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Germany: Hamburg

(Updated October 2014)

HAMBURG, city and state in Germany, including the cities of *Altona and *Wandsbek from 1937.

The Sephardi Community

The first Jews to settle in Hamburg were Portuguese and Spanish Marranos, who arrived via the Netherlands at the end of the 16th century and at first sought to conceal their religion. When it was discovered that they had been observing Jewish customs, some of the inhabitants demanded their expulsion, but the city council, pointing to the economic benefits accruing from their presence, opposed the measure. Among the Jews were financiers (some of whom took part in the founding of the Bank of Hamburg in 1619), shipbuilders, importers (especially of *sugar , coffee, and *tobacco from the Spanish and Portuguese colonies), weavers, and goldsmiths. In 1612 the Jews of Hamburg paid an annual tax of 1,000 marks and by 1617 this sum was doubled. The kingdoms of Sweden, Poland, and Portugal appointed Jews as their ambassadors in Hamburg. Those who had come to Hamburg from Spain and Portugal continued to speak the languages of their native lands for two centuries and about 15 books in Portuguese and Spanish were printed in Hamburg from 1618 to 1756. (From 1586 Hebrew books, especially the books of the Bible, had been published in Hamburg by Christian printers, mostly with the help of Jewish personnel.)

As early as 1611 Hamburg had three synagogues, whose congregations jointly owned burial grounds in nearby Altona. In 1652 the three congregations combined under the name of Beth Israel. Uriel da *Costa lived in Hamburg in 1616–17; the local physician Samuel da *Silva wrote a pamphlet attacking him; the excommunication of da Costa by R. Leone *Modena was read publicly in the Hamburg synagogue. Shabbateanism swept the community in 1666; so certain were they of the imminence of the Messiah that the governing board of the community announced that the communal buildings were for sale. The rabbi, Jacob b. Aaron *Sasportas , was one of the few not carried away by the prevailing enthusiasm. At that time the Sephardi community, consisting of about 120 families, was still the only acknowledged Jewish community in Hamburg. When in 1697 the city unexpectedly raised the annual tax levied against the Jews to 6,000 marks, the majority of the rich Jews of Hamburg (most of whom belonged to the Spanish-Portuguese congregation) moved to Altona and Amsterdam.

Among the prominent Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin who lived in Hamburg were the physician and author Rodrigo de Castro (1550–1627), R. Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo (1622–25 in Hamburg), the physician and lexicographer Benjamin *Mussafia (1609–1672), the grammarian and writer Moses Gideon Abudiente (1602–1688), the rabbi and writer Abraham de Fonseca (d. 1651), and the poet Joseph *Ẓarefati (d. 1680).

The Ashkenazi Community

From about 1600, German Jews were admitted to Wandsbek and in 1611 some of them settled in Altona, both cities under Danish rule. By 1627 German Jews began to settle in Hamburg itself, although on festivals they continued to worship at Altona, where the Danish king had permitted the official establishment of a congregation and the building of a synagogue in 1641. They submitted their disputes to the jurisdiction of the rabbi of the Altona congregation. Many Jews, fleeing from persecutions in Ukraine and Poland in 1648 arrived in Hamburg where they were helped by the resident Jews. However, most of these refugees soon left for Amsterdam since at that time the Christian clergy in Hamburg was inciting the inhabitants to expel the Ashkenazi Jews from the city, an expulsion which took place in 1649. Most went to Altona and a number to Wandsbek; only a few remained in Hamburg, residing in the homes of the Spanish-Portuguese Jews. Within a few years many of those who had been driven out returned to Hamburg, and in 1656 a number of refugees from *Vilna also found asylum there.

