JHOM - Gabriel Riesser

I. Overview

Gabriel Riesser (1806-1863) was the first Jewish judge in Germany and an advocate of the emancipation of the Jews in Germany. He studied law at Heidelberg, graduating summa cum laude in 1826, but was refused a license to practice because, as a Jew, he had no citizenship rights.

Riesser now became the leading advocate of the emancipation of the Jews in Germany. In 1830 he published Ueber die Stellung der Bekenner des Mosaischen Glaubens in Deutschland (2d ed., 1831), in Altona. He compared the oppression of Jews with the oppression of the burghers by the nobility, of the blacks by the whites, etc., and asked for full emancipation.

In the introduction to his book he declares it to be "an effort to induce important men — social and spiritual leaders — to pay more attention to this undertaking, to rouse latent forces for it, to stimulate those who should be interested in it, to stir up philanthropists of all confessions and beliefs, and finally to demonstrate the necessity for the goodwill and the power of single individuals to be united for a common purpose."

The rationalist Protestant theologian Paulus from Heidelberg wrote a response, proposing that the Jews first be baptized, if they were to be accepted as good German citizens. Riesser defended his position in his famous pamphlet, Vertheidigung der Bürgerlichen Gleichstellung der Juden Gegen die Einwürfe des Herrn Dr. Paulus, (which he wrote in just a few short days; Altona, 1831), strongly opposing the pressure on Jews to convert.

Riesser’s courageous protest made him famous throughout Germany. He founded a new political magazine called Der Jude (Altona 1833/33, 1835), which later inspired rabbi Ludwig Philippson in founding his most important Allgemeine Zeitung des Judentums (in 1837). Riesser subsequently received many requests from Jewish notables to formulate petitions for equal rights.

In 1840 Riesser accepted the job as notary in Hamburg, the only position reserved for Jews. His talent became known to the Christians, and in the duchy of Lauenburg he was elected to the revolutionary Paulskirche parliament in 1848; here he earned his fame through his fight for emancipation for Jews against the liberal professor Moritz von Mohl of Stuttgart.

In 1860, when the Jews were granted local citizenship in Hamburg, Riesser was appointed the first Jewish judge in Germany.



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