Territory in North Germany; bounded on the north by the Baltic Sea. Formerly it constituted one duchy, but since 1701 it has been divided into Mecklenburg-Schwerin and Mecklenburg-Strelitz, forming two separate grand duchies of the German empire. However, their governments are still intimately connected. Mecklenburg-Schwerin has (1900) 607,770 inhabitants, among whom are 1,763 Jews, divided into 36 congregations; Mecklenburg-Strelitz has 102,602 inhabitants, including 331 Jews, divided into 6 congregations. It is possible that the settlement of Jews in Mecklenburg dates from 1243, when Brandenburg expelled its Jews; but it is equally probable that the first Jewish settlers arrived from western Germany,where the Jews were frequently persecuted. It is certain, however, that Jews lived in Mecklenburg as early as 1266, for in a document dated April 14, 1266, in which Henry I. (the Pilgrim) conferred upon Wismar the Lübeck rights, Jews are mentioned together with the private servants and officials of the prince. Thus Wismar seems to contain the oldest settlement of Jews in Mecklenburg. By and by they are heard of in other cities: in Boizenburg, 1267; Rostock, 1279; Cracow and Güstrow, 1325; Malchin, 1332; Schwerin (now the center of the Jewish communities in Mecklenburg), about 1340; Friedland and Parchim, 1350; Neubrandenburg, 1440.
The Jews of Mecklenburg were compelled to pay a considerable sum annually for the privilege of living there and for protection by the prince. The several estates looked with great disfavor upon their presence and never neglected an opportunity of injuring them. They had no right to own real estate, and their residence, as a rule, was confined to the most neglected quarters of the city they dwelt in. In Wismar, for instance, they inhabited the Altböterstrasse, which was called "Platea Judæorum"; here they had a synagogue, called "Domus Judæorum." Naturally their fate was bound up with that of their protector. Thus when Henry undertook a pilgrimage to Palestine, where he remained for twenty-four years in Mohammedan captivity, the Jews were expelled from Wismar (1290), and were not readmitted until the succession of Henry II. (the Lion-Hearted). During his reign a Jew named Nathan (1310)—was permitted to own real estate in Wismar. Under Albrecht II. their position changed for the worse; only two Jewish families were permitted to reside in Wismar, and they became subject to the jurisdiction of the city magistrates instead of to that of the prince, thus being exposed to the fanaticism and hatred of the people. Some Jews were admitted into Wismar in 1349, but they were expelled again in 1350, and since then and for 500 years thereafter there was no trace of Jewish residence there.
In the other cities matters were worse. Jews at Cracow and Güstrow suffered martyrdom three times within 167 years. A baptized Jewess accused her brother-in-law Eleazar of having desecrated the host; all the Jews were seized and burned, the synagogue was destroyed, and in its place was erected a "chapel of the Holy Blood" (1325). Two Christians of Rostock who were found guilty of having robbed and murdered a Jew and Jewess were punished with banishment only (1320). In 1350 the widespread accusation that the Jews had poisoned the wells was made in Mecklenburg, and nearly all the Jews there were driven out. They seem, however, to have resettled there within a few decades.The Sternberg Burning.
Mecklenburg's cruel treatment of the Jews reached its climax in 1492, in connection with a charge of desecrating the host. A Jew was accused of having persuaded a priest to become a convert to Judaism and of having induced him to steal the sacred host for the purpose of desecrating it. The matter being brought before the duke, he ordered all the Jews to be placed under arrest and brought to Sternberg. There they were subjected to horrible torture in order to extort from them a confession. But though they persistently denied the charge, the sentence to burn them alive was pronounced. On Oct. 24, 1492, twenty-four Jews and two Jewesses were taken to a hill near the city of Sternberg—since then called the "Judenberg"—where they died on the pyre. Those not burned were banished from the land. The prominent rabbis of the time declared the ban against any Jew who would settle in cruel Mecklenburg, and there is no evidence that any Jew settled there until the second half of the seventeenth century.
In the meantime Protestantism had taken root in Mecklenburg, and religious fanaticism was no longer so rampant as in former days. Yet it was during the reign of the Catholic prince Christian I. (1658-1692) that the second movement of Jews to Mecklenburg began. In 1676 he called to his court the Jews Abraham Haym and Nathan Benedix of Hamburg, gave them special privileges, and granted them a tobacco monopoly, the first in Mecklenburg. At the intervention of the court Jews, Duke Frederick William abolished the poll-tax. But his successor, Charles Ludwig (1747-56), who had special political reasons for wishing to please the people, issued an edict that all unprivileged Jews should leave the land within four weeks; this left only about thirty "Schutzjuden" in Mecklenburg. The same prince called to his court the brothers Philip and Nathan Aaron, who became the real founders of the present Jewish communities in Mecklenburg. Through their influence the Jewish population there so increased that they were able in 1752 to call a convention to deliberate upon their religious needs. They decided, among other things, to request the chief rabbi of Frankfort-on-the-Oder to remove the ban of 1492 and to establish a Jewish tribunal. The latter, however, did not receive the sanction of the government, and was abolished (1755) by a rescript of the duke. In 1764 they held another convention, with the sanction of Duke Frederick the Pious, who vested in the rabbis the power of judges among the Jews. In 1765 one Marcus Moses graduated as a physician, and an edict of the duke permitted him to practise. This was the first graduation of a Jew in Mecklenburg. One Marcus Isaac (who distinguished himself during the occupation of Mecklenburg by Frederick the Great) and a certain Hirsch were the first in the commercial field; they began about this time to export wool, thus encouraging the raising of sheep, which occupation has greatly contributed to the prosperity of the country.Their First Emancipation.
