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”).

Following the advise of the French minister de Callières, the elected and officially appointed or voluntary representatives – since the early modern period called “shtadlanim” (“representatives”) – constantly tried to form a community of interests between the Jewish minority and the non-Jewish authorities. One basis for negotiations usually was the shtadlanim’s response to economical and fiscal needs of the ruler. Moreover, shtadlanim sought to establish permanent relationships only with the highest level of power. They tried to achieve and ensure vertical, immediate connections to kings and emperors – a “royal alliance”, as the historian Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi put it – in order to gain the best possible legal certainty as well as a far-reaching Jewish autonomy.

The practice of Shtadlanut was in the heyday in early modern Europe. As a result it became a formative historical experience in European Jewry. During the early modern period, the intercession of wealthy Jewish court factors is an inherent part in Western Europe. As mediators, advisors, and suppliers of emperors, kings, and princes these oligarchs had close contacts with the high society. They obtained access to information that was also helpful for the mediation of Jewish interests. In addition, the Jewish court factors facilitated and accelerated Shtadlanut by the means of their own business and family networks.

One of the major shtadlanim in the early modern era was the imperial court factor Samson Wertheimer (1658–1724), who also served as rabbi in Vienna and Hungary. He passed his test as shtadlan at the turn of the 18th century when the protestant theologian and professor for Oriental languages Johann Andreas Eisenmenger (1654–1704) from Heidelberg issued his anti-Jewish compendium Entdecktes Judentum (“Judaism Unmasked”). In order to prevent violent attacks against the Jews in the Holy Roman Empire, Wertheimer wrote letters and supplications together with the court factor and financial agent Leffmann Behrens (1634–1714), the shtadlan of the Jews from Hanover. These appeals were aimed at numerous European dynasties, bishoprics, and not least the imperial court in Vienna. Only a few days after Wertheimer’s petition had reached the emperor, Leopold I prevented the further publication of Eisenmenger’s work and confiscated all existing copies. Following the opinions of an expert commission, the emperor prohibited the publication of the book in the end. Although Frederick the Great printed Eisenmenger’s work in 1711 in Königsberg in Prussia – thus outside the Holy Roman Empire – the publication ban was only revoked in 1741.

In Eastern Europe, the heyday of Shtadlanut took another shape and led rather to an institutionalization of the shtadlan function in the Jewish inter-communal organizations. For example, in the Council of Four Lands (Heb. Va‘ad Arba‘ Aratsot) – the alliance of Polish and Lithuanian Jews – the shatdlan became an official position besides the elders, judges, and financial trustees. Therefore, Jewish intercession in the Polish parliament (Pol. Sejm) was a standard practice.

Like intercession, the solidarity between Jews was an essential part of Shtadlanut. The feeling of togetherness not only included and advanced the internal and communicative connections between the Jews but also the material help across the country borders, for example in the case of persecutions. This active support was not least based on the religious and moral principle of “Tsedakah”, meaning “justice” and “charity”. However, the charitable activities not only contained immediate help but also applied to the constant support of Jewish social and educational institutions.

Since the late 18th and beginning 19th centuries, the promised emancipation caused a major challenge in the practice of Jewish intercession. At that time, the desolation of the corporate society abolished the structure for both, the parties that used to negotiate about Jewish rights and the framework for appointing shtadlanim. Furthermore, the new legal situation for the Jews was attached to an acculturation imperative. As a result of emancipation and acculturation, Jews were not supposed to ask for individual or collective privileges anymore. However, full emancipation was never fully granted in Central and Eastern Europe. On the contrary, Anti-Jewish and modern Anti-Semitic movements increased. Intercession and solidarity was needed more than ever.

During the 19th century, three events initiated joint activities among the Jews and an advocating of common interests: the Damascus affair in 1840, the negotiations about the Jewish population in Eastern Europe in general and Romania in particular at the Congress of Berlin in 1878, and the minority treaties at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. It is no coincidence that Jewish organizations that acted for Jewish interests and strengthened solidarity among Jews were founded in the same time period. The Alliance Israélite Universelle (founded in 1860), the Israelitische Allianz (“Society for the Promotion of Jewish Interests“, 1873), and the Hilfsverein der deutschen Juden (“Aid Association of German Jews”, 1901) supported the improvement and protection of the legal and economic situation of the Jews worldwide. They also planned and executed educational programs for Jews in Eastern Europe and the Middle East in particular.

Thus, Shtadlanut and the solidarity among Jews transformed into mainly institutional forms in the 19th century. The political scientist Aharon Klieman described traditional Shtadlanut as “statecraft by the stateless” and “diaspora diplomacy”. Transnational Jewish organizations as the Alliance Israélite Universelle, the Viennese Allianz, the Hilfsverein, trained academics like Leo Motzkin (1867–1933) as well as lawyers like Emil Margulies (1877–1943) and Nathan Feinberg (1895–1988) subsequently replaced the traditional shtadlanim, but they did not devote themselves to ensure the rights of the Jewish minority only. Instead, these modern Jewish organizations, advocates and jurists placed the specific Jewish question(s) into a bigger picture of minority and human rights, international law, and humanitarian actions in general.

(The German original of the text has been printed in the farewell gift for Professor Dan Diner, cf. Von der Shtadlanut zur Diplomatie jüdischer Fragen, in: Konvergenzen. Beiträge von Doktorandinnen und Doktoranden des Simon-Dubnow-Instituts, Leipzig 2014, 73–76.)

Cite this blog post
Mirjam Thulin (2014, November 24). Shtadlanut and the Diplomacy of Jewish Questions. Humanitarianism & Human Rights. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from

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