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Servi Camerae Regis

SERVI CAMERAE REGIS

SERVI CAMERAE REGIS (Lat. "servants of the royal chamber"), definition of the status of the Jews in Christian Europe in the Middle Ages, first used in the 13th century. The Kammerknechtschaft, as it was termed in German, was explained in the Holy Roman Empire (in effect Germany) as a consequence of the enslavement of the Jewish people to the Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus after their defeat in the war of 66–70 c.e.; other rulers inevitably claimed the same right. In fact, however, the term implied not only an inferiority of status but also royal and imperial protection. The status of the Jews was above that of the serfs, and theoretically they were subject only to royal authority. The ruler had the right to tax them for the benefit of his treasury (camera regis), but at the same time he had a duty to protect them when they were in danger from others. The so-called "Laws of Edward the Confessor" (England, 12th century) defined the status implied in the phrase in the clearest terms:

All Jews, wherever in the realm they are, must be under the king's liege protection and guardianship, nor can any of them put himself under the protection of any powerful person without the king's license, because the Jews themselves and all their chattels are the king's. If, therefore, anyone detain them or their money, the king may claim them, if he so desire and if he is able, as his own.

The phrase servi camerae regis was not used after the Middle Ages, but the conception powerfully affected the status of the Jews down to modern times.

bibliography:

Baron, Social2, 9 (1965), 135–92, 308–31; idem, in: Sefer Yovel le-Y. Baer (1961), 102–24; Kisch, Germany, index, s.v.Chamber Serfdom of Jews; H.H. Ben-Sasson, Toledot Am Yisrael, 2 (1969), 99–102; S. Grayzel, Church and the Jews in the xiiith Century (19662), index; 359–64.

[Cecil Roth]

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