Article is taken from: Humanities and Social Sciences. Latvia. 1994, 2 (3). pp. 4–21.

Author: Tatjana Aleksejeva, a historian, museum "Jews in Latvia" expert, e-mail: 

This paper is a part of the doctoral thesis by T. Aleksejeva, translated from Russian 

The historical arrival, distribution and entrenchment of Jews in Latvia occurred over a period of several centuries1. This process varied somewhat in the various administrative territories of Latvia – Vidzeme, Latgale, and Kurzeme (Courland) (together with Zemgale). As boundaries in the region shifted, the residents of Latvia's various historical regions came under different jurisdictions, and this, of course, applied to the Jews as well. In Vidzeme, for example, including the city of Riga, laws were in effect for a long time which barred Jews from officially maintaining permanent residence in the region. The first Jewish community of Riga was established only in 18422. A different situation faced the Jews of Latgale and Courland. At specific periods in history, these regions were under the direct or indirect control of Poland, which traditionally had laws which were favorable to the Jews. Jewish communities took root in these areas quite early, and the Jews became an inseparable part of the Latvian nation in feudal times. Available data indicate that Courland is one of the longest standing areas of Jewish residency in Latvia3. For this reason, detailed research of the history of the Jews in this region in particular offers important information about the earliest settlement of the Jews in Latvia, and permits a deeper understanding of this process. It is important to note another significant fact: the Jews who lived in the Duchy of Courland – an institution which was a vassal state of Poland but which nevertheless was almost entirely independent – played a fundamental role in the economic and social history of the Duchy. They were not simply subjects of the laws of the Duchy. Indeed, the Jews were themselves an important subject of Latvian history. One must also remember that if in Germany the focus of Jewish research is on the cultural relationship between the Jewish subculture and the dominant general German culture4, then in the Duchy of Courland, which deemed itself a German state and which was viewed as such by its contemporaries, the population was unquestionably Latvian.

The history of the Jews of Courland, however, has not been researched to any great extent. The most extensive bibliography of the history of the Jews in Courland was published in a collection The Jews in Latvia which was published in Tel Aviv in 1971 (p. 371-–372). A detailed review of this bibliography is offered in the same publication by Menachem Beth5. The earliest sources on the theme are found in a 18th century report written by Christian Ziegenhorn (1715–1783) on the rights of the Duchy of Courland. In the report, Ziegenhorn reviewed the normative acts and regulations which set out the rights of the Duchy of Courland6, and in an appendix he listed, among other documents, legislation and decisions adopted by the Courlands landtags with respect to the Jewish population of the territory. Ziegenhorn's work is of legal nature and thus publishes only legal documents. It provides no insight into other aspects of the history of the Courland Jews.

A broader review of documents on Jewish history was written by German historian J. Schwartz (1722–1804), who also worked in Courland. His work7, however, merely reviews original source materials but does not publish them. His work is of a popular nature and is written in German. It was published in Courland in the latter half of the 18th century, in the context of a discussion about whether Jews should be issued citizenship.

More detailed documentary materials about the Jews of Courland are offered by a collection of documents which was issued in the early 20th century by the Riga branch of the Association to Expand Education Among Russian Jews, edited by J. Joffe8.

I wish to emphasize that the true documentary base of the history of the Jews of Courland is much more extensive than the fragments which have been published thus far, and a careful analysis of the broader collection of documents can offer many useful and interesting insights and discoveries.

At the basis of my research are documents contained in the Latvian State Historical Archive which pertain to the Duchy of Courland, which existed from 1561 to 1795, as well as more contemporary documents:

  1. Fund 412 – the office of Courland governor;
  2. Fund 554 – the archives of the Dukes of Courland;
  3. Fund 2713 – the archive of the Liepāja Association of Antiquities;
  4. Fund 4038 – the collection of the Association of Riga Researchers on History and Ancient History;
  5. Fund 6904 – the Small Guild of Jelgava and its affiliated structures.

Even though the period, during which the documents of these funds were created, is long gone, many of the papers have not been analysed thoroughly, and many have not even begun to enter historical discussion. This is particularly true with respect to Fund 554 (the archive of the Dukes of Courland), which has been expanded in recent years by its merger with part of the so-called Courland Land Archive. This group of documents was collected in 1903 at the suggestion of the Courland gentry, and on the eve of World War I it contained some 30 000 units.

