Market Days and Fairs

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article Share Article
views updated

MARKET DAYS AND FAIRS

The nomadic nature of early medieval trade and the wide-ranging contacts of Jewish merchants throughout the period made Jewish traders early and eager participants in market days and fairs, in spite of the religious and social problems attendant on such participation, especially in Christian countries. As merchants were prominent in European Jewish leadership and *autonomy, fairs were suitable meeting places for deliberating Jewish affairs. Around 825 Archbishop *Agobard complained that the day on which the *Lyons weekly market was held had been changed from Saturday to suit Jewish traders. In the following three centuries there are many references in both Hebrew and Christian sources to Jews attending fairs, particularly in cities of the Rhineland such as Cologne and *Treves. *Gershom b. Judah mentions a fair at a sea or river port during which the assembled merchants from various communities enacted an ordinance. *Champagne and *Provence, believed to be where the fairs began, had many Jewish communities, whose members in all probability participated in them. Jewish attendance at markets and fairs decreased after the era of the *Crusades when moneylending and pawnbroking became the major source of Jewish livelihood in northwestern and central Europe. In other areas, where the trade in goods formed an important Jewish occupation, their attendance continued.

The 16th century, in Eastern and subsequently in central Europe, witnessed the creation of economic and social patterns adapted to the attendance of large numbers of Jews of various fairs and markets. In *Poland-Lithuania it was expressly forbidden to fix the dates of fairs and markets on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays. The Jews' commercial rights at fairs and markets were the only ones not challenged by competing Christian merchants. When persecutions in 1539–40 resulted in Lithuanian Jews ceasing to travel to fairs, the nobility appealed to the king to suppress the persecutions at once. One of the most important fairs was the "Gromnice" (February 2), when many Jewish merchants and heads of communities convened at *Lublin; much trade was done and debts and taxes were gathered. Others fairs took place in *Brody, *Gniezno, *Gdansk (Danzig), *Torun, *Lvov, and *Cracow, and there were innumerable lesser ones as well. As the fairs bore the names of their patron Christian saints, these became common usage and were inscribed on official and business documents. The distinctive creation of Polish Jewry, the *Councils of the Lands, was an outgrowth of a bet din which officiated at the Lublin fairs. Meetings of the councils took place there regularly, twice a year, during the 16-day spring and summer fairs; sometimes they were held during the *Jaroslaw fairs in the fall. The Lithuanian Council also convened during fairs, and common sessions took place at *Leczna. One of the tasks of the Councils was regulating the nomination of a *parnas and *dayyan for the duration of the fair. As both positions carried wide powers, they had to be judiciously distributed among the contending lands. In Poland-Lithuania the social aspects of the fair were as significant as the economic and communal leadership ones. N.N. *Hannover described a mid-17th-century fair: "the head of the yeshivah journeyed with all his pupils to the fair on market day … and at each fair there were hundreds of heads of yeshivot, thousands of pupils, and tens of thousands of youths and Jewish merchants.… And whoever had an eligible son or daughter went to the fair and arranged a match, for everyone could find one to his liking. And at every fair hundreds of matches were made, and sometimes thousands; and the children of Israel, men and women, wore kingly vestments at the fair" (Yeven Meẓulah, 1966, 86f.). Meir b. Gedaliah (Maharam) of *Lublin (1558–1616) described another aspect of Jewish life at the fairs: "It is a regular custom that at every fair a place is determined as a synagogue for daily prayer, and every Sabbath scholars and yeshivah students and leaders of the land and people congregate there and read the Torah" (Responsa, 84).

Jews had been expelled from Breslau in 1455, but they were never absent from the fairs. In 1537 the municipal council opposed an attempt by Ferdinand i to levy a special poll tax on Jewish visitors to the fairs. A century later, at the request of the textile guilds and the imperial authorities and despite the opposition of the local merchants, Jews were permitted to be in the town a few days before and after the fairs. In 1697 the authorities divided the Jews into five categories whose duration of stay depended on the scope of their economic transactions.

Jews attended the fairs as a corporation of merchants based on their communities or countries of origin. These corporations were also responsible for nominating their officials: a parnas ha-yarid, in charge of keeping order and representing the fair corporations; a dayyan ha-yarid, who held regular judicial authority and was empowered by the chief rabbi of the land (first mentioned in 1698); supervisor of ritual law; and shames (shammash), the distinctive Breslau functionary, who was permitted to remain between the fairs and guarantee the continuity of business transactions. First mentioned in 1673, he was elected by his Judenschaft, authorized by the Councils of the Lands, recognized by the Breslau municipal council, sworn in, and allowed to wear a sword. In 1696 there were ten shamosim at the fair, one each for the four Polish lands and one for Bohemia, *Moravia, *Glogau, *Posen, *Leczno, and *Zuelz. The number of Jewish visitors at a fair in 1685 was 332, and they practically monopolized Polish trade, particularly in textiles, silks, spices, tobacco, and above all in furs.

