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Joseph II’s Edict of Toleration for the Jews of Lower Austria (January 2, 1782)

Between 1781 and 1789, Joseph II’s government issued toleration edicts of varying nuances for the various Habsburg lands in which significant Jewish populations existed. This text, which applied to Vienna and the surrounding province of Lower Austria, forbade the Jewish community in Vienna from maintaining a formal communal structure, including synagogues, in the Imperial city itself. Synagogues could only be built in Vienna’s then-unincorporated suburbs. The edict makes clear that Joseph’s “enlightened” regime pressured the Jews to abandon those practices and characteristics that set them apart from the German Christian population. Traditional Christian anxieties about unbridled Jewish population growth and economic competition with Christians are also evident. Though but a first step in the “toleration” and “emancipation” of the Jews, it was nonetheless a brave one – and certainly one that Joseph’s mother, the conventionally anti-Judaic Maria Theresa, would never have taken.

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Edict of Toleration for the Jews of Lower Austria

January 2, 1782

1. In the future also, the Jews in Vienna shall not constitute their own community, under their own direction; each individual family enjoys the protection of the law of the land; no public worship, no public synagogue, no press of their own for works in Hebrew, for which they must use the press in Bohemia.

2. It is also intended that the number of Jews and the conditions under which they are at present tolerated in Lower Austria and here in Vienna shall remain unaltered, and where no Jews have ever been domiciled, none shall be allowed to settle in the future.

3. Thus, as in the past, no Jew shall be free to come to Vienna from another Hereditary Land, to settle here permanently. Foreign Jews must apply for permission for this to Us personally.

4. A person applying for a permit must state the trade or occupation which he proposes to pursue, and show what are his means, and also show how he proposes to utilize the toleration granted him. The Government will then determine the amount of the protection fee, which it may fix higher or lower as it thinks right.

5. On payment of this protection fee he may reside in Vienna with his wife and minor children, and pursue the calling on his permit. If, however,

6. A son marries and sets up his own household, he must obtain a permit for himself or, if he prefers, pay for a permit to leave. Similarly, a permit is required for a son-in-law, or if the daughter has received permission to marry a foreign Jew, the leaving permit must be paid out of the dowry going abroad.

7. No Jew is permitted to settle in a rural district of Lower Austria, unless he proposes to introduce a manufacture or a useful trade, for which he must apply to the Government for a permit, when he will enjoy the same rights as in the capital. The facilities enjoyed by the Jewish religion under the present regulations, which entirely supersede the last regulations, of May 5, 1761, are, accordingly, as follows:

Since it is Our purpose to make the Jews more useful and serviceable to the State, principally through according their children better instruction and enlightenment, and by employing them in the sciences, arts, and handicrafts:

8. We permit and command the tolerated Jews, in places where they have no German schools of their own, to send their children to the Christian upper elementary schools, so that they shall learn at least reading, writing, and arithmetic, and although they have no synagogue of their own in Our capital, We yet permit them to build for their children, at their own expense, a normally equipped school, with a teaching staff of their own religion, which shall be subject to the same control as all the German schools here, the composition of the moral books being left to them.

9. In respect of higher schools, the permission enjoyed by them to attend these is herewith renewed and confirmed.

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