The Courland Land Archive was returned to Latvia from Germany in the 1970s, and it was subjected to scientific and technical analysis and divided up among the various funds of the Latvian State Historical Archive.

Many of the documents, as I noted, were attached to the archive of the Dukes of Courland (Fund 554). One must note that access to other parts of the archive of the Dukes was limited by objective historical circumstances (part of the archive, for example, was taken to St. Petersburg in 1909 and returned to Latvia only in 1929)9.

All this means that if one wishes to tackle a specific historical subject in relation to the history of Courland from 1561 to 1795, it is always possible to come accross little known or even unknown documents of those times.

Materials found in the Latvian Historical Archive lead to a reevaluation of already known facts about the theme, fundamentally broadening the context and interpretation of these facts. The historiographies of the Baltic Germans10, the local Jews11, and the Latvians12 each viewed the history of the Jews of the Duchy of Courland from a different perspective. Moreover, each viewpoint and its resulting interpretation of the facts frequently was influenced by the age, in which each document was written and the dominant historical tendencies of the day. For this reason, contemporary historians would do well to take advantage of the strong points of each of the historiographical areas which affect Latvia (the scrupulous principles of analysis used by the Baltic German historians, for example, or the enormous wealth of factual materials in the work of Jewish historians, or the tendency of Latvian historians toward propriety and against such defects as bias, overemphasis of minor detail, etc.).

An overview of all these materials might attempt to answer several questions: what was the significance of the Jews in Courland in the 16th through the 18th centuries, and what did the Duchy of Courland mean to them? And what are the pan-European realities and the specifically local distinguishing features which affected the early history of the Courland Jews?

First, let us turn to the question of when and where in Courland the Jews first settled. There is no unanimity of opinion on this question, but it seems possible to bring together everything which has been written on the subject, including mutually contradictory viewpoints. The oldest source known today which mentions the Jews of the Courland region is a letter written by the magistrate of Luebeck to Duke Otto of Lueneburg in 135013. The letter claimed that in several cities of Courland, the Jews had poisoned the water in drinking wells with the purpose of killing the Christians. This was an accusation which was leveled at Jews throughout Europe at the time, and it had to do with the epidemic of the bubonic plague which threatened the population and which was attributed in popular superstition to intrigues by the Jews. The plague arrived in Latvia in 135014 and cost many lives15, and it was easy to turn the "foreigners" into scapegoats in the matter. Thus the arguments of A. Buchholtz, who questions the essence of the letter of 1350 (i.e., the presence of Jews in Courland in the 14th century), are not convincing. Moreover, archeological data such as Jewish gravestones dated to the 14th century16 also speak in favour of this early date. The historical tradition of Baltic Germans, however, does not allow for the presence of Jews in Latvia at such an early date. They point to an order issued by Zeifried von Feihtwangen, the master of the Livonian Order, in 1309, which banned the presence of "spirit worshippers, magis and pagans"17 in his territory and also prohibited Jews from settling there.

This discrepancy can be explained by the fact that before the establishment of the Duchy of Courland, not all of Courland was under the jurisdiction of the Livonian Order. A stretch of land measuring 4500 km2, which essentially ran from Piltene and Aizpute through Dundaga, formed the centre of what was known as the Bishopric of Courland, and this area may well have been governed by different laws, including regulations on the presence of Jews18. Indirect evidence of this is given by Jewish gravestone markings in the area which date to the first half of the 16th century19.

Another, albeit smaller region in which the history of the Courland Jews may well have been different than elsewhere was in the districts of Grobiņa and Liepāja. It is known that the last master of the Livonian Order, Gothard Ketler (who later become the first Duke of Courland) faced financial difficulties and, upon embarking on a battle against the Russians in 1560, took a loan of 50 000 guilders from Albrecht20, the duke of Prussia and Arch Duke of Brandenburg. In place of interest payments, Ketler mortgaged the Grobiņa and Liepāja districts to Albrecht for 15 years. After the 15 years were up, however, the debt still had not been repaid, but the region was returned to Courland anyway, as part of the dowry which came with the Prussian princess Sofia when she married Ketler's son Wilhelm21.

