Salt Trade and Industry

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Jews took a considerable part, from at least the tenth century, in the salt trade and its extraction – which were generally state monopolies – in a number of European countries, principally as lessees of the mines. In the main areas of salt extraction on the coast of the Bay of Biscay, for example, as well as in Germany, Poland, and Spain, Jews played a prominent role. Some surmise that in Muslim countries, too, Jews took part in the production and distribution of this commodity. The leasing of a salt mine required technical knowledge as well as financial resources, and was a large-scale enterprise undertaken mostly by wealthy and influential Jews as part of their overall activity. In some places, especially Poland, Jewish lessees were granted jurisdiction over their non-Jewish employees.

The Jewish traveler and geographer of the tenth century, *Ibrahim ibn Yaʿqūb, noted a salt mine operated by Jews near *Halle in Germany, and a little later in the same vicinity one Tidericus Judeus is mentioned as a partner in a salt-producing company. In 1132 Alfonso vii of Castile conferred the locality of Otos, next to the salt-rich Tagus, on the Ibn Zadok brothers (see Solomon *Ibn Zadok). In the 13th century a member of the same family, Isaac ibn Zadok, was known as Don Çag de la Maleha, evidently in reference to the large number of salt concessions he held. Also prominent among Jewish salt contractors in Spain was Judah de Cavalleria, bailiff of Saragossa, who was granted the total crown revenues from salt by the king of Aragon in 1264. In 1280 Abraham of Medinaceli obtained the rights to exploit the extensive salt deposits in the area of Velasco for four years.

In the 14th century the wealthy Cracow Jew, *Lewko, operated a large number of salt mines in *Wieliczka and Bochnia. The number of Jews in the Polish salt trade rose steeply during the 15th century, and a number of salt mines in *Drohobych, Jasienica, *Kolomyya, *Dolina, and *Zhidachow were leased to Jews by the king during this period. At the beginning of the 16th century the minor nobility of Poland embarked on a century-long struggle to wrest this rich source of revenue from the Jews. The nobles succeeded in intimidating the heads of the *Councils of the Lands, who in 1580 prohibited, inter alia, the leasing of any "zupa" (Pol. "salt mine") from the king or the nobility. The wars which afflicted Poland at the end of the 18th century and led to its partition put an end to the leasing of salt mines to Jews; salt trade by Jews on a lower level continued in the partitioned regions: 3,651 of the 5,450 salt traders in Polish towns in 1823 were Jews. In 1824 local authorities were prohibited from granting any new salt concessions to Jews until the number of Christian salt traders equaled that of the Jewish. The decree was repealed in 1830, though in Warsaw, for example, in 1840 there were 151 Jewish and only 64 Christian salt traders.

Dutch Jews in the 17th century played a prominent part in importing salt to their country. The firm of Curiel, for example, imported salt from Tripoli. Jeronimo Nuñez da Costa imported salt from Portugal where there was a big salt production at *Setubal, and exported it to *Gdansk. In Germany the *Court Jews, purveyors to kings and princes, played an important part in the leasing of salt mines-granted sometimes in lieu of paying their debts, or sometimes for services rendered – from the middle of the 17th and throughout the 18th centuries. Noah Samuel Isaac of Sulzbach, in the 17th century, having furnished the crown prince of Bavaria with one million talers for his wedding celebrations, received the revenues of three Bavarian salt mines. In the same century the Bavarian salt monopoly was leased to Nathan Moyses, the Schwabach Court Jew. He and his partners were known as the "salt Jews." In 1698 the Court Jew of Palatinate, Lemle Moses Reinganum, advanced 120,000 florins for the exclusive rights to trade in salt. Samson *Wertheimer, who was responsible for the prosperity of the salt industry in Transylvania, also organized the salt trade monopoly in Poland, both advancing the necessary capital and supervising the transportation of salt from Wieliczka to Silesia and Hungary. At the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, David Seligman signed a series of contracts for salt production in Bavaria. The part played by Jews in the German salt trade came to an end with the disappearance of the Court Jews from the stage of history.


Baer, Urkunden, 2 (1936), 12, 16, 70ff.; J. Jacobs, An Inquiry into the Sources of the History of the Jews in Spain (1894), 14,21,23,24; Régné, Cat, nos. 893, 2341; I. Schiper, Di Virtshaftsgeshikhte fun di Yidn in Poyln besyn Mitlalter (1924); Ph. Friedmann, in: Jewish Studies… G.A. Kohut (1935), 195ff.; S. Stern. The Court Jew (1950), index; Baron, Social, 4 (1957), 169; H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 4 (1963), 58ff., 190ff., 215ff., 222.

[Jacob Kaplan]