Thirteenth to Sixteenth Century. Town in the Prussian province of Saxony. The earliest documentary evidence of the presence of Jews in Halberstadt is contained in a letter of protection from Bishop Volrad, dated 1261 (Bishop Volrad decreed that the jurisdiction of the Jews should be upheld ". . . prout et antiquo in civit. Halb. dinoscitur consuetum, . . ."). Thescant reports concerning the Halberstadt Jews dating from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries make them appear as a subject of litigation between the bishop and the city council. In the middle of the fifteenth century the Jewish community must have been in a flourishing condition. It received a setback through the edict of Bishop Ernest II. (who was also Archbishop of Magdeburg) expelling the Jews from his archbishopric in 1493.
After some time, however, Jews were permitted to return to Halberstadt; and about the middle of the sixteenth century the Jewish population was again a considerable one, swelled by the immigration of Jews expelled from Nordhausen. Bishop Henry Julius, after harassing the Jews of Halberstadt in the most reckless manner, again expelled them in 1594; but the prospect of an increased tax revenue induced him to readmit them under letters of protection. He even allowed them to build a synagogue. This friendly attitude was brought about at great pecuniary sacrifice by Jacob ben Israel Naphtali, one of the many "shtadlanim" who represented the community. It was only for a comparatively short time, however, that the community enjoyed the possession of a synagogue. The disturbances of the Thirty Years' war set in, which caused the "mad" bishop Christian to impose heavy taxes upon the people. The infuriated mob wreaked vengeance upon the helpless Jews by destroying the synagogue (1621), although the Jews were the victims of extortion to even a higher degree than the rest of the population.During the Thirty Years' War.
During the Swedish régime the constitutional estates ordered an expulsion of Jews not possessing letters of protection; but in spite of all hardships the community continued to increase in numbers. By the treaty of Westphalia (1648) Halberstadt was annexed to Brandenburg. Elector Frederick William began his administration with the introduction of measures favorable to the Jews; but he, too, would not have "the Jews increase to intolerable numbers"; their number at this time was 280. In 1660 he allowed them to build a schoolhouse, which permission the Jews construed to extend to the erection of a synagogue also. The estates appealed to the elector, who then declared that the building of a synagogue was not included in the permit. This declaration was seized upon by the populace as a pretext for demolishing the beautiful synagogue in the Joeddenstrasse (March 18, 1669), in which work of devastation they were aided by the military. The hammer with which the synagogue was forced open is still preserved in the parish house. Although the elector was very indignant at this high-handed action, he refused permission to rebuild the synagogue, bidding the Jews hold their services at their homes.The Burden of Taxation.
Notwithstanding the animosity which the people showed toward the Jews, and in spite of the heavy taxes imposed upon the latter, the community still continued to grow. The number of Jewish families at about this time was 120. The burial society still existing dates back to 1679. In this period flourished Issachar ha-Levi Bermann. At the instance of Bermann, Ẓebi Hirsch Bialeh ("Ḥarif"), a noted scholar, went to Halberstadt as rabbi (see Buber, "Anshe Shem," p. 179, Cracow, 1895); and under his direction the Talmud school greatly prospered. The congregation meanwhile groaned under the burden of a heavy debt contracted in previous times in order to meet the demands of the extortionate taxation. In addition to the enormous taxes (amounting to about 2,500 thalers in 1794) the community spent large sums in behalf of the Talmud school and in aid of needy communities. During the Seven Years' war Halberstadt received the unwelcome visit of a French skirmishing party (1760), which laid the Jewish congregation under contribution; and as the sum demanded was not raised, the house of one of the trustees of the congregation was set on fire, and two Jews, together with several prominent citizens, were carried off as hostages.
After an interesting legal contest Hirsch Göttingen, who filled the position of counsel at the Jewish court, as well as that of teacher, was elected by the congregation in 1782 as "Klaus" scholar in opposition to the wishes of the grandson of the founder and a trustee of the fund, who favored another candidate. This gave a footing to the Göttingen family (afterward bearing the name of "Hirsch" for its ancestor) in Halberstadt, which family during nearly a whole century furnished directors to the community, while contributing materially to its general welfare. At the close of the eighteenth century Hirsch Köslin founded the Hazkarat Ẓebi, a school in which, "besides the Bible and Talmud, instruction is given by a head teacher and an assistant teacher in German, arithmetic, and all the branches yielding knowledge requisite in social intercourse." It is one of the oldest Jewish schools in Germany conducted on modern principles.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century Halberstadt was annexed to the kingdom of West-phalia, and its Jewish community came under the jurisdiction of the newly established consistory of Cassel. As president of the consistory was appointed (1808) Israel Jacobson, a native of Halberstadt, who did much toward bettering the condition of the Jews. In 1811 the special Jew-tax was abrogated in Westphalia; and in 1812 the emancipation of the Jews throughout Prussia was announced. Two years later Halberstadt came again under Prussian rule, and the old burdens were notrenewed. Thenceforward the congregation, which during the Westphalian régime had greatly declined, steadily increased, mainly owing to immigrations, until the number of Jews exceeded 800. The "Klaus" was reorganized in 1858, the synagogue was renovated in 1879, and on the occasion of the centenary of the school in 1898 a spacious new school-building was erected. The Jews of Halberstadt number at present 820 out of a total population of 42,792.
Previous to 1661 the rabbinical functions were discharged by scholarly members of the congregation, and often also by the directors. The following is a list of rabbis since 1661:
Solomon ben Johanan Reinbach (1661-91); Abraham ben Judah Berlin (1692-1715; later in Amsterdam); Ẓebi Hirsch Bialeh ("Ḥarif") (1718-48); Moses Brisk (1748-57); Meyer Barby (1757-63; later in Presburg); Hirshel Levin (1764-70; formerly in London and afterward in Berlin); Acting Rabbi Eliezer Lichtenstein (1770-72); Jacob Schwanfeld (1772-75; formerly in Peine, near Hanover); Löb Eger (1775-1814); Akiba Eger (1814-24; nephew of the preceding and formerly a "Klaus" scholar); Matthias Lewian (1824-62); B. H. Auerbach (1862-72; formerly in Darmstadt); Selig Auerbach (1873-1901; formerly director of the Jewish town-school at Fürth); Isaac Auerbach, the present (1903) incumbent.
- Auerbach, Gesch. der Israelitischen Gemeinde Halberstadt, Halberstadt, 1866.