During the 48 years, which the territory spent under the governance of Prussia, the region saw an extensive immigration of travelers from the West. This fact was repeatedly noted by various auditing commissions22 which arrived from time to time from Prussia. The arriving individuals were mostly Germans, but the reports of the audit commissions, which were pedantic in fixing every detail, mention Jews, as well. In this respect, there is something very interesting about a report which the commission sent to the Duke of Prussia on 23 November 1581, which is the earliest report of Jews in the region known to us today. The report concerned the collection of amber along the Grobiņa shoreline. The 1581 report to Koenigsberg stated that there was not much amber to be collected in the area23, but at the same time it noted at another location not too far away, in Palanga, local Jews had lots of amber.

Further reports indicate that local Jews were active in regulating trade in amber and getting the whole amber industry on the right track. This gives evidence that the Jews traveled around the seashore, picking up amber themselves, or purchasing it from local farmers (Strandbauern)24. They sold the amber in Klaipeda (Memel) or Danzig, and it appears that the amount of amber which was sold was substantial. One example cites Klaipeda tradesman, Filip Ebert, who on one single occasion was offered one and a half barrels of choice amber by Jews25. Of course, the Prussian opinion of this process could not help but be negative, because, it says in their text, the Jews were taking over the initiative in this area of trade, pushing out German tradesmen, and were obviously making better contacts with area farmers than were the Germans.

In analyzing the essence of the Prussian documents and not their bias, however, one learns not only of the early presence of Jews on the Courland shoreline, but also the fact that they were purposefully engaging in establishing links between Courland with regions which were further to the West, with clear mutual advantages to all parties which were involved in this process.

In 1608, the Grobiņa and Liepāja districts again came under the jurisdiction of the Duchy of Courland, but for some time to come they continued to be somewhat unique with respect to the Jewish population. This means that contemporary researchers must take account of a larger number of Jewish permanent residents in the area than was the case in other parts of Courland. It was no accident that when an early document banning Jews in Courland was issued, it mentioned only one specific city – Liepāja. The issue addressed in the document was the privilege of Liepāja in 1625 (i.e., the status of the city)26. One of the points in the document reads: "... Jews and anti-Christs will not be tolerated here". This leads one to observe that something can be banned only if the "thing" in question has already taken sufficient root in the respective territory and has already become part of the region's history. Indeed, we shall later see that the Jews in the cities of Courland eventually became serious competitors against the German citizens of those towns, and this led to a whole series of similar bans. It is most interesting that the first ban in this series affected specifically Liepāja.

This is further made interesting by the fact that the presence of Jews was by no means banned throughout the Duchy of Courland (which was formed in 1561 to cover the lands of the former Livonian Order in Courland). In the agreement which was signed in 1561 between King Sigismund August of Poland and the first Duke of Courland, Gothard Ketler, who then became a vassal of Poland, the only thing Jews were banned from doing was collecting taxes and fees and engaging in commerce: "Judaeis vero nulla per totam Livonia commercia, vectigalia, teloniave ullo unquam tempore concedamus."27

It is difficult to know how consistently this agreement was observed. The status of Jews in the Duchy of Courland must certainly have been affected by the very inclusion of the Duchy into the Polish sphere of influence, because for various historical reasons Poland had laws which were gentle towards the Jews, and Jews had been present in Poland since the earliest days of the Crusades28.

By the mid-17th century, however, attempts to limit the rights of Jews in Poland were first initiated, and there were even some pogroms29. This was the result of Poland's own economic development at the time. A true catastrophe for the Polish Jews was the Cossack movement. He vented his anger about social and national injustices against the Jews, who were aliens both in terms of nationality and faith. For this reason, some of Poland's Jews decided to move along elsewhere, and some ended up in that part of the Duchy of Courland where their presence was permitted. It was not, therefore, a coincidence that the Jews took root in Courland just at the time when emigration from certain areas of Poland became extensive.

No data has survived which would allow one to calculate the number of Jews who were present in Courland in the 17th century. One can indirectly conclude that they were not particularly persecuted during this time frame. From time to time the laws to ban Jews were adopted (known examples of this include a paragraph in regulations drawn up for the city of Liepāja in 162530, and a 1686 prohibition against Jews living in the village of Jaunsubate, or New Subbath)31, but these appear to have been associated with a clear desire by the city dwellers to limit growing and, apparently, successful competition from Jewish craftsmen and tradesmen.

