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The Patrons and Their Poor
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The Patrons and Their Poor
Jewish Community and Public Charity in Early Modern Germany

Debra Kaplan

288 pages | 6 x 9 | 20 illus.
Cloth 2020 | ISBN 9780812252392 | $75.00s | Outside the Americas £60.00
Ebook editions are available from selected online vendors
A volume in the series Jewish Culture and Contexts
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"The Patrons and Their Poor, a study of three major Jewish communities in German lands—Frankfurt, Altona-Hamburg, and Worms—during the early modern era, examines the momentous transformations in Europe that affected the distribution of poor relief and recast poverty as a social problem rather than a pious act . . . Charity helps define a community, as Kaplan demonstrate[s], and it seems significant that in the United States many Jewish charitable organizations, which were established specifically to help the Jewish poor or support Jewish causes, have now expanded their scope to support social justice more widely."—The New York Review of Books

"The Patrons and Their Poor is a truly outstanding work of meticulous scholarship. Analyzing the range of communal policies pertaining to poor relief and the norms of charitable giving at the individual level, Debra Kaplan presents an excellent, comprehensive history of charity as practiced in early modern Germany."—Jay R. Berkovitz, University of Massachusetts Amherst

A pregnant mother, a teacher who had fallen ill, a thirty-year-old homeless thief, refugees from war-torn communities, orphans, widows, the mentally disabled and domestic servants. What this diverse group of individuals—mentioned in a wide range of manuscript and print sources in German, Hebrew, and Yiddish—had in common was their appeal to early modern Jewish communities for aid. Poor relief administrators, confronted with multiple requests and a finite communal budget, were forced to decide who would receive support and how much, and who would not. Then as now, observes Debra Kaplan, public charity tells us about both donors and recipients, revealing the values, perceptions, roles in society, and the dynamics of power that existed between those who gave and those who received.

In The Patrons and Their Poor, Kaplan offers the first extensive analysis of Jewish poor relief in early modern German cities and towns, focusing on three major urban Ashkenazic Jewish communities from the Western part of the Holy Roman Empire: Altona-Hamburg-Wandsbek, Frankfurt am Main, and Worms. She demonstrates how Jewish charitable institutions became increasingly formalized as Jewish authorities faced a growing number of people seeking aid amid limited resources. Kaplan explores the intersections between various sectors of the population, from wealthy patrons to the homeless and stateless poor, providing an intimate portrait of the early modern Ashkenazic community.

Debra Kaplan is Senior Lecturer in the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Department of Jewish History at Bar Ilan University.

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