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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Denis (Dionis), Albertus
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A kingdom of northwestern Europe. The first mention of the Danes in Jewish literature occurs in the "Yosippon" (ed. Breithaupt, pp. 8, 547; compare Jerahmeel, transl. Gaster, p. 68), where the Dodanim mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 10:4) are identified with the Danes, and where they are described as a valiant people who fled to northern shores in order to escape from the Romans, though the latter reached them even there, and overcame their resistance. The last-named detail probably owes its origin to an Italian source, in which may have been recounted, although inaccurately, the wars of the Christian emperors of Rome with the Danish kings. The identification with the Dodanim is, of course, based only on the partial consonance of the names.

It is very doubtful whether Jews were found even sporadically in Denmark in the Middle Ages. Although a "Deulacresse of Danemarcia" is mentioned in connection with the English money-broker see See AARON OF LINCOLN, in an English "sheṭar" of 1176 (the first sheṭar bearing a date, according to Jacobs in "Jews of Angevin England," pp. 58, 59), the designation "Danemarcia" can hardly refer to Denmark proper, but rather to a territory in Normandy subject to the Danes.

Relations with Frederick III.

The Jews first appeared in the region of Holstein, which belonged formerly to Denmark. In a letter dated Nov. 25, 1622, King Christian IV. (1588-1648) invited the Portuguese Jews of Amsterdam to settle in Glückstadt, where, among other privileges, the free exercise of their religion would be granted them. Though the history of the Jews in the territories of Sleswick-Holstein does not belong to this article, it must be noted that the Danish kings were invariably friendly to their Jewish subjects in these provinces, and that the Jews in Denmark proper were for a long time intimately connected with Altona, inasmuch as the chief rabbi of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbeck also exercised civil jurisdiction over the Jews settled in the Danish city Fredericia until Sleswick and Holstein in 1864 were severed from the Danish monarchy. The assistant rabbi of Fredericia was subject to the chief rabbi of Altona until 1812. The first Jews probably came to Denmark by way of Sleswick and Holstein during the reign of the above-mentioned Christian IV. His successor, Frederick III. (1648-70), was not so favorably disposed toward the Jews, for in a rescript of Feb. 6, 1651, he says: "Jews have stolen into Denmark contrary to long-standing custom, [since the days of the Reformation, the Lutheran creed had, according to the laws of Denmark, been compulsory throughout the kingdom], and have dared to traffic with jewels and the like." Accordingly, he ordered that no Jew should enter Denmark without a special passport ("Geleitsbrief"), and that those who were already in the country should be heavily fined if they did not leave within fourteen days. A few years later, however, the tables were turned. Frederick III., being in need of funds for his wars, borrowed money from the Jew Abraham (or Diego) Teixeira de Mattos of Hamburg (known through his relations with the Swedish queen Christina), and gave as security crownlands in Jutland. Teixeira thereupon made such good use of his influence with the Danish king that, as early as Jan. 19, 1657, "the Portuguese professing the Hebrew religion" were permitted to travel everywhere within the kingdom, and to trade and traffic within the limit of the law. Teixeira himself gained little by his transaction with the Danish monarch. As his loan was not returned, he took instead the estates he held as security, selling them later at a great loss. The king acted similarly in his dealings with the De Lima family, who were in possession of the Hald estate from 1660 to 1703.

The first Jewish congregation was formed in the capital, COPENHAGEN, but other congregations were soon founded in some of the provincial cities; for example, in the Laaland town Nakskov (1667). In Ribe, Jutland, there were Jews as early as 1680, although the first synagogue in Jutland, that of Fredericia, was not built until 1719 (rebuilt in 1814). The privilege of 1657 was specially ratified in an open letter of Dec. 14, 1670, at the instance of Gabriel Gomez, who was in the service of the king. Nevertheless, a rescript of April 16, 1681, repeated that Jews were not to come into Denmark without a special Geleitsbrief; and the "Danish Law" (1683) of Christian V. (1670-99), a remarkable production which is still authoritative in Danish jurisprudence, in so far as it has not been expressly abrogated by later laws, classed Jews with Gipsies, and in general breathed the same spirit as the law of 1651. But as early as July 30, 1684, a rescript addressed to the above-mentioned Diego Teixeira declared that the Geleitsbrief was not to be demanded of the Portuguese Jews, and it is probable that the law was not always strictly enforced against German Jews. Religious services were permitted in COPENHAGEN in 1684.

So far as is known, the only "blood accusation" ever made in Denmark was brought against the court jeweler Meyer Goldschmidt, an elder of the synagogue already mentioned. A poor woman came to him, asking him to buy her child. She said she had been told that rich Jews bought children inorder to suck their blood, and she wished to give up her child to him, since she could not feed it. Meyer Goldschmidt immediately notified the authorities, and the woman was sentenced to be whipped, but was let off with imprisonment.

