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Early Settlers.

Republic of central Europe. Jews were living at Basel as early as 1213, and ten years later the church chattels were pawned with them. There were Jews at Bern in 1259, at St. Gall in 1268, at Zurich in 1273, and at Schaffhausen, Diessenhofen, and Luzerne in 1299. In the last-named year a Jew of Schaffhausen named Solomon owned three houses termed the "Haselstaude"; in 1333 these houses were in the possession of his son Jacob ben Solomon, the "circumciser," who seven years later sold them to the Bishop of Constance (Ulrich, "Sammlung Jüdischer Geschichten in der Schweiz," p. 433). About this time Jews from Alsace, Ulm, Nuremberg, and various cities of southern Germany, and even from France, settled at Neuchâtel, Biel, Vevay, Pruntrut (where many Jewish merchants were living in 1346), Solothurn, Winterthur, Zofingen, and various places in Aargau and Thurgau.

Jews' Social Position.

The Jews of Switzerland, like those of Germany, were regarded as "Kammerknechte" of the Holy Roman Empire, and were under the immediate protection of the emperor, to whom they paid an annual tribute called the "goldener Opferpfennig"; secondarily, they stood under the protection of the several cities which had acquired the "Judenregal," or right of protecting the Jews and of levying taxes on them. A number of towns admitted the Jews as citizens, Biel being the first to do so (1305). They did not, however, participate in all the rights and duties of the Christian population, their citizenship merely implying that they were under municipal protection during a term of residence limited to a definite period. In several places, including Basel, Bern, Biel, Zurich, Schaffhausen, and Freiburg, they were thus admitted on payment of a certain sum forperiods varying from one to ten years. At Basel this settlement tax amounted to between two and twenty gulden a year, at Schaffhausen between eight and ten, and at Zurich between seven and eighty, the amount being fixed according to the value of the property owned by the taxpayer; in case the Jew's privilege of sojourn was prolonged he was obliged to pay between 300 and 400 gulden annually. Foreign Jews were allowed to remain only for a limited time in each city: at Zurich, one day and one night, on payment of one gulden; at Freiburg, four days. Despite the nominal protection involved in the rights of citizenship the Jews were in reality entirely defenseless, and were at the mercy of the city authorities or of the ruling bishops, and the promises made them were kept only so long as self-interest dictated.

During the Middle Ages the Jews were almost exclusively engaged in money-lending, and they advanced funds to counts and nobles, citizens and peasants, clergymen and magistrates. The customary rate of interest permitted by the authorities was two pfennig weekly per pound (1 pound = 240 pfennig), although the rate was occasionally higher. At Basel the Jews were obliged, at the request of the board of aldermen, to loan the city five pounds for half a year without interest. Money was generally loaned on security, and the Jews were forbidden to take church treasures in pledge, or to advance funds on weapons, armor, ecclesiastical vestments, chalices, or on bloody or wet garments; at Zurich silk in quantities of one pound or more might not be pawned with a Jew.


The Jews of Switzerland were hated and despised, and socially ostracized. They were compelled to wear the so-called Judenhut as a badge, only Jewish physicians, of whom there were several in the country, being occasionally exempt from this restriction. At Freiburg Master Joseph practised from 1356 to 1370, settling in the latter year at Basel, where he was appointed municipal physician at a yearly salary of 25 pounds. He was succeeded in this office by Master Gutleben, who received a salary of 50 pounds. Master Simon, a French Jew, was living at Freiburg in 1402, and Ackin of Vesoul, who was famous for his skill as a physician and surgeon, resided there from 1412 to 1423, when he was called to Bern, where Jewish physicians had been living at even an earlier date. In 1425 Master Joseph, who had been a resident of Zurich in 1423, was called to Luzerne, where the physician Lazarus, who practised at Winterthur also, lived as late as 1518. The majority of the Jewish physicians in Switzerland came from Italy. Even in the seventeenth century the physician Joseph Jacobson, a native of Prague, was practising at Basel and Zurich, and was especially successful in treating cases of calculus (Aug. Steinberg," Studien zur Gesch. der Juden in der Schweiz," pp. 87 et seq.; "Monatsschrift," xi. 351 et seq.).