A series of laws to ban Jews from engaging in commerce were adopted in the Courland landtag (in 1692, 1698 and 1699)32, and this leads one to believe that real life did not follow the legislation of the day. Why would the authorities have had to adopt ruling after ruling if from the very beginning the residents of Courland had obeyed an identical ban which was contained in the original agreement of 1561?

The landed gentry apparently were greatly disturbed by the ever increasing economic clout of the Jews of Courland, because according to some accounts, they persuaded the Duke to grant them the right33 of collecting customs money on certain conditions.

The status of Jews in the Duchy of Courland in the late 17th century is partly illuminated by a letter which has been discovered in the Latvian State Historical Archive. It was written by a Jew named Isaac Wulf to the Duke of Courland and is dated 7 February 1700 34. Wulf wrote his letter from Memel, where he was trading in silver goods. Wulf wrote that he had spent many years in Courland, occasionally replacing his relative Zacharias Daniel in the position of "Stradvogt", or shoreline supervisor, for the cost along Libau (Liepāja). This was rather a significant post, as the Stradvogt usually supervised all trade along the cost. Zacharias Daniel, judging from the letter, had served in the post for approximately 10 years35. Further along in the letter, Wulf requests from the Duke the right to conduct trade in the Duchy of Courland with the status of a "court Jew" ("Hofjude").

The onset of the Northern War and the horrors associated with it left Wulf's request unanswered, and the letter more represents the status of the Jews in Courland in the waning 17th and not the rising 18th century. From the very beginning of the 18th century, extensive changes came into the life of Courland. Some of them were horrific and tragic. The fiery battles of the destructive Northern War burned down much of the Duchy of Courland, too. The war was followed by the black death – the bubonic plague. These tragedies and sorrows touched on every resident of the Duchy of Courland, with no exceptions.

A dramatic testament to these events is a requested submitted by the Jews of Mitau (Jelgava) to the city's officials in 1710, asking that burial places be assigned for the Jews who had died of the plague36. An order by the Oberhauptmann of Mitau, Wilhelm Medem, dated 4 August 1710 and ordering that grave sites be assigned to the Jews, also survives37. But other problems followed. We know of an order issued by Duke Ferdinand of Courland (1655–1737) in 1713 which touched off a long chain of decrees limiting the rights of Courland Jews. The 18th century was rife with prohibition against them. The first order was dated 6 October 1713 and was sent to Courland from Danzig, where the Duke maintained his residence. The document ordered all Jews to leave Courland by the end of 1713. This step was explained with nothing more than the claim that the Jews were taking the daily bread out of the mouths of Christians38.

Once again it is evident, however, that the order did not achieve its intended effect. For Ferdinand repeated the order in many other documents and decrees. For example, an original document survives with the signature and seal of the Duke, dated 23 March 1714. The content of this document indicates that it is repeating orders which have been issued previously39. Other decisions by the Courland landtag calling for the ejection of the Jews from Courland were taken in 1717, 1727, 1729, 1733, 1746 and 1754 40.

The social composition of Courland itself made for a tapestry of many colours. Jewish residents occasionally found themselves in the middle of this weaving. The various social classes of the Duchy of Courland viewed the fate of their Jewish neighbours from varying standpoints, this largely being dependent on the social and economic interests of each group.

The landed gentry of the Duchy of Courland, being the privileged class which frequently had a deciding say over the foreign and domestic policies of the Duchy, kept the Jews of Courland within the focus of their attentions, however odd this may seem. A careful analysis of the documents of the day shows that in between the various orders banning the Jews which are cited above, the landed gentry landtag adopted decisions of quite a different content, as well. Laws passed in 1717, 1724, 1727, 1729, 1730, 1733 and 1735, for example, permitted Jews to enter the country if they paid a special tax41, the amount of which ranged up to 400 Albert talers42, a princely sum for these times. By way of comparison we can note that a horse or ox could be purchased for 10–12 Albert talers43.

Jews also paid a residency tax which almost always ended up in the pockets of the landed gentry. Naturally those who collected the taxes were interested in seeing the Jewish residents continue to arrive and settle in Courland. Evidence of this is given by repeated requests from the Courland landed gentry that the Jews not be expelled from the country. Such requests were frequently sent to the administration of the Duchy by the landed gentry in the first half of the 18th century44.

