German emperor; born March 13, 1741; died Feb. 20, 1790, at Vienna. As German emperor his sovereignty was one in name only, but as ruler of Austria in succession to his mother, Maria Theresa (d. Nov. 29, 1780), his activities were as manifold as they were beneficent. Joseph was a believer in the principles of humanitarianism as taught by the philosophers of his time, and while he remained a strict Romanist in matters of dogma, he opposed the Church strongly in its policy toward the adherents of other creeds. This change of policy affected the Jews almost from the moment that he ascended the throne. He abolished the poll-tax and the Jew's badge (1781) and issued the "Toleranzpatent" (Jan. 2, 1782), in which the principles were laid down that the restrictions on the Jews should be gradually removed and that the Jews should be encouraged in taking up handicrafts and agriculture; the schools were expressly declared to be open to them, and special Jewish schools were to be established. In individual questions, such as the frequent cases of baptism of infants by midwives contrary to the will of the parents, he strongly demanded that justice should be done, that the children should be returned to their parents, and that midwives should not be permitted to baptize Jewish children (Wolf, "Judentaufen" p. 97, Vienna, 1863). When a Jew made a bid for the renting of a brewery on the imperial family estate it Göding, and the administration rejected the bid on the ground that Jews had been expelled from that town, the emperor said: "The only reason for the expulsion of the Jews is that they are not Christians; to me they are human beings, consumers, and tax-payers, and consequently useful, if properly kept in check" ("Allg. Zeit. des Jud." 1844, p. 655).
Of great importance was the law of 1787 requiring the Jews to serve in the army, the first enactment to that effect in history. Many Jews objected, and sent petitions to the emperor, but he would not repeal it. Upon the request of the community of Presburg he repealed the law demanding that the Jews should shave off their beards, the object of which was to oblige them to relinquish a distinction that marked them off from their Christian fellow subjects. Consistently with his principles he abolished the annual collective tax upon the Jews, and substituted for it the "Familientaxe," which the community paid for every member who had contracted a legal marriage (see Familianten Gesetz), and a tax on every article of food, the object of the change being to abolish the use of the invidious word "Schutzgeld," implying that the Jews were merely tolerated. From the surplus of these taxes over the amount of the former "Toleranzsteuer" the Jewish fund in Moravia ("Landemassafonds") was accumulated. However, most of the disabilities remained, as the restriction upon marriage, the confinement to ghettos, and the inability to hold office. See
- Adam Wolf, Oesterreich Unter Maria Theresia und Josef II., Berlin, 1884;
- Fournier, Josef II., Prague, 1885;
- Mandl, Das Jüdische Schulwesen in Ungarn Unter Josef II., Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1903.
- A digest of the laws issued by Joseph II. concerning the Jews of Hungary is given in Allg. Zeit. des Jud. 1840, p. 607.