Contrast of Portuguese and German Jews.

At the end of the seventeenth and in the course of the eighteenth century, German as well as Sephardic Jews continued to come into Denmark, although in small numbers. The government was on the whole not unfavorably disposed toward the Jews, although it was often obliged to listen to the complaints of the merchants with whom the Jews competed. The subordinate officials were not generally as friendly as the government; they probably had much trouble with traveling Jews, whose speech they hardly understood. It was not easy, of course, for every police official to find out whether the Jew before him was a Portuguese and therefore enjoyed the general privileges, or whether he was to be accounted a German Jew (as were all who were not Sephardim), in which latter case the legality of his passport required demonstration. Probably the German Jews often assumed Portuguese names, and then joined the Portuguese congregation in Copenhagen in order to enjoy their privileges. What the government feared was that Jewish beggars and vagabonds might tramp about the country without definite means of support. An account of the baptism of a Polish Jew in 1620 leads to the conclusion that even then Jews who were worthless as subjects crossed the frontier and accepted baptism as a means of escaping punishment. To obtain a passport it was necessary to demonstrate the possession of money, or of means in some form for carrying on business, as well as some special technical skill; for in former centuries Denmark endeavored to open up all branches of industry by artificial means, the country until then having been almost entirely dependent upon agriculture and commerce. The Jews promoted the commercial interests of Denmark in relation to both the cloth and the tobacco industry. An agreement to build a house in any city that needed buildings was also a means of gaining an entry into Denmark. This is set forth as early as Sept. 2, 1726, in a rescript for Copenhagen; and earlier still (March 31, 1688) in one for Christianshavn, a suburb of Copenhagen on the island of Amager, where the German Jews received the privilege of carrying on the tobacco industry, but only on condition that they would build houses in that part of the city. Marrying into a Dano-Jewish family often conferred citizenship. It must be added, in explanation of all these privileges and rescripts, that, beginning with 1660, the Danish king was absolute sovereign and sole ruler of the country. He could at his pleasure appoint any Jew to a royal office, as was done in the instance of Aron Goldzicher, customs collector. Although this sovereignty was on the whole very mildly and wisely used, it is easy to see how important personal influence must have been in the direction of government. There were several rescripts against immigration before the middle of the eighteenth century, but none in the following decades of the century.

Jews and Christians.

Denmark was strictly Protestant. Naturally, anything that wore the appearance of an attempt to proselytize would be resented. Danger therefore threatened the Jews when Holger Paulli (d 1714), a half-crazy merchant, announced himself as the Messiah and king of the Jews. Equally pregnant with possibilities of trouble was the case of Jens Gedelöcke. He was a lawyer who evinced a marked inclination for Judaism, and it became evident at his death (1729) that at heart he had been more Jew than Christian, and, according to the information of some of his Jewish friends, had practised Jewish rites. The Jews were thereupon compelled to remove his body from the Christian cemetery and to inter him in the Jewish cemetery; but as he had not formally embraced Judaism, they soon afterward decided not to permit the body to remain among them, and it was removed again. The chief of police of Copenhagen, who had not a very good reputation, endeavored to magnify the incident into an offense against the state; but the threatened storm soon blew over. At one time the Jews were forbidden to keep Christian servants (Jan., 1725); after two months, however, the ordinance was modified, and soon fell into disuse. The Jews were encouraged to embrace Christianity, but the converts made in that century were not of the best repute.

Influence of Mendelssohn Movement.

The Mendelssohn movement soon found adherents in Denmark. It is well known that Mendelssohn's friend, the Danish councilor of state, August Hennings, induced the minister to place the name of the insane king, Christian VII. (1756-1808), on the subscription list of Mendelssohn's edition of the Pentateuch, thereby making it impossible for Raphael Cohen, the rabbi of Altona, to put the book under ban (COPENHAGEN). The crown prince (later Frederick VI.), who was for a long time regent in the name of his sick father, was interested in the progress of his Jewish subjects, and after several commissions had made reports, he issued a comprehensive order (March 29, 1814) granting to the Jews full civil liberty, and placing them in general on an equal standing with the Christian population. They were, however, still debarred from government positions. The fact that they enjoyed no political rights is of no importance, since their Danish fellow subjects were in the same position, owing to the absolute sovereignty of the king. The government at this time was more favorably disposed toward the Jews than were the people. Business rivalry was frequently bitter, and the anti-Jewish movement which spread over Germany in the beginning of the nineteenth century invaded Denmark also. A poet, Th. Thaarup (1746-1821), was the chief assailant, while another poet, Jens Baggesen (1749-1826), was among the defenders; the Jews, however, were well able to take care of themselves. In 1819 Denmark became infected with German anti-Semitism, and the political opposition took this opportunity of attacking the Jews, in order thereby to strike a blow at the government, their protector. But Frederick VI. (1808-39), who was otherwise a most peaceableman, did not allow himself to be trifled with, and suppressed the movement with unusual rigor.