The justification for these requests was usually stated as follows. If the Jews were to be expelled from the country, the landed gentry and the ordinary citizen alike would suffer45. This justification allows one to assume that the good will which Jews enjoyed in Courland was engendered by more than just the large sums of money which they pay in order to take up life in Courland.

The irreplaceable role which Jews played in the life of Courland in the 18th century was the role of middlemen in the purchase and sale of various goods. This service was needed by nobleman and farmer alike. Requests from some noblemen indicate that sometimes the Jews paid the necessary fees "in advance"46.

But the relations between Jews and the city dwellers often took a dramatic turn, because city residents understandably viewed the Jews as competitors in trade and craft. Complaints filed against Jews by city dwellers have survived to this day. These are interesting both in terms of content and style. On 22 August 1742, for example, the city classes of Windau (Ventspils), Bauska, Jaunjelgava and Goldingen (Kuldīga) sent a complaint to the King of Poland, complaining that the Jews were competing with them, especially in the trade of tobacco and precious stones47. They unremittingly demanded that the Jews be throttled.

At the same time, however, the document clearly shows that in the first third of the 18th century, laws aimed at the Jews in Courland were mostly formalities. Several degrees of prohibition were in effect, but the Jews continued to live in Courland and fundamentally strengthened their positions in the Duchy's cities, as well. Evidence has survived, for example, that Jews actively brought goods from Koenigsberg to Jelgava48 by way of Lithuania, and this was not the only example of international trade. Another complaint by city dwellers against the Jews, this one in 1759, gripes that the Jews were purchasing livestock (oxen, calves, goats), as well as animal skins and other agricultural by-products from farmers49.

It is interesting that the list of items about which the city dwellers were complaining includes "old brass", which farmers apparently sold to the Jews50. The Jews, says the text of the complaint, exported the "old brass" to Koenigsberg. Another complaint which has survived speaks of a Jew in Hazenpot (Aizpute) who was busy in the same year of 1759 with the transport of butter to the city of Liepāja51. All this demonstrates that the farmers of the day happily did business with the Jews. The trade was advantageous to both sides. But complaints from German tradesmen about the expansion of the Jews continued unabated. Clearly the issue was no longer isolated cases of Jewish activity. Rather, the Germans were now facing day-to-day problems in Courland. Indirectly one can conclude from this that the Jews were mostly engaged in the purchase and sale of haberdashery52. This fact is also reflected in Latvian folk songs (Latvju tautas Dainas, X sej. R., 1932, N1098; N1099).

Shipments of goods from Western Europe, usually not very large, were sold off all over Courland. One routine complaint from haberdashers, for example, reports that a Jew from Hazenpot (Aizpute) had bought two packages of goods from another Jew in Mitau (Jelgava)53 and had shipped them off by cart to destination unknown, but presumably his own home in Hazenpot (Aizpute). The deal cost its participants dearly, however. The text of the complaint reports that both Jews were arrested for violation of a law which stated that the Jews could sell their goods only to local German tradesmen54. It bears reminding that the German tradesmen of the day engaged in all manner of tactics to protect their privileged status, including accusations of all types of mortal sins against aliens.

An even more expressive complaint came from the tradesmen of Libau (Liepāja) on 12 December 1775, where Germans complained about their competitors – Jews, Poles, Lithuanians, and "farmers" (meaning Latvians)55.

In sum, it can be concluded that during the 18th century, despite some unfavourable circumstances, Hebrews, who settled in Courland found ethnic and social niche for themselves. As a result, they became an integral part of the Duchy of Courland and, accordingly, an integral part of the history of the Duchy.

In this context, a more detailed exploration of the activities of Jews in Courland is warranted, in order that the reader might better understand their ethnic and social niche. Along with the trade activities which have already been addressed, the Jews in Courland, as everywhere else, provided themselves through various crafts. Reminders of Jewish craftsmen in Courland are found in a variety of documents from the first half of the 18th century. On 12 September 1728, for example, Courlandian noblemen named Rekke, Fietinghof-Scheel and Brinken wrote a letter in which they stated that Jewish craftsmen charged less for their services than did others56. Several craftsmen's professions were listed in the very first taxation57 lists of Courlandian Jews, but the characterization of these craftsmen is best begun in the mid-18th century, because there are many sources of information dating from that time. As always, a prominent role in these sources is played by complaints from competitors – German craftsmen from the cities filing complaints with officials of authority.

