Thursday, March 23, 2006


Mr. Benedict takes on city hall.

[Like the preceding post, this is also a draft, and there may be changes in the future, when I am more alert and less caffeinated, and in consequence more sane and capable of writing proper English.]

In part one ( I described the first attempts of Jews to get legal residency in Eindhoven, from the first recorded Jewish resident, the butcher Benjamin Jacobs and his household in 1695, to Lazarus Benedict successfully bucking the old boy network that tried to keep the Jews out in 1772.
In this chapter, I shall go into the request of Elias Benedict to settle in Eindhoven in 1783.


Before I do that, however, I should clarify that according to Dutch law at that time, anybody seeking legal residence in a town other than his birthplace was required to provide letters attesting to his character and morals ('ontlastbrieven'; letters in which the administration of the previous place of residence take responsibility for a person's good behaviour for a year), and in cases where those could not be readily produced, the town in question could require a "borg-som" - essentially a security deposit or guarantee sum ('acte van cautie'; rather like bail for criminals).

In the case mentioned in part one (Lazarus Benedict et familia), the city demanded fifteen hundred florins (three hundred per person), which was the standard and highest fee (at the discretion of officialdom, it could be lowered). At that time a master craftsman could expect to make around three hundred florins in a year. Clearly a burden intended to dissuade.

What made this particularly an issue was that in many cases the requirement was usually waived.

Protestants settling in the benighted south were either members of the ruling class being posted (temporarily, many of them hoped) in Eindhoven as bureaucrat-administrators or officers, or clearly out of their mind.

[Catholics were severely discouraged from traveling in any case, as well as legally restricted in a number of ways (Catholicism was outlawed for nearly three centuries). ]

NOTE: Jews were allowed freedom of worship, but it was up to the cities to decide whether they would allow any Jews in as residents - which was often opposed by the guilds, who jealously guarded mediaeval rights to exercise certain crafts and trades, and chose to exclude people of the wrong religion (including not only Jews, but Catholics, members of odd heretical sects, and branches of Calvinism which deviated from the norm).

[Note: the simplist definition of a guild is a group with a common religious purpose, who pay the worth or 'geld' to fund that purpose. Since earliest days, guilds have had a religious veneer. They also often served as the equivalent of a chevre kaddishe and a charitable fund for the widows and orphans of deceased members.]


The States General had strengthened the hand of officials who wanted to keep Jews out of the cities in North Brabant (then ruled as territory conquered but not liberated - Generaliteits Landen, or 'generality lands') by issuing a regulation that the borg-som and the proof of good behaviour was specifically applicable to Jews.

[This kind of turns your impression of tolerance in the Netherlands of the golden age and eighteenth century upside-down, doesn't it? No wonder my ancestors scooted to New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century!]


Mr. Benedict had resided in Helmond for three decades, when in the year 1787 he decided to move to Eindhoven, where the Jewish community, though small, nevertheless represented a greater Hebrew collective than anywhere else in the Kempen region. To that end, he requested and got a letter from the city fathers of Helmond attesting to his law-abiding behaviour and good character, and thus made confident of his position, he applied for residency in Eindhoven. At which point he was rudely disabused. Payment of a guarantee of three hundred florins was demanded.

Now please remember that several other Jews had been allowed to settle in Eindhoven without paying this sum. It is likely that the three Benedict brothers (one of whom was also named Elias) living in the Fellenoord neighborhood of Woensel (abutting Eindhoven) in the 1760s and 1770s were cousins or kin of some kind. One of them (Lazarus Benedict) had in fact been allowed to settle in Eindhoven (in 1772) after the intervention of the Domains-Council (Eindhoven being a territory held by the Prince of Orange, hence ultimate authority resting with the Domains-Council), and without needing to pay the guarantee.

In addition to the obvious reason for denying a Jew residency (bigotry - you could've guessed that!), two other motives for obstructiveness are possible. The surname Benedict may have left a bad taste in the mouths of Eindhoven officials after Lazarus Benedict bested them in 1772, and the fact that Elias Benedict had lived in Helmond for thirty years, receiving letters attesting to his good behaviour and character, may have suggested a man of certain means, whose funds might need sharing.


Elias Benedict went back to Helmond, and wrote a protest letter to the States General (the government) calling their attention to the situation, mentioning that others had not been thus burdened, and asserting that in fact the rules were being applied unfairly, and were unfair to begin with.

The letter is rather remarkable, being full of high-fallutin' language, and hard-to-read eighteenth century formalities and legalese. It is likely that Mr. Benedict had the help of a trained clerical person, possibly even one of the bureaucrats in Helmond.

