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In the early modern period, a court Jew or court factor (German: Hofjude, Hoffaktor) was a Jewish banker who handled the finances of, or lent money to, European royalty and nobility. In return for their services, court Jews gained social privileges, including in some cases being granted noble status.

Examples of what would be later called court Jews emerged in the High Middle Ages, when the royalty, the nobility, and the church borrowed money from money changers—among the most notable are Aaron of Lincoln and Vivelin of Strasbourg—or employed them as financiers. Jewish financiers could use their family connections, and connections between each other, to provide their sponsors with, among other things, finance, food, arms, ammunition, gold, and precious metals.

The rise of the absolute monarchies in Central Europe brought numbers of Jews, mostly of Ashkenazi origin, into the position of negotiating loans for the various courts. They could amass personal fortunes and gain political and social influence. However, the court Jew had social connections and influence in the Christian world mainly through the Christian nobility and church. Due to the precarious position of Jews, some nobles could ignore their debts. If the sponsoring noble died, his Jewish financier could face exile or execution. The most famous example of this process occurred in Württemberg, when—after the death of his sponsor Charles Alexander in 1737—Joseph Süß Oppenheimer was put on trial and finally executed. In an effort to avoid such fate, some court bankers in the late 18th century—such as Samuel Bleichröder, Mayer Amschel Rothschild, or Aron Elias Seligmann—successfully detached their businesses from these courts and established what eventually developed into full-fledged banks.


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