In the cities of Switzerland, as elsewhere, the Jews were confined to certain streets which were set apart for them, and which they were not permitted to leave during Holy Week. The Jews' street in Bern, in the vicinity of the present Casino, is mentioned as early as the thirteenth century. At Zurich most of the Jews lived in the Brunnengasse (called also Judengasse), which was located outside the city proper. The Jewish quarter at Basel, previous to 1349, was in the Rindermarkt, the houses of the Jews being built on land belonging to the convent of St. Leonard. Their slaughter-house and their synagogue were located there, the latter in a wing of a house called "Zum Alten Safrön"; subsequently this was transferred to a building which even in the nineteenth century retained the name of "Die Judenschul." At Zurich the synagogue was situated opposite the Rindermarkt in the Brunnengasse already mentioned; with the permission of the Bishop of Constance a new synagogue was built in 1383, probably on the site of the old one. The small synagogues previously existing, in which disturbances had been frequent, were closed by the municipal council. The Jews did not have cemeteries for all their communities. The burial-ground at Bern was situated at the end of the Judengasse, and that at Basel, below St. Alban; the latter, however, was taken from the Jews after the persecution of 1294. In 1394 the council of Basel granted the Jews a plot for a new cemetery in the suburb Ze Spitalschüren, near the Spahlenthurm, and permitted them to inter corpses from other places on payment of one gulden for each burial. At Zurich the Jewish cemetery was situated at the Lindenthor, and there also the Jews were permitted to inter bodies from elsewhere, although this privilege was subsequently restricted to certain places. A burial-tax was levied in many cities; at Basel, for example, half a gulden had to be paid for the burial of every resident Jew, and at Zurich one gulden. After the expulsion the tombstones of the Jewish cemeteries at Basel and Zurich were used for repairing the city walls. Ulrich gives several Jewish epitaphs (l.c. pp. 38 et seq., 458).

There were very few Jewish scholars in Switzerland. Rabbi Moses, who was the author of the so-called "Zürcher Semak" (Zunz, "Ritus," p. 211), lived at Zurich in 1347; and about 1410 the pious Moses Cohen, the father-in-law of R. Jacob Mölln ha-Levi (MaHaRIL, Responsa, Nos. 8, 33), resided at Bern.

Further Persecutions.

The Jews of Switzerland, being almost exclusively engaged in money-lending, were tolerated because of their wealth and were persecuted for the same reason. Whenever the Christian inhabitants were heavily indebted to the Jews a pretext was sought to get rid of the latter, and all kinds of crimes were ascribed to them, including ritual murder, the poisoning of wells, and the desecration of the host. The first Swiss persecution of the Jews took place at Bern in 1294, when they were accused of having cruelly murdered a boy named Rudolf (Ruff). They were accordingly expelled from the city, although they were soon readmitted. Then came the plague of the year 1349, when the Black Death raged throughout Switzerland. At Vevay, Geneva, and neighboring places Jews were broken on the wheel, hanged, and subjected to other persecutions (Hottinger,"Kirchengesch." ii. 168; Ulrich, l.c. p. 228). At Zofingen, where poison was said to have been found in the wells, some Jews were put to the test of "Dümeln" (thumbscrews), whereupon they declared themselves guilty of the charges brought against them. This discovery was then communicated to the people of Basel, Zurich, Freiburg-im-Breisgau, and even of Cologne. The Jews of Basel were burned on an island in the Rhine on Jan. 9, 1349 (not Christmas day, 1348), and their children, who were spared, were baptized. At Zurich, as at Basel, the municipal council endeavored to protect the Jews, but as the latter were accused at the same time of the murder of a boy whose body had been found in the Wolfsbach, the authorities could not restrain the mob, and the Jews were tortured and burned on the eve of St. Matthias, Sept. 21, 1349 (not 1348, as Grätz asserts, "Gesch." vii. 387; see Ulrich, l.c. p. 98; Vögelin, "Aus dem Alten Zürich," pp. 62 et seq., Zurich, 1829). The impecunious Eberhard of Kyburg expelled the Jews of Burgdorf, in the territory of Bern, on the night of Feb. 16, 1349, and confiscated their property. At St. Gall, where many Jews lived in the street behind the so-called Brotlaube, some were burned and the others expelled, while at Diessenhofen their houses were forcibly entered and robbed, and they themselves dragged to the stake and burned. Some of them, however, together with coreligionists from Winterthur and probably from other places as well, escaped to the castle of Kyburg, where they were protected by the governor. The cities from which the Jews had fled demanded that their defender, Duke Albrecht of Austria, should have them burned alive by his judges, and threatened that otherwise they themselves would take the necessary steps; a large number of Jews, 330 it is said, were accordingly sent to the stake on Sept. 18, 1349, although some saved their lives by accepting baptism (Ulrich, l.c. p. 126; "Monatsschrift," xii. 405). Schaffhausen alone was guiltless of such indiscriminate slaughter, although even there some Jews are said to have been burned alive (Ulrich, l.c. p. 209; but comp. Löwenstein," Gesch. der Juden am Bodensee," p. 141).