In short, it accuses the officials in Eindhoven of being bigots, and not understanding the law. The exceptions to the rules which they permitted serve as indication of inequitable behaviour as regards his request for residency, the exceptions standardly allowed for members of the Calvinist faith argue for doing likewise for Jews (Catholics conveniently being considered prejudiced in favour of the Spanish enemy, even though the war against Spain had come to an end nearly two centuries before, whereas Jews shared that enemy with the Dutch Republic), and applying this requirement to him alone of all the Jews in that neck of the woods would be an unfair hardship.

He therefore requested that the States General instruct the officials in Eindhoven to cease and desist, so that he, his small housewife Rosina Samuels (no kidding, it really says small housewife - "klein huysvrouw"), and his grandson Hartog Benedict, as well as all other Jews domiciled in that part of the country be permitted to settle themselves without being required to provide an ontlast brief (good behaviour letter, see above) or acte van cautie (good behaviour security payment).


The States General sent a copy of the letter to the office of the city magistrate in Eindhoven, requesting that they deal with the matter 'in the proper manner'.
Which the office of the city magistrate took to mean that they could safely ignore it, or in any case delay until Mr. Benedict gave up. Which they encouraged him to do, whenever he inquired about the matter.

At the end of May, Mr. Benedict again sent a letter to the States General, in which he expressed that he had really expected that the government and the office of the city magistrate would have dealt with the matter expeditiously and forthrightly, rather than causing him great inconvenience by their dawdling.
This resulted in the an official request to the office of the city magistrate to resolve the case within no more than fourteen days.

The reaction of the Eindhoven city government was to draft a formal letter, pointing out that being forced to admit Mr. Elias Benedict was counter to the official resolution of September 7, 1731, which stated that the regents of cities and towns in the Meijery of 's Hertoghenbosch ('Mayory'; more or less the prefecture of four quarters administered from Den Bosch, of which the Kempen is the southernmost quarter) could not be obligated to permit entry of people from elsewhere without the letters or payments.


That the law was not applied equally in many cases, and that in this case it was clearly selective, established a precedent favourable to Mr. Benedict which forced the Eindhoven city government to scramble for other legal grounds to deny Mr. Elias Benedict's request.

In their official filing sent to the Hague, they offered that "most of the Jews in the Meijery were impoverished and burdensome, being of such a character and destructive nature that local negotiants (businessmen) and shopkeepers would be severely disadvantaged, the more so as Jews were given to deceiving both burghers (city dwellers) and landmannen (rural folk) by trickery (called 'tricheeren'), and would by their presence rob many trade's and craft's men of the opportunity to find lodgings, because Jews offered outrageous prices for quarters and so drove up rents.
And that was not all! Local burghers had 'murmured' against the Jews, and would prefer not to deal with them!

They also claimed that the substitute drossaerd (city legal functionary) had entirely without warrant permitted the other Jews to reside in Eindhoven, and, in that Jews were burdensome, they requested permission to deny Mr. Elias Benedict residency.

The tone of this letter is one of gibbering hysteria.

That may be why there is another letter inscribed in the daybook, in which the writers beg to inform the recipient (a Staten Generaal bureaucrat in the Hague) that they are "not in the least possessed of a fanatical hatred, but rather base their objections entirely on sober observation of the already resident Jews, and the knowledge that often suspicious persons lodge in Jewish houses, probably thieves and conmen; why, they had already dealt with one such! And were merely being cautious and sincere in seeking to prevent crimes and misdeeds in their city!"

[The 'one such' they had dealt with had been accused and expelled without any proof or evidence against him several years earlier. A doubtful case, to say the least, and hardly representative - one out of many.]


The city magistrate added to this his objections, which centered on the practise of Jewish merchants traveling throughout the countryside, bringing their wares to the customer's doorstep, instead of decently awaiting patronage behind a shop counter.

He neglected to mention that in the first place, many of those customers could neither afford city prices nor the time to travel to the metropolis, and in the second place, Jews were forbidden by the shopkeepers' guilds from opening stores.

In any case, it seems irrelevant, as Mr. Benedict was proposing to reside in the city - had he intended to wander around the countryside with a pack on his back, denying him residence within the walls would scarcely have hindered him.

In further correspondence with the Hague, it was asserted that Jews were rabble-rousers, disturbers of the peace, a worrisome presence (!), and that Jews were by definition unfair competition to decent citizens.


None of this convinced the bureaucrats in the Hague.

On the 25th. Of July 1787 the magistrate of Eindhoven was ordered to permit Mr. Benedict to reside in Eindhoven, without any further delay.

And without providing letters, and without paying a guarantee.

Not much is known of Mr. Elias Benedict afterwards, and it is not certain that he availed himself of the opportunity.

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Next episode: The Synagogue.

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