Principality and capital city of the government district of Oberfranken, Bavaria. Mention is first made of the Jews of Bayreuth in a document of the year 1343. In that year Kalman of Bayreuth is spoken of as one of the creditors of the burgrave Johann von Nürnberg, and in 1356 Emperor Karl IV. granted the burgrave Friedrich the privilege of receiving Jews into his territory. It is also known that during the persecutions at the time of the Black Death the Jews of Bayreuth suffered considerably. The Jewish community must, however, have originated in earlier times, and there are indications that as early as the fourteenth century it was of considerable size and importance. Thus, in 1372, R. Meyer of Bayreuth was appointed "Hochmeister" (chief rabbi) of the two principalities of Bayreuth and Ansbach, and at the bidding of the burgrave Frederick V. was endowed with full authority over all the Jews in those districts; and in 1384 the monastery of Langheim owed the Jews of Bayreuth and Culmbach 8,000 pfund heller.
According to the Stadtbuch of Bayreuth, the ledgers of the Jews were not valid for judicial proof. They were not allowed to sell anything in secret, nor could they take in pawn bloody garments, church utensils, or the armor and weapons of citizens. On the other hand, tolerably favorable charters were granted to them by the city of Bayreuth in 1464 and by the elector Albrecht in 1473. According to the latter, no Jew was obliged to stand and answer a Christian, except in the former's home and before a representative of the prince, two pious Christians, and two Jews in good repute. For protection, the Jews paid annually a sum total of 800 florins, and in addition gave the margravine 700 florins, the eldest prince 100 florins, and the second 50 florins.Sixteenth Century Troublous.
In the fifteenth century, two Jews acted as physicians to the elector Albrecht I., whose residence was in Bayreuth. The following century, however, the sixteenth, brought doubt and uncertainty to the Jewish community of the principality. The Diet resounded with complaints of the states against the dangerous competition of the Jews, and with requests to expel the betrayers and calumniators of Christianity. Numerous orders of banishment followed. As early as 1488 they were expelled from the dominions of the margraves Frederick and Sigismund, and in 1515 this example was followed by Margrave George the Pious, who, however, allowed the Jews to return in 1528. Margrave Christian, also, intended to banish them, and was dissuaded only by his wife, Maria. Most of these orders were repealed too quickly to have a serious effect, but those affected by them withdrew from the cities, where they had been tolerated only in restricted districts and in limited numbers, and removed to the territories of the feudal gentry. The center for all the Jews of the district—who formed a corporation called the "Landjudenschaft"—was the provincial rabbinate, which had its seat at Baiersdorf. In 1695 Mendel Rothschild, the rabbi at Bamberg (and ancestor of the Freiherr von Rothschild), who officiated at the rabbinate of Bayreuth and Baiersdorf, drew up letters of protection and of privileges for all the Jews then living, or thereafter settling, in the land and the principality. These letters of protection were afterward withdrawn, and new ones were granted by Margrave Georg Wilhelm at his accession in 1712. In 1715, however, the latter again restricted the Jews' privileges, and in 1733 their right of marriage was restricted by Margrave Georg Friedrich Karl, who had wished to expel them as early as 1731. The Jews of Bayreuth were thus dependent wholly on the whims of the margraves, and this uncertain state would have been utterly unendurable for them had not some of them understood how to turn the chronic money difficulties of their rulers to their own and their coreligionists' advantage.Palace Converted into a Synagogue.
Of the many Jewish officials and followers in the princes' retinues whose names are preserved in history, the following perhaps deserve to be specially mentioned: Moses Goldschmidt, a learned man of Baiersdorf, originally of Hamburg, whom the margrave Georg Friedrich Karl raised to the position of chief rabbi of the province in 1728; Salomon Samson, who had been "resident" of the prince at Baiersdorf in 1708, and who, with his brother, Veit Samson, was appointed warden of the community by the above-mentioned margrave in 1728; and Moses Seckel (Seetzel), the court purveyor and banker, who, in 1759, bought a minor palace belonging to the princely house at Bayreuth. This building, which is still standing, he converted into a synagogue and almshouse, where ten Jewish families obtained residence. In the same year, 1759, Benjamin Hirsch Krambambuli of Posen was given permission to settle at Bayreuth and to brew liquors according to the Danzig way; he made no use, however, of this privilege. Jewishchess-players, with a salary as high as 200 florins, were engaged (1746-47) to provide entertainment at court, and an annual salary of 300 reichsthaler, paid from the privy purse of the prince, was given to the Jewish painter Judah Löw Pinchas (born in Lehrberg, 1727), who was appointed court miniature-painter by Margrave Friederich in 1753. He must have been an artist of great merit, for on the recommendation of the margrave's daughter he was called to Berlin, where he painted the portraits of Frederick the Great and the Prince of Orange. Bayreuth can boast also an eminent scholar, the grammarian and lexicographer Elias Levita (1469-1549), born in Neustadt-on-the-Aisch, who everywhere, except in his native land, enjoyed the highest respect as a teacher of learned non-Jews.
