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Altona, Germany

ALTONA, major port, suburb of Hamburg, Germany; until 1864 part of Denmark. The Portuguese Jews living in Hamburg were prohibited from burying their dead there, and acquired land for a cemetery in Altona in 1611. Thirteen Portuguese families from Hamburg settled in Altona in 1703, augmenting the small Portuguese settlement already in existence. They organized a community known as Bet Ya'akov ha-Katan (later Neveh Shalom). A synagogue was built in 1770. The Sephardi community, however, remained a branch of the community in Hamburg. Greater importance was attained by the community established by Ashkenazi Jews, who first arrived in Altona around 1600. In 1641, they received a charter from the king of Denmark to found a community and build a synagogue. After the Russian-Polish War of 1654/55, Jewish refugees from Lithuania expelled from Hamburg settled in Altona. At the same time numerous families, while formally remaining Danish subjects and members of the Altona community, had established themselves in Hamburg, where they formed a semi-independent subcommunity. In 1671 the Altona community amalgamated with the community of Hamburg, and afterward with that of Wandsbek, to form a single community, known by the initials AHW (אה״ו), under Chief Rabbi *Hillel b. Naphtali Ẓevi. The chief rabbinate, as well as the attached yeshivah and bet din, was situated in Altona. It had jurisdiction over the Ashkenazi Jews in all three communities as well as *Schleswig-Holstein . In the 18th century the community in Altona overshadowed that of Hamburg, in both scholarship (having a series of eminent rabbis and scholars) and affluence. It was in Altona that the acrimonious *Emden - *Eybeschuetz amulet controversy took place. Altona was also an important center of Hebrew printing (see below). The Chief Rabbinate existed until 1863, its bet din being the last institution of Jewish jurisdiction to function autonomously in Germany.

The three communities remained united until 1811, when Hamburg was occupied by French forces. In 1815 a number of Jews moved from Hamburg to Altona after the emancipation granted by the French was annulled. The Jews in Altona engaged in commerce, some being shareholders of ships employed in the South American trade and, especially in the 18th century, whaling. Special economic privileges were granted to them by the Danish kings. Hamburg Jews frequently helped to finance these activities. After the annexation of the area to Prussia in 1866, the Hamburg community grew rapidly and eclipsed that of Altona. In 1938 Altona was officially incorporated into Hamburg. Rabbis of the independent community of Altona were Akiva Wertheimer (1816–35); the eminent halakhist Jacob *Ettlinger (1835–71); Eliezer Loeb (1873–92); Meyer *Lerner (1894–1926); and Joseph Carlebach (1927–37). The Jewish population of Altona numbered 2,350 in 1867 (out of a total of 50,000), around 2,000 in 1900, and around 5,000 in 1925 (out of 186,000). (See also *Hamburg .)

Hebrew Printing in Altona

In 1727 Samuel S. Popert of Koblenz established a printing press in Altona, having learned the craft in nearby Hamburg where he had published a few books. He did the printing himself, assisted by the wandering typesetter Moses Maarsen of Amsterdam. Until 1739 Popert published various works in Hebrew and Judeo-German. In 1732 the wealthy Ephraim Heckscher set up a printing house which a year later passed into the hands of his assistant Aaron b. Elijah ha-Kohen, who was called Aaron Setzer ("setter"). He continued printing until 1743, when he became the manager of the press set up by Jacob Emden, where later many of Emden's polemical writings against Jonathan Eybeschuetz were printed. In 1752 they separated, as Aaron had sided with Eybeschuetz. Another assistant in Emden's printing works, Moses Bonn, set out on his own in 1765, and this business was operated for many years by his sons and grandsons as Brothers Bonn.


E. Duckesz, Ivoh le-Moshav (Heb. and Ger., 1903); idem, Ḥakhmei AHW (Heb. and Ger., 1908); W. Victor, Die Emanzipation der Juden in Schleswig-Holstein (1913); H. Kellenbenz, Sephardim an der unteren Elbe (1958); O. Wolfsberg-Aviad, Die Drei-Gemeinde (1960). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: H.M. Graupe, Die Statuten der drei Gemeinden Altona, Hamburg und Wandsbek, 2 vols. (1973); G. Marwedel, Die Privilegien der Juden in Altona (1976). HEBREW PRINTING: Shunami, Bibl, index; Steinschneider, in: ZGJD, 1 (1887), 281 ff.; Ch. D. Friedberg, Toledot ha-Defus ha-Ivri… be-Augsburg… (1935), 105–8. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Brilling, in: Studies in Bibliography and Booklore, 9 (1971), 153–66; 13 (1980), 26–35.

[Akiva Posner]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.