One such complaint was dated in 1754 and addressed to the King of Poland58. Craftsmen from Mitau (Jelgava) complained of Jewish craftsmen and listed the various crafts in which Jewish competition was particularly problematic. The complaint gives evidence that in the mid-18th century, Jews in the capital of the Duchy of Courland, Mitau (Jelgava), were particularly strong in the areas of production of furs, as well as tinsmithing, glass-cutting, tailoring and button-making59.

In this respect, an interesting document is a report on the status of Hebrews in Courland60 which, judging by paleographic characteristics, came from the Russian office in Mitau (Jelgava). It could not have been written earlier than December 1757. Alas, only a draft of the report survives. The final version disappeared either in the office of the Vidzeme governor in Riga or in the capital of Russia.

Nevertheless, the draft copy suffices as a historical source for researchers. The author of the report writes that the main crafts of the Jews in Kurzeme were precisely the same as listed in the German complaint cited above. The author of this report, however, also lists the professions of surgeon and barber for the Jews61. These were considered crafts at the time, because according to the thinking of the day, their work was similar to that of fur producers, tailors and others.

One may ask which crafts were most widespread among the Jews of Courland and whether this distribution corresponded to the distibution of crafts among Jews in other regions. If one compares Courland with Poznan, for example, one notes that at the end of the 18th century, the most popular trade among Jews was that of tailor, followed by locksmith, musician, bookbinder, hatter, and button-maker62. In Germany, by contrast, most Jews were seal-makers63. This comparison shows that in the second half of the 18th century, Courlandian Jewish craftsmen had their own particular characteristics. For this reason, it is important to carefully review reports of the trades which were most widespread among Courlandian Jews – the trades that Jews did roofing work on some of the most grandiose building projects of the time. They participated in the construction of one of the most beautiful palaces in Northern Europe – the Rundāle Palace in Latvia. Primary evidence of this fact is given by a document in which the Duke orders that Jewish craftsmen working on roofing of the castle be paid for their efforts. There are also requests and complaints from the craftsmen themselves64. If these documents are compared, they give a clear picture of the master themselves and of the work which they performed. Master Israel Elias wrote that before he started working, a contract was read to him which was signed by the Duke himself on behalf of one party, and by the Jewish roofers on behalf of the other party (it’s title was "den von Herr Hochfuerstlichen Durchlaucht an die Klempner gegebene Contract"). The document also shows the way in which the masters approached the Duke himself for explanations concerning the contract, as well as for payment. This points to a fundamental difference between the way Courlandian Jewish craftsmen were organized and the way Jewish craftsmen organized in, say, Poland. In Poland, a craftsmen's shop was an important element in organizing Jewish workers65. In Courland, however, and in other regions of Europe, although most local trades were also organized into shops, in some specialized trades, the form of organization was unique.

The Dukes of Courland spent the entire second half of the 18th century building grandiose structures, and they were most interested in finding able but relative inexpensive craftsmen. Often thie ideal was met by Latvian masters66. Masons and carpenters who worked on the Duke's construction projects during that time were mostly Latvians. It appears that a certain system of specialization existed: there is no evidence in documents which have been analyzed thus far that Jews in Courland served as masons, not is there much evidence that Latvians worked at tinsmithing. This singular differentiation probably had deep roots for professional reasons, and the system survived the dismemberment of the Duchy of Courland in 1795.

Excellent work by Jewish roofers has been noted in association with some of the most important 19th-century buildings in Mitau (Jelgava). Thus, for example, Jewish masters Samuel Aaron and Juddell Hirsch restored the roof of the famous Mitau Academy (Academia Petrina) in 180167. The archives of the Courland governor's office also contain a document which shows that one Hirsch Israel did roofing work on the governor's house in Mitau in 1805 68.

In Mitau court documents from 1821, one comes across the name of Aaron Samuel Levenstein, who performed roofing tasks on the palace on the Iecava estate69. The documents show that Levenstein did the work very well, but payment for the work was not forthcoming, hence the court procedure.