Jewish attendance at fairs within the Austrian Empire was encouraged by Emperor *Maximilian i, who in 1494 permitted Jews to attend markets in the imperial cities from which they had been expelled on payment of three florins Mautgeld ("body tax"; see *Leibzoll). This right, confirmed by his successors in return for extraordinary taxation, became the legal cornerstone of Jewish economic activity. *Joseph ii eventually abolished the Leibzoll and declared all markets open to Jews (1782/83). In practice, however, many restrictions remained in force until 1848. At *Brno, for example, the Jews were allowed to enter through only one gate (Judentor) at fixed hours, were restricted to one market, and forced to lodge in one inn, theNeue Welt in the Krona suburb. They struggled for many years for the right to erect stalls. Complaints by Christian merchants against underselling and inferior wares were continuously raised, and peddlers (called pinkerljuden) were particularly harassed at the Brno fairs. The Council of Moravia regulated the supervision of dietary laws at the fairs, distributed stalls before the fairs commenced, and prohibited the Jews from being at the fair on the day before it opened. There was a tendency to establish Jewish communities near locations of major and minor markets and fairs.

There were a great many fairs in central Europe. Many Jewish calendars recorded dates of fairs, which Jews attended as peddlers who both bought and sold wares, as merchants buying goods wholesale for retailing, and sometimes as popular performers like jugglers. Registers of the special scales for weighing feathers at the *Linz markets of 1594 and 1603 show that there were 131 Jewish traders in feathers and only 12 Christian dealers. Other important commodities were leather, skins, old clothes, and new clothes and textiles imported from Bohemia. In 1714 Bohemian "Federjuden" had to have special permission to attend because of the plague. About 300 Jews dealing in similar articles attended the *Krems fairs annually; in 1701 the Moravian Jews boycotted it because a Jew had been arrested as a thief.

The records of Zurzach fairs in Switzerland mention the Judengeleit (Leibzoll), a tax of between 7 and 19 batzen according to age and wealth which was a considerable source of income. The number of Jews attending grew from about 150 in the mid-18th century to about 200 at its close; most foreign Jews were from Gailingen, *Hohenems, and communities in *Baden, *Alsace, and Swabia, which were composed primarily of peddlers and merchants. More than three-quarters of the households of the nearby communities of Endingen and *Lengnau attended these fairs. Although Jews were not tolerated throughout most of Switzerland, they were allowed and encouraged to attend the fairs, particularly the *livestock merchants. In France in 1741, the controller-general of finances wrote a circular letter to all provincial governors asking them about the commercial activities of the Jews. Unanimously they replied that Jews should not be excluded from the fairs and markets because they helped keep down prices. The monopolistic guilds were forcing up prices, while the outside merchants, who came for the duration of the fair, forced them down. An endemic source of strife and litigation between Jews and local merchants and the authorities was the constant attempt to sell outside the market, or not on market days, or on the way to or back from markets, or to remain in the area after the fair was over. In Italy Jews were to be found at the major fairs and often participated in the festive processions which inaugurated them. The community of *Mantua bought and erected stalls at the fairgrounds for its members; there was an unsuccessful attempt to prohibit their use in 1740. A Jewish community had the right to tax Jewish merchants attending the fairs for the use of communal amenities. In 1720 the Jewish communities of the duchy of Parma tried, without success, to tax Jewish merchants attending the Parma city fairs (where there was no community). A long dispute (1748–51) between the community of *Verona, which had attempted to exact a business tax from foreign visitors at the fairs, and the communities of Mantua, *Ferrara, and *Modena ended with rabbinical authorities in Italy and Germany deciding against Verona's action.