With 1810, when the principality was joined to the kingdom of Bavaria, the history of Bayreuth as an independent province ceases.Population.
In 1769 fifty-five families were living at Bayreuth, and in all of the margrave's dominions there were three hundred and fifty families, of which one hundred and thirteen were at Baiersdorf. A census taken in 1787 shows that their number had risen to three hundred and fifty-four families, whose wealth at that time was estimated to be 278,000 florins. In 1805 an enumeration showed 2,276 Jews in the Bayreuth province of the Franconian circle. In 1900 the city of Bayreuth had about 420 Jews in a total population of 27,700, and in 1901 it had 425 Jews.
Until 1787 the Jews of Bayreuth were buried at Baiersdorf, Burgkundstadt, and Aufsess, but on Dec. 20, 1786, they acquired a cemetery of their own.Prominent Personalities.
Among prominent rabbis of Bayreuth the following should have special mention: Samson of the family of Judah Selke of Langenlois, one of the Austrian exiles of the year 1670, who was rabbi of Baiersdorf and Bayreuth until 1687; David Dispeck (born 1723; died 1794), author of the homiletic work "Pardes David," who was appointed in 1785; his son Simon, assistant rabbi in Baiersdorf; the latter's successor, Wolf Fellheimer, 1806-26; administrator of the rabbinate, Veitel, 1828-29; Dr. Joseph Aub (born at Baiersdorf 1805; died at Berlin 1880), rabbi at Bayreuth from 1829 to 1852, and editor of "Sinai," a magazine favoring the Jewish Reform movement; Dr. Israel Schwarz, 1852-57; Dr. Julius Fürst, 1859-73; administrator of the rabbinate, the teacher Dachauer, 1873-81; and Dr. Salomo Kusznitzki, appointed in 1881. Other prominent Jewish personalities of Bayreuth have been Fischel Arn heim (Bayreuth, 1812-64), lawyer, honorary freeman of the city of Hof, and for many years its representative in the Bavarian Parliament; the well-known surgeon Jacob Herz of Erlangen, who with his brother, the engineer Von Herz of Vienna, was born in Bayreuth; and Hofrath Dr. Engelmann, for a long period director of the district home for the insane. Among the living are: Dr. Stein, surgeon-general; Von Wilmersdörfer, consul-general, living in Munich; and Haarburger, judge (Oberlandesgerichtsrath) and professor in Munich.
- Heinritz, Beiträge zur Gesch. der Juden im Vormaligen Fürstenthum Bayreuth, in Archiv für Gesch., etc., von Oberfranken, 1845, iii. 1 et seq.;
- Haenle, Gesch. der Juden im Ehemaligen Fürstenthum Ansbach, Ansbach, 1867;
- Heinr. Lang, Neuere Gesch. des Fürstenthums Bayreuth, Göttingen, 1798;
- Heller, Bayreuther Chronik, in Archiv für Bayreuthische Gesch. i.;
- Ph. E. Spies, Archivische Nebenarbeiten, i., Halle, 1783;
- Chr. Meyer, Hohenzollernsche Forschungen und Quellen zur Alten Gesch. des Fürstenthums Bayreuth;
- Gengler, Codex Juris Municipalis, i.;
- Holle, Gesch. der Stadt Bayreuth, pp. 50, 182, Bayreuth, 1833;
- Neustadt, in Monatsschrift, 1884, p. 118;
- Löwenstein, in Zeit. für Gesch. der Juden in Deutschland, ii. 95.