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Sumptuary Laws


SUMPTUARY LAWS , enactments issued by communities against luxury and ostentation; frequently combined with a distinctly class aim – that each should dress according to his standing in the community – allied to the wish to help people withstand the temptation of conspicuous consumption beyond their means. The sumptuary laws were also designed to put an end to anti-Jewish agitations stemming from accusations of ostentatious living. *Takkanot of a sumptuary nature referred either to dress and jewelry or to the size of banquets held at weddings and circumcision ceremonies and the number of guests permitted to attend them: e.g., the Rhenish *synods of 1202–23 limited banquets to those who participated in the religious ceremony. A conference held in 1418 at Forlí, Italy, limited the number of guests who could be invited to a wedding to 20 men, ten women, five girls, and all the relatives up to second cousins. They also permitted the wearing of furlined jackets, in any color other than black, provided that the sleeves and the garments themselves were not fringed with silk. The Castilian synod convened at Valladolid in 1432 forbade Jews aged 15 and over to "wear any cloak of gold thread, olive-colored material, or silk, or any cloak trimmed" with these materials on occasions other than "a time of festivity or at a reception of a lord or a lady, or at balls or similar social occasions." In the 16th and 17th centuries the communities of Salonika, Mantua, and Rome issued periodic anti-luxury regulations. The Cracow community ordinances of 1595 contained paragraphs on sumptuary laws. The Lithuanian Council (see *Councils of the Lands) in 1637, referring to its previous regulations which had been wholly disregarded, empowered local rabbis to decide how many guests might be invited to festive meals. The Polish Council of Four Lands in 1607 enjoined Jews from wearing gentile apparel "in order that the Jews be distinguished by their dress." In 1659 the number of invited guests at a circumcision was scaled according to the host's means: "a person who pays two zlotys in taxes may invite 15 persons, four zlotys 20 persons, six zlotys 25 persons, including the rabbi, the preacher, the cantor, and the beadle." In Moravia the cost of wedding clothes was determined by the amount of the dowry. In Carpentras, the papal possession in southeastern France, sumptuary regulations were adopted in three stages (1712–40). In many places these statutes were honored more in the breach than in the observance.


Baron, Community, 2 (1942), 301–7; Halpern, Pinkas, 17, 91, 460; J.R. Marcus, Jew in Medieval World (1960), 193–7.

[Isaac Levitats]

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