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Mecklenburg is a former duchy in Germany. Before the middle of the 14th century Jews were to be found in Wismar, Rostock, Parchim, Kraków, Guestrow, Schwerin, Friedland, and perhaps also in Borzenburg and Malchin. A Jewish community is first mentioned in 1279 at Rostock and there were communities from around the same time in Parchim and Guestrow. The other cities had only a few families. The Jews were allowed to engage only in moneylending. A Jew, Salathiel, bought a house and loaned money to the duke and to the city of Schwerin. Accusations of desecrating the *Host in Kraków am See (1325) and Guestrow (1330) and the *Black Death persecutions in Rostock, Parchim, and Wismar practically wiped out Mecklenburg Jewry. After another accusation of desecrating the Host, in Sternberg in 1492, 27 Jews were burned at the stake and all Jews were expelled from the duchy.

From 1679, Jewish merchants from Hamburg, often of Sephardi extraction, were granted letters of protection and commercial privileges, and some became Court Jews. One of them, Michael Hinrichsen (Portugies) of *Glueckstadt (d. 1710), court jeweler and tobacco agent, settled in Schwerin, where he rapidly gained ascendancy. He employed a rabbi so that he might study Talmud with him, and opened a synagogue in his home. He was the first Jew in Germany to be freed (in 1701) from payment of the *Leibzoll ("body tax") for his lifetime. His descendants continued to hold leading positions in Mecklenburg economic and public life for five generations. The first Landesrabbiner, Jeremias Israel, appointed in 1763, was a member of his family. A growing number of communities were established by privileged Jews and their households despite a 1755 enactment making illegal all forms of landholdings. Tax records of 1760 show 141 taxpaying Jews residing legally in the duchy. In this period the history of Mecklenburg Jewry is linked with that of O.G. Tychsen (1734–1816), Orientalist, professor, and unsuccessful missionary, who meticulously recorded the history of the local Jews as well as supporting their emancipation. A ducal order (May 30, 1772), that burials be postponed for three days in order to eliminate the possibility of "false" deaths, induced the Jews of Mecklenburg to apply to Moses *Mendelssohn, who advised them to erect burial halls, a decision which was contested by more Orthodox rabbis.

On February 22, 1811, M.R. Hinrichsen and I. Mendel presented a petition for emancipation. Although the estates demanded basic reforms in Judaism, the liberal duke, Franz Friedrich I (d. 1839), nonetheless issued an emancipatory edict two years later (March 25, 1813), based on the Prussian model. Markets were not to be held on Jewish holidays and support was given to Jewish rights within the German Confederation. On Sept. 11, 1817, under pressure from the estates, the duke suspended emancipation. During the *Hep! Hep! disturbances (1819) troops had to be called in to Guestrow to suppress the riots. The estates continued to oppose the duke's liberal attitude toward individual Jews and rejected a law of 1830 granting the Jews occupational and economic liberties. In 1847 the estates at last supported emancipation, which endured briefly until 1850; the Jews were not fully emancipated until 1869.

In 1839, statutes were enacted granting autonomy to rabbinical organizations. A year later Samuel *Holdheim was elected Landesrabbiner and introduced far-reaching and controversial reforms. Holdheim was active in the struggle for emancipation and succeeded in having the degrading medieval formula of the Jewish *oath changed. He was followed by the even more radical David Einhorn (1847–51), whose denial of circumcision as a prerequisite of Judaism was attacked by Franz *Delitzsch, the Christian missionary and scholar. For the sake of peace, and on the order of the government, the rabbinate was subsequently filled by Orthodox rabbis.

Mecklenburg Jewry increased from 2,494 persons in 1810 to 3,318 (0.64% of the total population) in 1845. The small communities (11 with more than 100 persons in 1850) subsequently declined numerically, and due to the emigration of Jews to the big cities, the larger ones did not grow. The numbers decreased to 1,413 (0.22%) in 1910 and to 1,225 in 1932. Rostock, the largest city, which excluded Jews until 1867, was then the main community, with about 350 members, followed by Guestrow (120), Parchim (48), and Schwerin (200). The fate of Mecklenburg Jews during World War II was similar to that of the rest of German Jewry. In 1990, very few Jews resided in the state of Mecklenburg.


Germ Jud, 2 (1968), 528–9; L. Donath, Geschichte der Juden in Mecklenburg (1874); Neuman, in: Juedische Familien Forschung, no. 5 (1926), 98–101; Gruenfeldt, in: Zeitschrift fuer Demographic und Statistik der Juden 8 (1912), 1–7; Silberstein, in: Festschrift zum 25 jaehrigen Bestehen der juedischen theologischen Seminars Fraenkelscher Stiftung, 2 (1929), 303–66; idem, in: Festschriftzum 70 Geburtstage Martin Philipson (1916); Sterling, in: HJ, 12 (1950), 134; H. Kellenbenz, Sephardim an der unteren Elbe (1958), 436–46; H. Schnee, Die Hoffinanz und der moderne Staat, 2 (1954), 293–315; 5 (1965), 105ff., S. Stern, The Court Jew (1950), index.

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