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HESSE, state in Germany. There were Jews living in Hesse at the end of the 12th century, and by the middle of the 14th century they had settled in more than 70 places, the most important of which were *Friedberg, *Wetzlar, and *Fulda. Most of the communities destroyed by persecutions during the *Black Death (1349) were reestablished in the 14th century. As Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria (1314–47) and his successors usually transferred rights over the Jews to the nobles, the majority of the Jews of Hesse lived in villages and towns under the protection of the nobles and not in the cities belonging to the emperor. In 1524 Landgrave Philip the Magnanimous expelled the Jews from his territory but allowed them to return shortly afterward. His adviser in religious affairs, the Protestant reformer Martin *Bucer, demanded that he humiliate the Jews and limit their rights. Although Philip did not respond to this request, his 1539 Judenreglement, the model for future Hessian legislation regulating Jewish rights, while relatively favorable, included a prohibition on the building of new synagogues and commanded the Jews not to resist efforts to convert them. After Philip's death in 1567 Hesse was divided among his four sons, with two principalities, Hesse-Kassel and Hesse-Darmstadt, emerging with sizable Jewish populations. For the history of Hesse-Homburg Jewry, see *Homburg.


In the reign of Philip's son William the Wise of Hesse-Kassel, who prohibited anti-Jewish incitement, the number of Jews on his lands increased. In the reign of his successor the Jewish Landtag was inaugurated. Once every three years (until 1806) this day of assembly was held, on which the Jews of Hesse decided on the assignment of taxes, internal legislation, and other public matters. In 1656 a Landrabbinat was established with its seat in Witzenhausen, where the central yeshivah for Hessian Jewry was founded. The majority of Hessian Jewry settled in rural regions (143 heads of households in 42 localities in 1646). In the 17th and 18th centuries the authorities sought to restrict the commercial occupations they pursued, particularly peddling and trade in cloth and metals. Jews also made their living in the livestock and leather trades, in real estate brokerage, and in supplying silver for the mint and recruits for the army. As far back as the 15th century Jews served as court physicians. In the 18th century some Jews were granted the monopoly of tobacco production. They were finally allowed to trade freely in 1781, but it was not until Hesse-Kassel became a part of the kingdom of Westphalia (1808) that they were recognized as citizens.

From the middle of the 17th century and for the next two centuries the Goldschmidt family of Frankfurt, *Court Jews and financiers to the landgraves of Hesse-Kassel, were dominant in Jewish affairs. From 1709 to 1734 several Hebrew bookswere published in *Hanau. After Hesse was incorporated into Westphalia, matters of religion and education came under the consistory in *Kassel, headed by Israel *Jacobson, who introduced reforms. The Jewry Law of 1816 encouraged the Jews to transfer to agriculture and crafts, and that of 1823 restricted rabbinical authority. Complete civil rights were not granted until Hesse-Kassel was annexed to Prussia (1866) and became part of the district of Hesse-Nassau.


The situation of the Jews in Hesse-Darmstadt was generally more favorable than in Hesse-Kassel. In his *Judenordnung ("Jewry regulations") of 1585 Landgrave George I (1567–96) reissued his father's Judenreglement with the addition of a few more restrictions. The 1629 Judenordnung of George II (1626–61) was regularly renewed for a century and a half, although his successor, Ludwig VI, expelled the Jews from the cities for a short period. Generally, however, the policy of the rulers was one of nonintervention in Jewish affairs, which stimulated the development of institutions of Jewish self-government. As in Hesse-Kassel, during the triennial Judenlandtage the Jews of the principality convened to discuss questions of community taxation as well as other economic and social problems. Despite such important developments within the Jewish community, the Jews of Hesse-Darmstadt were subject to legal disabilities until the middle of the 19th century. Even the Hessian constitution of 1820 placed strict limitations on citizenship, and the majority of Jews remained *Schutzjuden; only in 1848 were all legal inequalities finally abolished. The Jewish population of Hesse-Darmstadt was 19,530 in 1822 and reached a peak of 28,061 in 1849, declining gradually to 20,401 in 1925. Although their percentage of the total population declined from 3.04% to 1.52%, it remained throughout one of the highest in Germany. The Jews, who were settled primarily in rural areas, engaged in peddling, livestock trade, and dealing in wholesale agricultural produce; accusations that they exploited the peasants were endemic. The Jews of Hesse-Darmstadt (and Hesse-Kassel as well) suffered during the *Hep! Hep! disturbances of 1819 and again during the revolution of 1848. In both cases the rulers intervened vigorously on behalf of the Jews; later in the century they tried to moderate the anti-Jewish policies of the Russian czar, to whom they were related by marriage. In contrast to their rulers, the backward peasants of Hesse repeatedly elected to parliament the rabid antisemite, Otto Boeckel; the region continued to be a hotbed of antisemitism and actively welcomed the Nazi seizure of power.

Especially after persecutions on the Kristallnacht (Nov. 9/10, 1938), when the local populace supported the Nazi storm-troopers, the Jews of the rural communities of Hesse moved, or were forced to move, to such larger towns as *Frankfurt, *Darmstadt, *Giessen, Friedberg, *Kassel, and *Offenbach. From there, the majority were later deported to concentration camps in Eastern Europe.


After World War II most of Hesse-Darmstadt and Hesse-Kassel was included in the new state of Hesse, which in 1970 contained 1,508 Jews in nine communities, the most important being Offenbach, *Wiesbaden, Darmstadt, and Kassel, with a joint regional organization in Frankfurt. At the beginning of the 21st century, after immigration from the former Soviet Union, the population of these four main communities exceeded 3,000.


K.E. Demandt, Schrifttum zur Geschichte… Hessen, 2 (1965), 84–100; C. Munk, in: MGWJ, 41 (1897), 505–22; idem, in: E. Hildesheimer Jubelschrift (1890), 69–82, Heb. 77–85; idem, in: J. Carlebach Festschrift (1910), 339–50; J. Lebermann, in: JJLG, 6 (1908), 105–52; ibid., 18 (1927), 65–142; A. Ruppin, Die Juden im Grossherzogtum Hessen (1909); L. Knoepfel, in: Zeitschrift fuer Demographie und Statistik der Juden, 8 (1912), 97–108; S. Engelbert, Das Recht der israelitischen Religionsgemeinschaft in Kur-Hessen (1913); O. Meller, in: Der Morgen, 2 (1926), 658–64; R. Hallo, ibid., 4 (1928), 3–26; idem, Juedische Volkskunst in Hessen (1929); idem, Juedische Kunst aus Hessen und Nassau (1933); R. Bodenheimer, Beitrag zur Geschichte der Juden in Oberhessen (1931); G. Walter, in: MGWJ, 78 (1934), 518–28; A.M. Keim, Die Judenfrage vor dem hessischen Landtag in der Zeit von 1820–49 (1953); H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 4 (1963), 284–303; R. Masch, in: Wettenauer Geschichtsblaetter, 16 (1967), 113–47; BJCE.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.