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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Earliest Mention.

Southwestern part of the Hungarian crown provinces; consists of Croatia, Slavonia, and the Military Frontier, included since 1868. The earliest allusion to Jews in Croatia is found in a letter of the Spanish vizier Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut, addressed to Joseph, king of the Chazars. Two men, named Mar Saul and Mar Joseph, were the bearers of this letter; and they had come with the ambassador of the "king of the Giblim" to Ḥasdai at Cordova. Since both words, "Giblim" and "Croats," have etymologically the same meaning—e., "mountain people"—it is generally assumed that by "Giblim" is meant the people of Croatia. This is the only evidence, however slight, of the settlement of Jews within the present limits of Croatia in the tenth century. The proximity to Constantinople, as well as the active commerce with Italy, and more especially with Venice, leads to the conclusion that Jews were living in Croatia in the Middle Ages; but as yet the only historical evidence for this hypothesisis an ordinance of the Venetian doge, dating from the sixteenth century, which forbade the Jews in Dalmatia to own any real estate, and, consequently, to settle there. It is recorded that at about that time a Jewish physician on his way through Ragusa was permitted to stay in that city six months. The political unity which always existed between Hungary and Croatia resulted, naturally, in a common legislation; but it is not known whether the various pro-Jewish and anti-Jewish laws of the empire practically affected Croatia also. A single datum the only one within a hundred years, appears about the middle of the seventeenth century. At that time there is found in the literature, side by side with the common "Jidov" (derived from "Judæus"), the expression—still used by the people—"tschifut," borrowed from the Turkish. The former expression undeniably proves that the first Jews came to Croatia with the Turks during the time of the Turkish rule. But it seems that these Turkish Jews left together with the Turks; for in the eighteenth century the first Croatian Jews appear with German names; hence they had immigrated from the north. An edict of the year 1729 forbids Jews to live either in Croatia or in Slavonia. Yet a small number lived there, as, for instance, in Essegg in 1751, who were looked upon as "black sheep," and had no rights. They fared still worse at Semlin (Zimony), to which town they came during the Belgrade peace negotiations (1739): they were not allowed either as regular or temporary residents.

The enumeration of the Jews of Croatia under Maria Theresa (1773) showed hardly twenty-five families. It was only after the edict of toleration of Emperor Joseph (1782) that the immigration from the north and the south increased, at first in the villages and cities near the Hungarian frontier. Hungarian pedlers, who before this had visited Croatia, now settled here. The emperor's edict especially benefited the Jews of Semlin, who had managed to remain there in spite of the decrees against them. There were Jews in Warasdin in 1770; the ḥebrah there was founded in 1803, the congregation in 1811. The first Jew appeared in Kreuz in 1794; the Jews of Agram—who consisted of only two Jewish families under Maria Theresa—bought a plot for use as a cemetery in 1811; as early as 1820 there was a congregation in Karlstadt; and isolated families lived in the outlying country, going even into the mountain districts, where today not more than two or three families are to be found. In 1830 the gates of the free city of Pozega were opened to the first Jewish tax-farmer; and about the same time the Jews of the surrounding smaller villages had a rabbi at the head of their congregation. The congregations of Croatia were already formed in the first quarter of the nineteenth century.

A liberal legislation slowly bettered the condition of the Jews after 1782. On complaint of the Jews of Cirkvena against the intolerance at the office of the commanding general of Warasdin (in connection with the petition of the Hungarian Jews), a decree was passed (1791) permitting the Jews to live undisturbed wherever they chose, and confirming them in the condition in which they had been since the edict of toleration. A light is thrown upon this condition by the decree of the Warasdin magistrate, of the year 1781, which is a curious mixture of modern toleration and medieval prejudice. Under it no Jews besides the twenty-nine families already living in the city are allowed to settle there permanently. Other Jews must receive from the magistrate a certificate of residence for a few days; if this is prolonged without permission, the community has to pay a fine of twenty ducats. In accordance with the state law, they may not own real estate, but they may live in any street. The council of the community has the right, in lawsuits, to pass judgment up to fifty florins, from which there is no appeal; and, furthermore, it may use coercive measures or call in the police to guard its privileges and authority. It is also required that the council provide for the widows and orphans, the sick, and the poor; and they are permitted to engage a rabbi. Even on the Military Frontier the Jews, if living in the Hungarian crown provinces, or paying the toleration tax, have been allowed to peddle since 1787. This tax lay heavy upon the Croatian Jews, who were hoping in vain for a reduction in 1839, when they sent a delegation for that purpose, and addressed a petition for the granting of civil rights, to the Reichstag in Presburg.

