Shtadlanut and the Diplomacy of Jewish Questions

The 18th century saw the beginnings of the discourse on what we understand today as “minority” and “human rights” as well as “international law”. The same is true for the use of the term “diplomacy”. However, already in 1716, François de Callières (1645–1717), a minister of Louis XIV of France and member of the French academy, termed the practices of diplomacy avant la lettre perhaps in the most concise way in his treatise De la manière de négocier avec les souverains (“On the Manner of Negotiating with Princes”). De Callières advised counselors and ministers in his manual about self-control, discretion, and patience. He also recommended an interest-led negotiating style. A good mediator should always try to formulate his proposes according to the interests of his partner and should constantly point out the mutual advantages. Furthermore, the minister emphasized that the negotiating partners should always seek for a permanent, stable relationship.

So long before the concept of “diplomacy” existed and the discourse on minorities and human rights emerged, there were related practices that ensured the intercession for individuals and collectives in previous time periods, the strategic representation of interests and political negotiations. These practices of negotiating and intervening existed in various societies and they were also part of the Jewish culture.

The history of the Jews shows that negotiations with non-Jewish authorities as well as the establishment and consolidation of good relationships played an essential role. The permission of settlement and the location policy were the basis of Jewish life, particularly in medieval and early modern Europe. In the early modern period, the manner of negotiating with the non-Jewish authorities was so refined that a term based on the Aramaic root of “shadal” – meaning “to intercede” or “to make an effort” – was created: the so-called “Shtadlanut” (“intercession”). Continue reading