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Familiants Laws

Legislation enacted in 1726 in Bohemia and in 1727 in Moravia and Silesia in order to limit the number of Jewish males permitted to live and marry in those jurisdictions. The maximum number of Jewish families was set at 8,541 for Bohemia, 5,106 for Moravia, and 119 for Silesia. Originally intended as a temporary measure, the Familiants Laws remained in force until 1848.

Familiants laws stipulated that men who had children at the time of the legislation were deemed “heads of families.” They were given a Familiants number and were accorded the right for one son to marry. If a family had only daughters, it was considered to be extinct. Noblemen or towns that permitted the breaking of the law faced fines of 1,000 florins, while Jewish men and women who married illegally were threatened with physical punishment and expulsion from the country. The Familiants number was inherited by the eldest son, who was permitted to marry upon attaining the age of 24 (age 18 for females); however, a son acquired Familiants status only after his father’s death. If the grandfather was still alive, the firstborn grandchild could not marry. Familiants were registered in the so-called Familiantenbuch (Familiants Book), and applicants for Familiants status were noted in the Kompetentenbuch (Applicants Book). Also stipulated was the compulsory amount of the dowry, measured according to place of origin and means of subsistence.

The Familiants system fell into four phases. During the first stage (1726–1749), the state sought to reduce the size of the Jewish population. In the second phase (1749–1780), which was marked by the reforms of Empress Maria Theresa, the state, under threat of a financial crisis, was forced to shift from restriction to regulation. Marriage permits were issued to the second and third eldest sons of families paying between 700 and 1,000 florins in taxes, and to the second sons of families paying 500 florins. In addition, conditions for Jewish immigration to Bohemia and Moravia were eased, making it possible—for a price—for an “expired” Familiants status to be transferred to other applicants. The third phase (1781–1790/97) was ushered in by the reforms of Joseph II and Leopold II.

The Toleration Patent (Edict) of 1781–1782 reinforced the Familiants system by ruling that the number of Jews could not be increased. Nevertheless, in 1787 Joseph II increased the totals to 5,400 Jews for Moravia and 8,600 for Bohemia, but did not abolish the system. Under a special privilege, marriage permits were issued to war veterans, teachers at Normalschulen (normal schools, the modern schools established in the 1770s), rabbis, and farmers, although they were not given Familiants status. Fines imposed on authorities for breaching the Familiants Law were reduced. Strict punishments for newlyweds and rabbis who performed clandestine marriage ceremonies remained in place, however, as did punishments for falsifying data on applications for Familiants status.

The changes were formalized in the System Patent of 1797 for Bohemia and by a number of patents dating from 1798 for Moravia and Silesia. These divided the Jewish population into systemisierte (systemal), überzählige (superfluous), and tolerierte (tolerated). The first category included heads of households, the second descendants of war veterans and other privileged families, and the third those permitted to live outside their community because of trade, crafts, or other employment. Marriage was made conditional on possession of a diploma from a German Normalschule.

The last phase in the development of the Familiants system, during the first half of the nineteenth century, brought with it a certain setback. There was now a stipulation concerning the minimum assets necessary for a residence and marriage permit (300 florins in the country; 500 in Prague). New test requirements were issued, including a test drawn from Bne-Zion, a textbook published in 1812 by Herz Homberg. The revolution of 1848, which resulted in equal rights being granted to the Jewish population, in effect invalidated the Familiants Laws, though they were not formally abolished until 1859.

The effects of the laws on the development of the Jewish population varied according to region and social stratum. In Moravia and Silesia, state authorities had less control, as the majority of the Jewish population lived in towns owned by the nobility or in rural areas; in Silesia, Jews did not even form communities. Wealthy Jews generally had no problem purchasing a Familiants number. For poorer Jews, the Familiants Law often meant a beggar’s life. If they wanted to start a family, they resorted to secret marriages performed according to Jewish law, which were punishable by expulsion from the country. Children born of secret marriages were considered by the state to be illegitimate (not until 1847 was a legitimization attempted). Many Jews emigrated, particularly to Hungary, where these immigrants from Moravia and Silesia founded new communities (e.g., Trenčín). The system lent itself to bribery (regarding the inscriptions in Applicants Books), disputes over expired Familiants status, and blackmail by authorities, among other abuses. The system was often misused even by Jews themselves in personal quarrels. The laws worsened living conditions in ghettos and contributed to massive overcrowding. Nevertheless, the laws did not succeed in stopping the growth of the Jewish population.

Suggested Reading

Ruth Kestenberg-Gladstein, Neuere Geschichte der Juden in den böhmischen Ländern (Tübingen, 1969); Heinrich Ritter von Kopetz, Versuch einer systematischen Darstellung der in Böhmen bezüglich der Juden bestehenden Gesetze und Verordnungen (Prague, 1846); Hieronymus von Scary, Systematische Darstellung der in Betreff der Juden in Mähren und im k. k. Antheile Schlesiens erlassenen Gesetze und Verordnungen (Brünn, Czech., 1835).



Translated from Czech by Stephen Hattersley