Increased Toleration.

The Reichstag again granted them some privileges (1840); but the tax of toleration remained in force. They were now permitted to live anywhere, to build factories, to engage in business or trade, to devote themselves to the arts and sciences, and to acquire real estate in those places where custom formerly had permitted it. About 1850 the congregations were incorporated and chartered, and registers of vital statistics were instituted by the government. The attempt of Rabbi Rokonstein to introduce a hierarchy by making the rabbinate of Agram the chief rabbinate for the whole country, was frustrated by the government, which established the autonomy of every individual community, and recognized the appellation "chief rabbi" merely as an honorary title to be given to rabbis of merit, without combining therewith a higher rank.

In 1859 the Jews obtained the privilege to keep Christian servants; and in the following year they at last acquired the right to own real estate anywhere. The petition for complete equalization, which they sent to the Parliament in 1861, received no attention whatever. In 1873 the Croatian Diet decided upon the emancipation of the Jews: until then the Jewish religion had been merely tolerated, especially on the Military Frontier. The decree of 1840 was not valid in this district; and only a certain number of Jews were allowed to settle. Semlin alone had a school. The war office, while allowing them to engage in honest trades and occupations, did not permit anything that might lead to usury; and they were excluded from the farming of the revenues, except in connection with the catching of leeches. When the Military Frontier was annexed to Croatia, in 1868, the Jews were allowed to live anywhere and to acquire homesteads. Until then therehad been only one congregation in Semlin, with one rabbi. To these restrictive measures in the old Military Frontier it is due that in many sections there were no Jews at the beginning of the twentieth century. The decree of emancipation of 1873 gave to the Jews full civic rights; and the state treasury granted them a moderate sum for Jewish institutions (religious instruction and synagogue-building). The increase of the Jewish population in Croatia is shown in the following statistics: 1840-41, 380 souls; 1857-64, 850; 1869-79, 876; 1880, 13,488; 1890, 17,261; 1900, about 20,000, equivalent to 0.31 per cent of the entire population in 1857 and about 1 per cent in 1900.

The immigrants came from Bohemia, Moravia, and Hungary (Great Kanizsa) into Croatia; from Hungary (Bonyhád) into Slavonia; from Turkey into the Military Frontier. With the exception of a small number of "Spaniolen" (Sephardim) they have the German rites.

There are twenty-seven communities in Croatia: two, at Agram and at Essegg, have over 2,000 souls each (4 per cent and 8 per cent respectively of the entire population), and fourteen over 200 souls each. Eleven congregations have rabbis; the others have rabbinical delegates. There are four Jewish schools, at Agram, Essegg, Semlin, and Vukovár. With the exception of two, the communities are progressive; most of them have new temples with organs, a ḥebra ḳaddisha, and one or two benevolent societies. The several communities are not bound together by any sort of organization whatever.


The Jews of Croatia are engaged in all occupations, even in agriculture, but especially in trade, wholesale and retail. The wood industries are flourishing since Jewish business men have taken hold of them and have introduced stave and cane factories; they have also opened the one cotton-spinning and weaving establishment in the province. In professional life there are 30 Jewish lawyers (out of a total of 200), 10 Jewish judges, and about 50 Jewish physicians, either holding official positions or practising privately. In the arts and sciences the Jews of Croatia have not distinguished themselves. Even in Jewish science very little has been done; a few religious books by Dr. Jakobi (see Agram), a few treatises relating to the history of social life by Dr. S. Spitzer, and some articles on the history of the Croatian Jews (in the "Journal of the Country Archives," 1901-02) having been the entire output in this field up to the end of the nineteenth century. A society, founded by the Jewish youth of Agram in 1899, for the study of Jewish history and science, heralds a new era of intellectual activity.

The relations of the Jews of Croatia with the other denominations have been until very recently most friendly. Anti-Semitism, even in 1883, found no support. The peasantry, again, is indebted to the village Jews for new means of livelihood and the marketing of its products; and in the cities the assimilation of the Jews with the Croatians prevents race-hatred. Numerous Jews hold offices as town councilors, some even as mayors, and honorary positions in philanthropic and national societies are held by them. It is only in the last few years that attempts have been made by the clerical party to injure the Jews economically in many industries by establishing cooperative associations.

G. S.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Croatia'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​c/croatia.html. 1901.
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