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So far as they were allowed by the restrictions of the trade gilds, many Jews of medieval times obtained their livelihood by working with their hands. Benjamin of Tudela (1171) refers to many manufacturers of silk in the Byzantine empire, to dyers in Syria, and glassmakers at Tyre. A little later King Roger of Sicily brought Jewish silk-weavers to south Italy to found that industry (Grätz, "Geschichte," vi. 263). Indeed, the trade of dyeing seems to have been almost a monopoly of Jews in southern Europe, and was certainly their favorite form of industry, the tax levied on them being called "Tignta Judæorum" (Güdemann, "Culturgeschichte," ii. 312).

The Jewish silk manufacturers of Italy were also distinguished (ibid. 240). The Jews of Lyons, when expelled in 1446, established an important silver-smith business at Trevoux. In Sicily the Jews appeared to have almost a monopoly of handicrafts, and the authorities in 1492 protested against the edict of expulsion, because, as they said, "nearly all the artisans in the realm are Jews." Among the Jews of Germany and north France in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are found masons, tanners, card-painters, armorers, stone-engravers, glaziers, and even makers of mouse-traps, while among the inhabitants of Spain before the fifteenth century were to be found shoemakers, silversmiths, weavers, mechanics, carpenters, locksmiths, basket-makers, and curriers (Jacobs, "Inquiry," pp. xv, xxiii). About 1620 the majority of the Jews of Rome earned their living as tailors (Rieger, "Rom," 198). Among the Artisans mentioned in the inscriptions at the Prague cemetery of the seventeenth century are furriers, carpenters, locksmiths, glaziers, potters, woodcutters, wheelwrights, and wagon-makers (Hock, "Familien Prags"). When it is remembered that many of these occupations could only be filled by persons who had entry to the gilds, which were religious fraternities as well as trade-unions, and did not admit the Jews, there is a remarkable variety of handicrafts in which Jews can be traced during the Middle Ages; see the lists at the end of chapter xii. of Abrahams' "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages."

There is, however, considerable variation in the amount of handwork shown by the Jews in the Middle Ages according to place and time. Where the central government was strong an attempt was made to use the Jews as indirect tax-gatherers, and here very little handwork is found; where, on the contrary, the central government was not all-powerful, the Jews had freer access to the more natural means of earning a livelihood. Of course, throughout Jewish history a certain number of employments in which handwork is required had to exist among them for religious purposes. Thus they require a special class of butchers and even of bakers, while their barbers also have to be acquainted with Jewish custom. That the exclusion from the gilds was the main cause of the relatively small numbers of Artisans among the medieval Jews is shown by the fact that, as soon as restrictions were removed, handicrafts were adopted by the Jews. Thus within fifteen years of the "Judenordnung" of Bohemia, 1797, which opened all occupations to Jews, there were over 400 Jewish Artisans in Prague (Jost, "Geschichte,"ix. 167). Ten years after the first Jewish training-school for handicrafts was opened in Copenhagen in 1795, there were no less than 740 engaged in handicrafts out of 1,170 adult males (Jost, ibid. xi. 5). See Engraving and Engravers; Gold-and Silversmiths.

  • Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, ch. xi., xii;
  • Albert Wolf, Etwas über Jüdische Kunst und Altere Jüdische Künstler;
  • in Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde, ix., 1902, pp. 12-74.
A. J.—Modern—Statistics:

Frequent expulsions and increased restrictions on residence during the latter Middle Ages furthered the diversion of the Jews into commerce, and especially into pedling. But during the last two hundred years handicrafts have found favor and have been taken up again, so that to-day out of the 3,000,000 Jews who may be regarded as of working age over 1,000,000 earn their living by manual labor. In the East, Jews are frequently found as Artisans. Those in Morocco include tinsmiths, boot-makers, and carpenters ("maltzan"). In Arabia they occur as armorers, silversmiths, and masons; in Persia, as silk-spinners and glass-grinders (Polak). Chubinsky declares that in Russia "Jews are prized as workmen owing to their zeal and cleverness" ("Globus," 1889, p. 377). He gives the percentage of Jewish Artisans in the southwestern provinces of Russia as forty per cent of the total number of Artisans, and in the cities fifty per cent of the total. At Jerusalem, in 1879-80, Sydney M. Samuel found 416 heads of families pursuing 29 handicrafts, among whom were tinkers, goldsmiths, watchmakers, smiths, turners, and masons ("Jewish Life in the East," p. 78). In 1881 Fresco reports 882 Jews of Damascus earning their living at handicrafts, no less than 650 being weavers (Anglo-Jewish Association, "Report," 1882, p. 78). Among the Russian Jews who passed through Liverpool in 1882, 1,730 out of 1,843 were Artisans and agriculturists (Mansion House Fund, "Report," p. 10). Nor is this a recent development. As far back as 1840, of the 30,000 Jews of Berdychev 600 were tailors, 380 tinand coppersmiths, 350 shoemakers, 200 carpenters and coopers, 160 furriers, 90 bakers, etc. (Jost, "Geschichte," xi. 294n). In view of the anti-Semitic attitude of Rumania, it is curious to contrast in the following list the number of Jews and Gentiles engaged in different trades at Bucharest in 1879 ("Jew. Chron." Sept. 5, 1879):


