually outside the law, deprived of any economic status or regular means of livelihood. The system gave rise to conflicts within the communities, and led to tensions in Jewish society, which had before been relatively homogeneous despite the social differences. Lawsuits before secular authorities, denunciations, bribery, and sale of expired family numbers to higher bidders from outside the community instead of transfer to candidates within it were frequent occurrences. In disrupting Jewish family life the Familiants system became one of the causes of *assimilation. It also led to large-scale emigration from these areas. Many of the communities in Hungary (Slovakia) were founded by the younger sons of Moravian Jewish families.

It is significant that although in movements of Jewish enlightenment (see *Haskalah) the Familiants Laws were occasionally referred to as "pharaonic laws," no attempts were made to protest against them, and only in the 1840s, and even then anonymously, were thoughts in that strain raised in journals and poems.

With the March Revolution of 1848 the Familiants system ceased to be effective, although formal abolition was only decreed in 1859. The numerus clausus on marriage and closure of areas to Jews ceased. The corpus of legal enactments on Jews in Bohemia and Moravia is collected in H. Kopetz, Versuch einer systematischen Darstellung der in Boehmen bezueglich der Juden bestehenden Gesetze und Verordnungen (1846) and H. Scari, Systematische Darstellung der in Betreff der Juden in Maehren und im K.K. Antheile Schlesiens erlassenen Gesetze und Verordnungen (1835), index; see also *Bavaria and *Prussia.

Echoes of the Familiants system are found in belletristic writings by Jewish authors, such as Leopold *Kompert's "Ohne Bewilligung" ("Without Permit") and Vojtěch *Rakous' Na rozcesti ("On the Crossroads").


A. Frankl-Gruen, Geschichte der Juden in Kremsier, 1 (1896), 29–30; Th. Haas, Die Juden in Maehren (1908), 5–11, 58–64; A. Stein, Geschichte der Juden in Boehmen (1904), 108–10; A.F. Pribram, Urkunden und Akten zur Geschichte der Juden in Wien, 1–2 (1918), index; H. Flesch, in: mgjw, 71 (1927), 267–74; R. Rosenzweig, in: zgjt, 2 (1931), 38–44; 3 (1932/33), 61–71; A. Grotte, ibid., 209–12; I. Herrisch, in: jggjc, 4 (1932), 497–99; R. Mahler, Divrei Yemei Yisrael, 1 pt. 2 (19542), 207–15; Y. Z Kahana, in: Zion, 8 (1943), 203–6; R. Kestenberg-Gladstein, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den boehmischen Laendern, 1 (1969), index; idem, in: Tarbiz, 29 (1960), 293–4; idem, in: Jews of Czechoslovakia, 1 (1968), 21–22, 29, 30; idem, in: Field of Yiddish, 3 (1969), 305–9.

[Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein]