Schudt uses this story to illustrate and critically examine the details of the living conditions of the Sephardic Jews in Hamburg in terms which contemporary readers could understand. Schupp’s work was particularly well suited for this purpose; this popular pastor had been an avid writer with a folksy style rich with satire and anecdote. Whether or not the story told here is based on an actual event is unclear and less important than understanding Schupp’s motivation in relating the anecdote of how he, as a Lutheran pastor, doffed his hat and bowed “so low” before a Jew, behaving as though it was the “ Elector of Saxony” in front of him instead. His story is meant to convey to his Christian contemporaries that the social religious order in Hamburg has been turned upside down. According to orthodox Lutheran theology, the Jews—considered blasphemous heathen—were to assume a subordinate role as servants beneath the Christian subjects. The appearance and manner of the Jewish protagonist in Schupp’s story stands in direct opposition to this expectation: he arrives in a “splendid carriage lined with velvet […],” wearing a “silken robe,” and he is accompanied by a servant in livery, who even lifts him from the carriage when it reaches its destination. In the 17th century, this description would have been typical for those of great importance, for example a “bishop” or an “elderly prince or count.”
It was only a local passerby, according to Schupp, who informed him of his mistake. This “honest, pious woman” told him “with a smile” that this undefined “lord” was in fact a Jew, known throughout Hamburg as “the rich Jew.” His informant is described as recognizing the comedic aspect of Schupp’s bowing before the supposed “lord,” and also complacent in regards to the breach of rules established under Lutheran theology—a Jew living in luxury—which had become part of everyday life in Hamburg. Her behavior as a local Christian presents a contrast to Schupp’s surprise and criticism of the situation.
The final sentences of Schupp’s anecdote make clear that he sought not only to entertain his readers but to instruct them. They take the form of an inner monologue directed towards the “rich Jew,” in which the author warns his readers to think of the animosity which—according to the Christian expectations of that age—Jews harbored towards Christians. Schupp draws here on anti-Judaic prejudices dating back to the Middle Ages according to which Jews were thought deceitful. He specifically accused the “rich Jew” of having “scratched together” enough money by defrauding Christians to live better than “some imperial counts in Germany” could. His closing remark concerning the destruction of Jerusalem (including the temple), which had marked the defeat of the Jews by the Roman emperor Titus in 70 AD, is also meant to be instructive. Theologians interpreted these historical events as a divine punishment of the Jews for their refusal to convert to Christianity. By pointing this out, the author highlighted the subordinate status which Jews were to assume from the Christian perspective. This would have been clear to the early modern reader, as would have the fact that financial transactions—“money to trade with Venice, Amsterdam, or Hamburg”—of the scope possible for Sephardic Jews at the time of Schupp’s publication stood in direct contradiction to this theological concept.
Because the actual identity of the Jew in question was of little importance for his instructive purposes, Schupp did not name him. Schudt, however, tells his reader that the “rich Jew” was Diogo (Diego?) Teixeira (1581–1666), son of a wealthy converso family from Portugal which had fled from the Inquisition and spent time in Brazil, Antwerp, and Cologne before settling in Hamburg in 1646. The first Portuguese Jews had come there in the early 17th century; like Teixeira, they were the descendants of exiles from the Iberian Peninsula, some of whom had been subjected to forced baptism. Like many of these conversos who returned to their Jewish faith in Hamburg, Teixeira and his family formally returned to Judaism in 1647 (and he assumed the Jewish name Abraham Senior). The open celebration of this conversion generated vehement protest among the orthodox Lutheran clergy in Hamburg and attracted attention from far beyond the city itself.
Teixeira, “the rich Jew” of Hamburg, was among his contemporaries the most widely known representative of an elite group of wealthy merchants and entrepreneurs who shaped the image of the Sephardic community in Hamburg. By trading in luxury goods and dealing in currency markets and exchanges on a continental scale which included royal courts, Teixeira accumulated a fortune which made him legendary. Like other Sephardic Jews in 17th century Hamburg, he served the nobility in official capacities. As a financial advisor to the Swedish queen Christina, he was considered a person of distinction. In his magnificent house on Jungfernstieg—described by contemporaries as an “earthly paradise,” Teixeira received not only notable citizens of Hamburg but also representatives of European princes and monarchs.
Sephardic merchants like Teixeira were allowed exceptional freedoms regarding their commercial and social activities in Hamburg; because of their importance for the city’s economy they enjoyed the protection of the municipal senate. Their situation, however, was somewhat precarious, for there was considerable resistance within the city to this toleration. Schupp suggests this, in fact, in the opening sentences of his anecdote, which Schudt includes as an appendix (§10): Schupp points out that he himself would follow the Biblical example of Joshua’s treatment of the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:27) and assign the Jews to the most menial physical labor as “woodcutters” and “water carriers” rather than allowing them to drive about in velvet-lined carriages.
The anti-Judaic attitude evident here was typical not just of the orthodox Lutheran clergy, but also more generally of the middle class. As this class acquired more political clout in the city in the second half of the 17th century, the living conditions for the Sephardic Jews declined. By the end of the 17th century, the negative evolution had culminated in demands for high tribute payments and a further limitation of their already limited religious rights. As a result, most members of the Sephardic upper class turned their backs on Hamburg, and the heyday of Sephardic Judaism in Hamburg came to an end.
This text is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Non commercial - No Derivatives 4.0 International License. As long as the work is unedited and you give appropriate credit according to the Recommended Citation, you may reuse and redistribute the material in any medium or format for non-commercial purposes.
Jutta Braden, Dr. phil., is historian and research assistant in a research project which deals with the history of missionary work to Jews in Hamburg at the University of Hamburg in collaboration with the Institute for the history of the German Jews. Her focus of research is: policies towards Jews and Jewish-Christian conversions in Hamburg in early modern times.
Jutta Braden, “The Rich Jew”: An Anti-Judaic Anecdote about the Religious Social Order in 17th century Hamburg (translated by Ellen Yutzy Glebe), in: Key Documents of German-Jewish History, September 22, 2016. <https://dx.doi.org/10.23691/jgo:article-64.en.v1> [February 29, 2024].