A source of hope
on Josefsplatz

© Austrian National Library, Manuscript Collection
Poem praising Emperor Joseph II by Bonajuto Isac Levi from the Jewish community at Mantua, 1781

The verses are from a grief poem written after Maria Theresa’s death. The Empress was known to be hostile to Jews. After her death, the hopes of the Jewish community would rest on her “enlightened” successor Joseph II. As a matter of fact, he issued an Edict of Toleration only one year later in 1782, which was to grant certain rights to the Jews living in Vienna and Lower Austria for the first time.

Edict of Toleration for the Jews of Vienna and Lower Austria
Vienna, January 2nd 1782 (Excerpt)

We, Joseph II by the Grace of God, elected Holy Roman Emperor, at all times the Enlarger of the Empire, King of Germany, Hungary and Bohemia, etc., Archduke in Austria, Duke of Burgundy and Lorraine, etc., etc., send our Grace to all and graciously make known the following:

From the ascension to Our reign We have directed Our most preeminent attention to the end that all Our subjects without distinction of nationality and religion, once they have been admitted and tolerated in Our States, shall participate in common in public welfare, the increase of which is Our care, and that they shall enjoy legal freedom and not find any obstacles in any honest ways of gaining their livelihood and increasing
general industriousness.

Since, however, the laws and the so-called Jewish regulations pertaining to the Jewish nation prevailing in Our hereditary countries in general and in Vienna and Lower Austria in particular are not compatible in any way with Our most gracious intentions, We shall hereby amend them by the virtue of this present Edict insofar as the respective times and conditions necessitate.

5. On payment of this protection fee the payer may reside in Vienna with his wife and
his children who do not have their own permit or pursue any calling but are still under his patronage, and may enjoy Our provincial governor’s protection and pursue the calling on his permit or process food the way permitted to him.

6. However, the permit granted to a father shall not automatically apply to his son who marries and sets up his own household. Similarly, it does not apply to a daughter if she intends to marry either a Jew who has not been tolerated in Our States or a foreign one.

7. Still, no Jew shall be permitted to settle in a rural district of Lower Austria, unless
he proposes to introduce a manufacture or a useful trade in any village, market, provincial town or (deserted) plot which has hitherto been unoperated on. […] Since it is Our purpose to make the Jews more useful and serviceable to the State, principally
through according their children better instruction and enlightenment, and by employing them in the sciences, arts, and handicrafts

8. We permit and command the tolerated Jews, in places where they have no German schools of their own, to send their children to the Christian normal or upper elementary schools, so that they shall learn at least reading, writing, and arithmetic, and although they have no synagogue of their own in Our capital, We yet permit them to build for their children, at their own expense, a normally equipped school, with a teaching staff
of their own religion […].

11. We further permit them to practice any kind of trade, but without civil rights or master’s certificates, from which they are still excluded […]. Painting, sculpture, and the practice of the free arts are open to them as to Christians; in the same way as We also

12. allow them complete freedom of choice between all callings that remain unrestricted by civil rights, and authorise them to apply for licenses as wholesale traders, whereby they shall be subject to the same conditions and freedoms as Our Christian subjects.

13. Since Jews have always been allowed to establish manufactures and factories, We shall also renew this permit and reiterate that We herewith permit and exhort them to establish manufactures and factories and encourage them to establish public non-profit ones.

18. We lift the restriction of Jews to specified Jew houses [meaning ghettoes] and
permit tolerated Jews to lease their own accommodation where they please either
in the city or in its suburbs.