HAWKERS AND PEDLERS.
By: Gotthard Deutsch
In primitive countries trading was monopolized by traveling merchants. Palestine, an agricultural country, knew the traders mostly as foreigners, chiefly Canaanites (Hosea xii. 8; Isa. xxiii. 8; Prov. xxxi. 24; Job xl. 30). The Hebrew uses either (Gen. xxiii. 16) or (I Kings x. 25; Ezek. xxvii.; Cant. iii. 6), both of which mean originally "the wanderer." A version to the foreigner, and the narrow prejudices of the farmer, who considered the profit of the merchant ill-gotten, combined to represent the hawker as dishonest. Hosea speaks of the trafficker in whose hands are "the balances of deceit" (xii. 8 [A. V. 7]); and the term for "slanderer" ( ) meant originally a "traveling merchant" (Prov. xi. 13, xix. 16). The same idea appears in the verse "A merchant will hardly keep himself from doing wrong; and an huckster shall not be freed from sin" (Ecclus. [Sirach] xxvi. 29). The articles in which the pedler dealt in those days were evidently manifold. Nehemiah speaks of "the fish and all manner of ware" which the "rokelim" brought to town (xiii. 16); but in this case he may, perhaps, refer exclusively to provisions. Canticles iii. 6 seems to indicate that spices were a staple commodity of the ambulant trader; and the Talmud (B. B. 22a) expressly states that they were.Spices. —In Rabbinical Literature:
With the loss of their national independence and their gradual dispersion into foreign lands, the Jews resorted more and more to commerce. The pedler carried all kinds of merchandise in his boxes; Johanan ben Nuri is called, in allusion to his wide learning, "the pedler's box" ("ḳuppat ha-rokelim"; Giṭ. 67a). In Cant. R. iii. 6 "the powders of the merchant" is explained as a figure for the blessings of Jacob, the source of all blessing, like the box of the merchant which contains all kinds of spices. Spices were imported from distant lands, and since patriarchal times had been carried by Arabian caravans (Gen. xxxvii. 25). In an allegorical introduction to a sermon R. Alexander asks: "Who wishes to buy elixir of life?" ('Ab. Zarah 19b), which question evidently has reference to the spice-pedlers' custom of announcing their wares in the streets. The Talmud decides that the resident merchants of a town have no right to interfere with the trade of the pedlers, for Ezra ordained that pedlers should be permitted to sell their goods in the cities so that cosmetics might be available to the daughters of Israel (B. B. 22a; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 156, 6). The opportunities for intrigues afforded to pedlers are frequently referred to (Yeb. 63b; but see Rabbinovicz ad loc.; idem, Ḥiddushim, iv. 13).
The trade of the pedler seems to have been considered very profitable; R. Judah (4th cent.) said that the prosperity of the pedlers is due to the merit of Jacob (Cant. R. iii. 6). The character of the pedler, however, is not highly esteemed. His most prominent characteristic is garrulity. In defense of the brevity of the Mishnah the Talmud says: "The Mishnah is not supposed to enumerate every case in the style of a pedler" (B. B. 22a). The Hebrew "rakil" (slander) is derived from "rokel" (pedler), because the talebearer is like a pedler who ingratiates himselfwith his customers by telling one what another says about him (Yer. Peah 16a; comp. Sifra, ed. Weiss, 89a).In Country Districts. —In Medieval and Modern Times:
The primitive state of western Europe during the earlier part of the Middle Ages did not permit the development of regular trading centers. Articles of luxury and the products of foreign countries were brought to Germany and eastern Europe by traveling merchants, who also exported amber and other goods, and especially slaves. This trade, at least after the eighth century, was principally carried on by Jews. The charter of Henry IV., issued to the Jews of Speyer (1090), and confirmed by Frederick I. and Frederick II., emphasizes their freedom to deal in all kinds of merchandise within the limits of the empire ("Zeitschrift für die Gesch. der Juden in Deutschland," i. 65 et seq.). The rise of city settlements, where Jews lived almost exclusively up to the middle of the fifteenth century, and the restriction of the latter to money-lending, seem to have curtailed the opportunities for peddling; at all events legislation, while very detailed about interest and pledges, has nothing to say about the peddling trade. But when the Jews, by the end of the fifteenth century, were forced to live in villages and small towns, it was necessary for them to seek a livelihood beyond the places of their residence. They went to the villages to buy hides, wool, and produce, and sold various kinds of merchandise, chiefly dry-goods. References to the pedler are frequent from that period down to modern times, when Kompert idealized him in his novel "Der Dorfgeher," and Moriz Oppenheim painted the touching scene of the departure of the "Dorfgänger" from his home. The calling was not very lucrative, and was often beset with dangers from the inclemency of the weather and from highway robbers and marauders. Two striking illustrations of this are found in the responsa of Menahem Mendel Krochmal ("Ẓemaḥ Ẓedeḳ," Nos. 42, 93). For the representation of a German Jewish hawker of the early sixteenth century see