This document is interesting in another way, namely that it lists in some detail the tasks which the master performed. The list is remarkably broad, and this points to another unusual aspect of the work done by Courlandian Jews – they often were masters of more than one specialization. This is indirectly the result of the fact that Courlandian Jews did not organize into shops, and thus were not subject to the rigorous regulations of the shop system. This fact is clearly illustrated by another list, which describes the work done by roofer Israel Elias. The list was written in 1758, i.e. seven years before master Elias undertook roofing work at Rundale Castle. The list shows that Israel Elias manufactued various items for the Duke's kitchen70. While doing this work he lived in the Duke's castle in Mitau (Jelgava) and manufactured the items from raw materials provided by the Duke71. It would be a mistake, however, to think that Courlandian Jewish craftsmen relied solely on the Duke for jobs. The Duke was only part of the daily life of the Duchy of Courland although a part which set Courland apart from other local regions. There are documents which show that Jewish craftsmen were active in the service of other clients, as well. Thus, for example, a request written by a Kandava Jewish glass-cutter named Moses Salomon in 1795 shows that he did several jobs for a farmer named Mezekauls72. A contract signed by a glass-cutter named Marcus Meyer in 1784 has survived. In it, Meyer undertakes to provide glass for the windows of the Tukums pastorate73.

Glass-cutters were not the only ones to work on the order of local residents. A Jewish mason named Abraham Lewin spent more than 30 years putting up and repairing ovens for the residents of the capital of the Duchy, Mitau (Jelgava)74. There are many similar examples. In general, one can see that Jewish craftsmen, who specialized in specific trades in Courland, almost always achieved high professional mastery in their fields. This means that their services were in high day-to-day demand by a broad cross-section of the Duchy's population.

In conclusion I would like to add that many other types of occupation, in which Courlandian Jews were engaged, as well as their achievements in spiritual and intellectual pursuits, have remained outside my field of research. Neither have I focused on the spiritual evolution of the Jewish community, nor on their battle for the rights of Courlandian citizens. My source materials for this work have been documents prepared by the Courlandian Jews themselves, but these documents demand methodological analysis. I would like to note, therefore, that research about the history of the Jews of the Duchy of Courland is by no means complete. If the many archival documents, which pertain to this subject, were gathered together, along with analytical works which have been performed on these documents and publications, which have been written about them, then further research work would be, in any opinion, most valuable.


Stradiņš, J. "Kopā ar nākamo gadu tūkstoti". Literatūra un Māksla, No. 48, 1988, p. 2.

Buchholtz, A. Geschichte der Juden in Riga, Riga, 1899, p. 99.

Lipschitz, Shaul. "Jewish communities in Kurland". The Jews in Latvia. Tel Aviv, 1971, p. 276.

Herzig, Arno. "Zur Problematik deutsch-jüdischer Geschichtsschreibung". Menora, Jahrbuch für deutsch-jüdische Geschichte. Muenchen/Zuerich, 1990, p. 211.

Beth, Menahem. "Men and Deeds". The Jews in Latvia. Tel Aviv, 1971, p. 288.

Ziegenhorn, Chr. G. von. Staats-Recht der Herzogtümer Curland und Semgallen. Koenigsberg, 1772

Schwartz, Chr. Vollständige Bibliothek kurländischer und piltenscher Staatsschriften, nach der Zeitfolge aufgestellt. Mitau, 1799, pp. 304–314.

Regesten und Urkunden zur Geschichte der Juden in Riga und Kurland. No. 1–3, Riga, 1910–1912.

Centralnij gosudarstvennij istoričeskij arhiv Latvijskoi SSR. Kratkij spravočņik. Častj 1, 1220–1918, p. 14

 10 Cruse, K. W. Curland unter den Herzogen. Mitau, 1833, Vol.1, pp. 264–296. Also Buchholtz, op. cit., p.1–2. Also Rauch, G. von. "Eine Polemik zur Judenfrage in Kurland". Jomsburg. Völker und Staaten im Osten und Norden Europas. Berlin, 1941, Vol. 1.

11 Wunderbar, R. Geschichte der Juden in den Provinzen Liv- und Kurland seit ihrer frühesten Niederlassung daselbst bis auf die gegenwärtige Zeit. Mitau, 1853. Also Owtschinsky, L. Geschichte fun die Idden Lettlands. Riga, 1928. And Pisecky, J. Kurzemes hercogistes likumdošana par ebrejiem. Unpublished dissertation, University of Latvia, 1936.