Most Ashkenazi Jews in Hamburg at that time were Danish subjects and officially belonged to the Jewish community of either Altona or Wandsbek, while others had officially registered as servants in one of Hamburg's Sephardi households to obtain legal status in the city. These "Tudescos" formed a congregation of their own. In 1671 the three Ashkenazi congregations – Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbek – united to form the AHW congregation, with the seat of their rabbinate in Altona. One of the most famous rabbis of the merged congregation was Jonathan *Eybeschuetz who was appointed to the post in 1750. His equally famous adversary, Jacob *Emden , lived in Altona. R. Raphael b. Jekuthiel *Kohen , who served the community for 23 years, was one of the fiercest opponents of *Mendelssohn 's translation of the Pentateuch (1783). The AHW congregation ceased to exist in 1811 when the French authorities imposed a single consistorial organization; the Ashkenazim and Sephardim united to form one congregation, the Altona community retaining its own rabbinate which was also recognized by the Jews of Wandsbek until 1864.

Around 1800, about 6,300 Ashkenazi and 130 Portuguese Jews lived in Hamburg, accounting for around 6 percent of the population. During the French occupation (1811–14), the Jews officially enjoyed full equality but suffered greatly under Marshal Davoust's reign of terror. In 1814, when the city had regained its independence, the Jews were again denied civil rights. The *Hep! Hep! riots of 1819 were especially severe in Hamburg, and similar outbreaks occurred in 1830 and 1835. While no ghetto or Jewish quarter existed in Hamburg, the Jews' right of residence was effectively limited to two areas until 1842, when large parts of the city were destroyed by fire. By 1850 they were granted citizenship, due in large measure to the efforts of Gabriel *Riesser , a native of Hamburg.

The Reform movement, which began in Berlin, eventually reached Hamburg. A Reform temple was dedicated in 1818, and in 1819 a new prayerbook was published to accord with the liturgical ritual of the new congregation. The rabbinate in Hamburg published the opinions of noted Jewish scholars to discredit the temple (titled Elleh Divrei ha-Berit, Altona, 1819) and prohibited the use of its prayer book. Isaac *Bernays , leader of the community from 1821 to 1849, espoused the cause of "modern Orthodoxy" and sought to endow the traditional divine service with greater beauty. In his day controversy flared up again when the Reform congregation occupied a new building and the more radically abridged and revised version of its prayerbook Siddur ha-Tefillah was issued (1844). At the time the Orthodox rabbi was Jacob *Ettlinger , founder of an anti-Reform journal.

Other German Jews who lived in Hamburg included Glueckel of *Hameln , the merchant and philanthropist Salomon *Heine (the uncle of Heinrich Heine), Moses Mendelssohn, the poets Naphtali Herz *Wessely and Shalom b. Jacob ha-Kohen, Isaac *Halevy , the author of Dorot ha-Rishonim, the art historian A. *Warburg , the philosopher Ernst *Cassirer , the psychologist William *Stern , Albert *Ballin , and the financiers Max *Warburg and Karl *Melchior . Among Orthodox rabbis of recent times worthy of note is Nehemiah *Nobel and among the Reform, C. *Seligmann and P. *Rieger . In 1884 the fortnightly Laubhuette and in 1900 the weekly *Israelitisches Familienblatt began to be issued in Hamburg. The municipal library and the library of the University of Hamburg contain a large number of Hebrew manuscripts, listed by M. *Steinschneider . Nearly 400 Hebrew books were printed in Hamburg in the 17th–19th centuries. In the 19th century, the Jewish printers issued mainly prayer books, the Pentateuch, mystic lore, and popular literature.

The Jewish congregation of greater Hamburg was the fourth largest community in Germany. In 1866 there were 12,550 Jews at Hamburg and in 1933 about 19,900 (1.7% of the general population), including more than 2,000 at Altona. The last rabbi was Joseph *Carlebach , who was deported in 1942 and killed by the Nazis.

