Magdeburg Law

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MAGDEBURG LAW , term applied to the constitutional and commercial urban law which developed in *Magdeburg in the Middle Ages and became a pattern for new city constitutions in Central and Eastern Europe. The Magdeburg law was adopted by most cities in central, eastern, and northern Germany, Bohemia, and Moravia. Magdeburg, the mother town of the constitutions, possessed a supreme court, to which appeals and queries were addressed, including litigation between Christians and Jews. These cases were treated fairly, without discrimination and with no accompanying degrading oaths. In the 14th century the charters of many towns in Galicia were copies of this law, as were those of Lublin (1317), Sandomierz (1356), Lemberg (Lvov; 1356), Vilna (1387), Brest (1370), and Grodno (1391); in the following century it was extended to several towns in southern Poland, among them Lutsk (1432) and Minsk (1496), and in the 16th century to the towns of Pinsk (1511), Kovel (1518), Tarnopol (1550), Mogilev (1578), Vitebsk (1582), and others. Originally, the privileges enshrined in the law were granted only to German craftsmen and merchants, Jews and all other non-German town dwellers being excluded. However, in the charter granting the law to the city of Lemberg (June 17, 1365), the Jews, Armenians, and other nationals were free to decide whether they wished to avail themselves of it or whether they preferred to abide by their own laws and remain subject to the jurisdiction of their elders, under the chairmanship of the local bailiff. Later the law was granted to all the townspeople, including Jews (as in Kiev and Podolia). One of the paragraphs of the Magdeburg law which was of importance for the Jews provided that no Jew could be forced to stand warranty for objects he had bought or received as a pawn, i.e., to reveal from whom he had bought or received them. The Jews were therefore not responsible for receiving stolen property.


Kisch, Germany, 62–70, index; idem, Jewry Law in Medieval Germany (1949), index; I. Bershadski, Litovskie Yevrei (1888), 221, 234, 241–3.