12 Dunsdorfs, E. Latvijas vēsture 1710–1800. Stockholm, 1973, p. 397.

13 Livlaendisches Urkundenbuch, Vol. 6, No. 3088.

14 de Wartberge, Hermanni. Chronicon Livonia Scriptoris rerum prussicarum. Vol. 2, Leipzig, 1863, p. 77.

15 Ibid.

16 Kratkaja evrejskaja enciklopedija, tom 4, Jerusalim, 1988, p. 686

17 Levinson, Isaak. The Untold Story: Jews in Courland and Livonia. Johanessburg, 1958, p. 59.

18 Latviešu konversācijas vārdnīca, Vol. X. Riga, 1933–34, col. 19117

19 Wunderbar, op. cit., p. 19.

20 Blese, E. Pārskats par studijām Prūsijas valsts arhīvā Karalaučos 1929. g. vasaras komandējuma laikā. Rīga, 1929, p. 32.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid., p. 51

23 Ibid., p. 33

24 Ibid.

25 Ibid.

26 Latvijas valsts vēstures arhivs (LVVA), 554. f., 3. apr.

27 Ziegenhorn, op. cit., No. 50, p. 55.

28 Kandel, F. Očerki vremjon i sobitij. Jerusalem, 1988, 1 castj, p. 45–46.

29 Ibid., p. 102.

30 LVVA-554.f.-3.apr.-395.1.-p. 11.

31 Regensten und Urkunden ..., Vol. 1, p. 72.

32 Ziegenhorn, op. cit., pp. 214–215.

33 Wunderbar, op. cit., p. 20.

34 LVVA-554.f.-3.apr.-396.1.-pp. 4–5.

35 Ibid.

36 Ibid., 1.apr.-1730.1.-p. 78

37 Ibid., p.82.

38 Ibid., p.5

39 Ibid., p.26.

40 Dunsdorfs, op. cit., p. 297.

41 Ziegenhorn, op. cit., p. 214.

42 Wunderbar, op.cit., p. 22.

43 LVVA-554.f.-1.apr.-1829.1.-p. 21.

44 Ibid., 3.apr.-394.1.-p.6-7 and 9–12.

45 Ibid., p. 6–7

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid., 2713-f.-1.apr.-8.1.-pp. 86–89

48 Ibid., 4038.f.-2.apr.-2184.1.-p. 1.

49 Ibid., p. 8.

50 Ibid.

51 Ibid.

52 Ibid., pp. 2–3.

53 Ibid., 554.f.-1.apr.-1730.1.-p. 84.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid., 2713.f.-1.apr.-137.1.-pp. 24–33.

56 Ibid., 554.f.-3.apr.-394.1.-p. 2.

57 Ibid., 1.apr.-1730.1.-pp.60–61.

58 Ibid., 1829.1.-pp.23–31.

59 Ibid.

60 Ibid., 4038.f.-2.apr.-2184.1.-p. 19–23.

61 Ibid., p.23.

62 Jüdisches Lexicon. Berlin, 1927, Vol. II, p. 1406.

63 Ibid.

64 LVVA-554.f.-3.apr.-1852.1.-pp. 26 and 29.

65 Jüdisches Lexicon. Vol. II, p. 1405.

66 Aleksejeva, T. "Nepemeckije mastera v strukture i organizacii stroitelnih remesel v Mitave." Latvijas Universitātes Zinātniskie Raksti, Vol. 555, Riga, 1990, p. 122.

67 Campe, P. Lexicon Livländischer und Kurländischer Baumeister, Bauhandwerker und Baugestalter von 1400–1850. Vol.I, Stockholm, 1951, pp. 375 and 376.

68 LVVA-.412.f.-8.apr.-p. 80.

69 Ibid., 586.f.-1.apr.-p. 1419.

70 Ibid., 554.f.-2.apr.-3021.1.-pp. 68–69.

71 Ibid.

72 Ibid., 412.f.-8.apr.-p.80.1-p. 1.

73 Ibid., 554.f.-3.apr.-1853.1.-p. 47.

74 Ibid., 412.f.-8.apr.-81.1-p. 1.