Holocaust Period

In the years 1933–37 more than 5,000 Jews emigrated; on Oct. 28, 1938, about 1,000 Polish citizens were expelled. The pogrom of Kristallnacht (Nov. 9–10, 1938), in which most synagogues were looted and closed down, caused an upsurge of emigration. In 1941, 3,148 Jews were deported to Riga, Lodz, and Minsk. In July 1942, 1,997 Jews were deported to *Auschwitz and *Theresienstadt . Nearly 8,900 Hamburg Jews lost their lives in the Nazi era (153 mentally ill were executed and 308 committed suicide), including those deported from places of refuge in Western Europe after the Nazi occupation. In this period the community was led by Max Plaut and Leo Lippmann (who committed suicide in 1943). A few hundred Jews, privileged or of mixed marriage, outlived the war. A concentration camp, Neuengamme, was situated near the city. A total of 106,000 inmates passed through its gates and more than half of them perished.

Since World War II

On May 3, 1945, Hamburg was liberated by British troops who offered aid to the few hundred Jewish survivors. On September 18 a Jewish community was organized, which reopened the cemetery, old age home, mikveh, and hospital soon after. By March 18, 1947 the community totaled 1,268, its numbers changing due to emigration, immigration, and a high mortality rate. In January 1970 there were 1,532 Jews in Hamburg, two-thirds of whom were above 40 years old. In 1960 a 190-bed hospital was opened and a large modern synagogue consecrated. Herbert Weichmann (b. 1896) was elected Buergermeister in 1965. An institute for German-Jewish history was founded in 1966. Within the Jewish community, several hundred Iranian Jews have formed a distinctive element during the last decades. As a result of the immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union, the number of community members rose from 1,344 in 1989 to 5,019 in 2003.  Hamburg is the only major German city who has elected a Jewish mayor since 1933. 


Sources:H. Kellenbenz, Sephardim an der unteren Elbe… (1958); A. Cassuto, Gedenkschrift anlaesslich des 275-jaehrigen Bestehens der portugiesisch-juedischen Gemeinde in Hamburg… (1927); M. Grunwald, Portugiesengraeber auf deutscher Erde… (1902); M. Grunwald, Hamburgs deutsche Juden bis zur Aufloesung der Dreigemeinden… (1904); O. Wolfsberg et al., Die Drei-Gemeinde… Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbeck (1960); H. Gonsierowski, Die Berufe der Juden Hamburgs von der Einwanderung bis zur Emanzipation (1927); L. Dukes, Uebersicht aller… Anstalten… Vereine… Stiftungen der Deutsch-und der Portugiesisch-israelitischen Gemeinde in Hamburg (1841); J.S. Schwabacher, Geschichte und rechtliche Gestaltung der portugiesisch-juedischen und der Deutsch-israelitischen Gemeinde zu Hamburg (1914); Glueckel von Hameln, Life of Glueckel of Hameln… (1962); E. Lueth, Hamburgs Juden in der Heine-Zeit (1961); H. Krohn, Die Juden in Hamburg, 18001850… (1967); E. Duckesz, Iwoh lemoschaw… (1903); H. Goldstein (ed.), Die juedischen Opfer des Nationalsozialismus in Hamburg (1965); B. Brilling in: Zeitschrift des Vereins fuer Hamburgische Geschichte 55 (1969), 219–44. M. Studemund-Halévy, Bibliographie zur Geschichte der Juden in Hamburg (1994); H. Krohn, Die Juden in Hamburg … 18481918 (1974); I. Stein, Juedische Baudenkmaeler in Hamburg (1984); I. Lorenz, Die Juden in Hamburg zur Zeit der Weimarer Republik, 2 vols. (1987); P. Freimark and A. Herzig (ed.), Die Hamburger Juden in der Emanzipationsphase (1989); Die Juden in Hamburg 15901990 (1991); I. Lorenz and J. Berkemann, Streitfall juedischer Friedhof Ottensen, 2 vols. (1995); M. Studemund-Halévy, Biographisches Lexikon der Hamburger Sefarden (2000); J. Braden, Hamburger Judenpolitik im Zeitalter lutherischer Orthodoxie (2001); F. Bajohr, Die Deportation der Hamburger Juden (20022); A. Buettner, Hoffnungen einer Minderheit (2003).

[Zvi Avneri /Stefan Rohrbacher (2nd ed.)]

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