Internal Organization.

In the royal ordinance of 1814 the Jews were enjoined to provide religious instruction in the Danish language for their children, and the congregations to provide Danish preachers in the synagogues. But such preachers were not readily found, and although Copenhagen was soon supplied, it was some time before the most important provincial congregations could secure so-called "kateketer," who, when secured, were placed in charge of the spiritual needs of the various church districts, and whose special duty it was to confirm children. A Danish catechism, after a Hebrew work of Shalom COHEN (2), was authorized by the government, whereby at least a minimum of religious knowledge was provided for the children. As the word "Jew" had formerly been used as an opprobrious epithet in Denmark, the terms "Mosaites" and "Mosaic religious community" ("Mosaisk Troessamfund") became the official designation for Jews and their congregations.

The Jews distinguished themselves as physicians, jurists, manufacturers, and especially as able and upright merchants, not only in Copenhagen, but also in the provincial towns. Therefore many Christians were willing to concede political equality to them in the third decade of the last century, when the political freedom of the country was inaugurated by the creation of deliberative assemblies. The Jews, however, received the right to vote without the right of election to Parliament, though they were, even then, chosen as members of the communal councils in Copenhagen, as well as in provincial cities. Not until the adoption of the constitution of June 5, 1849, under Frederick VII. (1848-63), were the last restrictions removed. From this period onward the Jews of Denmark are unknown to political history. The constitution, in which civil and political rights are made independent of religious creeds, so long as religious views and acts do not conflict with the accepted code of morals, was carried out to the letter. The Jews have contributed in various ways to the development of their country, and have distinguished themselves in the most diverse fields. A few names are mentioned under COPENHAGEN. Since the middle of the century the Jews have concentrated themselves more and more in the capital.

In 1860-70 there were in Denmark (irrespective of Sleswick-Holstein) about 6,000 Jews, of whom 2,500 lived in Copenhagen, the remainder, with the exception of the few living in the open country, residing in the provincial towns. According to the census of 1893 there were 3,500 Jews in Copenhagen and its neighborhood, and only about 500 in the provincial towns. These figures show that the Jewish population of Denmark remained stationary in the latter half of the nineteenth century. While in 1860 the Jews constituted about .4 per cent of the entire population, they now number barely .2 per cent. On the one hand the favorable social conditions under which the Jews are living have promoted mixed marriages, and on the other hand the immigration of many Russian and Polish Jews into neighboring Scandinavian countries within the last decades could not be diverted into Denmark, since house-to-house pedling, by which most of them must support themselves, at least in the beginning, is not permitted in Denmark. In conformity with the decrease of the Jews in the provincial towns, the number of communal officials with fixed positions has also naturally decreased. In Aarhus, Jutland, where the merchant Hartvig Philip Ree introduced the first modern regular Jewish service in Denmark, there is no longer a congregation. In Aalborg, too, where S. A. Mielziner, the brother of Professor Mielziner of Cincinnati, officiated for some time as preacher, there are now very few Jews. In Horsens the Levy family built a fine synagogue about the middle of the last century, and made the condition that, when services could no longer be held, the synagogue should be transformed into a philanthropic institution for the community. This condition has already been complied with. In Naskov and Fredericia, whose communities are among the oldest in the country, there are still synagogues, but very few Jews. This is also the case in Faaborg, where a preacher is still appointed; while in Randers, which has the last provincial congregation worthy of the name, there are still a preacher and another official; the congregation is, however, near its dissolution. Jews are found only here and there in the other towns and villages of the country. Some are engaged in agriculture, partly as landed proprietors, and partly as peasants in the strict sense of the word. For additional information concerning the Jews in Denmark, COPENHAGEN.

  • A. D. Cohen, De, Mosaiske Troesbekenderes Stilling i Danmark, Odense, 1837;
  • M. L. Nathanson, Historisk Fremstilling af Jödernes Forhold og Stilling i Danmark, Copenhagen, 1860;
  • M. A. Levy (and D. Simonsen), in an appendix to the Danish translation of Kayserling's Jüd. Gesch.: Jödernes Historie, pp. 275-290, Copenhagen, 1890;
  • I. P. Trap, Statistisk Topografisk Beskrivelse af Danmark, Copenhagen, 1860;
  • Danmarks Statistik (Census) Folkemaengden 1894, Copenhagen, 1896.
D. S.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Denmark'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​d/denmark.html. 1901.
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