In an enumeration of the Jews of Kishinev in 1887 ("Ha-Yom," No. 280) very large numbers are given of those engaged in handicraft, among whom may be mentioned:

Bakers and cooks299
Fishmongers and butchers295

The Jews of some of the European capitals have shown considerable taste for handiwork, as is instanced by the following tables:

Occupation.Budapest, 1870 (Körösi).Vienna, 1869 (Jeitteles).

By a later census taken in Budapest statistics are furnished of the Jewish Artisans in that capital on Jan. 1, 1900; these are given according to the occupations in which they were engaged, as follows:

Food preparation,2,4802442,724
Industrial art58261643
Oil or grease1284132

In a census of the Jewish Artisans of Algeria, the following were the handicrafts most popular among 10,785 proletarians enumerated ("Revue Socialiste," 1899):

Workers in wood41

In only a few instances can complete figures be given, owing to the general absence of any information as to religion in occupation statistics; but the interest of such statistics is the greater from their rarity. The following are, so far as known, the only official figures giving the actual number of Jews engaged in handicrafts, arranged according to countries and cities; though some are of rather early date, it seemed desirable to include them, in the absence of later particulars. Unfortunately, no official statistics on the subject are available for the United States.

Algeria189932,875"Revue Socialiste."
do.189543,246"Statist. Jahrb." 1899.
Russian Pale of Settlement1888293,507Jacobs' "Persecution of Jews," 1890, p. 26.

Of the actual trades followed, the most popular are the making of clothing and shoes, just as in the non-Jewish population. The cigar and jewelry trades also are favorite occupations of the Jews; thus over 60 per cent of the diamond-polishers of Amsterdam are of Jewish faith. All these are mainly trades that can be followed at home in the worker's own hours, and are known to the economist as "domestic industries." Jewish workmen drift into these naturally, as thereby they are enabled to refrain from labor on their Sabbath. Besides, the simpler processes of the tailoring and shoemaking trades are easily acquired, and therefore prove attractive to the Russo-Jewish immigrants. This has given rise to much so-called "sweating."

However, it is in Russia especially that the Jews have shown the readiest inclination to manual industries; the large number of nearly 400,000 mentioned in the foregoing table applies only to the fifteen governments of the Russian Pale of Settlement in 1898, and must be supplemented by at least another 200,000 for Poland, where Jews are rapidly taking to manufactures. In 1888, of the Jews of the Pale, 12 per cent. were Artisans, which is a higher proportion than in the general communities of either France or Prussia; and the percentage had increased by 1898.

Despite the fact that there are so many Jewish Artisans, the proportion of Jews earning their living by manual labor is generally much less than that of the general populations among whom they dwell. This is mainly due to the fact that they are concentrated in the towns. The following table gives the percentage of adult workers among the Jews and the rest of the population for the countries and towns mentioned at the time indicated:

do189519.3136.06"Statist. Jahrb." 1899.
do189116.518.3"Statist. Jahrb." 1899.

This table shows by comparison that the percentage of Jewish Artisans in the countries and cities specified averages only one-half of the number of handicraftsmen of other faiths. This is not so much due to any aversion on the part of Jews to manual exertion as to their special attraction to and capacity for commercial pursuits (see Commerce). Up to within a few years the Jewish Artisans did not show much inclination to combine and organize themselves into gilds or unions; but recently a large number of trades-unions and benefit societies have been formed by them in Wilna, London, and New York. Jews show a special aptitude for work in which great muscular strength is not required, but are capable of working for many consecutive hours. Their capabilities for higher or finished workmanship is a matter of dispute. In London and New York they have certainly revolutionized the cheap-clothing trade, and by that means seriously affected the trade in second-hand clothing, which was itself until recently a Jewish monopoly. For the actual trades in which Jews engage see Handicrafts, Occupations; for the influence on their position see Social Condition, and for the recent attempts to train handworkers see Education (Trade Schools).

  • Jacobs, Studies in Jewish Statistics, iv., vi., London, 1891;
  • L. Soloweitschik, Un Prolétariat Méconnu, Brussels, 1898 (English statistics to be used with caution).
A. J.
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