Readmission of the Jews.

The object of these persecutions was attained: the promissory notes of the citizens were destroyed, their pledges recovered, and their debts canceled. In view of the high taxes the Jews paid, however, they were soon readmitted to all the places from which they had been expelled. By 1352 they had returned to Zurich, and by 1361 to Basel, which had determined to keep them excluded for a period of 200 years; in 1375 they loaned the municipal council of the latter city the sum of 5,000 gulden. Five years later (1380) they were once more in Bern. In 1401, however, a new accusation of ritual murder led to a repetition of the persecutions. A postilion of the governor had killed the four-year-old son of a councilor, and the charge was lodged against a Jew named Michael Vinelmann, a former resident of Basel, that he had promised the murderer three gulden for the blood of the child. The murderer was broken on the wheel, and the Jew burned alive without trial. The news of the crime was quickly brought to Schaffhausen, where shortly before a similar accusation had been successfully refuted. Several of the Jews of the city fled, but were captured and taken back to Schaffhausen, where they were thrown into a dungeon and terribly tortured. Hot pitch was poured into incisions made in their loins, and the soles of their feet were burned "until the bare flesh could be seen." Thus tortured, they answered every question in the affirmative, whereupon all the Jews living at Schaffhausen were condemned to death. Thirty were burned alive on June 25, 1401, and four weeks later eighteen men and women died at the stake in Winterthur. The Jews of Zurich, however, were protected (Ulrich, l.c. pp. 24, 126 et seq., 248; Joseph ha-Kohen, "'Emeḳ ha-Baka," p. 72; "Monatsschrift," xii. 406, xiv. 49 et seq.; Löwenstein, l.c. pp. 64 et seq., 82 et seq.).


During the Middle Ages the Jews were more oppressed and persecuted in Switzerland than in any other country, but on account of their being indispensable during financial difficulties they were more frequently readmitted into Swiss cities than elsewhere. With marvelous persistence they returned again and again to the cities and villages which they had been ordered to leave. They were banished from the city and canton of Bern in 1427, from Freiburg in 1428, from Zurich in 1436, from Schaffhausen in 1472, from Rheinau (where they were plundered) in 1490, from Thurgau in 1494, and from Basel in 1543. But despite the edict of exile, individual Jews succeeded in gaining readmission to various cities, even in the territories of Zurich and Bern, until the diet of the thirteen cantons in 1622 expelled the Jews forever from the Swiss Confederation. Nevertheless, twenty-four Jewish families were living in the village of Mammern as late as 1643, but after that date they were admitted only by Aargau (which did not join the confederation until 1803), and here they settled especially in the villages of Klingnau, Lengnau, and Endingen.