Under this mild government the community developed rapidly. Two synagogues were dedicated—one on Sept. 5, 1763, at Altstrelitz, the community of which numbered 130 families; the other at Schwerin in 1773. Still the populace was hostile toward the Jews and often insisted on the strict enforcement of the constitutional provisions by which the dukes of the Mecklenburg duchies pledged themselves to grant no privileges to Jewish settlers to the detriment of Christian citizens. Duke Frederick Francis I. was the first prince that earnestly desired their emancipation. On Feb. 22,1811, the Jews petitioned him on that subject, and he consulted the estates at the following convention. They acknowledged the justice of the petition, but argued that the Jews were not as yet ready for emancipation. But Professor Tychsen of the University of Rostock, who was consulted on the matter, declared himself in favor of the petition. After some hesitation the duke finally decided in favor of the Jews, and issued, Feb. 22, 1813, a constitution which declared that his Jewish subjects, with their wives and children, were citizens of Mecklenburg; leaving future legislation to decide whether or not they were to be admitted to government positions. The Jews soon had an opportunity to show their gratitude; the Jewish youth enthusiastically responded to the duke's call to arms in 1813. But the reaction which set in after Waterloo and the ill-will of the states brought about a suspension of this law in 1815. In 1829 the Jews were first admitted to the practise of law, with the limitation that they could practise only in the city courts. Mecklenburg adopted in 1848 the "Grundrechte" (constitution) of the Frankfort Parliament abolishing all disabilities on account of religion, but repealed it two years later.
But times had changed. While in former days the people opposed the emancipation of the Jews, in 1867 the municipal boards of various cities in Mecklenburg petitioned the Reichstag for it, and a member of the Reichstag, Wigger by name, was the most ardent advocate of the passage of a law abolishing all disabilities based on differences of religion. The Reichstag passed that law by a large majority March 12, 1869, and King William of Prussia, as the head of the North German Federation, confirmed it July 3, 1869. With the passage of this law and its insertion in the constitution of the German empire in 1871, the last political disability resting on the Jews of Mecklenburg, as on Jews throughout the empire, was removed.
- Donath, Gesch. der Juden in Mecklenburg, Leipsic, 1874.
Of the internal conditions of the Mecklenburg Jewry during the first settlement, up to 1492, nothing is known. During the second settlement, in the seventeenth century, the community was too small to show any spiritual activity. The first sign of such is in the case of Nathan Aaron, who maintained Joshua Spira in his house as a chaplain. The first rabbi appointed by the duke was Jeremiah Israel (1763), whose chief duty consisted in acting as judge for the scattered communities of the duchies. He was succeeded by the above-mentioned Joshua Spira, author of "Panim Masbirot" (or "'Arba' Shiṭṭot li MeHaRISh"), novellæ and responsa (Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1770).Spiritual Activities.
During the latter part of the eighteenth and at the beginning of the nineteenth century the differences between R. Marcus Lazarus Jaffe and R. Joshua Falk Albu and their congregations frequently occupied the attention of the authorities. As these rabbis were Poles and not in sympathy with the educational movement which had won the allegiance of the Jews of Mecklenburg, as of other communities in Germany, an attempt was made about 1828 to establish in Güstrow a normal school where Jewish teachers might be trained, but the movement failed for lack of means. The congregation of Altstrelitz, however, established a parochial school, which at one time flourished under the famous German lexicographer Daniel Sanders.
The movement for emancipation which began about 1830 resulted in the foundation of a society for promoting the adoption of manual occupations by Jews (1836). Three years later the government took steps toward improving the condition of the Jews by giving them a constitution. An "Oberrath" was organized consisting of two government officials, the "Landrabbiner," and five representatives of the communities. The "Landrabbiner," who was required to have academic training, was to raise the intellectual standard of the congregation and introduce certain reforms. The first to hold this office was Samuel Holdheim, elected in 1840. He resigned in 1847 to take charge of the Berlin Reform congregation. He organized parochial schools and instituted Reform services; his reforms, however, were all of a moderate character, although they aroused considerable opposition.
A far stronger opposition was experienced by Holdheim's successor, David Einhorn (1847-53), when he blessed in the synagogue a child whose father refused to permit its circumcision. In the ensuing controversy Franz Delitzsch, then professor at Rostock, participated, publishing in a Rostock daily a series of articles to which Einhorn replied in very heated terms.
With Einhorn's resignation the government decided to strengthen the Orthodox party by calling Baruch Lipschütz, who was to effect a restoration of historic Judaism. The rigidity of his views, however, caused the government to dismiss him in 1858, when he was succeeded by another exponent of strict Orthodoxy, Solomon Cohn, who in 1876 was succeeded by the present (1904) incumbent, G. F. Feilchenfeld.
The smaller principality of Mecklenburg-Strelitz had a rabbi in the middle of the eighteenth century—Marcus Levin Süsskind, who published a German sermon preached at the dedication of the synagogue in 1763. He was succeeded by R. Sanwil of Brandenburg; the present (1904) incumbent, Jacob Hamburger, has officiated since 1852. The rabbinical author Judah Löb lived in Altstrelitz; his treatise on resurrection was translated by Professor Tychsen under the title "Die Auferstehung der Todten aus dem Gesetze Mosis Bewiesen" (1766). Later, Judah Löb was rabbi of Birnbaum, and then of Stockholm.
The University of Rostock had a famous Orientalist in Tychsen, who taught first in Bützow (1760) and then in Rostock (from 1779). A. T. Hartman, the opponent of the emancipation of the Jews, also taught in Rostock (1811-38). Among the prominent Jews who are natives of Mecklenburg may be mentoned: I. Marcus, alternate deputy to the Frankfort Parliament in 1848; the lexicographer Daniel Sanders; and the journalist Emil Jonas, translator of Scandinavian poetry into German.