European rulers were aware of the economic benefits resulting from Jewish participation in fairs. Joachim ii, elector of *Brandenburg, expelled the Jews in 1510 but subsequently allowed them to attend fairs. After the 1573 expulsion from Brandenburg, Posen Jews regularly received permission to attend the *Frankfurt on the Oder fairs. Elector Frederick William (1640–88) encouraged Polish Jews to attend fairs in his realm long before he admitted 50 Jewish families from Austria to settle and trade freely throughout his lands (1671). Though Jews were rigorously excluded from *Saxony, the internationally important *Leipzig fairs needed Jews to participate in large numbers. Between 1675 and 1764, 82,000 Jews attended the biannual *Leipzig markets; their number fluctuated according to political and economic factors, but grew steadily from about 400 a year in the mid-17th century to twice that amount by the end of the century and continued to grow; they generally constituted about one-fifth of the total attendance. Their number increased from an average of 1,073 in the 1780s to 3,370 in the 1800s and 6,444 in the 1830s, when they formed around one-quarter of the participants. Between 1675 and 1764 the majority of Jewish participants came from Central Europe, though the number of East European Jews was increasing slowly, eventually amounting to one-third of the total Jewish attendance in the early 19th century. The attendance lists of the fairs offer a true mirror of 18th-century Jewish society. Members of the leading families attended (see *Bacharach, *Fraenkel, *Gomperz, *Ephraim, Itzig families, and Samuel *Oppenheimer, David *Oppenheim, and Samson *Wertheimer). *Glueckel of Hameln recorded her husband's transactions at fairs with Jost *Liebmann, the Court Jew. The leading *Court Jews of the day, Alexander David, Behrend *Lehmann, and Leffmann *Behrends, were also present. Jewish visitors to Leipzig congregated in the Bruehl, which became in effect a Jewish quarter for the duration of the fairs. The Landrabbiner of *Anhalt had rabbinical jurisdiction there and those who died at the fair were buried in Dessau. At Leipzig Jews bought wares worth about half a million thalers annually between 1773 and 1775, primarily textiles. Officially they sold wares worth one-fifth of that amount, but the sales figure was not the true one, for the "sales tax" (Wagegold) was 1% of all sales; it was not until 1813 that it was reduced to 0.5%, the same as the Christian tax. In addition the city exacted a high entrance fee. "Volljuden,"who did not enjoy special privileges and protection and were the majority, paid six thalers each and three for a wife or servant. Jewelers paid eight thalers and cooks (Judenkoch) ten thalers and 12 groschen.

In the *Pale of Settlement and Austrian Galicia the market square and the regular market days became the center of the shtetl and the heart of its economy. To a large extent the economic and social life in these townships was regulated by buying from peasants and selling to them on the fixed market day in the appointed place; taverns were therefore erected around the market square. Jewish emigrants carried over this type of market (with some changes) into large cities in Western Europe; an example is the Petticoat Lane Market in London.

bibliography:

R. Mahler, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Polin (1946), index, s.v.Yarid; M. Breger, Zur Handelsgeschichte der Juden in Polen im 17. Jahrhundert (1932), 15ff.; B.D. Weinryb, Neueste Wirtschaftsgeschichte der Juden in Russland und Polen (1934), index, s.v.Messe; S. Dubnow, Pinkas ha-Medinah (1925), index, s.v.Yarid; Halpern, Pinkas, s.v.Yarid; D. Evron, Pinkas ha-Kesherim shel Kehillat Pozna (1967), index, s.v.Yarid; S. Simonsohn, Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Dukkasut Mantovah (1964), index, s.v.Yarid; I. Halpern, Takkanot Medinat Mehrin (1952), index, s.v.Yarid; H. Gold (ed.), Die Juden und Judengemeinden Maehrens (1929), 144ff.; F. Guggenheim-Gruenberg, Die Juden auf der Zurzacher Messe im 18. Jahrhundert (1957); A. Hertzberg, The French Enlightenment and the Jews (1968), index, s.v.Fairs; Z. Szajkowski, Franco-Judaica (1962), index, s.v.Markets; A.F. Pribram, Urkunden und Akten zur Geschichte der Juden in Wien (1918), index, s.v.Markt, Jahrmarkt; L. Moses, Die Juden in Niederoesterreich (1935), 91–94; idem, in: A. Engel (ed.), Gedenkbuch … Kuratoriums (1936), 90–101; V. Kurrein, Die Juden in Linz (1927), 26–38; idem, in: jggjČ, 4 (1932), 481–4; A. Weldler-Steinberg and F. Guggenheim-Gruenberg, Geschichte der Juden in der Schweiz (1966), 21–86; B.B. Brilling, Geschichte der Juden in Breslau von 1454 bis 1702 (1960); R. Markgraf, Zur Geschichte der Juden auf den Messen in Leipzig (1894); M. Freudenthal, Leipziger Messgaeste (1928); W. Harmelin, in: ylbl, 9 (1964), 239–66.

[Henry Wasserman]

More From encyclopedia.com

You Might Also Like