The emancipation and civil enfranchisement of the Jews of Switzerland were accomplished only after a bitter struggle. The French Revolution, however, ameliorated their condition. In the Great Council of Helvetia (1798-99) the most liberal-minded men of Switzerland, including Escher, Suter, Zimmermann, Herzog, and Secretan, advocated civic equality for the Jews, and attacked the ancient prejudices of intolerance. The first concessions granted them were, however, the result of treaties relating to settlement and commerce negotiated by the Swiss government with foreign powers. The ambassadors of France, England, and the United States insisted that the right of settlement should be granted to all citizens of their respective countries, without distinction of creed. During several decades before 1860, Jews, mostly from France, resided at Geneva and Bern, where they could acquire citizenship, and also at Basel, Neuchâtel, and Waadt. In 1860 the canton of Graubünden repealed all class legislation restricting the settlement of Swiss and foreign Jews; and in 1861 the canton of Zurich, which contained 175 Jews, granted them all civic and political rights, with the exception of naturalization.Similar measures were adopted by Solothurn and by Schaffhausen, all laws restricting the free settlement of Swiss Jews being repealed by the Great Council in May, 1865; while Thurgau, by a popular vote taken in Jan., 1866, granted the right of free settlement without distinction of creed. All the intercantonal restrictions affecting the Jews were finally removed by the revision of the confederal constitution in 1874, when articles 41 and 48 were stricken out, and religious liberty proclaimed.

Agitation Against Sheḥiṭah.

Notwithstanding the granting of civic equality to the Jews, certain religious customs peculiar to them were still restricted, especially ritual slaughtering, which had been forbidden in Aargau and St. Gall as late as 1867. Under the revised constitution of 1874 the question arose whether this prohibition was not contrary to the spirit of the law granting religious liberty. In 1886 the Aargau Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals demanded that the government prohibit ritual slaughtering; while, a year later, the Jews of Baden petitioned the government to grant permission to all Jewish communities in Switzerland to slaughter according to Mosaic law. The confederal government decided that while such a prohibition might contravene liberty of worship, the regulations issued by the several cantons to prevent cruelty in slaughtering should be upheld. The question was thereupon submitted to a referendum; and by popular vote of Aug., 1893, an article was inserted in the constitution declaring ritual slaughtering illegal throughout Switzerland.

During the last four decades of the nineteenth century the Jewish population of Switzerland became doubled, and now (1905) numbers more than 10,000. In addition to the older communities at Endingen, Lengnau, Baden, Basel, Bern, and Geneva, there is a community at Zurich, the largest in the country, and one at St. Gall, established in 1865. The two last-named communities have new synagogues, their own cemeteries, and, for the last forty years, their own rabbis. Of rabbis at Zurich may be mentioned M. Levin (until 1877), A. Kisch (1877-1892), and M. Littmann (the present incumbent). St. Gall has had two rabbis, H. Engelbert (appointed in 1865) and E. Schlesinger (since 1900). Lucerne, Biel, Burgdorf, Langenthal, Pruntrut, St. Imier, Neuchâtel, Chaux de Fond, Avenches, and Lausanne are smaller congregations with but one official each. A Swiss Jewish home for the aged has been built at Lengnau by voluntary contributions from the Guggenheim brothers of New York. See Aargau; Basel; Bern; Biel.

  • In addition to the bibliography given under Aargau, etc.,
  • see Aug. Steinberg. Studien zur Gesch. der Juden in der Schweiz Während des Mittelalters, Zurich, 1902;
  • E. Hailer, Die Rechtliche Stellung der Juden im Kanton Aargau, Aargau, 1901;
  • Löwenstein, Gesch. der Juden am Bodensce und Umgebung, 1879;
  • Harder, Ansiedelung, Leben und Schicksale der Juden in Schaffhausen, in Beiträge zur Vaterländischen Gesch. des Kantons Schaffhausen, i. 34 et seq.;
  • E. Bär, Die Juden Zürichs im Mittelalter, in Züricher Taschenbuch, 1896;
  • Monatsschrift, xii. 405 et seq., 441 et seq.; xiv. 41 et seq.
J. M. K.