Very frequently the Jews would peddle in the cities from which, as residents, they had been expelled, but in which they might transact business during the day when provided with a passport. The regular shopkeepers of the cities naturally opposed this competition, and in the course of the eighteenth century frequent instances occur in which cities or countries from which the Jews were excluded prohibited even their temporary presence as pedlers. Such orders were issued by Frederick Augustus of Saxony, July 10, 1719, and Aug. 16, 1746 ("Codex Augusteus," i. 1899, 2d division, p. 1167; Von Rönne and Simon, "Die Verhältnisse der Juden im Preuss. Staat," pp. 327, 341. Breslau, 1843), and repeatedly since 1712 by the council of the free city of Nördlingen. Exceptions were made in favor of pedlers of goods which could not be bought in the regular shops of the city. Thus the Jews wereforbidden to rent warehouses in the cities or to appear on the street with a pedler's bag ("Zwerchsack"). On entering a city they were obliged to report to the police, who detailed a guard to watch them during their stay within it (L. Müller, "Aus Fünf Jahrhunderten," pp. 107 et seq., Nördlingen, 1899). The same prohibition against peddling was issued April 5, 1717, by the emperor Charles VI. for the cities of Brünn and Olmütz, whence the Jews had been expelled in 1454 (D'Elvert, "Zur Gesch. der Juden in Mähren und Oesterreichisch-Schlesien," pp. 95, 100, Brünn, 1895). When, through the influence of the French Revolution, the restrictions on both the residence and the traffic of the Jews were relaxed, the local authorities endeavored to check Jewish settlements by restricting peddling. The Swiss canton of Aargau issued various orders, especially that of Dec. 22, 1804, by which peddling was restricted to absolute necessities (Haller, "Die Rechtliche Stellung der Juden im Kanton Aargau," p. 70, Aargau, 1901). In Munich the "Kurfürst," as a means of checking the increase of Jews in the capital, had already (Oct. 16, 1786) prohibited peddling by them (Taussig, "Gesch. der Juden in Bayern," p. 67, Munich, 1874).In the Nineteenth Century.
During the nineteenth century, when the movement toward a gradual emancipation of the Jews began, it was frequently stipulated that the Jews must abandon peddling and engage in more productive occupations before being admitted to civil and political rights. Thus the edict of June 10, 1813, established for Bavaria the principle that a license to marry should not be issued to those who engaged in "Schacherhandel" ("Regierungsblatt," 1813, p. 921; Heimberger, "Die Staatskirchenrechtliche Stellung der Isr. in Bayern," p. 182, Freiburg-im-Breisgau and Leipsic, 1894). The same position was taken Oct. 29, 1833, by the electorate of Hesse ("Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 1838, pp. 309 et seq.), which was the first country in Germany to grant to the Jews full equality—from which, however, pedlers were excluded. A similar regulation was made by the Prussian government in the temporary law for the Jews of the province of Posen issued June 1, 1833 ("Gesetzessammlung," 1833, p. 66; Von Rönne and Simon, l.c. p. 308), which allowed only naturalized Jews to engage in peddling. A law of Mecklenburg dated Feb. 22, 1813, allowed the Jews full freedom in this respect, but expressed the hope that the peddling trade would cease within a short time (Donath, "Gesch. der Juden in Mecklenburg," p. 170, Leipsic, 1874). In more recent times anti-Semitism used restrictions against peddling as a means of depriving the poorest class among the Jews of a livelihood. This was done in Rumania by the law of March 17-29, 1884, which prohibited peddling in the cities of anything except agricultural produce, and restricted it in rural communities by making it dependent on a license issued by the village authorities (Edmond Sincerus [E. Schwarzfeld], "Les Juifs en Roumanie," pp. 65 et seq., London, 1901). An Austrian law of Feb. 25, 1902 (§§ 59-60), affecting commerce was inspired by the same motives.
With the influx of German Jews into America the Jewish pedler became a familiar figure throughout the United States. The immigrants, in most instances poor and knowing no particular trade, would receive goods from their countrymen or relatives on credit and sell them in rural districts until they had earned enough to open a store. Since the arrival of the Russian Jews in 1882 the practise of selling goods on the instalment plan (custom-peddling) has developed among them; while in the large cities some have sought a living as hucksters or by selling small household wares from push-carts.